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February 11, 2000

We're seeing the name of Vladimir Putin in the news quite often these days. He's the acting president of Russia to fill in for Boris Yeltsin, who recently resigned. The name is pronounced "Poo-tin," and that brings to mind the name of a former mayor of Perry, one who served during the years of the Great Depression.

The mayor's real name was Ted Newton, but he happened to be a member of that legendary band of merry men who called themselves "the Poor Boys Club." The organization was formed in the heart of the depression, and their sole objective was to have a few laughs despite the gloomy economic times. When a new man was granted membership, the club bestowed upon him a new name. It was kind of poetical, in that the new name had to rhyme with the real name, but it also had to be sort of funny because that is what the Poor Boys loved.

One year during the 1930s, Perry seemed to be hovering on the brink of landing some federal money as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's quest for resuscitation of the badly wounded U.S. economy. FDR had created a slew of alphabetical bureaus like the WPA, CCC, NYA, NRA, and others to provide programs for communities, large and small (like ours), as a means of putting young people to work. Perry was on the trail of a new football-baseball stadium, a new armory, some new school buildings, and a wonderful rustic park. The best civic minds in our community were called upon, along with our local political icons, to assist in the scramble for authorization on all of those projects.

In the midst of all this, Perry citizens were getting ready for a city election. The incumbent mayor was Fred Kretsch, a true pioneer of this area and a gentle man who operated a "ma and pa" grocery store with his wife on the west side of the square. His opponent in the general election was a young, Poor Boy club member, Ted Newton, who also had legitimate ties to the early history of this area. Ted was a feisty and effective campaigner, and he won the election.

His Poor Boy brothers immediately put their tongues in cheek and began mercilessly razzing the new mayor. In their newsletter, The Perry Urinal, which was printed at The Perry Daily Journal shop without the publisher's knowledge, the Boys teed off on their own member with fanciful tales of political skullduggery which for the most part had no basis in fact. The new mayor's reputation was clouded with unfounded stories of maneuvering for votes at the expense of his defeated foe.

In Poor Boys parlance, Ted Newton had been dubbed "Bed Pootin." So, it was only logical, after the election, that in the Poor Boys' conversation and in their newsletter he was referred to not as Mayor Newton, but I as "Mare Pootin." Ted didn't mind the sobriquet. He was one of the club's chief kidders himself, and he enjoyed the attention that the election drew to him.

Far as I know, Vladimir Putin is not a member of any Russian organization similar to our own late lamented Poor Boys Club. Putin is his real name and surviving Poor Boys members can amuse themselves with any variations they care to make. What rhymes with Vladimir, anyway?

The Poor Boys Club once claimed international membership due to another chapter that was organized in Medford by former Perryan O.B. Campbell, but I've never heard anything about a Russian chapter. The Perry club was an offshoot of the Great Depression, but when prosperity returned after World War II, the funsters were forced to put their creation on the shelf. Everybody seemed to be malting a decent living by then, and the name of the club just didn't fit any more.