Well Known Websterites
Over the Years
At the time of his graduation from the Webster Union Free School in 1899, few could have imagined the remarkable life that was before Asa Kent Jennings. After all, Asa was not in the best of health and his ambition was to become a methodist minister. Most would probably imagine him preaching to a small congregation in a sleepy little town somewhere in upstate New York. For a time, that destiny may have been true, however events half a world away would eventually alter Asa's path.
World War One erupted and drew the United States into the frey. To do his part, Asa joined the Red Cross and served in France until the close of the war. His experiences with the Red Cross eventually led him to a position with the YMCA.
World War One drew to a close but much of the world was still in chaos. Asa's work sent him to Smyrna which at the time was largely a christian city on the western coast of Asia-Minor. Call it bad luck or destiny, 14 days after Asa and his family arrived in Smyrna, The Turkish army invaded the city. The Greek army quickly withdrew leaving 350,000 Greek, Armenian and Jewish refugees trapped with no way out. The sea was to their west and the approaching Turkish army to their east. Homes were looted and set ablaze, while many were raped, tortured and killed. Scores of others drowned trying to reach foreign vessels anchored near by. American and British warships were stationed off the coast to pick up their own fleeing citizens, but as neutral parties they were forced to stay clear of any additional involvement.
Asa sent his family home but remained behind to see how he could assist with the situation. He arranged for food supplies to be brought in to feed the refugees. Despite the danger, Asa was determined to prevent the impending massacre and at great risk to his personal safety traveled through the combat zone to arrange a meeting with Ataturk, the imposing and much feared Turkish leader. Amazingly, Asa was able to convince Ataturk to allow the refugees to leave Smyrna but was only gave 11 days to find them a safe passage out of the country.
Asa contacted the Greek Government to encourage them to provide ships to pick up the refugees. The Greek government showed little enthusiasm for Asa's request and were quite puzzled as to who he was. As Asa appeared to be the only American left in Smyrna, it wasn't much of a stretch for Asa to identify himself as the top American official in Smyrna. After much persistence and threats to expose the Greek government's inaction, the Greek government cabled that they were putting Asa in charge of 26 of their ships. Asa directed the ships into port under American flags and picked up the refugees within the 11 day window.
Word of Asa's deeds reached other ports along the coast. Radio requests were made from those ports for their refugees to be helped. Asa spent much of the next year directing an expanded fleet of 55 ships to ports from the Black Sea to Syria. Over that year, Asa and his crews retrieved over 1.2 million refugees, many of whom would have faced certain death if they remained in Turkey.
Asa gained the respect of both the Greek and Turkish governments so after completing his time at sea both governments used Asa to help negotiate prisoner exchanges between the two countries.
Asa stayed in Turkey following the conflict and helped to establish an organization similar to the YMCA (without the "C"), called "The Friends of Turkey".
Pictured on the left is Roger Jennings, Asa Jennings grandson. Roger Jennings can be seen discussing his grandfather on the trailer for an upcoming movie about Asa Jennings life. Visit the website to learn more about the movie and Asa Jennings.
L. Emmett Holt
Long before there was a Dr. Spock or a Dr. Phil,
there was Dr. Holt.
Born and raised in Webster, New York on his parent's farm, Dr. Holt grew up to become the most prominent pediatrician of his day.
Aside from his duties as chief physician at New York's Babies' Hospital (1888-1924) and his role as professor at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, Dr. Holt published books on the care of children. His best known works were The Care and Feeding of Children (1894) and Diseases of Infancy and Childhood (1896).
The Care and Feeding of Children was by far the most successful child care manual of the first half of the 20th century, with 75 printings and 12 editions.
Dr. Holt was also one of the founding members of the American Society of Pediatrics and was the Society’s president in 1897 and 1922. He was also a founding editor of the first two U.S. pediatric journals, The Archives of Pediatrics and American Journal of Diseases of Children.