By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(March 8, 2018) The memory of Jesse Turner lives on, bolstered last week by a well-attended ceremony in Berlin when members of several local groups donated shoes in honor of the late Berlin Shoe Box owner.
Several large bags, containers and other vessels filled with new or gently used shoes were given to local nonprofit group Diakonia during an emotional gathering at the Berlin Welcome Center, last Friday.
Present were members of the (Masonic) Lincoln Lodge #53, American Legion Duncan-Showell Post #231, Sunlight of the Valley #43 Order of the Eastern Star, Abu Lahab Temple #206, King David’s Consistory, Shriners of Salisbury, and the Germantown School Heritage Community Center.
Also attending were Worcester County Commissioner President Diana Purnell, Berlin Mayor Gee Williams, Berlin Council Vice President Elroy Brittingham and Turner’s widow, Agnes.
Turner’s racer entry in the annual Berlin Bathtub Races was donated to the town about two months ago. Berlin Economic and Community Development Director Ivy Wells said it was decided the racer, housed at the welcome center, would be used to collect contributions in Turner’s name.
“Jesse’s store isn’t here anymore and I thought, you know what, we’re going to use this for a shoe collection – we’re going to turn the welcome center into the new satellite location for the Shoe Box and make it a charitable fundraiser for Diakonia, where anyone could come and bring their shoes that they normally would’ve brought Mr. Jesse to have fixed,” Wells said.
The response has been overwhelming, she said, and included a recent phone call from Victor Smack of Lincoln Lodge #53 asking permission for the public donation ceremony.
Gregory Purnell, speaking on behalf of Lincoln Lodge and Sunlight of the Valley, called Turner “one of the old soldiers” of those organizations.
“We’re happy to celebrate his legacy and continue it with our donation,” Purnell said. “Jesse and I partnered together a lot of times with different things, so it touches me to be able to make this presentation.
“Not only was [Turner] a leader, but he was a benevolent person – a giving soul,” Purnell continued. “Not only did he give of himself, but he gave of his talent to the community. And that will be well remembered.”
Purnell recalled speaking to his friend around the same time last year, when Turner revealed his plan to retire.
“He had his day [of retirement] and today, a year later, he’s having another day,” Purnell said. “We’re all here celebrating Jesse’s legacy. And not only is he proud … but I am of the community standing here for Jesse Henry Turner.”
Frank Ausby, Illustrious Potentate of Abu Lahab Temple #206, said Turner was an active member for many years.
“When we went for our conventions, he always carried his dune buggy … and participated in the parades. He was very instrumental in trying to help us get things established. Anything that we needed him to do, he made sure we got things done,” Ausby said. “We just wanted to be here to honor in his memory.”
Duncan-Showell Post 231 Commander Mitchell Foreman said it was a privilege to be there.
“I learned a lot from Mr. Jesse,” he said. “He was a past commander, so we donate these shoes in his name.”
Barbara Purnell, representing the Germantown School, also used the word privilege in honoring Turner. She said Turner was a past president and continued to serve on the board until he passed away, last year.
“Jesse was very instrumental when we were starting the school, up until the time of his death, and we truly miss him … he was certainly an asset to me and our organization, as well as an asset to our community,” she said. “And we honor his legacy.”
Agnes Turner, standing with several family members, also made a donation and spoke on behalf of her late husband.
“I know he’s smiling down, because he believed in these organizations and he was dedicated to these organizations,” she said. “And, in remembrance of Jesse, I brought some shoes.”
Others also offered kind words about Turner.
Diana Purnell said she was a regular customer at the Berlin Shoe Box.
“I even had to go in and have him do some work on some pocketbooks,” she said with a laugh. “Jesse was one of a kind – one of a kind – and we are privileged to have been in his presence and to have known this cobbler, which you don’t hear about anywhere, anymore. He was always a blessing to people.”
Williams said people are often remembered by “what survives us.”
“And what a great example Jesse’s set, not only for our community, but for our family of Berlin. He was a giving person,” Williams said. “I think most of us realize that the good lord put us here to help others – that’s the main reason we’re here on this earth – and whether we chose to or not is our own choice. Jesse chose to help people his entire life.
“Obviously, he made a big impact on, not only these organizations, but on the people throughout our community regardless of age [or] background,” he continued. “I think he has set an example for all of us to remember and to work towards and to pass onto the folks who are younger.”
Michelle D’Ascoli of Diakonia thanked everyone for the donations.
“We thank you for your kindness, we thank you for your generosity, and most of all [for] supporting us by helping us reach our mission … to take the homelessness out of our towns, our states, and the whole United States,” she said.
A separate ceremony was held on Tuesday by members of the Abu Lahab Court #189, a sister organization to the Shriners.
To donate, visit the Berlin Welcome Center on 14 South Main Street, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Donations after hours may be left in the lobby.