Salamanca woman keeps mother’s legacy alive with history scrapbooks

Salamanca resident Betty Prebis is shown at the Salamanca Public Library with her collection of photos and obituaries in a scrapbook. In the foreground is a framed photo of her mother, the late Isabelle Prebis, who started the scrapbook collection.

SALAMANCA — To honor the memory of her mother, the late Isabelle Prebis, Betty Prebis has continued her legacy by keeping her World War II scrapbooks going.

The Salamanca resident said her mother had a collection of World War II (WWII) articles and obituaries from local newspapers in one big, red scrapbook. The majority of the newspaper clippings are from old editions of The Salamanca Press. The Press most recently wrote about her mother’s book in November 2010.

Prebis said the book is very fragile and she doesn’t know how to keep it together. That’s why she’d like the Salamanca Public Library to try to help her figure out a way to preserve it for future Salamanca generations.

“My mother’s scrapbook is 70-some years old. She passed away in March 2017,” she said. “I added to her scrapbook because mom kept obituaries from 1945, and she had them organized from A to Z. I took the obits of people who had served in WWI and put them in her scrapbook.”

When Prebis started going through her mother’s picture collection, she found pictures of a flood in Salamanca in 1942, and she has pictures of the flood of 1972. She also found pictures of another flood in Salamanca. Then she discovered pictures of a train wreck in Salamanca, but she has no clue where it was, and pictures of a Gowanda train wreck.

“They are tiny pictures and I’d like to have them copied in honor of my mom, but in my name,” she said.

Then Prebis started three big scrapbooks of her own about men and women from Salamanca who served their country during WWII and have since passed away. One is of people who were born in Salamanca and lived in Salamanca. The second book has people who were born in Salamanca and lived someplace else. A third book has the obituaries of people from the Seneca Nation who served.

She has yet another book she’s working on that has Salamanca people who served in the Civil War.

“It’s hard to believe what all these people have done and where they’ve been, and they were all from Salamanca,” she said.

Prebis said she got so interested in the obituaries that she actually found some of the people that lived in her neighborhood at Cleveland Avenue, some people that she worked with, and people who were either born on her birthday or died on her birthday. Then she found the obituaries of 15 to 20 people from Salamanca that were over 100 years old when they passed. She also found people from 1789 to 1899 who were from Salamanca.

“It was really fascinating because, when you read the obituaries, it tells you who married whom, what the stores and factories were in town,” she said. “I didn’t know there was a casino in Salamanca during the 1920s and ‘30s.”

PREBIS SAID she has found just over 1,300 men and women who served. She keeps a personal book of people who had extraordinary experiences — men that were with President Eisenhower, General George Patton and President John F. Kennedy, to name a few.

“They fought in B-52 and B-17 bombers. There was even a guy who saved his whole platoon,” she said. “Then I found them when they were in Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge. They were there on D-Day, they were in the South Pacific. How these men saved our country is amazing.”

Prebis has found a lady from the Seneca Nation who was 103 years old and had served. One man was in the Olympics in 1932. Then there was a man who traveled with Gene Autry in his shows, and he was also with the Ringling Bros. Circus.

“I still have the obituaries and I want to donate them to the Salamanca library, so instead of finding them on the micro-film machine, they can go right to the books that have them,” she said. “They are all alphabetical, in order. It took me three months to do that.

“Mom had them all in envelopes and I added some but, as I cleaned, I found 10 more envelopes full of obituaries,” Prebis continued. “She even had yearbooks from 1925 to 1992. She would post in all those yearbooks of all the people who had passed away.”

Prebis said the Seneca Nation is interested in making copies of the books to help research the heritage of their people. She said the Salamanca library would like to have them on file as well.

“What my mom left me is very interesting,” she said. “There’s a program on TV called ‘Strange Inheritance.’ Every time I watch it, the woman in the show says, ‘If you have something strange, write or email me.’ My mom left me obituaries and most people would think that’s strange.

“I wanted to do this in honor of my mom, but I also want to do it for the servicemen in the area because they deserve to be recognized.”

Prebis said she would like gift the Seneca part of her book to the Seneca Iroquois National Museum, and the other two will probably go to the Salamanca Public Library.

(Contact press reporter Deb Everts at salpressdeb@gmail.com)