Picture perfect: 1954 photo leads to gathering

Original OBSERVER Photo includes Genevieve Ludemann, Rebecca Powell, Jesse Powell, Josef Powell, Vince Manuel (Santa Claus), Toni Powell, Ryman Powell, Katie Powell, Elizabeth Powell, and Frank Powell.

It was Christmastime 1954 and Ryman Powell had been just released from the hospital after a long fight with Polio. He had been in an Iron Lung and then graduated to a rocking bed to help him breathe. He was only 42 years old, a husband with a young family, six children, Frank, Jesse, Josef, Toni, Elizabeth and Rebecca. The children ranged in age from 14 years to 1 month old, baby Rebecca was born while Ryman was hospitalized in the Iron Lung.

Under the circumstances, it was quite evident that Christmas at the Powell residence on Spoden Road in Fredonia was going to be rather bleak. The community however, had other plans.

Santa Claus made an appearance with an Elf. They delivered a Christmas tree and gifts for all the children, and gifts for Ryman and his wife Katie. A picture and short article ran in the Evening Observer depicting this very special Christmas Miracle for the Powell family.

The Josef Powell family was given the Christmas 1954 picture in the 1980s from Fr. Daniel Walsh. Fr Dan found the photo while he was cleaning at St Anthony’s Church in Fredonia. He recognized the Powell family and gave the photo to the Powells.

The family had learned many years ago that Santa Claus was Vince Manuel. He was affiliated with the St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. Anthony’s Church. The identity of his Elf, the young woman holding the baby, had remained a mystery until spring 2021.

Those pictured, from left, include Josef Powell, Genevieve Ludemann and Frank Powell. Standing are Rebecca Powell, Toni Powell Clark, Elizabeth Powell and Jesse Powell.

After some “detective work” Dr. Josef Powell’s wife Linda, learned the Elf was Mrs. Genevieve Ludemann of Fredonia. Mrs. Ludemann was the Director of Fredonia Youth Counsel in 1954. She then went on to teach in the Fredonia Central School district for many years.

Recently, ALL six of the Powell siblings had the opportunity to meet and visit with Mrs Ludemann. The Powell siblings brought photos of their families to share with Mrs Ludemann. Mrs Ludemann even brought the original Christmas newspaper article from 1954! They all reminisced, shared family stories and thanked Mrs. Ludemann for all she and the community did to help make a difficult time easier for the young family.

The Fredonia community has wonderful history of helping when people are in need and the eagerness to help continues to this day.


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