Interviewees: Catherine (Kitty) and Joseph Rocks (KR) (JR) Interviewer - Ellen Sheehan (ES) Date: December 31, 2006
Childhood memories of this couple include Gustine Lake, St. Bridget Church, Ace Riding Academy, Ridge Avenue.
KR: My name is Kitty Rocks and I lived in East Falls on East Park Drive. I don’t remember my address there.
KR: That was on Ridge Avenue. I lived on East Park Drive for a few years and then we moved to Ridge Avenue, 4308 Ridge Avenue. We were there until I got married. Right? I went to school at Breck School for a little while and then I went to Mifflin School.
After Mifflin School, I went to Germantown High School. I belonged, at that time, to Grace Episcopal Church, which was right next door to where we lived on Ridge Avenue. We belonged to a bugle corps. It was the Veteran’s Post that had the Bugle and Drum Corps. We went on parades and things like that. We practiced at Ridge and Midvale at Palestine Hall. We would swim and ice skate at Gustine Lake and play down at the ball field at the Inn Lot. We would go over to Woodside Park, go through the park, walk over there and go to the park and also Crystal Pool; swam there. I’m one of ten, so we did a lot of walking. We didn’t have a car. We did have a horse stable right across the street from us – Ace Riding Academy. One time we went horseback riding and Joe hurt his back. Remember Joe? We rode down in the park. Across the Falls Bridge and you would get into the park.
ES: That must have been an expensive entertainment.
KR: The owner was our boarder. He lived with us. Max, I forget his last name.
ES: It was Ace Riding Academy.
KR: And he’s the one who ran it. That worked out good.
ES: So the name of the man who owned the Ace Riding Academy was..
KR: Max Gunther. Max had homes for the people who worked for him and that was called “Labby Hill.”
ES: And that brings us to Joe Rocks…
JR: I was born in West Philadelphia and was baptized at Our Lady of Victory Parish over there. Then my home was at 3737 Calumet St. East Falls.
ES: How old were you when you moved here, Joe?
JR: I was real young, maybe one or two years old.
KR: They didn’t have electricity.
JR: No, they didn’t have electricity at the time. Foster was the plumbing supply, and then seven garages going up Calumet Street toward the (?) …and then there was Murphy’s in the corner house, then Rocks, then Sigwarts going up the hill. I attended St Bridget’ School for eight years. I came out of St Bridget’s School in 1939 to join the seminary, the Marist Fathers, up in South Langhorne. I only 1asted a year up there and then I was supposed to go to Roman Catholic but they were filled and they shipped me to North Catholic which meant taking three trolley cars to school every day. And then after high school, I was only out a couple of weeks when “Uncle Sam” said “We need you.” That was in 1943. I ended up in the Navy – I was 18 years old and I had boot camp up in Sampson New York.
ES: And who was the person from Fast Falls who was your buddy up there?
JR: There used to be a saloon up from Ridge and Midvale called Welshes Bar right next to the Acme store there. Joe Welsh and some of the other guys from East Falls rode the train to Sampson NY and I didn’t see Joe Welsh after that. After the training up there, 1 can remember them shipping us on a train from there down to Norfolk and we stopped in Fairmount Park just below my Aunt Betsy’s house in the Park. I’ll never forget that.
KR: He took a leaf off and sent it to me.
JR: I sent it to Kitty. After a couple months down in Norfolk, Virginia, half of our unit went to the battleship New Jersey and I went on a train ride with the other half out to San Francisco, fourteen miles, Tanforan Race Track. It was a training center there until we were going to be shipped overseas. We got on a boat there in San Francisco and we had a stop at Midway until the Marines went through Guam and then they continued on to Guam and there we were. I was there for 18 months. Our job was to set up the naval operating base and I was a yeoman there taking care of a lot of paper work and whatnot and then after that we came home and the young lady that I had met before I went overseas, was my girlfriend then, I was still in uniform; I asked her to marry me.
KR: We lived on Ridge Avenue, 4200 after we were married.
JR: It was during Lent and mom chased us up to see the good Father up at St Bridget’s and luckily the good Father was Fr. Donnelly and he was a navy chaplain and he had just gotten out of the service and he said it was Lent and he said, “Sure, I’ll marry you” So there was no problem there and we got married and I’ve been married to that woman ever since. She’s given me the best years of my life. We have been married over 60 years.
KR: Joe, East Falls… she’s interested in East Falls!
ES: No, this is great. So, you were married in the priest’s house?
JR: It was Lent, and on account of it being Lent, we got married in the priest’s house. And Kitty got baptized.
ES: And you converted?
KR: After he went back, Father said” Look, I’ll marry you and you can take the instructions. Come up and see me when he was in the service and take instructions – and I did.
JR: Her first Communion was Christmas Day, if you recall. That was
JR: 1946. March 13, 1946 we were married.
ES: What was your address after you got married?
JR: 3216 Ridge Avenue. We had a third floor apartment. The little Italian guy, he couldn’t… but anyway, we had the third floor apartment and we were very happy there for a couple years and I think we had Joe there.
KR: Joe and Kathy.
JR: Joe and Kathy
ES: Did you stay in East Falls?
JR: We moved in with her mother for about a year. 0ur first car that we owned, we sold to put down on a house at 58th & Greer Terrace in Southwest Philadelphia. It became part of Transfiguration Parish.
ES: What year would that have been when you left the Falls? 1950?
KR: Well, Joe was born and he was born in 1947, so probably, Kathy was born in 55.
ES: Tell me something about the Merck Labs that were near you.
JR: Well, that was the guys, Billy Lockland and Bernie McCoy; we were inseparable. We called ourselves the “XYZ” gang. The Merck Chemical flourished during the First World War and when the Second World War came around, they opened up some parts of it. That was our playground.
KR: A lot of people from the Falls worked there.
JR: Today the headquarters is in Rahway, New Jersey.
KR: Isn’t there a Merck here in Pennsylvania?
JR: Not to my knowledge.
KR: Some of the people we knew were transferred over there.
JR: I think you are getting confused with Smith, Kline, Beecham.
KR: No, there is a Merck here.
JR: I’m not going to argue with you; I’m getting too old.
ES: Joe, that will never happen – you too old to argue?
JR: In my life, when we were young, they had Woodside Park on the other side of the river -about two miles from the other side of the Falls Bridge – that we used to walk to and swim at Crystal Pool.
KR: There were fireworks every Friday night.
JR: In the summertime, they had fireworks. We used to sit up on Labby Hill to see them.
ES: What was your work during that time, Joe?
JR: I was making, for three or five years, I was making storm windows over on New Queen Street in the Germantown section and then left there to make helicopters with Frank Piesecki.
He started a business out in Delaware County and I worked there for three and a half years and the Korean War was turning down and I had a brother in the fire department. I went down to visit him on a Sunday night. It looked pretty good to me. 1 came home and asked my wife if it would be all right if I take the Fire Department. It was about a thousand dollar reduce in pay but in the 26 years I put in the fire department and all the experiences, many of them sad, on account of Fire Department work but it was a very touching experience in my life. I used to come home and preach to my wife and kids about the safety of various thing. And then, as Joe got a little older, 56 years old, I felt as though I couldn’t keep up with the young guys in the Fire Department – I retired from the Fire Department and joined a wonderful Montessori school out in Gladwyne and I’m still there, 82 years old now.
ES: And they can’t do without him! They won’t let him go.
JR: It’s part time work now, and twice for about six to eight weeks in the Fall and six to eight weeks after New Year. We have a little Carpentry/Woodworking shop wth the kids that want to join it and we have various things that we do.
ES: Do you know who one of the founders of the Gladwyne Montessori School was?
JR: There were four ladies and one of them was the wife of my boss, Frank Piesecki.
KR: Which he didn’t know – it was a coincidence. His wife started the school.