John M. Newton Jr., 91, of Wolfeboro, NH, father, husband, grandfather, great grandfather and card-carrying member of the Greatest Generation, died peacefully at home on April 12, less than a month before turning 92.
He leaves his wife Ernestine, sons John Newton ‘67 and wife Patricia Fiorelli of Newburyport, Mass, Mark L. Newton ‘70 and wife Susan of Snellville, GA and David Newton ‘74 and wife Lynn Wolff of Boston. A third son, Peter ‘71, predeceased him. He also leaves six grandchildren and four great grandchildren. He was born in Springfield, Mass, son of John M. Newton Sr. and Dorris B. Newton.
He was educated in the Springfield public schools, including Classical High School, and graduated from Williston Academy, Easthampton, Mass, class of 1942. That year, he enrolled at Union College in Schenectady, NY, but, as was the case for many at that time, he interrupted his education to join the Army during World War II. Following basic training, he volunteered for flight school. After earning his wings, he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant and assigned to the 8th Air Force. Within a year after leaving college, he lifted off from an airbase just outside London, the first of what would be 22 bombing missions over Germany as a 20-year-old B-24 pilot. He was awarded the Air Medal with two clusters and three Battle Stars for his service.
He returned to Union College at war’s end. There he starred both as a split end on the varsity football team and as a frequent visitor to Skidmore College in nearby Saratoga. It was on one of these trips that he met Joyce Mower, a Skidmore student from Swampscott, Mass.The first meeting was an afternoon blind date during a heavy rain-storm when both were soaking wet and neither looking their best. Later that night when they met again before a college mixer, Joyce was decked out from head to toe. When John looked at her, he elbowed his Union roommate who had arranged the meeting and whispered, “Not bad, huh?” In 1946 they were married.
As husband and wife, they returned to Schenectady to complete his Union College education while Joyce worked in the college bookstore. After graduation, John had two career options: to join the Roland T. Oakes Company in Holyoke, Mass, a distributor of electrical products and factory automation; or to join his new father-in-law, the co-founder of Durkee-Mower in Lynn, Mass, the makers of Marshmallow Fluff. After some serious thought, he opted for the former and eventually retired as the Oakes President and Chairman of the Board, much to the delight of his Dad, the company’s founder, but not necessarily to his young sons who had envisioned free Fluffernutters for life.
While raising his family in South Hadley, Mass, he served as President of the Holyoke Rotary Club, President of the National Association of Electrical Distributors based in New York City, President of the Holyoke Chamber of Commerce and President of the South Hadley PTA. He often said that raising four boys, each separated by two years and each endowed with extraordinary energy, curiosity and the mind-sets typical of what would become the Baby Boom generation, was the best and greatest challenge a man could face.
He found great delight in coaching his sons in Little League, but was just as happy umpiring pick-up neighborhood baseball and “tackle” football games on the vacant lot across the street from the Newton house. As he became more established in his career, he continued to expand his business and civic involvement serving on the Board of Investment at Peoples Savings Bank in Holyoke, the Board of Trustees at Williston Academy (later The Williston-Northampton School), Director of the Board at Holyoke Hospital and on the Board of the National Association of Electrical Distributors in New York. He had a full plate but loved every minute, unless it took too much time away from being home with Joyce and “his boys.” After retiring, he and Joyce moved north from South Hadley to Wolfeboro, NH. He was a member of the Kingswood Golf Club, active in town and loving the country life. From day one, he considered himself a native and, as such, had the right to complain about traffic, tourists hogging the downtown parking spaces, the price of firewood and, of course, politics. He served as a volunteer at the Wright World War II Museum in Wolfeboro and always came home after his “work” day enthusiastic about how many people, especially the teens, who, after listening to his personal World War II history and the accompanying stories, treated him like a celebrity. He loved it, but more importantly was deeply impressed that young people seemed to care about the WW II generation, especially for those who served. In 1993 Joyce passed away. Soon thereafter, he received a phone call from Ernestine Hayes who also had grown up in Springfield and attended Classical High School with John. She called to extend her sympathies as she and Joyce had been dorm mates at Skidmore. John and Ernestine hit it off and were married in April 1995.
“I knew him in high school because he was a great football player and a great dancer,” Ernestine explained. “Back in those days, being both was something that set some guys apart. During our 20-plus years together, he was always a great dancer and of course a great father, grandfather, great grandfather, historian and a wonderful loving husband.”