Joe Leoncini

    My parents came to this country from Italy about 1911. My father, along with his father, had been here
    earlier and worked at Drapers. He had gone back and married and returned. They bought an old
    farmhouse on the Mendon side of the Hopedale/Mendon town line on Route 16. I was born there in
    1917. There was a big kitchen where neighbors sometimes gathered. There was a stove in the
    kitchen that said “Bright Oak” on it. Later when the clubhouse was built just past my parents’ property,
    and the members needed to come up with a name, they named it for the stove they used to gather
    around to talk in the evening. My father was a good carpenter, among other things, and he built the
    house out by the street in 1929.

    Most of the land my parents owned was covered with gardens and fruit trees. They had apples,
    pears, peaches and grape vines. The grape arbors covered a bocce court. They raised chickens and
    pigs, and we also had a goat.

    I had two older sisters and one who was younger. Irma married Joe Donnelly, Rose married Joe
    Brown, and Flora married Donald Washburn. My brothers, Harold and Louis were nine and twelve
    years younger than me. At dinner time, we’d have eight around the table. Many of my friends back
    then were from White City on the Hopedale side of the line. Tony Allegrezza is one that I remember
    especially well.

    Drapers used to have field days in the Hopedale Town Park. The night before, they’d show movies on
    the wall of the Main Office. I really enjoyed them, and the next day I had fun in the races and other field
    day events.

    In the winter, we’d sometimes slide down Route 16. There were very few cars to worry about. We’d go
    down to the “dummy cop” at the intersection of Hopedale Street, and turn and end near where the
    Griffin-Dennett Apartments are now.

    When I needed shoes, we’d get them at Bowker’s Shoe Store which was where the pizza place in the
    center of Hopedale is now. (Harrison block)  Gibbs’ Drug Store was on the other side, and there was
    a bowling alley down under the building.

    I started playing baseball when I got to be about 12 or 13. There were two ball fields at the top of the
    hill in Mendon. Kids my age and guys in their 20s would play scrub baseball there. There were no
    school sports in Mendon in those days. When I was 15, some guys told me that I was good enough
    to play for the Milford Legion. That was in 1933. The rules allowed kids from neighboring towns to
    play, no one from outside Milford had played on the Milford Legion team before. The next year,
    however, the rules changed and I wasn’t going to be allowed to play. I’d have to live in Milford or go to
    school there if I was going to join the team. Some of the Legion people wanted me to go to Milford
    High, but a priest spoke to my father about going to St. Mary’s in Milford, so that’s where I went for my
    last two years of high school. I played football as well as baseball there. I walked to school and back
    every day, and on practice days I wouldn’t get home until around six. I graduated from St. Mary’s in
    1935.

    During my senior year, I worked for a while for Mr. Barney at the icehouse in Hopedale and also at
    Lake Nipmuc. In Hopedale, my job was at the top of the conveyor. The machine would bring the
    blocks of ice up to me from the pond and I’d put them on a slide where they’d go to the guys who’d
    put them into the places where they’d be stored. They’d use sawdust to insulate them. I can
    remember the windmill that operated a pump, and there was a railroad spur where G&U cars could
    come in to be loaded with ice.

    In Mendon I worked out on the ice on Lake Nipmuc. Some of the ice was cut by power saws, but a lot
    of it was done by hand saws. They had a power conveyor that would bring the ice up out of the water.
    We’d guide the blocks to the conveyor and it would take them up. Freddie Bresciani, one of my White
    City friends, worked there with me.

    Around the time I graduated, I was offered scholarships to two colleges. One of them was Villanova.
    However, my father had been out of work for two years. Because of our “farm,” we had enough to eat,
    but we didn’t have money. I would have needed more that I would have gotten from the scholarships,
    so I didn’t go on to college. Instead, in 1936 I went to work for Drapers.

    I started in Department 7. The boss was Mr. Tower, a nice guy who was a World War I vet. I began in
    the crib where they stored tools, etc. Mr. Tower wanted me to learn about all the tools and machines
    used in the department. Then I did piecework on machine parts for about a year, and later I learned to
    set up the machines.

    I played baseball, third base, with the Draper team in the Blackstone Valley League. I really enjoyed
    playing in that league. Drapers also had a “shop league,” with about six teams. Each team would be
    from a different department. Drapers provided uniforms and we’d play at the town park, and later at
    the new field, Draper Field. In addition to the Milford Legion, I also played for the Milford Town Team,
    and got requests to play for other teams in Medway and Holliston.

    I was laid off on Friday the 13th in April of 1938. I got two weeks’ pay – my last week and the first week
    that had been held back – which I brought home to my mother. When she counted it, she saw that
    they had given me $20 too much. She said that I should take it back. That was always on my record
    after that – that I had returned the $20.

    I was called back to work the day after the hurricane of 1938. I worked with masons on outside repair
    work for about six months. I knew a bit about masonry, because a few years earlier I had worked with
    our neighbors, the Sabatanellis, who had a masonry business. (Years later, my brother and I built the
    brick front steps out at the front of my house.)

    In the evenings some of us guys would hang out in front of Gibbs’ Drug Store in Hopedale. Then we’d
    often go to dances at Lake Nipmuc in Mendon and in Uxbridge and Whitinsville. I met Anita Harback
    at one of those dances (she was a very good dancer) and we were married in 1939.

    Then came the war. I was drafted in September 1943. Anita went to work at Drapers. I was in the
    largest group from Milford to go at one time. There were over 200 of us. We marched from the Armory
    to Main Street to Central Street to the railroad station. First I went to Camp Devens, and then for tank
    training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. After that,  I went for more training at Fort Mead, Maryland, and for
    embarkation, to Camp Shanks, New York. We were there for about a week and then boarded the Ile
    de France and sailed to England. There I was in a camp with thousands, preparing for the invasion. I
    was assigned to the 2nd Armored Division. They had been in North Africa.

    On D-Day we crossed the Chanel in a landing ship that held about twelve tanks and their crews. As
    we got to the beach the tanks spread out. We were hit by sporadic fire, and by more the next day. Over
    the next year, we moved through France and Germany, and eventually we reached Berlin. In Berlin we
    were the honor guard for the Potsdam Treaty, where Harry Truman and Clement Atlee met with Stalin.

    I was discharged in January 1946. I took two weeks off, and then went back to my old job at Drapers;
    milling machine piece work. I learned to rig all kinds of milling machines in Department 7. Before
    long, the assistant foreman was promoted and moved out of the department. The foreman, Mr.
    Tower, took me on as assistant foreman, and when he retired, I became department foreman.
    Anita and I moved into 34 Progress Street in 1950. While we were there, our two children were born –
    Susan in 1950 and Steven in 1953.

    A few years later, Drapers sold their houses. The people on the other side had been there longer
    than us, so they got to buy the whole house. We rented there for a while, and in 1963 we bought 11
    Soward Street from Mrs. White. We had to wait a while before we moved in, because she was going
    to the Griffin Apartments and they hadn’t finished building them.

    One thing I remember from the 1950s is Hopedale Pond. Summer and winter, it was always full of
    life. People were all over it, skating in the winter and swimming in the summer. When the ice was
    thick enough, the town would plow it from Freedom Street to up past the bathhouse. I can also
    remember skating under the trestle bridge.

    Eventually I became assistant superintendent in charge of all cast-iron manufactured in the plant. At
    one point I was sent to Spartanburg to see if I’d be interested in working in the Draper plant there, but
    I decided against it. I continued to work in the “old foundry” after the West Foundry was built. Repair
    parts for looms were a big part of the Draper business. They were made mostly in the old foundry.
    I retired in 1977. By that time, the shop was shut down, and all that was going on there was the
    removal of equipment and sending it off to other places.

    From 1978 into the 1990s, I worked for my son, Steven. During that time, he built twenty-two duplexes.
    He still owns most of them.

    I was a founding member of the Hopedale Country Club. There are only two of us who still golf. The
    other is George Bushnell. He’s about ten years younger than I am.

    I started golfing back when I was still playing baseball - 1938. I turned 95 last week and I’m still here
    at 11 Soward Street and still golfing.

    Joe Leoncini, August 2012.

                                      
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    The Leoncini home on Milford Street (Route
    16), Mendon, built by Joe's father in 1929.

The Leoncini home on Soward Street.