Vernon James Brown was born on August 22, 1897 in Crittendon, NY, a small town near Buffalo. He joined his father and mother Albert and Lydia Edwards Brown, and his older brother and sister, Claude and Mina. Fourteen years later his brother Leroy would join the family who had moved to the family farm at Port Byron when Vern was five.
Vern began school at the “Old Yellow Schoolhouse” which was one half mile down the road from the farm. When he entered high school at Port Byron he had to walk three miles each way in fair and foul weather, in sunshine and snow and to hear him tell it “All Uphill”. In order to earn some money he began to run a trap line at the age of 8 or 9. His uncle John was a professional trapper and became Vern’s mentor. At age 17 Vern decided to leave school and went to Auburn to find work. World War I broke out and he tried to follow his older brother Claude into the service but was turned down for physical reasons even though he returned several times to try again.
He married Grace Griswold of Syracuse in 1919 and went to Detroit to find work. Their daughter Catherine (Kay to the family), was born on Feb, 13, 1920. We’re not sure exactly when but one day Vern walked into the comptroller’s office at Detroit Gas Co., without an appointment no less, and told the comptroller he was looking for work. The comptroller was so impressed with the young man that he took him to lunch, hired him on the spot, and put him to work the next morning in the bookkeeping department.
Now Vern did not know much about bookkeeping but he knew he had a good mind and was capable of learning so he learned a lot by day and figured a lot out by night. Throughout the next twenty-five years he traveled through every department at the gas company until he retired as the comptroller in 1945.
He spent the next five years back in New York taking care of his ailing mother. While he was attending to her needs he had time to spend summers with his brother Leroy at Camp Babcock-Hovey. By July of 1951 he was filing the position of Camp Ranger at Camp Babcock-Hovey. He enjoyed camp life, working out of doors, hunting rabbits and pheasants, keeping grapevines out of the trees, trimming the trees along the road and handling all the local general maintenance that can keep a good ranger busy.
Since his first wife had passed away Vern decided the next best step he could take was to set his cap for the cute little camp cook, Esther Gage, who kept coming back to cook each summer. His persistence paid off and they were married on Oct. 16, 1954. They both agree that the next years of their lives have been the best and happiest of their lives. Albert, Earl, Neil and Lloyd rounded out this family in quick succession over the next 10 years.
Retirement came in 1967 at age 70 even though he remained on the camp staff and helped his replacement for the next 10 years. The Browns moved down the road a mile and settled in the hamlet of Willard where a continuous “barn sale” and a splendid garden took up his slack time.
God blessed Vern with over 100 years of like with life’s usual ups and downs but Vern has always weathered the storms with a positive approach. If you asked him to reveal the secret of his long life today, he would direct your attention to 1899 when he was two years of age and deathly sick with scarlet fever. So sick, in fact, that the priest had given him last rites. In his wisdom, the old country doctor told Vern’s Mother that if he did not die he would never be sick and would live a long life. The doctor was right.
Vern died Jan 5, 2001 at his home just north of camp (7024 County Road 132A, Ovid NY). At the time of his death he was survived by his wife, Esther; sons, Albert, Earl, Neil (Olga), and Lloyd (Bonnie): and daughter, Catherine Lane.