Utica od (BY Frank Tomaino)
Owen D. Young, a farm boy from Van Hornesville in southeastern Herkimer County, today was sworn in as 32nd president of the United States. In his inaugural address, he …
Wait, let’s stop there. The above item never appeared in any newspaper and for good reason. It never happened.
But it could have.
In early 1932, Democratic Party leaders began to promote Young’s candidacy for the presidential nomination at the Democratic convention in June in Chicago. Among his supporters were New York Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt (who eventually got the nomination) and Alfred E. Smith, four-time governor of New York and in 1928 an unsuccessful candidate for president.
Young, however, never campaigned actively and then said that he would not accept the nomination.
Most historians agree, though, that he would have made a great president. And why not? He was a figure of great national and international stature.
As a young lawyer in Boston at the turn of the 20th century, he had become an expert in the new and fast-growing light and power industry. In 1913, the 21-year-old General Electric Co. invited him to join the firm as vice president and general counsel. He accepted, and in 1922 was chairman of the board.
In 1918, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was concerned that the United States was losing the development-of-radio race to other countries and that those countries someday might control the radio industry in America. Wilson asked Young to do something about it.
He created the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in 1919 and was its chairman until 1931.
In the mid-1920s, the federal government called on him again when Germany – which had been defeated in the recent world war – was having great difficulty paying its war debts. Young again was asked to do something about it. And again, he did.
He co-authored – with Charles G. Dawes – a formula for establishing reparations to be paid by Germany to countries such as Great Britain and France. Later, Young developed a plan for Germany’s fiscal rehabilitation. He was named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 1929.
In 1946, New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey asked Young to head a commission whose mission would be to find a way “to supplement and broaden the opportunities historically provided by privately endowed colleges and universities in the state.” The result of Young’s commission was the establishment of the State University of New York.
Young was born on Oct. 27, 1874, on a farm outside of Van Hornesville. He attended a one-room schoolhouse in the village and high school at the East Springfield Academy in Otsego County, six miles from his home.
His parents were able to set aside enough money – thanks to a good crop and a mortgage on the family farm – to send their boy to St. Lawrence University. He graduated in 1894 (and remained active in alumni affairs for the rest of his life, serving as a trustee for many years). In 1959, St. Lawrence dedicated its new library in his name.
Young met his future wife – Josephine Edmonds of Massachusetts – while at St. Lawrence. They had a daughter and four sons. She died in 1935. Two years later, he and Louise Powis Clark, a widow, were married.
From St. Lawrence, Young went to the Boston University law school, graduated in 1896 and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar. He joined a prestigious law firm in Boston and there began his distinguished career.
Young was convinced that the United States would remain a great country only if it continued to maintain a good school system.
When the wooden schoolhouse in Van Hornesville was destroyed by fire in 1926, Young paid for a new school which evolved into one of the first and finest centralized schools in the state. Today, it is the Owen D. Young Central School.
Young never forgot his beginnings and maintained the family farm, including owning a herd of Holstein cows. He was active in masonry and was a member of the Evergreen Lodge in nearby Springfield Center.
Young died on July 11, 1962, in St. Augustine, Florida, at age 87.
It was his wish that he be buried in Van Hornesville in a brief, simple ceremony. Services took place in the Van Hornesville Universalist Church and he was buried in the family plot in a cemetery one mile from the church.
The Observer-Dispatch editorialized: “Foreign governments in Europe and Asia decorated him. Presidents of both parties sought his counsel. But he never forgot Van Hornesville, where a fine school and other improvements stand as living memorials to his hometown loyalty.”
In “Herkimer County at 200,” published by the Herkimer County Historical Society in 1992 to celebrate the county’s bicentennial, it was written that Young’s wristwatch always showed the local time wherever he was in the world. But his pocket watch always gave him the time at the moment in his beloved Van Hornesville.