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Joel K L Schwartz

Fillmore Methodist c 1912.jpg

Joel K L Schwartz was one of the early arrivals in Fillmore. His family was Amish living in Berne, Indiana. The family had fled their homeland in Alsace-Lorraine because of religious persecution. Like many children of his family he had attended grammar school at the private Amish grammar school located on his family farm. Indiana law said that any student from a “country” school who wanted an 8th grade diploma had to take an examination. His father had refused to allow him to take the test, but one Saturday, the last of three days on which the test would be given, he sneaked into town, took the test and passed it. Three weeks later, when the results were published in the local paper, the jig was up and he had to confess to his father what he had done. His father said he was proud of him and said nothing about it ever again. High school was never going to be an option for him so he went to work farming for his family.

​When he turned 20, he and a cousin decided to leave their families behind. Farming had no appeal and they felt stifled by the religious requirements of Amish life. But, what to do, where to go? On Memorial Day, 1911, Joel and his cousin boarded a train headed west. They paid $33.00 each for the fare to Phoenix, near Winkelman, Arizona, where Joel’s brother was living.

During a short period in Phoenix he tried several odd jobs. He tried rolling doughnuts at a local bakery but couldn’t get the knack. He got a job at the fairgrounds taking care of show horses. That didn’t last. He applied for a job as a chocolate dipper for a candy store. But they asked if he had experience. He didn’t, so he moved on.

After three months he moved to Winkelman, Arizona, where his brother, Sol, and Sol’s wife had a boarding house. In addition to renting rooms, they served about 50 miners breakfast, a sack lunch and dinner for $1.00. Within a short time they closed the boarding house because his brother was getting a good salary working in the depot for the railroad and the boarding house wasn’t giving them enough profit to compensate for all the work.

Joel moved on. He got to Los Angeles in April. 1912, where he enrolled in McKay Business College. After two weeks, the school got a call from the Southern Pacific. They needed a warehouseman at the depot in Fillmore. He was hired and moved to Fillmore in May. He was one of four employees at the depot. They worked 10 hours a day, 6 days a week and a half a day on Sunday. For 2 years, he slept in the warehouse on a cot which he purchased at a discount because it had arrived damaged and undeliverable.

​In July, 1914, he married a local girl, Izetta Dunn. During the next 20 years, Joel worked for the railroad and made his life in Fillmore and various cities in Southern California with a several years spent in the desert towns of Glamis, Brawley and Banning. While in Glamis the family, by then including a daughter, Josephine, lived in a boxcar, making trips by rail to Banning and Indio for shopping. In 1921, his father-in-law died and Joel took a one year leave of absence from the railroad and moved to the Guiberson Road ranch. He was back to his least favorite occupation. He spent the year farming and decided to lease the property. The next 3 years he was back at work on the railroad but finally returned to Fillmore and began farming again. He was pretty good at it. He began a citrus nursery, planted more trees and generally improved the ranch.

Joel Schwartz in the Fillmore Historical Museum at its prior location.

Joel K L Schwartz

In 1932 his life totally took a new direction. FDR was elected president. With the Democratic Party win, all sorts of new opportunities came along because of the “spoils” system. In those days each time a political party took over the government they put their own party members in positions that had previously been held by members of the other party. Joel, a lifelong Democrat, was tapped in 1934 by the local Ventura County Democratic party to be the new Fillmore Postmaster. He had never been a farmer at heart so when they offered him the position he didn’t have to think twice.

He was a gregarious person who loved people. Being postmaster allowed him to get to know just about everyone in Fillmore. He became a Rotarian and posted a 50 year perfect attendance record. He did charity work with the March of Dimes and Community Chest. He was a founding member of the Postmaster’s group of Ventura County.

He was the longest serving postmaster in the Fillmore Post Office, serving from 1934 until his retirement in 1961. During that 27 years he instituted local home delivery, put the first postal collection box in the residential area in 1936 and facilitated the move of the post office from Sespe St. to its current location on Central Ave.

All of his achievements were accomplished with only an 8th grade education. But he was ambitious, smart and prepared to do what needed to be done to improve his life and to make his hometown a better place to live.

A final note about those initials. When he was born, he was named Joel. But he had a very large extended family all of them Schwartzs, many of them named Joel. He added the initial K and then added the L just to distinguish him from all the cousins.

Joel and Izetta Schwartz at the depot c 1914

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