By Nick Mordowanec
C & G Staff Writer
FRASER — Helen Stovel sat inside the booth of a small diner in Fraser, flipping through the pages of a large photo binder she started filling with photos in 1939.
The binder’s girth was impressive — a couple of inches or more of some of her greatest memories of growing up in small-town Fraser. A resident her entire life, the 92-year-old spoke admirably about the city that raised her and made her who she is. Most importantly, she holds no regrets.
“Sometimes you don’t remember everything, (but) it’s good to remember Fraser because Fraser was a small town,” Stovel said. “Everybody knew everybody. Your parents knew everybody that was in your class, and their parents. I think it was better for all the kids.”
She was a single child of parents who moved to Fraser in 1921, establishing their own stake in a city that was based on relationships and hard work. Her education consisted of tight-knit bonds between classmates — all 41 of them who played sports, and were socially and physically active.
As the pages turned, so did the thoughts in her head. She remembered old brawls on Gratiot Avenue between the neighborhood boys, how entertainment legend Mickey Rooney made a stop in Mount Clemens in his heyday and how there was a Steffens Park dedication in May 1943.
The newspaper clips were enduring and in good shape, the print still legible and the colors faded only a little. Even the photos provided visual proof of moments etched it time.
Stovel also had old Valentine’s Day cards from her youth, next to old report cards. A report card from her kindergarten year of 1929 said that she whispered too much to her classmates.
She said the methodology from then and now has truly changed, especially in the classroom. She recalled students being tied to their seats and having tape put over their mouths if they didn’t act accordingly in school.
“They aren’t able to do that nowadays,” she said.
Stovel recalls her mother having a hard time when she was born, mainly because mothers back then didn’t get a lot of help. The ideologies of that time period pointed to more basic means of living, doing whatever was necessary to cut financial corners and provide the means for successful family life.
“People were more conscious with their money, and they were satisfied with less,” she said. “(Nowadays they) get a house with three bathrooms and six bedrooms and a big mortgage.
“Mothers didn’t work back then; they stayed home with their kids. There weren’t places for the women to work, anyhow.”
She was married in 1942 to an Army soldier, and she later gave birth to one son and one daughter. Her son is 60 years old and currently lives in Warren, and her daughter is 70 and lives in Harrison Township. Macomb County is their home, and always has been.
Stovel’s father knew her husband’s parents several years before the two ever even met.
“When I met (my husband) I didn’t want to go,” she said. “We got married because, well, this was more time, you know.”
But there were tough times that tried strength.
Her husband, who died in 2011 after 69 years of marriage, experienced tribulations during World War II that were shared by a large number of his comrades. And although her beau was a prisoner of war in 1945, near the end of the war, he made it out alive and was able to return to Fraser and to his family.
“We liked to live in Fraser,” she said. “It was a small town and it was quiet; we knew people. Oh, I love (the old photos and articles). You can see the ones who got married, and now they are dead. It was better being brought up then, to a point.”
Helen Stovel’s life has been one filled with memories, both good and bad, of her life that revolved around Fraser and the people close to her throughout all the years.
She pulls out her binder once in a while to remember how things used to be.
In her words, time changes and life goes on.