Richard N. Ferris
(1 March 1930 – 11 January 2016)
The recollections of a son, and partner in the business of antiques.
A shallow snow covers the ground in upstate New York. Out in the fields, even in the canopied forest, the snow acts as a “finger print brush,” allowing an observer to see things that may otherwise have not come to light–old roads, deer trails. Recollecting a father’s life can be much the same: initially a single path, then varying in size and diverging in direction. One follows the paths of this individual you knew from childhood… and who you grew to know as a partner in the antiques business.
Richard Noble Ferris was born, 1 March, 1930, in Oneonta, New York, to Kenneth Noble and Nellie Busfield Ferris. In his senior year of high school his parents bought a dry cleaner business in Boonville, NY: thus transplanting Dick and his younger brother, Dale, to the Black River Valley–Walter D. Edmonds’s “Drums Along the Mohawk” territory. Following graduation Dick married his high school love, Faye Bronson, and shortly thereafter (they) set off on a four year stint with the U.S. Air Force.
Daughter Sheri Snyder (Ed) was born at the F. E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, WY; son Ken (Suzanne), was born at the Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee, MA. Upon Dick’s discharge from the service the Ferrises returned to Boonville, where Dick would open “Dick Ferris Men’s Wear,” on Main Street, and The Brass Drum Antiques at their home. During those early years the family grew: Scott (Sharon), Karen Bissell (deceased) and Christopher (Deanna), followed, between 1956 and 1963.
Though Faye bought Dick’s first Civil War era pistol, his interest in historic militaria may have been inspired by his gun wielding great uncle (Western film actor) Gabby Hayes. While Dick was stationed at Warren Air Base (during the early 1950s) he was asked to catalogue the gun collection at the State historical museum.
By the early 1960s he served as consultant to Francis Lord on his book, “Civil War Collector’s Encyclopedia”; and he wrote articles for the trade publication, Antique Talk. And during the 1960s he and a cohort of artillery enthusiasts bought a 12-pound Howitzer, uniforms, and formed a cannon crew that demonstrated live firing at “shoots.” The Ferrises also acquired a Ford Model A, with a “rumble seat,” that, much to the children’s delight, took them down another path of their father’s life.
By the early 1970s Dick had remarried, to Janette (Jan) Cooper, and became a step-father to four daughters: Marilyn Fink (Orville-deceased), Donna Smith (Joe), Dorie Van Waldick (deceased; Fred), and Billie St. Joseph.
J & R Ferris Antiques has been in business since the early 1970s. Jan and Dick set out as purveyors of 18th and 19th century militaria and Americana from a little shop in Madison, NY and branched out to do antiques and Civil War shows from Colorado and Texas to New England and Florida. In 1984 Dick’s son, Scott, became a full time member of the business. Following Jan’s, and now Dick’s passing, Scott wears all hats.
Dick was the family patriarch–he was predeceased by his parents and brother, as well as the daughter and step-daughter mentioned above. He is survived by his remaining children and step-children, as well as, numerable grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
He will be remembered for his humor–some may remember his rendition of Red Skelton’s character, Clem Kadiddlehopper – as well as for his occasional acridity. In some ways he was the last of the Victorians–independent and distant. Purportedly he played upright bass in a small ensemble; and his endeavor to master the bagpipes was never fully realized: though his love of the music inspired him to cart his family off to Highland Games. Growing up with him was a lesson in American history: with Fort Ticonderoga, “Old Fort Henry” and other historic and natural history sites as his classrooms. He also schlepped his children off to weekend antiques shows, arts and crafts fairs, and flea markets such as Shupp’s Grove, PA.
With tongue in cheek, one could say that as Dick began raising a family his ability to maintain his Civil War collection diminished, forcing him to become a dealer… A path that now one of his children has taken.