David Marsh, A Life of Courage
David Marsh was a little boy who smiled often but nothing garnered smiles from him more than his two loves –firefighting and baseball. Although his life took a different turn than most boys his age, David was still able to realize some of his dreams due to the compassion of the Fairport community.
Paul David Marsh, the eldest of Harold and Carolyn Crane Marsh’s three children, was born on August 7, 1940. Later he was joined by brother Harold Jr. “Hal” and little sister Molly. He was named after his paternal uncle, Paul Marsh, but the little boy was always called David by family and friends.
At the age of six, David contracted rheumatic fever, which led to the beginning of many stays in the hospital throughout the rest of his short life and caused him to be wheelchair bound. In an age where accessibility for physically challenged individuals was rare, David received support from many in the Fairport community, who found alternative ways to include him in childhood activities that others his age would have taken for granted.
Knowing of David’s interest in firefighting, the Fairport Fire Department presented him with an honorary membership in 1949 at the rank of lieutenant and gave him a jacket, badge and hat, all of which he wore proudly. Three years later, on November 8,1952, David was promoted to captain in a special ceremony held at the New York State Rehabilitation Hospital in Haverstraw, New York. David received this honorary rank from the Fairport Fire Department, but it was given to him by Charles M. Fales, president of the Firemen’s Association of New York State, with 16 members of the Haverstraw Fire Department looking on.
Each spring at the opening game of the Little League baseball season, David handed the baseball to the Mayor, who would then throw the first pitch. He served as the honorary president of Little League and was awarded a sportsmanship award. On June 8, 1953, the baseball field at Perinton Park was dedicated “David Marsh Field.” An historic marker was placed at the park in 1988 commemorating the site of the town’s first Little League baseball field.
In spite of the challenge of spending months at a time at Genesee Hospital, where he required an educational tutor, and then a year away for rehabilitation at the hospital in Haverstraw, David was eventually able to return to Fairport schools where each day boys lined up to help carry his wheelchair up and down the stairs of West Avenue School. David proudly graduated from Fairport High School in 1959. The following year, he enrolled in a correspondence course in accounting, which allowed him to acquire a job as bookkeeper at Plastic Pools of Rochester, located at 557 Whitney Road in Fairport.
Paul David Marsh died August 1, 1964, just six days shy of his twenty-fourth birthday. He was laid to rest at White Haven Memorial Park, but that wasn’t the end of his story.
Earlier this year, David’s sister Molly donated items which were close to David’s heart to the Perinton Historical Society. The collection includes his Fairport firefighter jacket, Captain’s and Lieutenant’s hats and badges, framed certificate naming David an honorary member of the Fairport Fire Department, newspaper articles, photographs and David’s Little League trophies. The items are now on exhibit in the Fairport Historical Museum (18 Perrin St.) where, despite his short life, the little boy with the big smile is being remembered and honored for his courage in the face of adversity.
This exhibit will be on display through the end of 2018. For museum hours and more information, please visit: www.perintonhistoricalsociety.org