FRANK-ly, My Dear… I Chose Happiness in-STEAD!
by Cate Murway
“I think I had a good life. Not an outstanding life but a good life.”
Army veteran, Signal Corps PFC Francis George “Frank” Stead, originally from Dickson City, could play only one song on the harmonica ~ “You are my Sunshine”.
Dickson City, a borough in Lackawanna County, PA, just 4 miles [6 km] north of Scranton, was once known as Priceburg. It received its name from Thomas Dickson, founder of the Dickson Manufacturing Company, an American manufacturer of boilers, blowing engines and steam engines.
Frank was born there during the Great Depression.
Banks began to fail in October 1930. In 1932, the economy continued to deteriorate and unemployment increased further to 24.1%. There were few jobs and many Americans were forced into living in the streets or in old cars.
A gallon of gas was 10 cents, if one were fortunate enough to even own a car that cost on average of about $610.00. A loaf of bread was 7 cents and hamburger meat was a dime per pound. The economic cost of World War I still was a stifling problem.
Franklin D. Roosevelt won the US Election by a landslide and he enacted the Emergency Relief and Construction Act in July, the USA’s first major-relief legislation to fund public works hoping to put millions back to work. “He was a Godsend to this country,” Frank stated.
Frank Stead and his eight brothers and sisters [5 boys and 4 girls total] lived in a two bedroom rented home with their parents. He was the 8th born of the nine.
His sisters slept in one bed and he slept in a cot with his brother John as a young boy when his older brothers served in WWII. Gene, “that was his real name but he went by Tom” was a tail gunner on a B26, a twin-engine medium bomber. “He made 35 missions.” His brother James was a B17 plane mechanic. “He repaired the shot up planes.”
His brother Joe did all of his shooting with a camera, serving as a naval aerial photographer.
“We had no fans. We’d just open the window that had a screen. It was horrible. The owner was very nice to us. Kids make a lot of noise.”
The family never had a car. His dad never drove.
Frank’s father served in WWI. Sgt. Joseph Francis Stead was an electrician and a professional fighter.
“He was a crowd favorite in Syracuse and the toughest man in Dickson City.” He joined the service as a
married man and he was one of the first of his Infantry to go overseas to France.
“He had a Purple Heart. He was injured and recovered and then sent back and was wounded again in the legs and his ankle and upper thigh. But he still had a knockout punch!”
[The Scranton Republican newspaper 1919]
Joe Stead, Dickson City's little red - headed scrapper.
Stead has been seen in but one fight here since his return from France, Luzerne County where he was fighting with the 109th Infantry.
“I was 13 when my father died. Asbestos killed him at 54.”
His mother Sarah [George] Stead was always an excellent cook, for all 11 of them.
Food supplies were kept in the ice box. “We would get $.15 cents of ice every day. The ice man
would chip off a piece to put on the top shelf.”
His mother prepared everything on their coal stove in their home. “We were a very poor family. She baked beautiful bread, pumpkin and peach and apple. We were given dehydrated apples and peaches. They smelled terrible. Her bread was delicious. We were on relief. I wish I could eat her food right now.
We had a lot of liver. My father loved liver.” His mother died when she was 84.
They had a sour apple tree and they grew vegetables, tomatoes and peppers in their “fifty footer” back yard. “My father loved hot peppers.”
“If he needs a million acres to make him feel rich, seems to me he needs it 'cause he feels awful poor inside hisself…..” John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
His mother made homemade root beer for them and left one raisin on the bottom.
“It was refreshing on a hot day.”
They were surrounded by anthracite coal mines in Dickson City. “There was a red glow all night and there was sulfur. Always sulfur. We were inhaling it every day.” His mother washed all of their clothing in a washer with a ringer and she would “put them in a tub of blue liquid to get rid of all the germs.” Two of his brothers died of cancer.
His main clothing was knickers and what he called ‘flip-flop’ sneakers. Christmas gifts for his younger brother and he were camouflage helmets and toy Tommy Guns “that made a rat-atat-tat” sound. He did love to play chess and checkers and Parcheesi and he owned a favorite blue bike that never got a flat tire. “We didn’t have the best. We were very poor.”
He and his younger brother earned some money on their paper route, delivering the Scranton Tribune.
His paternal grandfather was from England and his grandmother came from Ireland. His mother’s father migrated from Wales. “I never met my grandparents. They all came to America and became citizens.”
Frank recalls accompanying his mother to the local Kosty Food Store. “He was a wonderful man. We could steal anything we wanted. He knew we were taking it. He would put it where we could take it. We were poor people.”
*Hershey bars were his favorite.
The Krasner’s bakery truck would deliver to their home. “Another guy would walk the street with everything on his back. He could sew leather and sew your pants.”
As a family, they listened to the radio, “mostly music and sporting events like boxing because of my dad.” Sometimes, it was “Ma Perkins”, one of the most successful radio Soaps that revolved around Ma Perkins, her three children, Evey, John, and Fay, and their children, or "Amos 'n' Andy", one of the most popular and long-running radio programs of all time set in Harlem.
Games they all played together were simple ones. Frank played “alleys” with his brothers and sisters, [can be a marble made of alabaster or a "shooter" or "taw," the large marble used to knock around the smaller ones], and they shot them into 5 different holes. “I had a blue one all the time.”
He began attending school at the neighborhood Woodrow Wilson Elementary when he was 4-years old and he walked the mile to and from the school. “We had a one hour recess for lunch. We ran home, but we walked back. We could get a slice of Sicilian pizza for 5 cents, from a store three houses down.”
No organized sports for him, but “I was never on a team but I consider myself a good ‘all around’ ball player. Just good enough to not make the team”, he smiled.
He seems to think he was also “a pretty good artist. I did the Christmas drawings in chalk at school.”
His paternal Aunt Alice was his second grade teacher. “There was corporal punishment and I got it too!”
According to Frank, his best class in school was spelling. “I was always one of the top 2 in the Spelling Bees and my Aunt taught me how to write really nice.” His favorite book is John Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize novel, “The Grapes of Wrath”.
Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers as they seek jobs, land, dignity, and a future. Frank graduated from Dickson City High School in 1950.
“I had a pretty nice life.”
He registered for the draft in Newark. “I wanted a 40-hour per week job”, so he “altered” his birth date and left for Camp Gordon Army Signal Corps in Augusta, GA, officially beginning his January 1953-December 1954 tour of duty. Frank remained in Georgia and received 26 weeks of radio training before being selected for Leadership school. After a 10 day furlough, on Sunday, December 20, 1953, he was shipped out to Korea. “I never saw combat but we were surrounded by the group of Marines who did.”
He was part of the Chattanooga Radio Relay. “We would get all the info and share that with the upper echelon and then disperse it to whoever needed it.” They worked with crystal radios from their foxholes. “We changed the crystals every day so we wouldn’t be caught by the enemy.”
The surrounding Marines fed them so they had “pretty much of everything”. Frank looked forward to the cookie packages from his mother, kolache cookies filled with prunes and cherries. “That lasted at least a day!” He shared his stash with his buddies.
One of his lifelong friends from Hazleton, Larry Martini, just recently passed away. He and Larry would go into town together every evening when they were stationed in GA.
He returned home and it took 18 days to come back by ship.
Approximately 5.7 million Veterans served in the Korean War.
The first President for whom Frank voted was John F. Kennedy but he remembers Roosevelt.
He learned how to drive “on Jeeps and big trucks” in the Army and his first car purchase for $1500.00 was a 3-year-old 1952 blue and white Oldsmobile.
He loved all music and remembers listening to Frank Sinatra when he was the vocal of Tommy Dorsey's band. He knew how to slow dance and jitterbug so he felt “I had the advantage. My buddies didn’t know how.”
It seems that the dancing part didn’t really help him right away though, and his favorite song was Joni James’ “Why don’t you believe me?”
Frank met Elizabeth Ann ‘Betty’ [Bronzo] from Scranton who was employed by GE in South Scranton, creating assembly line tubes for the government. They met through friends on a group outing.
“I fell in love. She wasn’t impressed with me.”
They were married on March 7, 1958 at St. John Church in Scranton.
Frank and Betty have two children: Donald Thomas “Don”, Pennsbury ’77, who works in renovation and remodeling projects with formica countertops and resides in Yardley, PA; and Patricia Ann “Pat” Ashby, Pennsbury ’81 who resides in Yuma, AZ. They raised their family in Falls Township in the home in which they still reside. “We were the first ones to have a color TV in the area when we moved to PA.
The Real Estate agent had cookies on the burner. The smell enticed me to buy the house!”
Frank had begun working in Passaic, NJ making printing designs for plastic tablecloths and shower curtains and car interiors when he received a job offer in Chicago. “I was a color matcher, copper repairman for the cylinders and a 6-color printer. Couldn’t go any higher than that! I was making $1.90 per hour in Passaic while in Chicago, I made $200.00 a week. But after a snow storm in Chicago, in September, I went back to working in NJ.”
His brother John Stead and his wife, Alice reside in Langhorne. John was a production manager foreman at Kayline Processing, Inc. in Trenton and he secured a job for Frank working in vinyl covering and lining materials. “I worked there for 35 years and I was the President of local Union #51. Pretty big union, they represented Pennsbury High School!”
Frank’s granddaughter, Katrina Ashby shared a choice memory of her beloved grandfather who apparently never ages…….
“So my favorite memory of my Pop Pop would have to be when I was sleeping over at their house as a child and he was taking me back home to Bristol. On the way home we were driving down Route 13 and we were singing and dancing to a CD I had made him. He was doing his funny dances to make me laugh and then we noticed an older man driving with his windshield wipers on! It was clear and sunny so to us we thought what is he doing? He had them on for miles! My Pop Pop said if I ever do that... you know I’m old!
Fast forward 15 years.. he was driving with my brother TJ while he visited from California.
They were coming back from the store and my pop pop was driving with the windshield wipers on (in the sun)! My Pop Pop told my brother not to tell me because of what had taken place so many years ago and told TJ the story! Not even five minutes later, TJ called me and told me what my Pop Pop did so of course I had to call my Pop Pop! We laughed and talked about the man we had seen driving for at least 10 minutes!”
To Frank Stead, family is everything!
What was a most impactful memory?
“The ending of WWII. Germany surrendered and people were out celebrating and dancing in the street.
The air smelled different after WWII. There was peace and no more killing. There would be a star on the window when someone died and anyone in the town could come in and pay their respects.
That and the USA going to the moon. A recent one was watching the Eagles win the Super Bowl.”
Anything else you would like to share?
“I’m happy and I never took advantage of anyone. I think I’ve been a square shooter.”
“Up ahead they's a thousan' lives we might live, but when it comes it'll on'y be one.”
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
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September 12, 1932 - October 2, 2018
Francis G. Stead passed away on Tuesday, October 2, 2018, at his home,
surrounded by his loving family at the age of 86. Born in Dickson City, PA, Mr. Stead has resided in Falls Township since 1965. He was a member of the former Saint Joseph the Worker Parish, Fallsington, and a current member of Saint Frances Cabrini Parish, Fairless Hills.
Until his retirement, Mr. Stead was employed with Kayline Processing in Trenton, NJ.
Mr. Stead was a proud US Army Korean War veteran. He enjoyed bingo, working on crossword puzzles and watching Jeopardy.
Mr. Stead was a life long Democrat.
Beloved husband of 60 years to Betty (Bronzo), Mr. Stead is the loving father of Don Stead (Maureen) and Pat Ashby.
He is the devoted grandfather of Michael Stead (Angie), Jeffrey Stead, Heather Stead, Timothy Tomlinson, Katrina Ashby (Jeremy), Turner (T.J.), Ashby (Jessica), Graham Ashby; proud great grandfather of Ian (Kaitlyn), Vernon, Kurtis; and great great grandfather of Grayson.
Mr. Stead is the brother of John Stead (Alice), Mary Eavarone (late John) and Lorraine Chure (Dan).
He will also be sadly missed by numerous nieces and nephews.
Mr. Stead was preceded in death by his parents, Joseph Francis Stead and Sarah George Stead, his brother and sisters, Joe (living sister-in-law Jeanne), Jimmy (Molly), Gene (Hilda), Sarah Celano (Sam) and Rose Barscheski (Joe).