A Camden Story:
Reflections and Memories
Richard Brodowicz

In August of 2007 I received this remarkable articles, or rather set of articles, about growing up in Camden in the 60s and 70s by Richard Brodowicz.  Over the years a lot of e-mails have come my way about Camden, but I'm hard put to find one as extensive and in detail as what Rich sent. I decided to use it as the basis for a web page of its own. 

If you like this page, you may also enjoy The St. Joseph High School Memorial Free Range Salt Lick, a wonderful page maintained by Michael P. McDowell, Class of '72.

Phil Cohen
October 2005


          The stories and thoughts shared are of a time remembered for it’s simplistic carefree existence.  I have many wonderful memories of my boyhood home, Camden New Jersey .  A recent view of the city in its current deplorable condition has left it almost unrecognizable shell of a previous era. The decaying unattended structures and unkempt streets are a far cry of a time from the not to distant past.  The hard working immigrant families that called Camden home lived side by side with the utmost pride and concern for family and community involvement for many years.  Neighbors were so friendly; they would come out and talk after dinner for hours, to catch up with the day’s events.  Whether Polish, Irish, German or Italian the family values and aspirations were the same for everyone.  They were to work hard and strive to achieve the best possible results in school and future goals.  Parents always aspired to have their children have a better life then they had.  I am not deluded in my fond reminiscing about the past, our city might not have been New York or Los Angeles, but all the same it had great character and warmth in its day.  Since the mass exodus of the baby boomer generation to the suburbs and beyond, Camden our city that we called home has lost its luster, destined for ruin at the current pace.  I can only hope that a new transformation can occur and save our beloved city for its historical past and that it might have a new beginning with a bright future. 

 My family background on both sides is Polish. My father grew up in Camden in the Great Depression era, he knew his way around Camden very well.  My father was a very easygoing guy who easily made friends, some of the people he knew he had been friends with for 40 and 50 years.  Since many people did not move around much they were able to stay in contact.  In his day my dad was quite a ladies man because he introduced me to many women of his age through the years and said he would go clubbing and dancing and meet them.  He always said that dancing was a great way to meet young ladies and that I needed to just try and I would do all right.  My father was an Army veteran of WWII he was very proud of that but he never bragged or mentioned any of his accomplishments.   He did like to reminisce and would often tell my brother of places he saw and stories about specific days and events.  Dad had been involved in some very important European Campaign battles including the Battle of the Bulge and the invasion at Normandy- in many respects I was very lucky to be born.  An unusual story that he mentioned was that during the war he was in Atlantic City providing escort duty for some big stars and when the singer Kate Smith was climbing the stairs she had tripped on her mink jacket and my dad helped so she would not fall and she gave him a kiss on the cheek all the guys were so jealous.  My father had these really nice documented papers that detailed all the different countries and battles he was in and around the edge of the paperwork was colorful country flags, somehow this paperwork had become lost during our moves and storage. My cousin Bob Gorski was a big history buff and he liked to sit for long periods and talk to dad about WWII, you could see how intently he listened and how dad enjoyed the questions and reliving a very important time in our history.

 My mother was originally from the Poconos portion of Pennsylvania, her family moved to Camden in the 40’s. Strange how people meet and fall in love- my dad was outgoing and gregarious, my mother shy and reserved but they worked out well together.   Mom primarily took care of everyone and the house and put up with me and my brother and our antics.  My dad often worked nights and weekends and overtime at the shipyard so Mom was left to handle the boys. Strange as it was my father was a better cook than my mother but she tried very hard to please us and would always have something for us no matter what the time was, either after little league or some other late night event.

 Since a good deal of Camden residents were immigrants coming from Europe we had his pick of various wonderful butchers and meat markets which had fresh or smoked kielbasa and would cut and handle your meat requirements as you desired. I loved going with him when he shopped, the smells of the different places was great I particularly liked Frank's Meats at Chase and Norris Streets.  The Polish Baking Company bakery located at 1009 Kaighn Avenue had the best rye bread and fresh Kaiser rolls (I usually ate one on way home).  They had a way with cheesecake; especially pineapple, the poppy-seed cake was also very good.  Let’s not forget the powered puffed pastries tied into bows (KRUSCHICKI).

Angel Wings,
Bow Tie Cookies,
Traditional Polish Cookies

 The Polish foods my mother and father cooked were wonderful dishes; they were simple home-style meals that were passed down in families that could feed several people in lean times as in the depression era. We enjoyed several traditional meals such as potato pancakes (PLOTSKI) dusted with sugar, potato dumplings (KLUSKI), with added flavor


Silesian Noodles - Wonderful especially when it is accompanied by rolada meat and reedbeet salad or sauerkraut

 of bits of bacon or fatback skin with onions both primarily made of potatoes that were inexpensive but good.  Cabbage rolls or with other such names as pigs in the blanket (GOWUMPKI) was just ground beef balls mixed with cooked rice wrapped in cabbage leaf covered in tomato sauce.  Heaping pots of sauerkraut with portions of smoked kielbasa, pork spare ribs and even pigs feet was simmered to perfection for a meal to dream about.  The individual families enhanced the wholesome meals with individual touches but the overall ingredients were the same.  I was a rather large child growing up and this is understandable with the meals we tended to eat but they were dishes that I only wish I could cook now and even taste half as good as my parents cooked them.  My family kept to a specific time to eat each day, throughout my childhood up through the young teens years my parents looked for me and called my brother and my name around the neighborhood so I wouldn’t miss dinner, I made a good effort to try and make it home so I wouldn’t get embarrassed nothing like your mom calling you in the middle of a neighborhood football game.  My mother and father thought it was important to come together and eat as family; this was the way most families around the United States kept together and shared what was going on during their day. Food was an important part of life growing up especially during holidays and special occasions. Polish families would make potato and macaroni salad along with cooked ham and specials desserts each Christmas and Easter, when we would visit each others families it was part of the normal visit to taste each others food to determine which style was best, each family was convinced theirs was the best.

My earliest childhood recollections are of my life growing up on Tioga Street in South Camden in the psychedelic decade of the 60’s.  This was a volatile period of time, filled with great social and political strife and violent change throughout the country.  For the most part though I considered childhood a very pleasant one growing up in this area of the city, experiencing many different things, but oblivious in many ways of the turmoil outside the confines of my neighborhood world.  Some areas were not so friendly but everyone kept aware of them and did not think much of it.  I felt very safe in my neighborhood because I had many friends and enjoyed simple things that all young children do. In many respects the day-to-day life resembled the 1960’s television show Dennis the Menace show town of quiet streets and friendly people.


Tioga Street is marked red, running north-south, between Mulford Street and Evergreen Cemetery.

Crime of any sort was of a very minimal consideration at that period of time.  The atmosphere living in the city at the time seemed to have a small town attitude, and solitude, well at least till I was old enough to know better.  It seemed our generation was the last one to grow up knowing peaceful and carefree times probably a further product of the period. It just amazes me how often a persons childhood is portrayed as a significant reason why is adult life is in turmoil. In auspicious beginnings should not be deemed a telltale sign how a life will progress. Most of the friends and people I knew as I grew up in Camden came from low to middle income families. Our families tried their best to give us a good comfortable life but for the most part we did not know what it was to have a lavish lifestyle so you can manage on simple means. Some of the neighborhood children endured some severe disciplining and physical abuse to some degree, but they turned out just fine.  People growing up in the latter generations after the 1960’s and early 1970’s expect people to hand them things and have the government take care of them, basically they do not like to take responsibility for ones actions. When I see the confused, mixed up people seen throughout the news and court related stories I thank the Lord for the simple hard working beginnings of my childhood days in Camden.  

 My family wanted my brother and I to have a good Catholic education so they enrolled us in St. Joseph’s Grammar School, it was part of the St. Joseph’s Parish in which my family attended church. We lived about a mile to a mile half away from school my brother and I walked each morning, I did not mind walking to school it seemed a way to be a little independent and get to know the neighborhood very well.  Most children have memories of their parents retelling tales of walking 10 miles to school in deep snow; I normally walked to school with my brother and some of the other kids that we knew.  There was several ways to get to school from where we lived so we take different way each day so we wouldn’t get bored, utilizing short cuts as much as possible.  I would walk home by myself, and head outside to play as soon as I could.

 My father and mother were the normal two working parent family. My mother had originally stayed home and took care of my brother and I until we were old enough to go to school, she returned to work once I was of school age.  My parents both worked during the day, this left my brother and I alone home for a period of time, not very long but just enough time to get into trouble before my mother returned from work at 5:00 PM.  I believe my brother and I were a couple of the first latch-key kids even before the term was coined, I’m sure some laws were probably broken or at least bent leaving kids for any amount of time alone especially when they are so young but the times were different.  The street that our house had been on was a quiet, out of the way place that was ideal area for young children to grow up.  The neighborhood provided many safe play areas close to our home.  Right down the street was an old junkyard [Kendzierski Brothers Inc., 1829 Tioga Street -PMC]; it was very large business that took up space on two sides of the street.  My friends and I would go into junkyard sometime to see what we could come up with, many cool things.  If we were trying to build go-carts, we could find mostly everything we needed for practically nothing because we normally would sneak through the holes in junkyard fence and scrounge for items. The junkyard was also good for making a little money by collecting newspapers and other items to take in for it’s worth.  I remember the huge stacks of newspapers set for sorting and shipping, we went thru the stacks looking for old Playboys and other adult magazines, back in the middle sixties they were very tame but still great for a first look at some beautiful women.

 One of the best places to play was in an old cemetery [Evergreen Cemetery -PMC] across the street and up the hill from our house. The cemetery was very inviting place to play, it provided many open areas with plenty of room for football, baseball, and I enjoyed playing many different kids games there. One of my favorites was to play hiding go seek. That game was especially fun to play as the sun was going down, the graveyard made a very creepy game, we used old graves and other surrounding things, the place sort of reminded you of old Dracula and Frankenstein movies.  I had always heard the old caretaker was very mean and to scare people and kids away used a shotgun with rock salt.  I especially enjoyed climbing trees, the cemetery had some very old, large trees great for climbing. One day I was with some of my buddies climbing trees and goofing off, when they jumped out of tree and took off.  I didn’t notice what was going on but just then I heard something whiz over my head, it was the caretaker blasting is rock salt gun I jumped from the tree and took off and didn’t stop till I was home.  

 One day my friends and I had decided to try and make some homemade bows, we wanted to learn how to shoot, and the cemetery provided a very good practice area so we would not hurt anyone. We made pretend this was a survival and hunting area.  We progressed with our bows and the few arrows we bought, targets were set-up and we did our best to be Robin Hood. Eventually, most of us bought beginner bow and arrow sets and continued to hone our skills. Sometimes we even tried to hit some small animals like squirrels and rabbits but for must part we hit nothing.  Some of the guys really got into trying to kill small animals and things just like the trappers of the old Northwest, but I didn’t have it in me to be so cruel. One of the older guys John Sweeney was actually very good shot; he hit a few rabbits and pretty much whatever he wanted to. Some of our games we made up playing with bows and arrows were kind of wild; lucky no one was accidentally shot due to our stupidity. New Jersey has its share of good deer hunting, but since I did not progress as a hunter by learning how to shoot rifles, my hunting experience was over.

 A very good friend from the neighborhood was Randy Collins he was a few years older and very large strong kid above 6 foot. He had a real nice big back yard and a very cool patio area that we would hang out playing games. One day a few of the guys were playing darts in the backyard, the board was hung on the back of a large doghouse. I was winning the game and very anxious to get the darts and was waiting next to the dog house with my hand on the edge, Randy wound up and through it as hard as he could and it went through my left hand all the way to the feathers, I don’t remember exactly how things were taken care of but I was not really badly hurt just more afraid than anything.

Winter provided a great deal of things to do around the neighborhood. I remember it seemed like it snowed quite a bit each winter; sometimes many inches of snow would be on the ground I guess since I was so young the snow was very deep. Even though I was cold and tired I didn’t want to go in the house, nothing like a day off from school. One my favorite winter’s activity was sledding down the hill that went up to cemetery it was a load of fun. We graduated to sledding down the large highway off ramps; they provided room for many people and the ability to go very long distance at high speeds. We built snow forts and tried to defend them during snowball fights. I tried building an igloo and did all right; some others built complete structures that remained for quite awhile until the last of the snow melted.

My family moved from the Tioga Street address to our new home at 1049 Mechanic Street in 1969.  We lived very close to St. Joseph’s Church and school that made it nice, I could wait till a few minutes before Church or School was to start and still be on time. 

A big cultural event took place each October in the Whitman Park area of Camden was the Pulaski Day Parade. It started as a Polish Pride Parade but it grew into a diverse group of organizations displaying community involvement. I remember having so much fun watching the people walk by, the noise the overall atmosphere with friends and neighbors enjoying the games and food.  The groups that participated included, bands, clubs and older men dressed in their uniforms from WWII, everyone could just see the pride they felt, many of them were Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) contingent. I participated in the parade a few times when I was young, I remember walking in the parade with the little league a couple of times and the school the parade route wound through different streets, because we were so young it seemed like it would never end. As time went by I preferred to wait at the Whitman Park area where most of the action was going on and where the parade concluded and of course where the judging took place.  It’s really a shame that the area changed so much, families moved out that supported the organizations, so that meant the end of the parade celebrations each year.  One year when I was maybe 10 or 11 I was with my father watching the parade at Whitman Park when he made a real point to introduce me to someone. The man was a very large Black man and when he shook my hand it engulfed my hand, I remember he was very nice and had a big smile and deep voice.  It did not really have a great impact at the time but the man was Arnold Cream, the Camden City Sheriff and otherwise known as Jersey Joe Walcott, former Heavyweight Champion of the World.

 At different times of the year I could find fruits growing wild throughout Camden, little green apples which we called crab apples that were very sour. After eating what we could we would pick more and have fights throwing at each other and get sticks and use them like little baseballs. On the way to little league near the ball fields there was some bushes and trees that had these very sweet purple fruits called mulberries, they tasted great but got your hands and face all dirty. When the fruits were ready for picking you could smell the sweet scents. Other fruits included grapes and cherries it’s funny you wouldn’t think you could actually find such things but I enjoyed them for years.

 When we are young we are taught many of the life lessons that we need to learn from our parents, but at the time we get tired of hearing or sometimes don’t take things seriously. Learning how to cross the street especially in the city with traffic and other things that take your mind off crossing seems like small thing but it instills character and how to follow instructions. A rather important lesson is not to talk to strangers and especially don’t get into a car with someone you do not know.  Of course I was taught these things but one time when I was late for a little league game I took a ride from some guy out in front of West Jersey Hospital so I could make the game, as we were riding things started in mind what my family had taught me.  I was quiet and was relieved when he turned down the street that I needed to go to the park, I quickly said thanks and took off running, never did that again with someone I didn’t know.  My parents are of an older generation they had old fashion ways to do things and they found it difficult to talk about life and things that parents would normally talk to their children about when they are growing up and in the teenage years.  This seemed to be the standard for many families and children learned about many things at school or from their friends.  Often my father would just say be careful and that was the extent of his warnings, he told me that up until I joined the Navy.  It’s not that my father did not care, he loved me very much but he found it hard to express himself and I believe he actually trusted my decisions.

 It would be ludicrous to think that South Camden or any other city or small town would be totally without problems no matter what the era of time. Although I had participated with the practice never the less, I never really didn’t like the way most kids when angry or to get back at someone would blurt out “Your Mom” or “Pop”.  Many times the parent’s first names would be used in a derogatory manner to degree a fight would break out.  Even the way parents called a kid to dinner or some other peculiar trait or statement could be used as a strange sense of amusement and ridicule, sometimes these unassuming things would be carried on for years and the individuals would carry the resentment for many years.


Like most childhoods I had some very nice memories and others, which were not so nice.  The Decade of the 60’s and the early 70’s was a very turbulent time throughout the country due to racial tensions and the Vietnam War.  I can vividly remember what was a very bad time in our history, (“The Puerto Rican Riots of South Camden") I was not sure what was going on at the time just the Spanish people were very angry and took out some aggression on non-Spanish people.  Around the neighborhood houses were being damaged and an unofficial way to let the people know they should be left alone was to put a red bandana or such on the front of your house. Camden had its fair share of ethnic mix and diversity.

 Growing up in Camden as in most cities made people grow up quickly, the surrounding seemed to make you very aware of things and how to assess situations and people and how not be a victim.  I felt very safe in my neighborhood most of the time. My friends and I would walk from one side of Camden to the other to play a game or just go and hang out, with out much thought or regard.  

 The Manson family killings in California had occurred, and at first no one knew exactly what was going on.  It seemed to be a way to get your children to come home on time and to make them think someone was out on the loose in the area, and to be very careful when you were outside and come home at right time.  The things that go through a kid’s mind that is confused more by other friends whom do not know any better.

 Another rather peculiar South Jersey tale that had children rather on edge was the legend of the Jersey Devil.  I had heard of this thing for years as a child and but it off as something similar to thinking Santa Claus was real. As funny as it seems, people had stories that went back for many years that resembled Urban Legends about some weird, wild creature thing that would get kids, especially at night if they were not doing what their parents or family expected. That’s kind of a lot for kids to be thinking about that might have something to do with my staying inside and watching TV more during the ages of 10-14 than others young teens and learning bad habits.

 I have always been interested with history; it has fascinated me even as a kid.  A few times I investigated some of the gravestones to see if I could find some old ones.  I seemed to remember some from early 1700’s and some others that had some unreadable dates but possibly from 1600’s.  One of the most famous Camden residents was Walt Whitman.  I stumbled upon his family mausoleum in an old cemetery across from Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital on Haddon Avenue. Items of interest Camden can be proud of include Campbell's Soup, which originated in the city and still maintains corporate offices and a museum there. The first drive-in movie theater in the United States opened in Camden during the early 1930’s.  RCA-Victor had it's start in the city. Camden had many factories and big business that were around for years since the depression but as the city lost its manufacturing base so did it lose its people and interest.


Growing up in Camden many people tended to stay there a long time or their whole life. This was common for people there from the turn of the century up till the 60’s-70-s. From the very young age you made friends and kept them a very long time, from grade school thru high school and beyond.  As youngsters we had to find things to do to keep ourselves busy.  Many memorable city games came to be; one of my favorite games was called box-ball, which we played right in front of St. Joes’s Church.  A baseball diamond was normally drawn with chalk or we would incorporate manhole covers and other street devices into our games.  In the summer we would play virtually from the morning until dark, just stopping long enough for when our folks called for dinner. The best area to play in our neighborhood was the open area around the front of the church at the corner of 10th and Mechanic Street. Thinking back I am simply amazed, the beautiful stain glass windows survived getting hit by various types of items through the years. The neighbors around the area, that the game was played, really disliked us to play there but reluctantly gave in and let us play.  This was also the place we tended to play touch football, normally from one telephone pole to another.  Step ball was rather big for a period of time, similar rules to baseball. The thing to remember was the areas which our games were played all of our games, were had active street traffic; somehow we had an understanding to stop and adjust time and get a play in. 

Our choice of games seemed to follow what time of the year it was, and what particular sport being played by the professionals. Summer of course was baseball; fall was a combo of football and basketball. I have always had a very competitive nature, I always hated to be left out or be picked last. Even from an early age most kids tried their best to excel at whatever game it was, but sometimes you were better at some sports than others.  The common way we picked sides for teams would be the groups best two recognized players would be captains and they would pick sides according to abilities. When it came down to last even number for reach side, the teams were done and if someone remained they would have to wait till someone else came or one of the players left or even got hurt. Once the teams were selected, the first at bat or who received the football first normally involved one of the old methods of selection. "My mother and your mother were hanging up clothes, my mother punched your mother in the nose what color blood came out", or possibly "inks the binks the bottle of ink the cork fell out and you stink". One potato, two potato three potato four...

When there weren’t enough guys to play baseball one of the games we would play was called hit the bat. Basically someone would be the batter and hit the ball to the players in the field.  After each hit the batter would drop the bat and the guy who fielded the ball would try and toss it at the bat if the guy who fielded the ball and threw was lucky enough to hit the bat then it was his turn to bat.  Another option was if a batter hit the ball in the air and one fielder caught the ball in the air three times he would then be the batter.  I started playing this game very young when I was on Tioga Street, the game made you better at fundamentals for when you were ready to play baseball. I developed a nice throwing arm from an early age that was very noticeable in Little League.

A very exciting event occurred each spring; it was the Whitman Park Little League parade from the old park with the water tower to the baseball fields across town.  Boys of various ages from the very young to high school age, dressed in baseball uniforms marching with teams.  I remember the team sponsors; they were the same for minors (6, 7, and 8) and majors up thru 12 years of age.  Tri-County Bank, Predpelski Funeral Home, Polish American Citizen Club (PACC) and my team thru out my little league years was Randolph Chevrolet. I normally played shortstop and pitched, I had a pretty good little league career.  I improved along the way from year to year.  The first year I was playing with the majors I believe 1969, our team won the Whitman Park Championship and the Camden City Championship our best player was Bob Falconerio, great pitcher and all-around player [In July of 1976 Bishop Eustace Prep named Bob Falconiero boys' basketball coach. Falconiero, a 1976 Bishop Eustace grad, is a member of the school's athletic Hall of Fame. He played on three state championship teams and scored more than 1,000 points in his career.- PMC].

 Some vivid memories of some wonderful things that happened during your little league years really stay with you.  The great catches and plays made, and of course the times you made an error and couldn’t wait to be anywhere else.  I was at decent hitter but not much power; I hit only three homers over the fence during my little league years but two came in the same game against Tri-County the pitcher was a kid names Dean his father was the coach.  All the little leaguers looked forward to the annual banquet we had, pretty exciting being called up for a Championship team awards and the anticipation for league individual accomplishments. While with the Randolph team I was lucky to be awarded the league MVP one of the years.  I did very well in baseball in my younger years but when it was time to graduate to next level of ball (13-16 years old) I was not ready for that.  For some reason I had become afraid of fast pitching and those guys were really good, and pitched very fast.  Thinking back I guess the time I got hit in the head by a pitch and I was temporarily blind for about ten minutes had something to do with me being timid. When I was that age I was slow runner and overweight that didn’t help the situation.

Basketball was a very important city game. I played with the St. Joe’s Grammar School team, not really amounting to much of a player, at that age I was still trying to get the fundamentals down. I did not have that much height that is an asset, and of course I could not jump as well.  Mark Tainer was the guys who were good from an early age, kind have had the Earl the Pearl Monroe game with the Muhammad Ali words. During grammar school recess many of boys would play variations of basketball, using a garbage can for a goal or the slanted marble windowsills of the school cafeteria.    

Most times kids would try just about anything to keep busy, some guys would become boy scouts (kind of cool thing for city kids to get out and see the outdoors, but I had issues with the uniforms and the rules), and others would get involved with organized sports.  This still left lots of free time that was filled with various activities and games, i.e. kick the can; jailbreak; step-ball and several others. For a period of time we were all trying out yo-yos and tops.  The top game was decent each guy that started out with all the guys spinning the tops together the one top that stopped spinning first would have to put their top in the middle and then the rest of the guys would take turns trying to slam into top or at least touch the top in the middle while it was still spinning.

A game that the gang liked to play was fun but could get very tiring and leave you with some black and blue marks was "Kill the Man with the Ball". The game was played in some ones yard or field involved a group of guys and a football.  Someone would roll the ball into the middle of the group and one brave guy would pick it up and try and evade the rest of the guys as long as he could. Either the ball would get ripped out of his hands or he would toss it up in air when he was absolutely beat tired.

Some other things we did involved collecting baseball cards. I tried my best to get all the Phillies of the 1970's and then other good players through out the league very seldom would I trade any of the cards that I had because the no one was willing to make a decent trade. Most of the guys put a certain amount of worth on good players and would only try to pawn off the mediocre players.  I was resigned to the idea that I would have to try and collect all the cards that I wanted by myself and in the 1970 the cards were a nickel a pack and filled with many great players of the era.  I normally kept my cards in a shoebox with rubber bands around the various groups. (I eventually had so many cards that it got kind of hard managing them, I only wish I had kept a couple stacks of the better players). I do not remember how the game came about but the guys started this baseball game with our baseball cards that involved selecting and making baseball card teams, each player at the correct position, i.e. Tony Perez would be the shortstop and so on.  The rest of the game involved 9 innings of a game with the person at bat rolling dice, getting hits, scoring runs and then making outs.  Most times an agreement would be made prior to the game that the loser would have to give the winner their losing team baseball cards.

Kids will be kids and the generation I grew up with did some unusually strange things to amuse our self, for instance having peashooter fights.  Each guy would get a bag of split pea or other type of bean and use a straw to fire the beans at your friend very inexpensive and fun. The velocity that the peas were shot out the straw was very fast and could leave a welt on the skin. Another more painful and rather dangerous activity was shooting paperclips with rubber bands, now that was something it is just by mere luck that no one really got hurt.

Each year the kids had some fun and wreaked havoc on the neighborhood the night before Halloween it was called mischief night.  Some mild things included soaping cars and house windows, toilet paper wrapped around the trees and houses.  Other more vicious things included throwing eggs and tomatoes at people, cars, and houses.  If the egg was not cleaned of the car before it dried and hardened it could take paint off.  As a young teen I thought nothing of the pranks but later as an adult I did not care of these tricks to be played on my family or me.

Throwing snowballs at cars and busses was a fun activity that many times would involve running away from an irate driver.  Timing a hit on a vehicle so they could not stop due to traffic took some skill; Jacek and I did our share and got good at it.  In later years when I was driving a car and a snowball in hit the windshield I thought it was a bomb, just a way of evening the score I guess.

Some of our interests of course change when we get older, I used to like to go bowling but I was not really all that good.  From the neighborhood Zenon was the best bowler from our group of friends and from our class Joe Collasi was really good had a 200 average and played in many leagues.  One year Jacek had signed us up to bowl all night for Jerry Lewis Telethon, after that I didn’t bowl for some time.

Another big period of time was when we were in the 7th and 8th grades; we would go to the old roller rink [originally a commercial laundry- PMC] across from St. Joes’s High School. By that time we were thinking about girls and how we can impress them.  I really stunk at skating but I often went to try and be with everyone, I believe Victor was good at skating and was able to ask girls to skate with him.  But for the most part the gang would be struggling to skate and eventually we moved on to other things.

From a small child I always enjoyed watching the Three Stooges on TV. Late in his life Moe was doing shows around the U.S. as an ambassador for the old programs.  In '73 or '74 Moe was playing at the Harwan movie theater in Mt. Ephraim so some of the gang went- Frances Anne, Victor, Jacek and Zenon.  They played a few of the movies and then Moe got up on stage and slowly described how some of the tricks were done for the movies so no one would get hurt. When everything was done and we were leaving Victor had run up to the crowded stage and got some autographed pictures, that was so cool and he was really nice and gave me one. I have kept it all these years.


St Joseph’s Catholic Grammar School and High School were the primary schools that the area kids went to.  Since the schools were Catholic we had Nuns and Priests teaching subjects along with other teachers.  From an early age most kids gain a great deal of respects for nuns, either due to the strict fashion in which they handled the students or possibly the dark fore boding clothes they wore.  This was very common atmosphere at St. Joe’s.  My primary years of school (K-8) were between the years 1965-1974 so it was not uncommon for unruly children to get physical punishment. Corporal punishment was never really an issue; for the most part if a student got whacked they deserved it. I feel the loss of some of this control of children, especially at a young age contributes to horrendous conditions that plague our educational systems and society in general today. Granted punishment needs to be carried out with due concern for the child and as not to injure or degrade, but to help control problems and necessary.  It has now grown in society today where a parent is in fear of going to jail or losing their child for a swat on the behind.

It was during the early part of my school years around 1967, a new Polish family moved to the neighborhood settling in at 1041 Liberty Street. The Rykala family had the mother and father, eldest daughter Grace, brother Mark and the two younger brothers Jacek and Zenon.  The two younger brothers Jacek, Zenon entered school in the first grade in the same class that I was in.  Little did I know that Jacek and I would become close life long friends?  Astonishingly enough looking back many of the original kids stayed in same class from 1st thru 8th, it was fairly common through out the history of the school.  Jacek and I were completely different in our character Jacek tended to be very outgoing and easy to make friends and be the center of attention for many situations, in many respects the proverbial class clown.  I tended to be rather quiet and shy, but I didn’t have much problem making friends but definitely stayed away from being the focal point. When something happened in school, normally a prank of some sort, Jacek was usually was in on it, or at least knew who did it.  He was very loyal to his friends and never informed. On the other hand, I normally followed all the rules and was looked upon as a straight-laced kid.

Some very memorable events happened during the years of my Catholic School education.  I remember the uniforms we wore, some of the girls really looked good in theirs, especially the short tight skirts. When the time came for getting new school uniforms I looked forward to it. Normally that meant that I grew some and had to get another size or the old sets were wore old and needed to be replaced.  The styles we had to wear were very plain consisting of white shirts, gray pants and a plain crimson red tie.  The girls had pretty much the same white top, red long skirt and red tie.  Sometime in the middle of my grammar school years the uniform scheme changed and the plain red was substituted with a red plaid, and it was at this point I believe the girls skirts got shorter.

I felt the teachers taught us very well, most of the children could read fairly well and understand what they read. They used the Phonics method to sound out words and helped to understand and breakdown the way words are put together. Spelling was one of favorite subjects along with social studies. The third grade was a very interesting year, most boys fell in love with the very young pretty teacher Miss Moles and I definitely was one of them.

Most of the teachers and the nuns stayed with the school for years, they would teach different generations of children of the same family, and the steady influence of the teachers had a calming affect on the children and the way they acted. I thought Mrs. Pointkowski and Mr. Kanaszka were two good teachers who related to children very well both gained respect not by intimidation but by teaching methods that kept your interest. Mr. Skiba was a decent teacher who really knew his subjects but contrary to the vast majority of teachers maintained discipline by force. He had famous methods that became legendary.  He would make difficult students grab a broomstick with both hands and while still hanging on kneel on the broomstick, pinning your hands and knuckles beneath in a very painful manner. Another rather cruel punishment was to throw uncooked rice on the floor and then have the students kneel on it, after a short while the hard rice would be unbearable especially, for girls who were of course dressed in skirts.

Catholic nuns tend to make many people feel very uncomfortable, due to the life they have chosen to live; some people feel more or less that they are not like other women.  The Catholic nuns of course live the same way that other women do, they are able to visit their families, go on trips to amusement parks etc. the main difference of course being they live a certain way to maintain religious life.  I always had felt a strong reverence for nuns and priests it is because of this, that I had little difficulty throughout grammar school. 

 The nuns had a weird affect on most children’s thought process and conditioning, instilling the idea that you have to be good or you will pay here or worse yet in hell.  Even given this, I became friendly with a few of the younger nuns who had come to teach; they had new ideas and fresh religious views.  What’s kind of funny I remember a couple of movies about nuns (The Trouble with Angels and Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows) that came out in the late 60’s our school seemed to have the same atmosphere, religious change that brought the old church doctrine to more up-to-date standards. Another religious movie with a different story line all together came out during the early 1970’s was The Exorcist; it contained many religious issues, problems and of course so very foul language. The Catholic Church and our nuns in particular issued a strong request that all good Catholics should not see the movie and I even heard some stories that if the girls went to it they would not be able to have babies.  I really think a lot was made of the movie and for it’s time The Exorcist was very political, actually all the press just helped to make people want to see it even more.

 I feel the years that I was part of the school and church were a very interesting time, a few of the priests and nuns made good impact on helping to bring parishioners into the church.  One Nun in particular was Sister Jo-Allen, she was a young, pretty and full of energy.  She was put in charge of the school choir and introduced guitar masses and large choir participation through out the mass. She had many very good ideas for teaching as well and ways to improve the community religious, involvement.  She had a way to get people to listen and made joining the choir cool. Jacek became friendly with her; she even tried teaching him how to play the guitar. Whenever she needed help Jacek was sure to lend a hand and I joined in when I could. Another good thing that helped the church atmosphere along with Sister Jo-Allen was father Julian, a young priest with lots of charisma made going to church a good experience.  Father Julian liked to get very involved with children, he went out of his way and took some of the kids in his own car to the Blackwood CYO Athletic complex where we played basketball and enjoyed heated swimming pools.  Father Julian was in our church for a couple of years but then had to leave; I think he was asked to take over another parish to help with its revival.  

 Some of the best times our class had were on the class trips we took; I really liked the long bus rides hanging out with friends. For our second grade trip we went to New York City. The Statue of Liberty and the Empire State building were awesome.  Later our class went for three straight years to Hershey Park that was really cool and the Chocolate Factory was very interesting. Clementon Park was a local trip that was always fun. Our last trip was to Washington DC, it was so hard to see everything in one day that we spent a lot of time rushing from one place to next. Arlington National Cemetery was a very impressive sight with the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier and John F. Kennedy’s grave.

  St. Joseph’s Catholic Church has a long and wonderful history.  The structure itself is very impressive building, built by skilled artisans, local laborers and religious faithful who helped construct the magnificent features and grand details with a modest budget that was funded by small donations from the congregation.  I was always had a good feeling when I entered the church; the wonderful architecture and the magnificent paintings and stained glass windows just uplifted your spirit.  The Church Steeple area was built with large amounts of copper material that in its early years had the appearance of new copper pennies but over the years changed to a greenish color the same as the Statue of Liberty.  The Church structure was large enough that it could be seen from some distance, especially with the greenish color. I would travel to Philadelphia for a ballgame and long before I was home I could see the Church and know when I would arrive home seemed like such a beacon, in many respects it had that affect because of the way the faithful were drawn to the Church and kept up the wonderful appearance due to pride and religious conviction. Even during the decline of church attendance and ever-changing environment of the community around the Church, many long time parishioners traveled to support the church.  Each Christmas Eve Mass year after year is still held and miraculously the pews are full of people.

 Religion played a big part of our Catholic School life, on a day-to-day basis as well as our family Polish Catholic upbringing. Some of my most memorable events took place as we went through our young lives. First Confession and First Holy Communion happened in the second grade. Getting all dressed up and standing up in front of everyone made the kids very nervous. Later in the eighth grade our class had our Confirmation, at that age I was able to handle being up in front of people a lot better. The school attended all the religious holy days and services. The whole school filed into church by grade, girls and boys sat separately, I always felt a great deal of emotion and anticipation before each service. Each year for Ash Wednesday we received our ashes, Palm Sunday the families would receive the holy Palm leaves.  We even had a special holy day where everyone would get his or her throat blessed.  I especially liked Holy Saturday blessing of the Easter food baskets.  Each fall the Church held a Christmas Bazaar in the basement of the old school where our cafeteria was.  It was loads of fun and I looked forward to playing the different games and eating the good Polish food.  I tried my best to save what I could from money my parents gave me and bought small things to give as presents. The cafeteria was very versatile, it was where the weekly Bingo games were held and it was the scene of our school plays and recitals. A small raised stage in the middle of large room was where all the action took place, I was in a few of them that I recall, the Christmas Story with the Three Wise Men. I was so nervous when my turn to do something came up I didn’t want to look bad.  

 Sometime during the second or third grade I joined the church altar boy service, many of my friends started about the same time including (Jacek, Victor and the Perle’s) we learned the many different services provided by the church. I had little difficulty learning most of the services, but because we were a Polish Church some masses and services were spoken in Polish, so I had to pay close attention and figure out when to move and do the required service requirements. The services that were performed less frequently during holidays once a year were also somewhat difficult to perform correctly because we did not see them that often.  At first the new altar boys served with a more experienced one until they were familiar with all the required procedures.  I always listened carefully and followed the priest so I would learn the correct way to do the services.  I always enjoyed the Christmas and Easter holidays Church services.  The Church would be filled with people in good spirits and in their best attire participating with the mass and it responses for the entire service. 

 The Choir that sung in St. Joseph’s Catholic Church was just spectacular, the beautiful voices just seemed to soar and fill the air, the amazing songs that could be heard for some distance. The songs sung during the Christmas time were always exceptional; I especially liked the services during that period of time. The Church was designed in such away that the organ music was enhanced and made the gifted singers voices even more wonderful. Another big contributing factor why the choir sounded so well was the skilled organ play by the choir director Mr. Rykacheski he had been in service to St. Joseph’s Church for thirty to forty years. I can relate how the music sounded to the religious music in the movie The Sound of Music, very uplifting and joyous.  Another thing about the music was that an older Polish woman had one of the most wonderful voices; she was not normally part of the choir but sat in the back of the church her soaring voice was distinctive, rather deep but could elevate and could even be heard above the choir voices.

Throughout my years growing up and attending church I would often see some of the same ladies at the different services.  In the old days the church had mass services each day and without fail each morning the older Polish women would attend the mass and the steady recital of verses by the women was amazing often in Polish. 

Monsignor Strenski was the old venerable priest who continued to do his part for the church and the community late into his life (lived to be 99).  I helped to serve mass for him on the side altar, he performed the service mostly by memory and the altar boys assisted him to make sure he did not stumble or get hurt.  During his lifetime Monsignor Strenski had accomplished so many things including helping to start the building of the Church and later St. Joseph’s High School. He was also instrumental in purchasing land and starting the St. Joseph’s Cemetery. 

It was always best the new altar boys learned how to perform the services they needed to know as quickly as they could because the priest that was in charge of the Church altar boys was the toughest and most difficult man to deal with.  Father Bober was Polish and it tended to be hard to understand some of his English so this must have made him upset. If someone was late or didn’t get a replacement for a mass or heaven forbid your cassock was not ironed he would have a fit and take it out on you.  He would curse quite often and it would not be unusual to get whacked or have him turn his college ring around on his finger and thump you in your head. My friend Jacek got the treatment many times, not for improper altar boy service but for joking around at the wrong time, which was definitely a no-no.  I was very glad when Father Bober moved on and Father Bucia took over the responsibilities.

As the altar boys grew more experienced they would be called upon to do services like funerals and weddings, each one normally gave a few dollars for the services so my best friend Jacek and I would offer to perform as many as we could.  Funerals served during the school week provided a way to miss at least half a day of school, first the hour for church portion then quite often we would follow and complete the services at the cemetery and be asked to the go to the funeral reception at the local catering hall. Some people tend to have problems being around dead people and the unfortunate families that had to deal with it. Unless I knew the deceased or the family, I didn’t have much of a feeling at all.

St. Joseph’s Church had many different types of services, Novenas were held on Monday night.  During the week they held mass twice in the morning and on Sundays 6, 9, 10 and 11 and 6 pm a last chance mass. Also they had 7:30 Polish Service mass.  The early in the morning masses were actually filled people wanted to get to church and not wait till late masses.  I don’t remember what year it was but a big change was adding 6 pm Saturday night mass that was a very well received change and many people took advantage of the services.  In addition to main church having services the small St. Joseph’s Annex next to the High School also held services.   

I know that the Catholic Church has been plagued by incident after incident about priest misconduct and abuse cases.  I can tell first hand that I did not experience or even hear of a case by any of the priests in our parish molesting young boys.  They were for the most part, good solid priests and men that served their parish well with dignity and great religious fervor.  When my mother passed away in 1973, I was very sad and had a hard time for weeks; Father Bucia was very sympathetic and helpful in my time of sorrow and grief.  I have a good recall of the period and remember the time my mother had her service at the Ciechanowski funeral home directly across from the main entrance of the church on South 10th Street.  I felt great pain but was somewhat comforted by the large turnout of family, friends and neighborhood people.  It was simply amazing how the out-pouring of emotion and devotion can occur but wondered why the many of the people did not even speak to my mother in quite awhile, I guess because it is a persons last time to see the deceased that draws us to say goodbye.   The Nuns that taught at our school even sung a beautiful hymn; I was very moved by the display. 

Most of the friends that I hung out with that included Jacek, Victor and the Perle brothers were altar boys and members of the school choir. Eventually we would become friendly with the priests and nuns and it was not long before the nuns and priests would ask for some assistance doing odd jobs around the church and school.  One of the more difficult jobs was collecting the old monthly church pamphlets and setting out the new ones.  The priests paid little money but wanted a very good job done in minimal time.  I didn’t mind doing this for a while but tried to stay clear of the church around the end of the month so some else would do the job.  Other odd jobs included setting up the religious arrangements and flowers for holidays and whatever came up.

It seemed that my friends and I would do pretty much whatever we could to get money own our own without asking our parents for money, which most of the times they really could not afford to just give us money when we wanted it.  Some of my friends got part time jobs at stores cleaning up, mowed lawns or served newspapers.

I had heard the Church Bells throughout my life and felt they were part of the community and way to let everyone know what was going on with the church.  One day I got the opportunity to help ring the Church bells, the guy who was suppose to do it was not there so the priest asked me to help out.  With little instruction I was lead up to the bell area and took hold of this long rope and started to yank on it as commanded.  At first I was fine but as the bell started ring more loudly, the momentum built up and the violent upheaval became very intense I was holding on for dear life. After a large tug the bell would literally pick you up in (easily five, six feet off the ground) the air higher and higher until luckily you were finished.

A colorful mainstay character of our St. Joe’s Church community was our janitor Frank. I always felt sorry for him because I thought he had a diminished mental capacity. I do not really know the true story for sure why Frank had come by his affliction, I heard he was in World War II and took a bullet in his head that they could not remove.  In any case he was very reliable always showed up early in the morning, walking about a mile and half from his house every day.  He was able to handle cleaning the school and church own his own and complete other odd jobs the priests and nuns needed done.  Because Frank could not talk coherently and spoke in a loud abrupt manner he tended to be misunderstood. Children mostly gave him a hard time although all he really wanted to do was his job and do it well.  Sometimes kids would do something wrong, prank or fighting or such, Frank witnessed it but the children didn’t worry about because they thought Frank's feeble mind would not allow him to get them in trouble.  Unknown to them or at least for a few years Frank could inform and did so to the Principal or the Monsignor.  I really think Frank was just a peculiar individual who might have seemed different and just did not let on what he really could do. 

 Each morning of my grammar school life I could expect certain things.  The class would have morning prayers, stand for Pledge of Allegiance and if a student preferred they could have a couple small cartons of juice or milk. In addition to the expected daily events each day I would see our School Secretary, Mrs. Gorski, in her office or on the first floor somewhere.  She was always very nice, helpful and provided a sense of normalcy to the school for many years.  I do not know how many years she was there but I know she very seldom missed a day.

  St. Joseph’s Grammar School had set ways to do certain things that were passed on from class-to-class, year-to-year.  Each class period of course had its bell rung to start and end periods, but they used a bell system to signal other things also.  I do not remember exactly but I believe our recess period was for 45-60 minutes each day.  The streets surrounding the school and church complex were blocked off with wooden saw-horse and cross member so the children would have a safe area to play.  I am sure the houses and long time residents just dreaded that period of time each day because of the extreme noise level and the lack of mobility through the streets.  At the end of our recess the bells would be rung to signal the return to school.  Each grade had two classes, which had assigned areas to form rows, girls in front, boys in back.  The order which the grades returned to school was 8th grade down to the 1st, if a student stayed in school for entire 8 years it would be a real feeling of superiority when it was your turn to be the 8th grade class and be the head of the line. The order was reversed when filing into Church for services, the lower grades proceeded in first sitting closest to altar, filling all the pews by grades and classes until the 8th grade was seated in rear.  The normal order of things always had the girls sitting separately, thinking back this was a good thing for some situations but bad for others. Putting all the boys together could only lend to mischief from time to time, even in the solemn and strict atmosphere of the surroundings. 

 Another part of progressing through school and the responsibilities that the upper grades took was becoming Patrol Guards and School Yard monitors.  In the morning the Patrol Guards were assigned certain streets around the school to help make sure the students were able to cross streets safely and proceed to school on time, reporting any problems that might have occurred.  For lunch recess the Patrol Guards and Monitors would set up the wooden safety barricades at the end of each block around the school area, patrol the playground to help ensure order and when the lunch recess was finished take the barricades down.  Jacek and I were both Patrol Guards, we took the job seriously and did not have any major problems that I recall. One morning while standing on Mt. Ephraim Ave helping some kids cross the street Jacek took a couple of loaves of Italian bread used for making subs from the corner store and we both ate them, kind of the perk of  the job.


One of the favorite places for young teens to hang out and have a good time was the “Shop”, located a block from the rear of the Church down a side street.  It was an old working machinery shop that was run by a cool middle-aged guy names Bud, and his assistant and old ornery bastard that happened to live right next door. From a fairly young age guys would come and meet there and do things that they could not do most other places.  Many kids started smoking and drinking there and I’m sure even tried some pot, but as long as the drinking and other activities stayed quiet nothing much was said.  I liked to be part of the group and hang out with my friends there, but I really stayed away from the bad influences, I’m glad though because later in life I still do not smoke or drink. In addition, the shop was a perfect place to be used to play sports when the Church area was filled.  The whole area was an industrial environment so few windows to break.  I really enjoyed playing stickball by the famous “shop” building.  The older guys had played the stickball first, and then we slowly played and started challenging them, that’s truly the only way you can learn to improve your game by playing more advanced players.

A time came to find some places to go when the weather was really bad outside, so the local kids had starting using the old second floor St. Joe’s Gym.  It was a very small confined space that the grammar school used for gym class for many years, and the St. Joe’s Grammar school team and intramural leagues had utilized too.  The area around the court was so limited that it was not really a good court to watch a game. The priests of the parish had deemed the court as unsafe and halted outside activity and limited the use to gym classes and very special occasions.  I think they were really just getting tight with money and did not want to pay for lights.  Somehow a few of the guys had convinced some of the priests to allow a few of us in to play so we would not get into trouble and we would be safe, bad idea because what would happen once one of the guy’s got a key and the priest returned to the rectory we would let in all our friends.  Most of time we just played basketball, the priests would check when they heard to much noise and but us for to many people but somehow a few of us had pull (Jacek in particular) and would be let in an play with limited groups.

Across from the main entrance of St. Joseph’s Church at 1315 South 10th Street was Walt’s, a small old-fashioned Malt Shop. Walt and his family had been in business for a long time the place was great to catch something eat for lunch or hang out for awhile in the cool air during the summer. The food was pretty good and I especially liked the tuna fish hoagies he made, they had a way with it that tasted great. Walt also had a small candy section and sold baseball cards and assorted things almost like a five and ten. They had about four or five wooden booths that had been marked with people’s name through the years but still looked nice.  Walt’s sort of reminded me of Arnold’s on Happy Days. I bet in the Fifties and early Sixties the place was hopping and really a happening place to hang out.

 Another place that the gang would sometimes get something to eat was Ben’s on Mt. Ephraim.  He had counter service and some booths, the food was okay but the best thing to get at Ben’s was the ice cream he was very generous with his ice cream cones and packed ice cream he would give a lot more for the money then other stores.  Around the corner from Ben’s on Kaighn Avenue was Buddy’s Sandwich Shop for many years they served the best cheese steak sandwiches around. The lady who owned the place had been in business for years, I remember her telling folks that some of her customers enjoyed the food so much that she would send the food by airplane to different places around the United States.

 The Polish American Citizens Club (P.A.C.C.) was one of the many social clubs that men would become members.  Its members mostly consisted of Polish men and their families but in the later years other groups were able to join.  Through the years this was a very active organization they contributed to the community in many ways.  The P.A.C.C. sponsored two teams for the Whitman Park Little League and actively participated in the Pulaski Parade and St. Joseph’s Church related functions. The organization had a large two-story building located off Mt. Ephraim Ave behind the  Bonsall School. Members held many events in the building including wedding receptions and family funeral gatherings after services. A lively bingo game could be enjoyed weekly along with several dances throughout the year.  A highlight of the organizations year was the Annual News Years Eve Ball, a very festive gala.

 I liked the atmosphere and feeling of the place when I was teen, older gentlemen playing cards, having a nice game of pool on the professional billiards tables. The darts and table shuffleboard games were also available.  The history of the organization and its members was evident everywhere, old plaques and trophies of various activities adorned the walls; the building game room area reminded me of how a sports Hall of Fame might be.  I know there were other organizations and clubs but I believe P.A.C.C. was one of the better organized and run. 

 My friend’s father was one of the Presidents of the Polish American Citizens Club (P.A.C.C.), Mr. Daniel Ciechanowski. One of his small tasks was to set up the bingo chairs and tables each week and for a time my friends and I helped him set the bingo room up. We would do our best to hurry and complete the job so we could get a fountain soda at the bar and play a game of pool on the nice table or ping-pong.

As time went by and as some member’s left and older members passed, my friends and I grew up and they became members. I never really joined just went as a guest to hang out, I had joined the service and could not be an active participant.  

My uncle Pete belonged to Woodrow Wilson Democratic Club at 1181 Liberty Street. My father was never a real active member of any one club but he had many friends and he would attend certain events. One of his favorite clubs was the Polish Army Veterans Club at 1306 Mount Ephraim Avenue. 


It’s funny how someone will be given a nickname or be known by a certain name, rather than their actual name, our neighborhood was no exception. Another group of friends and neighborhood people are just remembered because of the way they acted or possibly looked.

Frances Anne Kirk - two by four – cruel teen moniker for her that referred to shape of her figure, ironically she grew into a full figured lady.  Frances Anne was a very outgoing and fun girl to be with she was very good at most of the games the guys would play and could be picked to help win a game.  Frances Anne had a brother Victor who also joined in on all the neighborhood games, they had some cool parents and I found myself hanging out at their house quite often.  From time to time Victor would be allowed to stay over at my house and I would be able to do the same at his, which was pretty great it was like going on a mini vacation.

Watermelon Head – Name given to a black kid that hung out due to his misshapen head.  Don’t even know real name, his little brother was little watermelon head or watermelon head junior.

Lucky – I’m not sure why he was given the name, but his father had the same nickname and real names were not used.  His family had a fresh produce business in which they would drive around the city in a large open truck and sell their fresh fruits and vegetables.

Donny Oleiwicz – Cinder Block – His misshapen big OLE redhead along with the fact that he seemed slow lent to his nickname.  Rather large uncoordinated guy, very strong always good to have on your side in a disagreement.   His head was tested for hardness once by a smaller kid by hitting him in back of head with a small piece of steel, his response was only “OW” he ran and kicked the other guys butt.   Donny had the only decent large size swimming pool in the neighborhood so I tried to stay on his good side most of the time

Mark Tainer – Container head – Oddly enough it was not given to him to go with the rest of his name Tainer but given the fact that the whole family had an oddly flat shaped head resembling a container.  Mark was one of the better basketball and football players in the neighborhood; he had a lot of talent but did not use what he had to the best his advantage.  Could always be heard reciting these strange cheers during games.

Gooch Family – Our version of the Brady Bunch they had seven kids, 3 girls (Peggy, Mary-Beth, Susan) 4 boys (Bill, Joe, Tom, Mike) it seemed at least one of the family members was involved with something at one time or the other, either our neighborhood games, church and school activities.  The family had a large, very mean German shepherd named Baron, which they used thru the years to help get their way when problems arose.  It was well known that if pushed come to shove that dog was going to settle any dispute.

Van Dexter Family – They lived on Mechanic Street across from the Church on opposite side of my family and the Gooch family. The Van Dexter’s were a large family consisting of Cathy the oldest then all boys (Ricky, David Vincent and two other boys that I can’t remember the names).  The kid named David had this unique ability to do the same thing that Houdini was able to do with his stomach, when ready he could tighten and brace his stomach so you could hit him as hard as you could and he was fine. 

Joe & John Perle (The Twins) - The two brothers came along just about the time the neighborhood needed a pick me up.  I really liked the guys and we became good friends.  Since their family was from California the brothers had a few unique ways to say certain words and phrases (i.e. throw the ball - chuck the ball, roof - sounded like ruff and sneakers were a few different variations).  Joe and John were both very athletic and fit right in with all the street games we played along with football and baseball.  The Perle's parents were really cool and I liked going over to their house on Atlantic Avenue to talk to the mother and father as I waited for the guys to get ready.  I was introduced to the taco at their house; Mrs. Perle could make a mean taco meal and some great iced tea.  Mr. Perle was very easy going and from to time would relate some of his Marine days back during the Korean War and other interesting things.  The whole family was diehard Los Angeles Rams and Dodgers fans and kept up with the sports through the years. One thing for certain where one brother normally was the other would be or shortly after, they were best friends and brothers and good pals to many others.

John and Dennis Delengowski - The brothers were actually twins but really did not look alike at all.  Both brothers were tall and lanky somewhere near 6-4 to 6-6.  John was the athletic rough and tough type of guy; Dennis was uncoordinated dorky goofy type of character.  The brothers had a rather strange nickname, "LOOMIS", meaning a slow not especially bright person. John and Dennis lived just a few doors down from the Perle brothers on Atlantic Avenue.

Mark Shapiro – One of the guys that I went through all the grades in grammar school till 8th grade graduation.  Mark was a nice enough guy but he was one of the biggest momma boys around.  In school he became the proto-typical nerd and dork, was the guy the teachers assigned as hall monitor because he went out of his way to tattle on the other kids and liked it.

Dennis Prosinski – Very funny guy who would come up with funny names for people and play gags.  Once when my dad was driving a car filled with kids, my dad said a few rather funny phrases to me that the other guys found hilarious and would not let me forget it. (RICHO RED LIGHT-Boy, AND CLOSE BACK WINDOW OR YOU’LL GET PARALYZED). My dad sometime spoke with a Polish accent, so guys would taunt me with a funny accent.  My dad was referring to getting a stiff neck from the strong wind, which he would often get.   Dennis had an uncle that was unstable, he would wander around the streets everyday and talk to himself, he was harmless but Dennis liked to mess with him and called him Uncle Whiff.

Many other people came in and out of the group but this was the main portion.

Neighborhood friends

Kaz Brodowicz

Joey Gooch

Jimmy Porklfka

Rich Brodowicz

Victor Kirk

Dennis Prosinski

Danny Ciechanowski

Frances Anne Kirk

Jacek Rykala

George Ciechanoswki

Donny Oleiwicz

Zenon Rykala

Dennis Delengowski

Joe Perle

Mark Tainer

John Delengowski

John Perle

Tom Tainer

Billy Gooch

Ricky Van Dexter

Memorable Stories: Tioga Street

One summer day while living on Tioga Street my father had bought some nice ripe watermelons and decided to cut them up for my brother and me and some friends.  My dad liked to cut the slices very large so the kids would enjoy them.  One friend Randy Collins had been enjoying himself and when he was finished he could not talk. Losing his voice after eating watermelon was something that happened with him but he did not say anything.

It amazing that we actually survived childhood with all the crazy stunts that we did. One thing we did was play a game at night shooting arrows into the air and run to get them first, but the same time we were running around for arrows more were shot into air.  One arrow came down across the street in a lot and stuck in a convertible car roof, when I went over to check it out luckily it had lodged in the roofs edge not in the material, last time I played .

What kid doesn’t like to experiment making different things. John Sweeney was quite a bit older than I was and he read a lot of different books and things.  He decided he wanted to make a small explosive, not knowing any better I said what the heck and helped him.  Really wasn’t that much of a device he got a pipe and capped the end and we both took some matches and ripped off just the red match end and stuffed them into the 10 to 12 inch pipe. When it was almost full he added something on the top and put a fuse in the end.  Next we went over to the old abandoned building we used to play around, it had a chimney stack with an outside door to burn some materials.  We stuck the pipe in there lit it and stood back quite away and watched.  When it exploded it was very loud and almost blew metal door off the chimney, I could see how that process could get out of hand.  After that I didn’t bother with such things again.

Memorable Stories: Tioga Street

One night after dinner when we were having a good game of box in front of the church something happened that is hard to forget.  I was on the team that was in the field and the other team was at bat.  The kid at bat hit the ball between Tommy Tainer and me, Tom made a try at the ball running full force and he hit the fire alarm box full force with his head.   Tom was able to stay alert and he and the whole group ran to the shop where he tried to clean up and later he went to the hospital, I was so afraid that he was going to pass out or something.

Donny Oleiwicz was a very strong guy someone you would want or your side if you were in a fight, he was not especially quick but if he got a hold of you he could really hurt you.  One day a disagreement came up between Donny and one of his next-door neighbor’s, Mike a small black kid with a big mouth.  One thing led to another and they were ready to fight, right before the first punch Mike took of his sneaker and held it in his hand next thing he did was wave it and then tossed it in the air, Donny was looking at shoe and Mike reached over and hit Donny so hard it stopped him and the fight was over.  

One summer afternoon a bunch of kids were hanging out in my backyard and running back and forth between the Gooch’s and Donny O’s and my yard. One of kids was Victor Kirk and somehow while running after someone he was bit in the butt by one of the neighborhood dogs.  Poor Victor was in pain but embarrassed to show anyone, but Donny O’s mother made him show her the bite so she could help clean and checkout the severity, what an awkward spot.

 My brother Kaz had decided to buy himself a pump action BB gun with some of the money he had from a part time job.  At first he was hitting targets he had set up in the backyard, he thought he was getting pretty good.  His next thing to try was a moving target mostly pigeons.  He pumped the gun several times and tried to hit the pigeons that used to perch on the school room about 125-150 yards from our back yard.  Kaz actually hit a few but broke quite a few of the school’s and some neighbor’s windows because it was hard to determine the distance and factor the wind and height.

 At the time it was a real big event in my life the St. Joseph’s 8th Grade graduation June 1974. I liked idea of getting ready for high school and the next part of my life was just starting to unfold. The two eight grade classes had scheduled a graduation party in the old gym, it was real nice setup. Everything was going well some dancing and mixing up with girls and then all of the sudden someone got sick, Larry Moser’s drink was spiked  and he got very ill. The strange thing was the person who got the most emotional was Ben Waters, a guy. He was actually crying what a weird spectacle. 

Brodowicz Family Photo Album
Mom and Dad’s Wedding Day, October 1957
Casimir Alexander Brodowicz  & Irene Theresa Rogowicz

"Grand-dad Rogowicz. My brother Kaz Brodowicz is next to him and I am in his lap. " - Rich Brodowicz 

The photo is from 1960 or 1961

Rich Brodowicz
about 4 to 5 years old.

Easter Sunday 1971
Godfather Al Sochacki’s
1336 Jackson Street
Camden NJ

Casimir Alexander Brodowicz

"Dad in kitchen returning from church with Easter food Blessing"- Rich Brodowicz"

1049 Mechanic Street
Camden NJ
1970 or 1971


Rich Brodowicz
high school graduation picture
Eastern Regional High School
Voorhees NJ

306 South Coles Road
Maple Shade NJ

"Picture in at my Godfather's [Al Sochacki] house when I first joined the Navy" - Rich Brodowicz

"One of the many times my family had gathered to play cards – Uncle Pete Draim, Aunt Eleanor Wojtkowiak , dad and step-mother." - Rich Brodowicz

"My individual St. Joseph ’s Grammar School Class picture 1974" - Rich Brodowicz

"Best friends Jacek and Zenon Rykala in backyard of the Mechanic Street house 1971-1972." - Rich Brodowicz



Complete St. Joseph ’s Grammar School Class picture 1974

Girls 1st Row Cindy Baylor, Geraldine Zelazny

Girls 2nd Row Jane Zaremba, Cindy Miles, Rosemary Burgo and Anna Mikawcheski

Back Row Left-Mark Tainer, Steven Kato, Larry Moser, Paul Martin, Richard Skotnicki, Steven Wilson

2nd From Rear-Ben Watters, Joe Colassi, Jacek Rykala, Joe Perle, Rich Brodowicz, John Raskis, Mark Shapiro

2nd row with girls left Richard Wertz, right James Del Rossi

My Dad and I kicking back at the 1156 Mt. Vernon Stret house in Camden while I was on leave from Navy." - Rich Brodowicz


St. Joseph Church

December 2003

Click on Image to Enlarge

St. Joseph's Church
10th and Mechanic Streets, Camden, New Jersey

Another St. Joseph's Church web-page

More Polish Community in Camden Links
St. Joseph's Polish Athletic Association


A Camden Story: Reflections and memories of Rich Brodowicz
A Polish Camden Kitchen