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As Long as We Remember...

June 19, 2015

My Father Remembered

Joe Volz

This Father’s Day, thousands of Fredericktonians will be taking their dads out to celebrate. Maybe they will drive up to the Shamrock or down to Monocacy Crossing.

But there is another group of often forgotten fathers – those who have died. It is time to remember them, too, and the influence they had on our lives.

So, today, I would like to remember my father who left us a decade ago at the age of 92. He was not famous, not a celebrity or star athlete. Nor did he get his name in the papers. But he was a good man. Perhaps, he will remind you of your own fathers.

He grew up in an impoverished section of Philadelphia, Frankford, just a few miles from Frankford Junction, scene of a horrendous passenger train crash recently.

My father graduated from Temple University during the height of the Depression and had trouble finding a job. He had to move to Newark, NJ, and soon began his life work as a probation officer trying to straighten out wayward youths while there was still time. Often it was too late but his thinking was that, if he rehabilitated one teenager out of 100, it was worth doing.

I remember he took me to the state prison in Trenton one day to have lunch with the warden, a long-time friend, and as we walked up the stairs of the aging prison, a young inmate shouted out, with a smile, “Hi, Mr. Volz.” The inmate was a former client who was serving a sentence for murder. Well, you can’t win them all.

Although my father graduated from high school in 1923, he didn’t finish college until the 1930s. He just didn’t have the money and his widowed mother tried to survive by running a small candy store and selling ice cream until a supermarket opened up a block away and put her out of business,

My father climbed up the ladder in probation in the Essex County (Newark) Probation Department; but the early years in the 30s were tough on my mother. She didn’t know anyone and she had two children to mind. So my father managed to come home every day for lunch. He was that kind of a husband.

He couldn’t afford to take a vacation in the early years, so we took day trips I member the time at Yankee Stadium watching Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto and Yogi Berra.

We did get to the beach for a few days, but most of the time my dad spent working a second job. For a while he was teaching criminology at one of the schools spawned by the GI Bill, for example. He even peddled soap for dispensers at restaurants.

I still miss him and I often think, when confronted by a difficult decision, what would he do?


Joe Volz, a former Pulitzer Prize finalist, has reported for papers in New York and Washington and for The Frederick News-Post


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