CANTON, OH — The contents of a woman or girl’s purse reveal much about her — and when the bag has been missing for as many years as Patti Rumfola’s was, examining the contents is like hopping into a time machine and going back more than six decades to the 1950s.
Rumfola, a 1960 graduate of what was Hoover High School in Canton, Ohio, lost her red clutch purse in 1957.
Chas Pyle, a custodian at the school — now known as North Canton Middle School — unearthed Rumfola’s red purse last spring when he was fixing some loose trim on a locker. He found it wedged between the locker and wall, covered in dust.
The school district got in touch with the family of Rumfola, who died in 2013. The contents of the purse help tell a story of a teenage girl who chewed peppermint-flavored Beech-Nut gum, wore Hazel Bishop lipstick in the shade “Pastel Pink” and had a friend named Bonnie, who wrote on her photo “Good luck to a swell girl and friend.”
Apparently, she was a civic-minded teen. She was a high school member of the American Junior Red Cross, which began at the end of World War I and saw huge membership surge to almost 20 million during World War II. After that war, the organization continued, and members such as Rumfola continued to work on projects that, for example, provided assistance to war veterans and their families.
Her wallet was found along with the missing purse, revealing a few “wheat” pennies that her children ultimately were given, a library card that expired in 1960, ticket stubs to athletic events and a YMCA membership, according to a North Canton City Schools Facebook post.
Getting into a football game cost 35 cents back then. Annual YMCA dues were $6 in 1956, then shot up to $9 in 1958.
A 1956 calendar from the Lilly pharmaceutical company proclaimed that Ilotycin, its version of erythromycin, “the most effective antibiotic for common bacterial infections.” A 1957 wallet-size calendar from the Market Heights Pharmacy, which operated at 2970 Market Ave. N., was devoid of promotions for particular brands of drugs.
In those days, high school seniors ordered calling cards with their commencement announcements and invitations, and Tumfola had several in her purse. The addresses of friends in Jamestown, New York, and Newton, Iowa, were neatly written on what appears to be from a steno pad.
“Those of you who may have gone to school in the 1950s or 1960s may have memories of some of these items,” the district wrote on Facebook. “In one of the photos, you will see nine coins from Patti’s wallet. Each of her five children kept one of the wheat pennies as a token of remembrance of their mom.”
The contents of the old purse sparked so much curiosity that school officials set out to find out all they could about Patti Rumfola’s life.
The daughter of Charles and Rose (Abbate) Rumfola, she was born in DuBois, Pennsylvania, on Feb. 25, 1942, according to an obituary published by the Punxsutawney Spirit.
She was a public school teacher in Annapolis, Maryland, for many years. She had an interest in theater and was one of the founding members of the Theatre Arts Guild in Punxsutawney, and also the Young Women’s Club. She designed and sewed costumes for the Reitz Theatre.
In 1980, she married John G. Michele, who preceded her in death on July 10, 2007.
She was living in Treasure Lake, Pennsylvania, when she died and was a member of the Ladies of the Lake social club, and also book and quilting clubs.
She died at DuBois Regional Medical Center on Oct. 21, 2013, at the age of 71.
She was survived by five children: John P. Michele of Crofton, Maryland; Stephanie M. Hyder of Frederick, Maryland; Lt. Cmdr. (retired) Emory A. Anderson of Annapolis; Charles J. Anderson of Riva, Maryland; and Charlotte A. Baron of Arnold, Maryland.