goodbye mr. fetterman

I am wordy when I write. I will try to make this post honest and to the point, just like the men it’s meant to honor.

Walt Ligenza's grandson, Matt, Sam Pagano, Harry Fetterman, and Dick Jones

Walt Ligenza’s grandson, Sam Pagano, Harry Fetterman, and Dick Jones

This past Monday, I attended a viewing for Mr. Harry Fetterman in Tamaqua, the small town in the anthracite coal region of Northeastern PA where I grew up. Harry was a beloved teacher and football coach. He was my dad’s oldest and dearest friend. Harry and my dad, Dick Jones, knew each other as boys; they both enlisted in the Navy right after high school during World War II (Harry actually left Tamaqua High a semester early in 1943*). After the war, both men ended up going to East Stroudsburg University (at that time it was East Stroudsburg State Teachers’ College) on the GI Bill. Hometown guys in their hearts, Harry and Dick eventually both returned to Tamaqua, married their college girlfriends, found teaching and coaching jobs and raised families. Our families got together socially from time to time and I was friends with Harry’s lovely daughter, Lynn. Later, having lost their wives, Harry and dad would attend class reunions together and take turns driving to different functions. They had that kind of friendship that doesn’t require daily phone calls. They were there for each other when needed. When my dad was in the hospital for heart surgery, Harry was there. When my dad passed away a few years ago, Harry, leaning on the arm of his son Danny, paid his last visit to my dad and his respects to my brother, Rick, and me. By most standards, Harry and dad lived quite ordinary lives. Yet, to me, these men were anything, but ordinary.

When I was growing up in the sixties, football seemed like a pretty big deal in our house. This was probably because I viewed life through the eyes of a child whose father was the high school football coach. Every Friday night during the fall, the stadium lights came on and the world started. Harry, and two other teachers, Sam Pagano and Walt Ligenza coached along with my dad during most of his tenure. Dragged to these games as a little girl, I would often neglect the game entirely, fascinated by these generals of the gridiron as they issued commands and single-mindedly paced back and forth on the sidelines. They were heroes to me and I viewed them with awe as they commanded their 16 and 17 year old soldiers.

Even when I think of them now, silly as it may seem, the phrase “Band of Brothers” comes to mind. Maybe, it was just the innocence of youth, but at the time, they seemed a special breed of men set apart in some mysterious way. When they spoke, they were direct; there was no question that they meant what they said. Tact was not one of their strong suits. You didn’t mess with them in the classroom or on the field, at least, I didn’t. Maybe, Dad and Harry, were shaped by their experiences in the war. Maybe this team of mortal men were no more special than many others of the oft referred to “greatest generation”. I choose to think that their mystique, for lack of a better word, was something more than that. Sam, Dick, Harry and Walter. For me they will always be men who figured out life’s playbook; then played their assigned positions hard and fair. They were human, of course, with the usual foibles. Stubbornness was certainly in some of their natures. I can personally attest that one of them had a quite volatile temper on occasion. All of them cared about the kids they coached and taught. They were very wise men in their plain-dealing approach to life and sport.

As I stood, in the receiving line at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church listening to those paying their respect, I overheard one of Harry’s former players recalling a football game that was played in a torrential downpour. When Harry heard his players griping about the bad weather, he simply quipped “ Stop complaining. It’s raining on the other team too.”

With deepest love and sympathy to Lynn, Dan, Scott and the entire Fetterman family.

Thanks also to friend and classmate Bob Richards ’71 for this photo.

* My dad shared with me the fact that during 1942-43 school year, Tamaqua Area High School issued diplomas half way through the senior year for young men wishing to enlist. Harry chose this option to serve early. 

 

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9 thoughts on “goodbye mr. fetterman

  1. I remember Harry at good old THS . Your dad Harry & Sam probably the best coaching staff THS ever had. I only played one year of football at THS but my brother in law played under your dad Harry & Sam. He would tell me how the coaches would step on the players when they were doing the six inch leg hike. And we all remember the time they went into the woods and hit the trees! All three guys well surely be missed.

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  2. Rhonda, what a lovely blog to read. It brought me to tears. Thank you for sharing.
    Keep on writing. I’ll keep on reading.
    Fondly,
    Cathy Schrader

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    • Thanks so much Cathy. Hope you are well. I’m retired now. Still coaching the Mock Trial team. If you ever want to do coffee or lunch, I’d love to see you.

      Rhonda

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  3. Wonderful tribute Rhonda. I never played football because my football was music and the band. But, I was still at every home game, in the stands and on the field with my good old trombone. (Which, by the way, I still have somewhere in the basement.)
    I did however, know very well and respect the 4 men that you spoke of for my entire 4 years of high school and loved them all.
    Just a footnote…….Harry’s daughter Lynn and I had our first dinner date in the Coaldale hospital in 1952. Lynn is one day younger than I, and our Mothers apparently nursed the both of us in the same room there. Haven’t seen her in decades. If you see her, please say hello from me.
    Thanks again for a beautiful tribute.

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  4. Rhonda, That was beautiful. It really brings back great memories of how things were back then. The straight talk, the discipline, the strictness our parents raised us on. We didn’t whine about things, we just did it. Besides the fact that they would’ve killed us if we didn’t. Your Dad, Harry, Sam & Walt were dedicated & respected…by everyone. It was so sad to see Harry’s obituary and Class Reunion in the same paper. God Bless Them All. Sincerely, Maggie

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