Memories of Frank Schneider

Frank and I met in the summer of 1931, after my family moved to Merrick. He lived about a block away from us, and was the only one nearby who was about my age. We were fairly close friends from then until I moved to North Merrick in 1934.

I can remember that there was an empty lot behind his house and we would play there, and dug an underground cave to play in.

After my family moved to North Merrick I saw little of Frank until high school. In Merrick I was a half-year behind him, but circumstances of different school semesters in the two schools caused us to get together again, now in the same class, when we were in high school. From then on we were the closest of friends.

Frank with dogWe were both interested in science, math, and electricity, and in our junior year our physics teacher, Mr. Almstead, asked whether we would like to take the special radio course he was teaching. Well, we both took it, and it was the start of our careers in electronics. I suppose he was more interested in the communications part and I was more interested in the technology, but we both did both. At that time we became friendly with Frank Merklein, who was also interested in radio.

3 guys 1941In addition to the course there was a radio club that built the amplifier system for the football field, and a radio transmitter. Frank was eager to talk on the radio, or rather to communicate by code, and often made contact with an old Navy retiree who happened to live right next to the school. After many radio contacts over the school fence Frank visited Skipper Bunker (W2AA) and became a good friend. Years later Bunker gave him a radio that had been on one of the National Geographic expeditions to the North Pole, and eventually Frank gave it to the National Geographic Society.

Frank and I spent many hours with other radio hams, Bob Schill and Sy Yuter. From them we enriched the learning we were getting in school, and we continued those contacts until we went off to war. I saw each of those fellows once more, after the war, but I don’t believe Frank did.

In March 1941 the FCC changed all the frequencies of radio stations, and it presented an business opportunity for Frank and me. Together we went to a number of his neighbors and readjusted the push buttons on their radios, for 25 or 50 cents per house call. Resetting push buttons, in those days, was not as simple as today’s car radios, but entailed elaborate screwdriver adjustment, and readjustment, of at least two screws for each station.

Mrs SchneiderWe both were accepted to attend Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, which Frank went to in September of 1941, but I chose to go to Ursinus College, in Pennsylvania. At the first Christmas vacation I decided to transfer to Poly, and so, as of January 1942 I was back in school with Frank. From then on we traveled to Brooklyn every week day by way of the Long Island Railroad. Since I lived almost two miles from the train station I had purchased a 1930 Model A Ford (convertible with a “rumble seat”), and it provided both transportation and a venue for recreation. Many were the friends, cousins, siblings, and even mothers who were transported to Jones Beach.

Through the years Merklein and I would often go to Frank’s house on a Friday night, knowing that Mrs. Schneider would have baked her usual two cakes for the weekend. It was a light cake with chocolate icing , and a dark cake with light icing. We were always offered a piece of cake, but one time Merklein said, “What, no milk?” and thereafter he was not particularly welcome at the Schneiders’.

In the summer of 1942, with the war well under way, Frank Merklein got us both summer jobs working for Gibbs and Cox, a naval design firm in Manhattan and we would all go to the city together on the Long Island Railroad. Merk was in the design department, and since we were just summer employees, we were doing odd jobs, such as running the Ditto (copying) machines. The firm received the highest possible award for it’s work for the Navy, the “Navy E for Excellence” and they had a big formal dinner dance at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel to celebrate. Frank took Gloria Pisciotta, who lived a block away from him, and I took Audrey Schmidt. I don’t remember who Merklein took, but it was a memorable night.

It must have been shortly after the party at the Waldorf when Frank started dating Joan Miller, who was then a senior at Mepham High. We spent many evenings double dating or visiting Joan and her parents, Madeline and Leo Williams. We often went to Jones Beach, but since the swimming season was over, the trip was for walking or talking or skating. Over the next nine months the three of us were often together, just “hanging out” until Frank and I went to war.

Joan’s aunt “Pet” McEnery always reminded me of the big engineering feat I performed at her house. She had a staircase to the second floor that had a two-way switch system, so the lights could be turned on from either upstairs or downstairs. Something had gone wrong with the switching so she hired an electrician to fix it and he messed it all up. Thereupon I said I would try to fix it, so I had Frank at one end turning the switches, and I was at the other, and I would test each part of the circuit with my fingers to determine whether or not there was electricity there. Eventually I got it all straightened out, and Pet was astonished, and eternally grateful.

In the fall of 1942 the government said that everyone would be drafted into the army, except that if students would sign into the military reserves they could finish out the school year. Frank joined the Navy, and I (since my eyes were not good enough for the Navy) joined the Army. We both kept going to Poly until June 1943 when we both went on active duty, and Joan started at Adelphi College. I think I only saw Frank once during the war, when we were both home on leave at the same time.

I corresponded with Frank, and Joan, and Merk all through the war, and of course got together with them as soon as possible afterwards. Frank was usually at sea, but we saw each other whenever he was in Merrick. The few times I was home on leave, in 1943 and 1944 I would spend time with Joan, and often also with Audrey who was now a classmate of Joan’s at Adelphi, going to the beach or a movie, or just hanging out at her home.

In April of 1947 Frank was home on leave, and while he and Joan were visiting in my little studio apartment, Frank proposed to Joan. She accepted and then they had to argue with the Church to get special permission to get a quick marriage while he was still on leave. When we got to the church Frank asked me whether I (the Best Man) had the ring… oops, I forgot it at home. He often spoke of the scary race down Merrick Avenue, going to my home, to get the ring.

The Navy transferred them every 2 or 3 years so during that time our time with them was minimal. For the next twenty years, or so, our contact was mostly by mail, or when Frank and Joan, and their three children Steve, Sean, and Leo, were visiting in Merrick. We went to California one time while they were in San Diego, and we visited them and went to the Coronado for drinks.

We were better able to get together after Frank retired, and they were in Washington, and later when they went to Cocoa Beach. Whenever they were on Long Island we would get together with Merklein at his home or our’s, and have a wonderful time together. In those years we all grew very close and the friendship lasted. It was during one of those visits to Merklein’s that Sean Schneider met Eric Merklein, but that’s another story.

In 1982 Frank and I went to an electronics and appliance show at the Nassau Coliseum, where I saw the NEC computer I had been thinking of buying. It took two credit cards to charge the total amount but I bought mine right then and there. Since Frank was thinking of buying a computer he ordered the same model, to be shipped to Florida. Thereafter we spent many hours working with, and discussing our computers by long distance. It also got Steve Schneider started in computers, which I believe has been a major part of his life.

We lived through the sadness of Joan’s fatal illness, and then the joy of his marriage to Dorothy. Following tradition, Frank proposed to Dorothy in our home, and again, I was Best Man at his wedding.

Finally, three weeks before Frank died on February 10, 1997, we had a chance to say good-bye and there have been tears in my eyes ever since.

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