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Orator Frank Woodward


Cora Talmage Woodward


Ernest Leroy Woodward


Woodward Family

The Woodward Family

     Orator Frank Woodward was not quite 6 years old in 1856 when the Confederate States of America was formed.  He was the son of an itinerant book peddler and his father died at the age of 43 fighting as a soldier in the Civil War.  Orator grew up in the Village of LeRoy.  He quit school at the age of 12, deciding that he would rather earn a living than go to school.  He worked as a stable boy and as a footman for an attorney.  At the age of 13, he began inventing things to sell.  His first success was a medicated nest egg that killed the lice that plagued hens as they were laying and hatching eggs.

     With the money from this success, he married Cora Talmage in 1882.  Their family immediately grew with the first of four sons born nine months later.  After Ernest, five more children were born, Orator Frank Jr., Paul Wilbur, Eleanore Emily, Donald, and Helen.

     Orator continued to invent and market proprietary medicines, such as Sherman’s Headache Remedy and Raccoon Corn Plasters.  His biggest success before Jell-O was Grain-O, a roasted cereal substitute for coffee and tea.

     In 1899, Orator paid Pearl B. Wait $450 for the Jell-O formula, and a year later the product first appeared under the Genesee Pure Food Company label.   Two years later sales of Jell-O amounted to $250,000.  Orator did not live long to enjoy his fortune.  He suffered a slight stroke, his condition deteriorated, and he died in January 1906.  He was 49 years old.

     Cora Talmage Woodward was born in 1860 and grew up in Pavilion Center.  She married Orator in 1882.  When her husband died in 1906 she took over as president of Genesee Pure Foods Company working with her son Ernest who later succeeded her as president.  When she retired at the age of 57, she lived in Buffalo and then in Pasadena, California.  She died in 1923.

     One pastime Cora enjoyed was collecting books and when she died she possessed one of the finest private libraries in the country.  Cora was very generous in the community.  She purchased most of the land for the original athletic field behind the LeRoy public school; she paid for the land and the architect to build the Municipal Building at the corner of West Main and Clay streets.  She also supported the Methodist Church and donated a pipe organ and established a bequest for its upkeep. 

The Children:

     Ernest Leroy was eldest of the six Woodward children and dominated the Woodwards of LeRoy.  After finishing school, he worked for his father as a private secretary and took over management of Genesee Pure Foods Company when his father died.  He married Edith Hartwell in 1903.  Ernest and Edith had only one son, Talmadge.  Ernest was an outdoorsman.  He loved to hunt and fish and was an astute businessman.  He weathered the 1929 Wall Street stock crash better than most.  Ernest and his four remaining siblings decided to build a memorial to their parents.  Possibly because of Cora’s love of books they decided on a community library.

     Orator Frank was the epitome of the playboy in the Woodward family and his sudden death is still a mystery.  The second son of Orator and Cora, he was born in 1884 and died by suicide or by accident in 1952 when he jumped or fell five stories from a luxury suite at the Hotel Sheraton on East Avenue in Rochester.  He married and divorced twice; both marriages cost him an enormous amount of money to end.  With his first wife, Persis Earle Davis, he produced two children, O.F. Jr. and Ruth.  His second wife, Mary Trask produced a son Ernest.

     Paul Wilbur, the third son was born in 1886.  He died at the age of 23.  Not much is known of Paul except that he contacted pneumonia while visiting friends in Annapolis and died.

     Eleanore Emily, the eldest of the two daughters was born in 1889.  She married Dr. John A. Vietor in 1913 and they had two children, John Vietor and Mrs. Edward Townsend.

     Donald Woodward was the youngest of the sons and was neither the philanthropist that his older brother Ernest was nor the playboy his brother Frank was.  Donald’s passion was aviation.  He was the first person to step from an airplane on LeRoy soil.  In 1928, Donald converted 150 acres of farmland into an airport.  The Donald Woodward Airport opened in October 1928 attracting what police officials said at the time was the largest crowd ever assembled in Genesee County – 60,000 for the three-day event.  Don also built the golf course on East Main, now the LeRoy Country Club.  In 1917 he joined with J. Leonard Heimlich as equal partners in forming the LeRoy Lime and Crushed Stone Corporation, which became one of the outstanding producers of crushed stone in the state.  Donald sired four children and adopted two.  He married three times.

     Helen Woodward Rivas was the “baby” of the family, the sixth child of Orator and Cora.  Helen married and divorced twice and kept the last name of her second husband.  She was a philanthropist like her brother, but it was done quietly and often anonymously.  One of her major gifts was to endow the R Wing in the Psychiatric Department at Strong Memorial Hospital.  Besides her residences in LeRoy, she had residences or had lived in Florida, Arizona, New York City and Pinehurst, North Carolina.  She had one daughter, Helen Constance (Mrs. Walter F. Stafford).

Woodward Memorial Library | 7 Wolcott Street | LeRoy , New York 14482 | 585-768-8300