I had a great time Friday night as the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation celebrated the Chinese New Year at the Ocean City Restaurant on 9th Street in Chinatown. As someone born in the year of the Monkey, I have little in common with the Snake, but being a Monkey, celebrated optimistically with my friends and neighbors. Comcast employees and NBC10′s Glenn Schwartz were on hand. PCDC has been a significant, positive force in the preservation of the culture and in the development of Chinatown. The annual banquet is always one of the happiest of the year. May you soon fine lucky bamboo stalks near you.
Pall bearers steadily moved the flag-draped coffin carrying the body of Senator Arlen Specter through massive Har Zion Temple, and as they took their small, halting steps, Frank Sinatra’s large anthem of a full life, “My Way,” played to the 15 hundred people who had gathered to recall a “great statesman” and a remarkable man.
Friends, family and dignitaries gathered today in Penn Valley: Vice-President Joe Biden, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, past and current U.S. Senators, elected officials from throughout the region, the Deputy Israeli Ambassador and more. The nearly two hours of reflection was at times humorous, at times tearful, but always as the Senator might have liked, moving forward. It was also at times presented as if attorneys were making the case for a man’s greatness. If it were a debate, they would have won it.
The Vice-President canceled campaign appearances in western swing states today to be here to say goodbye to his friend. He began his remarks with, “My name is Joe Biden. I was Arlen’s friend.” He was in full Biden seriousness and in full Biden humor. It was no doubt like the train rides the two of them shared. Joe Biden said of his friend, “Arlen had exceptional character,” and that he had “never seen a man with as much undaunted courage.”
Former Governor Ed Rendell, who was hired by District Attorney Arlen Specter, said ”We were proud of you…We will always be proud of you.” Rendell’s voice broke a couple of times as he praised his mentor and colleague.
Longtime friends of Arlen Specter remembered his early days and the personal side of the very public figure. Words such as “true grit,” “will,” and “integrity” filled the eulogies. Arlen lived, “A productive and meaningful life.” “He wasn’t afraid to fail.”
Tribute was paid to widow Joan Specter. Granddaughters spoke, too. Said Sylvie of her grandfather, “He worked tirelessly to be the best grandfather ever, and he succeeded.” Specter’s son, Shanin, summed up the afternoon’s recollections and expanded on his father’s love of the fight for fairness and of standing by friends in trouble, regardless of political consequences. Said Shanin, “He was “the patron saint of lost causes.”
The above were among the public statements I heard, but before the service began I spoke with people from various walks of life, all who genuinely are pained by the loss of a man who made a difference. Among them, those with a stake in the fight against cancer, community leaders, as well as public figures indebted to his leadership. Pall bearer and Congressman, Pat Meehan, for example, who wore the loss on his face.
Arlen Specter did not plan this final service. As he told his family, “surprise me.” But as Sinatra filled the quiet of the Temple, it felt, after 82 years on earth, 59 years of marriage, kids and grandkids, students and colleagues, wins and losses, causes, quests, and even windmills, it felt right to say that Arlen Specter did do it his way.
I spent the day with some great young people today. They are the campers and counselors at the annual Muscular Dystrophy Association summer camp. They come from throughout eastern Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey and Delaware to enjoy the week of camp in Worcester Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. It didn’t hurt that the weather was beautiful.
From swimming to arts and crafts to building floats and just hanging out and having fun, the camp is all a summer camp should be and more. More, because MDA creates a setting in which these campers get a chance to meet new friends, to have a great time, but also to be in an environment where they don’t have to explain anything to anybody.
They and a convoy of Harley owners came to give rides to the campers.
The wonderful folks from Lowe’s were on hand to help build floats for the parade. This year’s theme is Road Trip and they were in the South today. Thus, the many Mardis Gras and racing themes. Other sponsors and volunteers were there. The Upper Darby Fire Department served a splendid dinner, 24 hours after the Philadelphia Fire Department dished out a meal I heard kids talking about all day. (The ribs were a hit, Local 22.)
While the Association’s aim is to cure neuromuscular diseases, the camp shows why MDA is an organization of heart, for it it seeks to help people in every way and to do so today.
Make a muscle. Make a difference.
Major Robert Dixon says the need to help the hurting in Philadelphia is great. The organization last year provided 600,000 meals and 400,000 sheltered nights. I heard Dixon say today as we gathered at the facility along Conshohocken State Road, “If the Salvation Army were to close its doors, our community (Philadelphia region) would be in dire straits.”
Besides shelter and nutritional food, SA has music programs, tutoring, computer labs, homework help, the Red Shield House where self-sufficiency is nurtured, and more. It’s all part of Doing the Most Good.
I last saw “Auggie” last month on the night Woodland String Band celebrated its first prize finish. He had had surgery the same day and still showed up. You knew he wasn’t feeling great and used a wheelchair to get about, but, as usual, he made everybody laugh, everybody smile, everybody feel better. Frank “Auggie” Roberts had this effect on me and I knew him the least of all the hundreds of people in the room. Maybe it’s what you should expect from someone born on St. Patrick’s Day.
Losing someone who loved life so much and losing them so young is difficult for those close to him. Auggie was only 50 when he passed away on May 7th. My condolences to Franny, Annie and Jessie and the Woodland String Band family.
Auggie was at the heart of Woodland String Band and you could argue, what Mummery is all about. He was a Mummer through and through. As his friends tell you, even as he fought cancer, he just kept winning, and making others happier. He was a show-stopper and scene-stealer and you loved every minute of it. And, if this wasn’t all so damn serious, you’d half expect him to walk, or roll, through the door tomorrow and say, “You didn’t really think I’d left, did you?”
Woodland String Band President, Tom Loomis, said it best Monday night when he wrote, “This evening, the world of Mummery, the Woodland String Band and the Roberts family lost a true champion. A fighter until the end. We love you, Frank “Auggie” Roberts. Rest in Peace, brother, and thank you for all that you have given us and the great memories you left behind. One Heart-One Spirit!!!”
The first viewing for Frank “Auggie” Roberts will begin Friday evening at 6:00 p.m. at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church on Moyamensing Avenue in South Philadelphia. A second viewing will take place Saturday morning at 8:00, followed by the Funeral Mass at 9:45 a.m. There will be a proud Mummers send-off.
Thank you and farewell, Frank “Auggie” Roberts. Everyone who knew you is singing, “We’ll Meet Again.”
The 25th annual Ride for Life benefiting the Muscular Dystrophy Association was a rumbling, rousing success this weekend in Bethlehem. As the weekend got underway, endless rows of Harleys filled a lot on Saturday at Steel Stacks, a marvelous venue centered on the behemoth of an old blast furnace. The big ride was Sunday.
All sorts of good entertainment filled much of the weekend, led of course by the Bacon Brothers concert Saturday night. Among the high points was MDA National Goodwill Ambassador Abbey Umali singing “Lean On Me” with Kevin and Michael Bacon. Fans of the Mummers were on hand to also hear, “Son of a Mummer.” The Bacon Brothers Band is ending its latest tour. They’ve begun work on a new CD and performed a song from it, “493 Miles.”
The weekend was a great anniversary fundraiser and spirit lifter. Many MDA families were there and of course, more than a thousand Harley owners and riders. For two and a half decades, Harley Davidson dealerships and Harley owners have been riding to raise money for research into neuromuscular diseases and support the services provided by MDA. They continue to set the pace and, provide hope and their goodwill is yielding success.Thanks to all the riders from Atlantic City to Harrisburg, the Poconos to Delaware, who joined in the celebration.This year’s MDA “Show of Strength” will again be on PHl17 Labor Day weekend.
I talked the other day to an impressive young man,15-year-old Nicholas Celenza. Nick and his siblings have sold more than a thousand pairs of pink shoelaces in memory of their mother, Elaine Brown Celenza, who died February 24, 2012, after a long, inspirational struggle with breast cancer.
I met Nick, his brother, 18-year-old Anthony, and their sister, 23-year-old Erica, in their Haddonfield, New Jersey, home as they all sat around a table covered in pink shoelaces. They were pairing them up so they could be sold. They were quite a trio this past week, when I saw them laboring together to work through their loss and live as their mother would want. Dad, Anthony, Jr., is in awe of them.
The laces idea was Nick’s. Dad, who is also Captain of of the Joseph A. Ferko String Band, said do it and off it went. The proceeds will benefit the Komen Philadelphia Race for the Cure. The Celenza’s story is being shown on PHl17 in the 10pm Newscast tonight and on NBC10′s weekend morning news.
When you talk to people who knew Elaine, from the Brown family to the Celenzas to her friends, they say many images will always come to mind. The smile, the willingness to help, and her loving her family are probably the most frequent. Many will also remember the extraordinarily long line of mourners at her viewing. Erica, Anthony and Nicholas were everything to admire as they patiently and warmly greeted all who came to express their sorrow in February. As sorrowful as it was, it also felt right to talk and be somewhat upbeat. The line took on the personality of Elaine.
At the Celenza home this week, Anthony told me the story of how Elaine would sneak out and drive somebody to the doctor. Elaine was not supposed to be driving at that point, but somebody needed help and she did it. He talks of how tough she was in fighting the illness. Elaine apparently saw a dire prognosis as something to be proven wrong. Anthony says she was always the peacemaker of the family, briniging the family together. She’s still doing it.
Still pairing those laces, Nicholas, Anthony III and Erica want to raise awareness about preventing breast cancer and about early detection. They want to raise money for research. All this so that other families will not have to go through what they have gone through. The next step can begin with a pair of pink shoelaces. Check out KomenPhiladelphia.org/LaceUp.
Amy’s Fund began in 2005 and has grown to keep raising awareness, emphasizing prevention and raising money for research into several cancers affecting women.
Money raised this day will support the Women’s Cancer Center at Fox Chase Cancer Center. Thanks go to Lisa Perfidio and Dr. Sarah Kim from Fox Chase. They are making the world a happier place.
But special thanks go to Amy’s mother, Denise, her whole family, and Amy’s husband, Dave, and his family. Before she passed away Amy hoped that her work and openness would save a life. Amy you have done much more.
Efforts like these by Amy’s family and friends, by the Mummers earlier, and others make a difference. I want to say thanks as well to the students at Council Rock High School South and all the dancers from the Philadelphia region to who helped raise money last month at the “Dance for a Cure.” I had fun emceeing their good works. All you have to do is talk to the physicians and researchers who have seen the success stories and who hold out hope for what is on the horizon to know that these efforts are important.