A Rich Athletic Experience
by Cate Murway
“Welcome Friend” has served Bristol as a motto and the original sign still hangs within the Borough Hall, where it continues to greet newcomers as well as locals.
Frank Michael Rich, Jr., BHS ’50/ PSU was born and raised in historic Bristol on the Delaware. He grew up on Garden Street and he recently enjoyed a sincere “Welcome Back Friend” when the former softball standout returned to his hometown after 50 years. The Florida resident, baseball/football/basketball/track athlete participated in the seventh annual softball classic this month at the Mike Manto Little League Field. No one had seen him for half a century!
His dad, Frank Michael Rich, Sr., known as "Big Rich", grew up on Wood Street and attended BHS. He was a foreman at Fleetwings, Inc. Aircraft Company on the Delaware River and he also bartended part time at the neighborhood Ferry’s Bar on Beaver Dam Road. His mom Hilda Margaret [Coltre] migrated from Rome, Italy and she worked as a machine operator at the H.D. Lee Mercantile Company (now Lee Jeans). She volunteered at Deborah Hospital for 25 years and Frank proudly stated that she was the President of the Bristol chapter of the Deborah Hospital Foundation.
Frank shared his birthday with the 32nd President of the US, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who also was an only child and who grew to love outdoor sports and played intramural football.
Frank attended Bath Street Elementary and he can remember his 1st grade and 2nd grade teachers, Miss Sparks and Mrs. Lerner. He continued his education at the Jefferson Avenue School. After his BHS graduation, he attended PSU for two years. Then PFC Frank M. Rich, served in the Marine Corps as a naval gunfire spotter in the 1st Marine Division 5th Regiment in Korea. He was based on land, directing naval ships gunfire with radio coordinates. Frank completed his education at PSU when he returned from his active duty.
He was able to play Marine Corps baseball for one season and he played outfield for the US Hobo exhibition travel team that competed in Canada. They participated in “slapstick stuff”, using gimmicked props such as a composite sawdust ball that exploded.
Frank lettered in every sport, truly having a “Rich” BHS athletic experience.
He proved himself an integral part of the football team, playing left end, behind the line of scrimmage as defensive halfback and punting for the team.
In baseball, he took his turn in batting against the pitcher as the 3rd or 4th in lineup. The third batter, in the three-hole, is generally the best all-around hitter on the team and the fourth player in the batting order is known as the cleanup hitter. This athlete is almost always one of the best hitters on the team and often the one with the most power.
Jerald Bloom was his baseball and basketball coach.
Frank feels that basketball was his best sport. He was among the 18 players chosen for the All-District Team that was listed in the Delaware Valley Advance/Morrisville Herald on March 2,1950.
He competed in track for Coach McAllister, in the javelin throw [1949 BHS school record- 160’1”], shot put, high jump and broad jump [now known as long jump]. The BHS track & field coach, James William [Jim] Jones, Jr, BHS ’59 believes that Frank’s javelin throw record is unbroken.
He continued his athletic career as a collegiate basketball and boxing athlete.
Frank Rich confided that “All Bucks County Catcher” Frank Albin Barbetta, BHS ’50 was his best friend.
Per Frank Barbetta, “Frank was a great athlete and we were the best of friends. He was voted “Athlete of the Year 1950”.
They each were “Best Man” at each other’s weddings.
Frank Rich met his wife Nancy [Patterson] through her brother and they are the parents of two sons, Daniel Edwin and Frank Michael,III. They have four grandchildren.
His late cousin Anthony Accardi was the artistic one in his family. This was before plastic and he made detailed model balsa wood airplanes [models were originally designed to help manufacturers sell airplanes to the military].
As an adult, Anthony made clocks and repaired them.
Growing up in the Borough was fun. It was a gigantic playground and exploratorium.
The Canal was his all-time favorite place and Frank loved swimming at Silver Lake.
Children were on their own to become proficient at sports and to love them.
They played low organized games like sandlot horseshoes at Grundy Park and stickball in the streets with sawed-off broom handles, ½ tennis balls and pieces of hose.
Everybody played, rules fit the game, and ground rules fit the patch of open space. The game ended when it got dark or the ball was lost.
From Grundy Park he and his friends dashed to Beaver Street to dive off the Forge Bridge that was originally built in 1827 and replaced in 1929.
He enjoyed ice-skating on the canal by the “light house pavilion”, the gazebo in the Bristol Lagoon, near the former Grundy Woolen Mill and its iconic clock tower. A beloved birthday present from his parents was his red and white Schwinn bike with the “fat tires for a comfortable fast ride on the cinder trails”.
The Robert W. Bracken American Legion Drum & Bugle Corps enticed him at one point and Frank played the bugle because he “wasn’t coordinated with drums”. He practiced for months on just the mouthpiece and his patience with detail allowed him to become a bit of an expert.
His recollections include a favorite summertime treat of collecting ice shavings from the ice plant at the end of Buckley Street and snatching the discarded colored paper clippings from the Bristol Courier office on Beaver Street, close to the RR station.
And old time winters were great - lots of snow! Sled riding was a favorite activity and this “flexible flier” vividly recalls the infamous wonderful rides down the banks by the railroad.
Going back down memory lane is a very sweet path indeed, back to simpler times when the kids played outdoors all the time. Playing games meant socializing and playing with others. They flexed that gray matter and their creative muscles.
Frank collected marbles, a favorite was a “blue swirly one” and he enjoyed the popular childhood game of shooting marbles out of a circle.
Expressions such as ‘losing your marbles’, ‘knuckling down to business’ and ‘playing for keeps’ can all be traced back to the original game of marbles.
A game of luck more than a game of skill was baseball with a penknife. When the tossed knife stood vertically, it was a home run.
They also banished boredom with standard decks of cards and the world's best known and most widely played games like “500 rummy” and “war”.
Frank also played “solitaire”. It has no general solution.
Is “solitaire” really a game or merely a glorified puzzle? "Game" normally implies some form of competition between players, which of course is absent from a solitary pursuit.
Where there is strategy, there is a game by definition. He won by strategic skill.
His family did not own a television. Together they listened to the classic mystery show “Only the Shadow Knows” on a Zenith floor model console radio.
Today, children tend to get more screen time and less scream time.
Nothing can compare to the theater of the mind!
His dapper attire included checkered diamond pattern Argyle socks, cardigans and sweater vests and traditional brown on white color combination saddle shoes.
Frank shared that his mom was a good cook and “everything she made was delicious, even the leftovers”. She prepared the traditional Italian dishes like cornmeal polenta with tomato sauce and his favorite dessert was her pineapple upside down cake.
But he and the gang did eat in town.
The “biggest and best in the whole town was an Italian roll sub with Romano and Capicola made by Joe”, a storefront dwelling on the corner of Lafayette & Pond Streets.
“He was slow as molasses but they were good sandwiches so it was worth the wait.”
Right after church services, Ann DeRisi’s home was the neighborhood hangout for ice-cold milk and freshly baked Italian cookies.
The O’Boyle’s Ice Cream parlor was an automatic post game stop for great old-fashioned ice cream concoctions like knockout egg creams, root beer floats and extra thick malted milkshakes.
An advertisement in the April 1949 Bristol Courier states “$.05 will still get you an ice cream cone”. Not a lot of cold cash necessary!
Frank remembers being bitten by a tick when he was10 years old and he became delirious and unwell with a fever for 7-8 days and he was unable to eat. As soon as he felt better and could eat, he asked for a hamburger from John Field’s on Wood Street.
“That hamburger was good!”
His vote is that the best pizza was at “Cesare’s Italian Specialties Ristorante”.
With small businesses on almost every corner, part time employment for teens was easily secured. His Aunt Molly and Uncle Leonard Accardi owned a market on Dorrance Street and his Aunt Daisy and Uncle “Niti” Rich were the proprietors of Napoli’s Grocery Store. One summer, he worked as a “strip picker” at a bakery on Wood Street.
The rolled dough for Italian bread was cut on the top with a razor and a single strip of cord was pressed vertically in the line before it was baked. He’ll never forget burning many a finger, pulling off the cords from the hot freshly baked loaves.
As an older teen, he remembers always wearing a hat while he labored on King’s Farm in Tullytown, picking beans and tomatoes and cutting broccoli. “It was good for me physically.” A crew chief member, Pat DeSalvo gave him a ride to the fields.
During two summers, he stamped out car parts in the Kaiser metal assembly line, actually doors for the four-cylinder 68 hp engine classic Henry J. Kaiser sedan, an automobile with fixed rear windows.
This vehicle was a response to the American consumer's postwar demand for cars, mounting the last real American challenge to Detroit's Big Three automakers.
His first car was a “good looking, beautiful” two-tone green/white wide-track Pontiac Catalina ‘55 that he purchased from the Ford dealership on Beaver Street. It had a windshield sun visor with stainless trim to block out sun glare and keep the interior of the car cooler and he was most proud of the Indian chief's profile hood ornament whose lit amber glow announced its presence to the night.
Change comes to everything, but historic Bristol on the Delaware hasn’t morphed significantly, according to Frank. Memories were pouring in while they drove through town and he basked in the fact that Bristol has experienced a renaissance in the preservation of its historic buildings.
“I was very, very impressed on how the town has been kept up and how the buildings looked and the area down by the river.”
Welcome back, friend!
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Posted: Thursday, July 3, 2014 11:42 pm
Frank M. Rich Jr. passed away Tuesday, June 24, 2014 while visiting his family in Pennsylvania. He was 81.
He is survived by his eldest son, Frank M. 'Michael' Rich III; daughter-in-law, Beth; and grandchildren, Caleigh, Cameron, Sean and Lindsey.
Frank's youngest son, Daniel, preceded him in death in 2013.
Frank grew up in Bristol, later moved to Chalfont and eventually settled in Florida. He was a loving son, father and extraordinary grandfather, an outstanding multi-sport high school and college athlete, a U.S. Marine, and a friend to many.
Thank you for so many years of love and laughter, memories of which will last our lifetimes.
Private services were held June 29th in Lansdale.
April 25, 1963 - July 3, 2013
Daniel E. Rich passed away after a long , courageous battle with cancer on Wednesday, July 3, 2013. He is the beloved husband of Brenda (Bantivoglio) Rich and the beloved father of Sean and Lindsey Rich. He is survived by his Father, Frank Michael Rich Jr and brother Frank Michael Rich III and predeceased by his mother, Nancy Patterson. He will be sorely missed. Dan, a former CPA, was a true entrepreneur – starting and owning four cafes while simultaneously holding a real estate license and public adjusters license. His real passion washis children. Dan loved to coach little league, play guitar, fish and enjoy the company of his many friends. Visitation will be held at Mary Mother of the Redeemer Church in North Wales, Pa on Sunday, July 7, 2013 from 6 pm to 8 pm and Monday July 8, 2013 from 9 am to 11 am with a Mass to be followed at 11 a.m. Interment of Urn Whitemarsh Memorial Park. In Lieu of flowers, there will be a college fund trust set up for his children.