Singer Stimulates a Sentimental Sojourn
by Cate Murway
“I had a very, very fortunate childhood. We were all kept in line by my Uncle Frank, my grandfather and my Uncle Jim.”
Airman First Class veteran Donald Andrew “Duck” Singer, Northeast Catholic ’53 served in the National Guard in Fort Dix but was never in combat. His Uncle Jim dubbed everyone in his family with nicknames.
Don’s cousin John M. Rodgers “Johnny Boy” was born on Bath Street into that one house occupied by 12 people, including Don’s grandparents, an Aunt and 2 Uncles. Mayor Rodgers had smilingly shared, “It was a house full of love and one bathroom”. John was the son of Don’s Aunt Sarah Estelle “Sally” [Lake] Rodgers, and the only person in the history of Bristol to have been a councilman, President of the Council, non-consecutive 8 years as Mayor and a D- State representative in the PA House of Representatives in 1979 and 1980, endorsed candidate for the PA 140th Assembly District.
Don’s family had been Borough residents from the 1860’s. His maternal Grandparents, Maurice and Elizabeth [Doyle] Lake were born in Ireland. Their children included Harold, James, Frank, Marie Elizabeth, Adelia Elizabeth and Sarah Estelle.
In the mid-1920s, Bristol, as many of the industrial areas of Pennsylvania, saw a series of riots and conflicts. The Ku Klux Klan marched up Bath Street but the ‘brothers’ of this despicable Klan hiding behind their robes had been warned. They were forbidden to go on Buckley Street.
“My Uncle Jim told me, ‘A big brawl broke out and they tried to escape by jumping in the canal. Your father and a bunch of them were at the foot of the Forge Bridge on Beaver Street at a garage’.
Don said, “My father was a very strong guy.” His Uncle Jim had explained that the group of them had a rope and “put it around the one’s neck and they told them never to return again with that hood on.” They did not return.
Donald Singer’s father, Oscar Joseph Singer was born in 1892 and served in WWI. He was machine- gunned and gassed [a disruptive tactic prior to an assault that was considered uncivilized]. Within seconds of inhaling the vapor the victim's respiratory system was usually destroyed. He survived and received commendations from the Commanding General.
After the war, his father worked as a butcher and a painter, listed as a paperhanger in the 1929 Bristol Directory published by James D. Scott. Oscar married Adelia Elizabeth “Bess” [Lake] Singer in 1928. Don had one older brother, the late Marine veteran Joseph Edward [1929-1999] who was a BHS ‘48 graduate, a football/track athlete memorialized in his yearbook with “He is the best of all musicians. He is the best of all the Singers.”
Their father passed away on December 14, 1939. The funeral services were held at the residence of his Great Aunt, Mrs. Hannah Peoples, 703 Corson Street. Donald was without a father at the age of 4.
In 1912, Bess had first married James Cox who was drafted into WWI in August 1918. He contracted the flu and died the following October. His mother had been widowed twice.
Bess was an extremely strong woman. She purchased an 1845 duplex home on 552 Bath Street.
Don’s maternal grandfather worked in the wallpaper business until he was fired after being blinded in one eye due to a machine accident. “Something broke off the press and he was blinded in one eye. He opened saloons after that. Their license was revoked for selling liquor on Sundays. That was when there were Blue Laws.” Friends had shown up on a Sunday to help clean and some of them were drinking and their license was revoked. “My mom had to put the second license in her name.”
Grandfather Lake also opened a vaudeville/motion picture theatre, providing live acts as well as silent films. Don’s mother played the piano in that theatre.
In the 1940’s, his mom had accrued a bill of $1190 at the Reed’s Grocery store on the corner of Bath & Mifflin Streets. Phillip Reed had allowed people to purchase items “on time” and payment was expected at the end of the week. One of his Uncles “hit the numbers”. He gave an $800.00 portion of his “winnings” to Don to pay the bill.
Mr. Reed accepted the money from Don and said, “Tell your mother, she owes nothing.”
Bess studied to be an L.P.N. and she found work with Dr. George T. Fox who had purchased the Harriman Hospital, a general hospital with 54 beds that was opened to the public in 1922.
Don shared, “He was very generous to the other doctors in town. This was the only hospital between Doylestown and Philadelphia. He ran a carnival every year on the hospital grounds. It was a carnival with a Ferris wheel.” His mother worked in operating rooms with Dr. Fox at the hospital until his death.
Justice of the Peace Arthur Brady was one of her patients when he suffered from a stroke.
Don’s first car was a 1948 ‘gray-ish white’ Chevrolet that he bought for $700.00 “up near Tullytown”.
“I understand I need a co-signer,” he said when he went to get a loan. Mr. Harold H. Hanson, the Bristol Trust Company VP said, “Not if you are Bess’ son, you don’t need a co-signer.”
His mother passed away February 8, 1961. “I never saw her sick.
The mills in the town had provided most of the jobs.
Election time came and the polls and the pundits had left no room for doubt: Dewey was going to defeat President Harry S. Truman. Don recalled that Senator Joseph R. Grundy had printed in the Bristol Daily Courier that ‘Dewey Wins in 1948’, but Truman actually won. Senator Grundy closed his textile mill shortly afterwards. His Aunt Sarah, Aunt Betty and Aunt Marie had all worked in that worsted mill.
“I attended Saint Mark School across the street from Grundy’s house and I saw Mr. Grundy quite often coming home in his chauffeured car. He was a grey haired man, older, very straight and rigid.”
Growing up, Don wore knickers, and ‘regular shoes’ that his family purchased for him from Andrew Popkin.
“My mom was a good cook but my Aunt Sarah could really cook! She was an excellent cook and could bake everything but pies. My mom made the pumpkin pies.”
They shopped at Edward’s, Gilardi’s, and Gallagher & Gallagher Men’s Furnishings for clothes.
“Joe Cuttone was a Republican but he was a good guy. He cut my hair.”
Bristol had been the shopping hub from Trenton to Philadelphia until right after the war.
Don graduated from Northeast Catholic. It cost his mother about $30.00 a month for him to take the train into Philadelphia. He then walked about a mile to the school. When his brother was drafted, he shared, “I decided my mother can’t afford this anymore”.
He transferred to Bristol High. Don made the varsity basketball team at BHS his junior year in 1952, one of the students in the largest class ever, with over 200 students in 6 homerooms.
Participating in school sports required athletic rules with stipulations. “I had to be in the school for 90 days to be eligible to play and I had only started at Bristol in October.”
The basketball team had to forfeit their wins. He returned to NE Catholic for his senior year.
After high school, Don played for the Torano’s Garage basketball team coached by a Borough policeman, Vito P. Delia, a close friend of his Uncle Jim Lake’s. “The Leedom Field was directly across from the Police Station.” One of his best friends was the late Johnny Hess.
Don also played basketball for the ‘Hibos’ at the Rohm & Haas clubhouse with another friend, Korean War Army veteran Cpl. John J. “Scoop” Hoffman, Sr. They would ask around and hop a ride to Maple Beach to play. Practices were held in back yards and sometimes at a school in Fallsington.
Don took a civil service exam to work at the Post Office, but the returning veterans were given the available positions. In 1954, he found work as a mail clerk in the Rohm & Haas chemical plant. He and his friend were offered the one job at the same time. Don was the winner, decided by a coin flip!
He and his wife, Margaret Mary "Peg", have resided in Southport, NC since 1979, after a 3M Company job transfer. In 1994, he started working in Real Estate along with his wife.
His five children are Donald Andrew, Vera Irene, Michele Ann, Kathleen Elizabeth, and Margaret Mary who have blessed them with 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Don returned recently to historic Bristol on the Delaware and stopped in to visit with his cousin John’s widow, Elizabeth Jane “Betty” [Mendick] Rodgers.
“I just drove down Mill Street and it’s hard to recognize. The Grand Theatre was on the corner and there was Kanter’s Department Store and Clarence W. Winter’s Frigidaire on the corner of Mill and Wood Streets.” He recalls Strauss' Drug Store and Soda Fountain as being ‘the place to eat’.
Memories stay sentimentally strong on the Singer sojourn.
He repeated, “I had a very, very fortunate childhood. We were all kept in line by my Uncle Frank, my grandfather and my Uncle Jim.”
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Donald Andrew Singer, 81, of Southport passed away Wednesday, March 15, 2017 at Lower Cape Fear Hospice and Lifecare Center.
Mr. Singer was born April 6, 1935 in Bristol, Pennsylvania, son of the late Oscar and Adelia Elizabeth "Bess" Lake Singer. He was a member of Sacred Heart Catholic Church and Knights of Columbus. Mr. Singer worked for Coldwell Banker of Cary and Margaret Rudd and Associates of Southport as well. He was known as a gentle, sweet man who was grateful for everyone that assisted in his care. Preceding him in death was his brother Joseph E. Singer, sister, Margaret Mossbrook, and granddaughter, Laurann Fink.
Survivors include his wife of 36 years Margaret Singer of Southport; five children; five stepchildren; nineteen grandchildren; and ten great grandchildren.
Funeral services will be 11am Monday, March 20, 2017 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church with Reverend Trent Watts officiating.
The family will receive friends one hour prior to the service, from 9:30am to 10:30am Monday at the church.
In lieu of flowers memorials may be made to Lower Cape Fear Hospice, 1414 Physicians Drive, Wilmington, NC 28403.
Online condolences may be made at www.peacocknewnamwhite.com.
Peacock - Newnam & White Funeral and Cremation Service, Southport.