Dear Friends, Good morning. Every town and city in America has members from the Greatest Generation. As author Tom Brokaw put it, these are the people who were born before the Great Depression, served in the military during World War II and built the America, which we enjoy. Today, that generation is in its 80's and 90'sstill volunteering for community service. That's exactly how it's supposed to be.My generation and the generations following us haven't measured up to the Greatest Generation. We're not as willing to volunteer for community or political service as the Greatest Generation did. My late father always told me that what made America different was the fact that everyone participated in their community's needs. Unfortunately, that sense of obligation has waned.
Whenever I visit the Palace Barber Shop, I invariably see one of Charlie Brader's customers who came from the Greatest Generation. Incidentally, Charlie's emporium is known as the Palace Barber Shop because it was originally located in the Palace Theater building where Dimmig's is headquartered.
Just the other day, Kenneth Cressman was sitting in the chair. At 83, he still has a full head of hair. In my next life, I'll have hair just like Ken's. Charlie and Ken are of similar age. Charlie led the discussion about World War II experiences.
Ken told me that it was unusual for an army recruit to receive his first choice of military occupation. (If you were a writer, the army would send you to armor school to become a tank driver.) Ken was lucky to be assigned to his first and second choicesflying and photography.
He had just graduated from Quakertown High School. Ken's science teacher, Warren Buck, had an extra curricular assignmentthe advisor to the photography club. Ken belonged to that club and enjoyed the creativity and intricacies of the craft.
So at 18, Ken Cressman found himself in the U.S. Army Air Corp, the precursor to the U.S. Air Force. According to one of his daughters, Carol (Cressman) Edge, from 1943 to 1945, his job was aerial recognizance. "Dad was stationed in France," Carol began.
When I think about France, the notion of wine, women and song comes to mind. But Ken Cressman is such a straight shooter; he probably didn't take advantage of his good fortune. (I would have, undoubtedlyI easily cave in to temptation.) On the other hand, Ken always has a twinkle in his eye and an infectious laugh.
Not yielding to wine and women in France is one thing. Song, however, is another matter.
Ken has a beautiful voice and has sung all of his lifeso does his wife, Dolores. Mighty Betsy and I've been in community choruses with the Cressman's and can attest to the quality of their voices.
When Carol was a teenager, she and her parents formed a trio at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Quakertown. "My mother was very much a soprano," Carol laughed. "She could have been on the stage."
I knew that Carol's older sister, Janet (Cressman) Stever, is an excellent musician as well. Janet sings and plays reed instruments. Did she sing in a Cressman family quartet, I wondered?
"Janet was too shy as a teenager," Carol answered. "But today, we sing in the Sweet Harmony Quintet [at the First United Church of Christ in Quakertown]." Carol and Janet are first and second sopranos, respectively.
The Cressman family has a vocal tradition spanning generations. Carol's parents still sing duets at Trinity Lutheran. As a child, I remember Ken's parents, George and Florence Cressman, singing at the First Reformed Church at Fifth and Broad Streets. Norman Frank, the father of one of my boyhood friends, Allen, joined them. I thought that Mildred Johnson was the fourth in that quartet which sang in the 1930's and '40's. She was an excellent harpist.
Ken's younger brother, Norman, was a professional singer. He also taught piano and organ. I recall Norman singing the title role in the Mendelssohn oratorio, "Elijah." The choirs of Trinity Lutheran and First UCC came together and performed the epic workit must have been 40 years ago. That combination formed the community chorus, which still presents concerts in Quakertown.
Ah, what pleasant memories. America's cities and towns are filled with stories like the Cressman family. It's what this country is all about.
Sincerely, Charles Meredith Charles Meredith, a lifelong Quakertown resident, is the former publisher of The Free Press. He can be reached at MeredithIII@comcast.net.