Interview with Doris Chase
Is Part Of
Broome County Oral History Project
Interview with: Doris E. Chase
Interviewed by: Susan Dobandi
Date of interview: 8 May 1978
Susan: Miss Chase, could you start by telling us where you were born, something about your parents, and any recollections you have of your early childhood and later on your work experiences in the community?
Doris: Yes, I was born in Windsor, NY, on February 11, 1914. I couldn't have had better parents. They were good Christian people and they welcomed me into the home. I had two brothers, eight and ten years older than I was, and they had been praying for me for eight years, and here the little girl comes to town. A little offset would be nice to tell you that when, ah, brother Ronald, when he knew that I had arrived at one o'clock in the afternoon, he went and rang every doorbell in Windsor to tell them he had a little baby girl Doris, and I can say he still loves me as much which is wonderful. Well I went to school in Windsor ’til I was in the, ah, sixth grade, and then I—we moved to California ’cause my father thought he wanted to get out of the undertaking business and work out there with my aunts and uncles, and I went to a school—first the Menlo Avenue School, which was very interesting. My people sort of put me on my own, at the time I thought I was desperate, because I thought to go in, I was a little girl from Windsor and I was scared to death, but they put me in what you call an “opportunity class” that find out what you can do. From Windsor to Los Angeles was quite a stride but every day I walked by the famous Coliseum and played around there, which I—now you have your big football games and your—but I was there a whole term and I worked myself so hard, I was so worried about not making good, that I skipped a whole grade.
Then I was over to Angeles Massus School where we bought a home there in Los Angeles. This was very interesting to me, too, because in those days I didn't know about Spanish homes and this was a Spanish type of school, and you played handball all winter long and you rollerskated to school in the middle of the blocks that's—was the way it was set up, so it was a great thrill and a great experience. Well, after a year my dad decided to return, and we came to Binghamton and he bought the funeral home on Exchange Street in 1924. Well I spent my days going into high school at the age of 12, which was an early age, and I graduated at 16 and I took college entrance, where it was of great value to me ‘cause I still reiterate that Latin and French are very good, especially Latin, for people today, and I stress it with my students in the library now. Then I was to go for Physical Ed and was accepted at Cortland State College, but I had an operation which changed my life around, which I think the Lord did do this because he had something else better for me, so I went to business school here in Binghamton at Lowell’s, and I graduated from there and the first job I had, they got for me down on Susquehanna Street in a plumbing company. Well I was only there two weeks, and for this reason—my mother played in a bridge club where Walker Sherwood, the County Treasurer, his daughter played in it, and she asked my mother if Doris had work. She said, “Well, yes, but she didn't want to stay there."
So she said that he wanted somebody to type the tax sale, and we'd be there a month. The job would be a month’s job, and I said to Mother, "I'm going to take it. I'm going to get my foot in the door on the Courthouse.” So on July 3rd in 1933 I entered the Courthouse, and I'm still with it now. This is in 1978 through many jobs, but Walker Sherwood was the president of the bank here in the city and he was appointed by Governor Charles Hughes to take over the County Treasurer, and he taught me everything I knew in banking. It was a delightful thing to start working with him, ’cause I remember the first day I was very scared and he said, “Just get on the job and make good, ‘cause I was told that when I became a runner in the bank and worked up to President.”
We didn't start the tax sale that day. It wasn't quite ready, so he said, "I've got—I'm gonna have you sort checks." Again, I was so scared that I sorted all the checks in one day and it was quite a standing joke in the office. (Chuckle.) Well, I progressed, of course, and ah—ah, Walker Sherwood died, and then I was appointed Deputy County Treasurer by Ralph Page, the new Treasurer, and I had five girls under me. It was much fun and a lot of hard work. I got into court with trust funds, mortgage taxes, et cetera—made trips to Albany and had many friendships.
Well, my life went along, and then I did go to Houston, Texas, for a short time. I was married and I worked in an interesting place there. The man we bought our home from was the—the City Treasurer of Houston and also the Chief of the Civil Service, and the uncanny part of it, I, he said—he said, "Where are you from?" and I said, “Binghamton, you've never heard of it."
And he says, "Oh yes I have,” because the Chief of Police, Joe Sullivan at that time, he said, “I went to the FBI School with him,” and he said, "Well, why don't you come—come to work for me?" And I said, "Well, I wouldn't know the Texas laws." And he said, "Well, we need help,” and he says, "We're really in dire straits because we are just beginning to put the IBM payrolls on—on machines, and we don't just know how to do it.''
Well, I began to laugh. He said, "What are you laughing at?” I said, “We were the guinea pig of the whole United States when the IBM started that." So he says, "Come to work Monday.” So that was an experience that I had working there. I worked there six months, and then my husband drove out the driveway and left me and I have never seen him since and that was twenty-six years ago now, but life was still open. God was seeing his way, opening—closing doors and then opening another for, and so when I came home in May, Judge Brink called me up. He says, "I hear you’re home, Doris," and I said, "Yes," and he said, "Well I have an opening the first of September. You are going to come and work for me as—in the county judge."
And I said, "Well, I don't know that work." He says, "Well I will teach you." That was the most delightful ten years I have—he was a very honorable man, he taught me so many things. He taught me how to read briefs, how to take decisions. I had pistol permits, which, everything is divided now in different departments—called the Jury Commissioner, I did that where, and it was—it was really an experience and it was gearing me for my further life coming on.
So the, the librarian died—Miss Lee, who had been there fifty years—and Judge McAvoy came to me and he said, "I would like to have you come and take over." Well, again I reiterate I didn't know the work. He said, "I don't know it either, but I know that you will get in there and work hard." So, it was quite a time to take over everything, because everything was behind and the Library was closed down for several days because just everything was—supplements were back and everything needed attention, so until we could get straightened around, why, it—it took quite a while, but I did go to visit—well, the first library I visited was the United States Supreme Court Library—a very interesting man, Dr. Hurdon was delighted when I told him my story. He said, "Anybody will do this." He said, "You sit right down and I will talk with you a whole afternoon, get you straight on your treatises and so forth." And he really gave me a great start to come back to set up the library and there were many other, ah, libraries that I did go to, and then I took the courses that were offered by another fine man who was the Appellate Division Librarian. He was also a teacher out of Chicago in his earlier days, and he taught us in New York how to do the Law Library—catalog work, and many, many things, so that, people have always been helpful in my life and I now I'm getting in the stage where I want to leave for posterity. I want to help the students I have, the SUNY students and I have the teachers from Cortland State Teachers College, you see I have volumes there that in this area the State provides, and they don't have it in other libraries, only in Cornell. Not everybody can go to Cornell University to look these up.
But, getting back to the men in my life, they have always influenced me, but the greatest influence was my father, for every morning we had prayers, even from a little girl I remember him down there reading his Bible, and he always had such wonderful thoughts to offer you and I know it—it's influenced my life greatly, and he said, "Doris, if you keep your faith He'll always stand by you." And it's so true, even in the library work I have my New Testament in my desk drawer, and if I lack wisdom I look up in the Book of James for help and God has never failed me. It might not be that moment, it might not be that hour, it might be next week, but He's always—always helped me, and I'm so grateful for that kind of background, that’s what everybody needs to get through this life, and I'm just so thankful that I have had these fine men and everybody, and I do love my lawyers. They know I'll do anything for them and people would be happy if they really gave her the life. Money isn't everything. It's—and another thing, ah, character is important, not that I'm so good, but I've tried to fill the principles that they taught me. So now, and I'm in my church work at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and I enjoy the class, and we have an adult class, which is really—we enjoy, and we are helpful to many, many people that we reach out to them and if they need groceries or if they need help in many ways, we talk with them and it's a very satisfying life. I think, of course, the older you grow, the more you turn your thoughts to God, I guess, but in my own life I can't say that. I'm always—always going to church. I've tithed. I've done it from a little girl up and I have never lacked for anything—I might get down to my last penny, but I've always been supplied with everything in this life. It's hard to think of so many things that have happened, ah—
Well, I've been honored, which is very nice. I—way back, I hadn't been in the Library too long. It was in October of 1969, and I got a letter from the Bar Association and they asked me to come to their dinner as their guest, and I really—I couldn't think why they'd want me there, but anyway I soon found out. They honored me with two beautiful corsages, and for bringing the Library back to life. It was—it was certainly a tribute—a standing tribute. It was almost too much for me, but then I stood on my feet and I thanked them for what they did, and then I said, "There are a few things that you’ve left out." And they of course looked surprised, and I said, "Well—I, there were things that I'm called upon to do by all of you when you go into court, and this is true, I've sewed on many buttons on coats and blue suits and have had to go there. I've had to call wives. I've had to read things back on the telephone when you were desperate. You have keys and you come to my house nights and Sundays and everything else, so I guess I sort of mother all of you."
Well, later on in life I had another honor, which I was very, very pleased. I went home one day and I had a letter from the Women of Status Council, and I—I didn't really know what it was. I started reading and they said they wanted me to come to a dinner again and that they wanted a brief biography of myself, and this was held in the Ramada Inn and my honor was for my work in the community in Law, not as a lawyer, but being helpful to the people and the students trying to—going way beyond my line of duty to—to give something, and as I say, if I know something I try to impart it. There's one other thing, too, when—well, judges, I have them and they come in and ask me and I say, “I don't know why you're asking me?” They said, "We came because we don't know and when we'll work."
Well I said, "I know I don't know, that's one thing I've always said if I don't, but there's a great big but—but I will start looking. We'll keep searching ’til we find it." I can't think of any other honors that I've had, but I love life. I love people. It's very evident I love people, because so many people say, "Well, it's so much fun to come in there, ’cause we always, it's not just like work, it's play." Well, I've had students, too, that it's been a—ah, I'll never forget, I remember one boy that I worked with, very hard with, in—in federal taxes and things like that, and he went on to, ah, Hastings College in California, and it was several years later that I looked up, and here he was in my library, and he said, "I was near Binghamton and I just had to come back and tell you,” he said, “how much you did for me,” and he said, “You know you made my life very easy in Federal Taxes when I went to college, because,” he said, "you went into great depth to, ah, to teach me." And as I say, “When you didn't know, I used to call David Sterns, ’cause he's tops in that field. I never called him until we got to the, until when we—we just didn't know where we were going." And so I felt very pleased about that. There have been many rewarding things that have, and you—you can help students.
I remember one boy, too—he came in, and a professor had brought his class up, and he was going to show him, and he was trying to save me and he was trying to show what the library—how to look for things. Well, he went so rapidly that this poor boy, he sat down and he says, "I will never be a lawyer, I—I just can't grasp it this fast." And I says, "Don't worry, I'll talk with you afterwards." So after it was over with, I said to him, "When you have time, you come up and make an appointment with me here in the Library,” and I said, "I will take time and I will show you what we have here and you can ask me any questions, and you take notes because I know that your father wants you to become a lawyer." And I said, "Don’t get discouraged by just this little." He never got over it and I didn't either, but it—these things in life that count that are worthwhile. It's just wonderful to be able to be—well, I think I'm privileged to be in this position of being with these men working under them and God. I can't say but what He really planned my life and it's opened up as I've gone along, and as I say I gave this speech, "The Men in My Life," to the Exchange Club, and as I—I prepared for it—it took me about two months because I wouldn't get up and speak in front of men if I didn't know what I was talking about, and I realized then for the first time that I never applied for a job. So I'm happy, and I'm just glad to do this for you for posterity.
Susan: Well, thank you very much, Doris, for taking the time out to come up and talk with us. I knew that, ah—about your background, but it is a story that only you could tell us and I appreciate it very much. Thank you.