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A Unique Flag-Raising

On June 13, 1936, the Al Smith Club in Hellertown hosted speaker Titus Ruch at its flag-raising and quoits court dedication.

Hellertown Patriots, it is 2pm and all is well. Attend the Flag Raising on June 13, 1936, at the Al Smith Club at 110 Thomas Avenue in the Borough.

You know, I really enjoy wandering around Saucon Valley antique stores and Lehigh Valley antique emporiums where no one bothers the leisure looker for Hellertown and Lower Saucon Township memorabilia.

Recently, I spied an advertising poster that opened a review of an early 20th Century mystery in my “hood.” The speaker was T.M. Ruch, and good music was a promise.

In addition, on this special day there would occur the dedication of the quoit court at 3pm, featuring the Geyer Quoit Club vs. the Al Smith Club.

Moreover, “Roy Fredericks, Champion of the 1935 Lehigh Valley Quoit Tournament, is challenged by Chas. Dimmick, of Geyer Quoit Club, for Mid-season Championship,” the poster proclaimed.

Just who was Al Smith to have a club in his namesake in Hellertown, and why was T.M. Ruch the invited, featured speaker? These questions begged answers, and research might unlock the truth.

First, my dictionary simply identifies Alfred Emmanuel Smith (1873-1944) as a U.S. political leader. His humble start in life occurred in 1873, being born in the slums of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. From there he eventually became a well-known, outspoken governor of New York state and next went on to national politics. In May of 1924 Franklin D. Roosevelt, hobbled by polio, nominated Al Smith for President at Madison Square Garden, but Smith lost the nomination.

In 1928, now a rival of F.D.R., Smith lost in a run for the governorship of New York to his rival. Later, he lost to Herbert Hoover for the seat of President. During Prohibition, he was “wet,” wishing that the 18th Amendment be repealed, but he was Catholic, a detriment at the time.

In 1934, the anti-Roosevelt movement called the “Liberty League” formed, where Smith and his friend, Governor Joseph Ely of Massachusetts, attacked the President from within the Democratic Party in order to combat F.D.R.’s socialism. The Liberty League was supported by business leaders such as the DuPonts and locally by Titus Ruch, which brought him to the Al Smith Club as speaker at 110 Thomas Avenue, the former site of the Thomas Iron Company’s headquarters and the present home of the Hellertown Democratic Club.

According to “Pennsylvania, A History,” Titus Ruch was one of the prominent men of his district “who has served the people not alone in their local offices, but has represented them in the Pennsylvania Legislature.” Ruch was born March 28, 1871, in Lower Saucon Township, the son of Benjamin and Mary (Ruth) Ruch. He remembered attending the unique Hexagonal schoolhouse in the township. His first job was as clerk for E.D. Moll in Hellertown. Next, he became an employee of Hess Brothers lumber and coal business. For one year, he worked in the undertaking business but then worked for Bethlehem Steel until 1901.

In 1902 he began managing Ruch’s millinery and furnishing store back in Hellertown, formerly run by his mother-in-law, Mrs. Susan Reihman. Harold Derr recalled Ruch’s store in the 600 block of Main Street. Derr stated that Ruch would become county appraiser and then an assemblyman in Harrisburg.

In the March 1, 1916, issue of Bell’s “Telephone News,” the following quotation appeared: “At Hellertown, Pa., the wallpaper and surroundings give an atmosphere of home. Titus M. Ruch is the agent.”

In Richard Kantor’s Hellertown, Pa. Centennial Book (1972), the reader finds that a committee was formed on May 16, 1922, to discuss the paving of Main Street. Members included Ambrose Welker, future Burgess of Hellertown; G.A. Keck; H.G.C. Hoffert; T.M. Ruch; and V.S. Wagner. Shortly they compiled a report approved by Borough Council and a contract was signed for the paving to begin. The work began during the summer of 1923 and completed in spring of 1924.

On July 4, 1925, occurred the Road Celebration and Old Home Day, featuring a parade, a baseball game, a boxing exhibition, a Boy Scout exhibition, fireworks and a dance.

Why would Titus Ruch be the featured speaker at the opening of the Al Smith Club? To begin, his wife Mary’s grandfather had built the structure in which the Ruch store was housed in 1832. Grandpa was the one and only Peter Moll, gunsmith on Main Street. Next, Ruch’s civic involvement was enormous. He was the Division Commander of the Sons of Veterans, school director for 15 years, deacon of Hellertown Reformed Church, member of Improved Order of Red Men, Knights of the Golden Eagle member and a member of the Fraternal and Patriotic Order of America.

In addition, he belonged to Lodge No. 563, Free and Accepted Masons, the Tall Cedars, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Patriotic Order of Sons of America and President of the Ruch Family Association.

I would have enjoyed the speech at my current senior citizen age, but my interest in pitching quoits since the age of seven would have caused me to be dazzled by the championship match held that day since age seven.

I hope you make the connections between Al Smith and Titus Ruch. If not, perhaps this writing put you to sleep. History is good. Sleep is good.

Richard Hafner February 20, 2011 at 05:31 PM
You always uncover the most interesting material!!
Keri Maxfield February 20, 2011 at 08:01 PM
Thank you Mr. Weidner! I always wanted to know more about the man who owned the farm property we live on. Titus Ruch was just a name on a worn out map until I read your column...and of course he would remember his education at the hexagonal schoolhouse that used to exist here along the Saucon Creek. Welcome to the Patch, Lee.

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