Editor’s note: Today we run the first in our series of stories about Fulton Families. The series will tell the stories of families that have either lived in Fulton for ages or perhaps only a short while — but the common bond will be they love the city and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. If you know of a family we should highlight, please email Debbie Groom, Valley News managing editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Ashley M. Casey
Nearly every available square inch of wall space is covered in photographs at the home of Bob and Noretta Pawlewicz. With 10 children, 31 grandchildren, one great-grandchild — and counting — they need all the photo space they can get. Another grandchild is expected to arrive in December, and their second great-grandchild is due next April.
Of those 10 children, six have homes in or near Fulton. The other four remain in Upstate New York.
Although the Pawlewicz family is seemingly a fixture in Fulton history — perhaps you went to school with a Pawlewicz, or worked with one, or worshiped at the same church — Bob and Noretta, surprisingly, are not natives to the area. Bob hails from Syracuse; Noretta, from Cazenovia.
In the fall of 1969, with six children in tow and plans for more, the Pawlewiczes sold their house in Syracuse and began to search for something that could accommodate their family’s growth.
Bob worked at R.E. Dietz Company in Syracuse, so they drew a 45-minute radius on a map around the city and started hunting for a house.
“We wanted to go to the country but didn’t want my husband to have to drive more than 45 minutes to an hour,” Noretta said. She recalled packing up her brood and visiting potential houses all over Central New York.
Finally, the family settled in the massive house just outside the city on County Route 8, where Bob and Noretta still live today.
“The more we stayed, it was like we had lived here forever,” Noretta said. “The last half of our family was born here, so that’s all they knew.”
Keeping the faith
The Pawlewiczes attended Holy Family Roman Catholic Church and sent their kids to Catholic school.
“Looking back, the school system was a big influence on my family, and the church,” Bob Pawlewicz said of his children’s Catholic education. “With these two things behind us, we make good citizens.”
Their children attest that family and faith are the two main pillars in their lives.
Dan Pawlewicz of Palermo is the ninth of Bob and Noretta’s children. He teaches physical education at Hannibal Central School District and is vice president of the Fulton school board.
He recalled the role that religion has played throughout his life: the late Father Joseph Champlin baptized him; performed communion, confirmation and marriage rites; and even baptized his and wife Julie’s four daughters, Alexis, Erica, Olivia and Abigail.
Julie Galvin — Pawlewicz No. 6 — and her husband, Pat, are striving to include the same spiritual education for their children, Patrick and Meghan. Julie is a special education teacher at Lanigan Elementary School.
“Faith and spirituality (were) a big part of our life,” Julie recalled. “We prayed together. My mother always said, ‘The family that prays together stays together.’ … I practice that with my own kids, and my husband has that same belief.”
Julie said that Pat, raised in Oswego, comes from a similarly large family with 11 children, so the parallels in their families’ structure have made it easy to align their views for raising their own kids.
“As a kid, I didn’t understand because I thought it was more of a job that my parents wanted me to do — go to church, say my prayers,” she said. Now, she sees the importance of the morals her parents instilled in her and her nine siblings. “I want my kids to see those same values.”
Family first, then Fulton
“Our community is a source of who we are,” said Sheri Spencer, Bob and Noretta’s seventh child. Sheri is a therapist who lives in Clifton Park, N.Y.
Although she said she misses Fulton, she and her husband, David, have no plans to return to the city. But she will never forget how growing up in Fulton shaped her and her siblings.
“I am so blessed. I think, ‘Wow, we were so fortunate to have grown up in a community with so many resources,’” she said.
Bob and Noretta encouraged all their children to pursue sports and other activities in school and in the community.
Sheri recalled swimming at the Westside pool, participating in traditional Polish dancing and seeing “Grease” with the whole family at the old movie theater downtown.
As much as she loves Fulton, Sheri said that her parents taught her that “community is secondary — family is first.”
Her sister, Julie, said that their parents helped them “understand what it looked like to have a healthy relationship.” Julie recalled huge family dinners in which everyone could socialize and share their problems. The whole family — each person at a different age, a different mindset, a different stage in life — would offer a new perspective.
“It was an unspoken unity that we had at the dinner table that was very special,” Julie said.
Turning the tide
Although on the whole, the Pawlewiczes’ view of life in Fulton is very sunny, they are not ignorant of the problems in their beloved city. Fulton once made a name for itself as “The City the Great Depression Missed,” but the Pawlewiczes have seen industry decline in their more than 40 years here.
However, the problems they see here are indeed fixable, and not unique to Fulton.
“There are problems in this community just like anywhere else,” Noretta said. “You try to avoid those things, and correct where you can.”
Noretta said it offends her when people choose to leave Fulton instead of trying to make the community better.
“There are so many things that are positive if you just look for them,” she said. “I worked for the Fulton Community Development Agency for more than 20 years. … I had a taste of both sides of the fence. Like anything else, you have your good days and your bad days, but certainly the positives outweigh the negatives in the things I did for the community.
She added that Fulton offers its citizens many resources, such as Oswego County Opportunities and the YMCA.
Her husband stressed that if Fultonians want their city to improve, they must take an interest in the community and each other.
“They can’t just sit back and moan and groan about how things aren’t right. They have to make things right,” Bob said. “I’m a firm believer in the ripple effect: You do good things and they keep moving on to other people. … We have to see this as our city and make it a good city.”
Dan echoed his father’s “ripple effect” philosophy. He suggested that the people of Fulton volunteer in schools and community organizations.
“There’s hope. There’s promise. There’s a lot of good things in our community. I believe in our mayor, trying his hardest to do with what he’s got. I commend volunteers … trying to make it a better place,” he said. “It’s a new generation of people. Granted, you don’t have your ‘Nestlés,’ but there’s a lot of interesting things going on.”
“My parents have tied Fulton to good things and family,” Julie said. “Good things happen in Fulton.”
Julie said that she and Pat have never had a desire to leave Fulton.
“We just knew this is where our heart was, in the area closest to our family,” she said.
In addition to their extensive clan, the Pawlewiczes hold dear the Fulton community as a whole.
“It’s a very giving, caring community,” Noretta said. “Many of our kids have professions where they could work anywhere, but they’ve chosen to stay here. They grew up with a sense of belonging and loyalty.”
“There’s a lot of hard-working people here — lot of honest people,” Dan said. “I hope people have hope (and) do their part. … It’s a team approach.”
Fifty-plus members strong, the Pawlewicz team shows no sign of giving up on Fulton, and they hope their fellow Fultonians don’t either.