Bobby Styles Retires
On April 22, 1949, the Fillmore Herald carried on its front page a story titled, “Bobby Styles, School Custodian, to Retire May 1, after 31 Years of Service.” It wasn’t a slow news week, other front-page stories included plans for the upcoming May Festival and the loss in baseball by the Flashes to the Lancaster Antelope. But this was an important story to the community because Bobby Styles was not just any custodian.
Bobby was born in 1878 in Pewsey, Wiltshire, England. His father, Joseph, was listed in the 1891 English census as a bricklayer. Bobby’s mother, Frances, was a laundress. Bobby, who would have been about 13, was listed as a ploughboy. As a ploughboy, he would be leading the horses which pulled the plow. By the 1901 census, Bobby was in London working as a shop assistant. In 1906 he married Amy Ethel Mills.
Bobby didn’t just work though. He was part of the English Brass Band movement which had begun earlier in the 19th century. His instrument was the cornet. The English Brass band was often sponsored by the major employer in the area – frequently a mine or factory. It was not primarily a marching band, but would play concerts for the local residents.
1912 brought a major change in the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Styles. On May 2, 1912, they left Liverpool on the White Star Lines (of Titanic fame which had sunk the prior month) on the “Cedric” bound for New York. Their final destination was listed as “Fillmore, Cal.” It isn’t clear why they decided to leave England, but they did have a reason to settle in Fillmore. Ethel Styles’ half-brother through her father, Charles Barth Mills, was living in Fillmore as was his half-brother, (through his mother) R. A. Fremlin, who had immigrated in 1892 and settled in Fillmore.
On May 12, 1912, they arrived in Fillmore. Bobby would later remark, “Fillmore, at that time was not much to look at! Oh, it was a growing town, all right, but all the stores along the main street were the usual board front affair, and it sure didn’t compare to London.”
Bobby and Ethel quickly became settled in their new home. They first lived on Palm Street but later moved to 437 Foothill Drive. They joined the Presbyterian Church. Bobby became a citizen in January, 1918.
Fillmore City Band c 1920. Bobby is 4th from the right in the front row.
Bobby was an early member of the Fillmore City Band under the direction of A. L. Lamberg. The band played concerts for the residents of Fillmore. His Boosey and Hawkes cornet can be seen on display at the Fillmore Historical Museum
Bobby was hired in 1916 by the High School as a custodian. He worked under six principals, J. W. Gastrich, J. B. Ely, William Hull, P. H. Benson, J. M. Hawley, and Donovan Main. At the time of his retirement in 1949, Principal Main said, “Over the years nothing has been too little or too big for Bobby to take care of. The doors of his service were always swinging wide.”
Bobby did much more than just work as a custodian, for many years he handled all of the stage scenery for school plays until stagecraft classes were begun and students took over these duties. He also gave lessons on the trumpet, French horn, baritone horn and other wind instruments and helped with the original organization of the Fillmore High School Band.
In 1940, local artist, Lawrence Hinckley, presented Bobby with an oil portrait of Bobby. (If anyone knows if this still exists, let the Museum know).
Also, in 1940, the Fillmore High School Copa de Oro was dedicated to Bobby, saying, “He has been a constant asset since 1916 when he first came, twenty-four years ago. His cheerful and friendly attitude has made him a friend of both teachers and students.”
Bobby did not retire because he wanted to but was forced by California regulation to retire upon reaching the age of 70. So, upon his retirement after so many years of service, how was he recognized? Naturally he received a plaque recognizing his years of service, but many thought he should receive something more.
Bobby had never been back to England to see his family. One of eleven children, only he and his younger sister, Edith, who had worked as a parlor maid in England, came to the United States. Edith and her husband, Thomas Banks, whom she married in 1919, immigrated in 1922 and settled in Seattle.
The High School Alumni Association announced in May, 1949, that they had established a “Bobby Styles home-going” fund. They had barely a month to raise the $1000 needed. Cards and letters were sent to members of the Alumni Association. A benefit baseball game between the Fillmore Pipers and the Santa Paula All-Stars was held, which Fillmore won in nine innings 2 to 1.
On June 18, 1949, the Annual Alumni Barbecue was held. It was at this meeting the plaque was presented to Bobby by Albert Haase, the clerk of the school board. It was also announced that the Alumni Association had made all the arrangements needed for the trip back to England, but the fund was still short. By the end of the evening this shortfall was more than made up.
On August 20, 1949, Bobby left on United Airlines flight 608 leaving “Inglewood” airport at 8 am. Locals accompanied him to the airport and others waiting to board the plane wondered who this VIP was because of all the flashbulbs going off. He would stay overnight at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York and then take a Pan American Airways Clipper on to London. Due to ill health, Bobby’s wife, Ethel, could not accompanying him. After a month-long visit, Bobby returned to Fillmore.
In July 1953, after an illness of several months, Bobby passed away. Ethel survived him by three years.
Below, Bobby's cornet on display at the Museum.