Father always remains a role model

Next Sunday is Fathers Day, so let me pay tribute to my dad, William McKinley Wentz, who was my role model, hero figure, guide and inspiration.

Bill Wentz was born in 1897 to Elizabeth and John Henry Wentz in a log house at Ore Hill, near where the Iron Masters golf course is now located. William McKinley was the U.S. president at the time, hence the name.

Dad was the seventh of eight children. He was educated through the fourth grade, which was all the formal instruction available at the rural one-room school he attended. He worked at household chores and carried drinking water for road gangs building highways in the area. In 1913, he began work at the D.M. Bare paper mill in Roaring Spring.

At the mill, he met Pearl Moore, who became his wife in 1916. They raised three children: Melvin, Alma and me.

In 1917, he became a car repairman in the Pennsylvania Railroad shop at Altoona and the family moved from Roaring Spring to Hollidaysburg. At the time, the PRR was considered to be highly desirable employment — offering higher wages than most other jobs and the possibility for advancement. He remained there, becoming a machinist in the Juniata air brake shop, until retirement in 1959.

As a parent, Dad did not believe in sparing the rod. He sharpened the blade of his razor on a leather strap hanging in the kitchen. That strap was the instrument for conducting correction. I really had to be far out of line to rate a whipping, but it happened.

One of the scariest sentences I ever heard my mother utter was, “wait until your father gets home from work.” Their punishment was “tough love,” always with explanation and purpose.

Dad was a reassuring presence and great provider for his family.

“I paid all my bills when due, even during the Depression. When you were born,” he boasted. “Dr. Andrews was paid in cash for your delivery, much to his delight.”

We always had a car, hot meals every day and summer vacations.

My sister was killed in an automobile accident in 1942. I was 7. I watched my parents undergo terrible anguish and grief. It was Dad who maneuvered my mother out of depression.

He was strong, patient and caring.

My family returned to Morrisons Cove in 1947. Mom and Dad became very active in St. John’s Evangelical and Reformed Church at East Sharpsburg; Dad eventually became a deacon.

But it was his pioneering work in establishing a cemetery association for perpetual care at the local cemetery that was his lasting contribution to the area.

The most meaningful compliment I ever received was from Dad. In my last visit with him before departing for a new overseas Navy duty station, he patted me on the back and said, “I’m proud of you.”

I fervently returned the sentiment and added, “I love you.”

He passed away on Feb. 21, 1976.

Gone but never forgotten.

James Wentz is a Cove historian and retired naval officer. His column appears monthly.


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