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The Voice of New Rochelle: Honor Thy Surrogate Fathers—While They Last

There was a time when accomplished men of means and/or character took the orphan or fatherless boy under his wing. Such relationships have been fading away for decades. The Penn State and Syracuse affairs may have put the final nail in that coffin.

For good or ill, the larger and more enriched aspects of my intellect were formed at the foot of an eccentric millionaire who lived like a hermit, had no children and held onto every penny like they were welded to his fingers. The man who owned the jelly factory next door to my house taught me politics, science, astronomy and a love of music, books and newspapers. My mother never questioned what I was doing in the factory every day after school, or why the man did what he did.

His name was Christian Shulthies, and he owned the Triangle Preserve Company and half of what is now Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Chris, as we called him, would today be the subject of whispers and nods—and it would be a shame. 

Having never had a father, it was not only nice to have that influence, it was a gift that keeps on giving to this day. Now, my grandson and I go to astronomy shows and bookstores. My daughter and I, before him, went to museums and concerts. And I make my living by talking about politics and other topics sucked out of as many books and newspapers as I can get my hands on.  

The biggest gift of all, probably, was a work ethic. From those formative years of riding on the back of the truck (eating strawberries and other delicacies liberated from their tyrannical packaging), putting labels on jelly jars and placing those jars into cooling racks—all for no money, just the privilege of working—I learned not only to give an honest day's work but how satisfying it was to finish what you started. 

Today, people might call him weird. Why, they might ask, does he have those young boys hanging out at the factory? Why are they always on the truck? Where does he go with them? Why doesn’t he have a wife?

For the record, Chris was a giving, kind and thoughtful man who knew that we kids on “the other side of the tracks” could use a little guidance. In my case, he knew I had no male parent. He was pure and honest.

I can’t help thinking in the wake of the Penn State Sandusky case, or the newer Syracuse scandal, how these coaches have cast a cloud over the countless numbers of men who give their time and energy to young boys with only the best of intentions. Men who feel empathy for the kid who has no role models or resources. Men who volunteer to coach baseball and soccer for no money or a stipend, or who work at the Boys and Girls Clubs. 

This column is for them, and for Chris. 

How shameful it is that those few others taint the tradition of selflessness of those good men. How sad is it that there are far too many who knew and did nothing in order to protect the “brand” of a school or sports program. 

The failure of others to act may well be the most tragic story. There will always be pedophiles and predators. But there may not always be men willing to give of their own time for the sake of some young person if doing so comes at the price of a questionable reputation.

Martin Sanchez December 07, 2011 at 02:39 PM
Bob, Thanks (again). I had a surrogate father when I came to the US in Herman Koch; a retired corporate accountant who instilled in me the curiosity for learning and fairness. My mother was the liven-in housekeeper. He and I went to Temple every saturday in Long Beach, NY. He lent me books and we went to concerts to see/isten to Bernstein, Stern, Zuckerman and Claudio Arau. He taught me about fairness and equality. There was never a question that I would go to college. So today, I continue to advocate for my own children as well as the many immigrant children in New Rochelle who do no have a voice. Thanks Bob for allowing me to remember again of what is important and necessary in our community. Martin Sanchez
Michael Woyton December 07, 2011 at 04:28 PM
Wow, Martin, I haven't thought about Claudio Arrau in years. What a pianist. I saw him in concert at Carnegie Hall many years ago.
Bob Marrone December 09, 2011 at 03:03 PM
Martin, Thanks you for comment. It ist funny how these things stay with you. Every time I open the hood of my car...really, every time... I remember how Chis taught me the way an internal combustion engine works. We were sitting on the top of a mountainous stack of cases of jelly in our storage unit, a large not very well lit, warehouse with rows of product. I used to nap and do my homework sometimes on these man made plateaus of boxed jelly jars. I loved that period in my life. bob

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