Blogs > The Best of Don Seeley's Columns

Former Mercury sports editor Don Seeley passed away in June 2013 from a heart attack. For more than a decade Seeley wrote about local sports. Featured here are his columns that were previously printed in The Mercury.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Royersford has lost its greatest friend

Ron Nettles had a code of honor —helping others — and he lived each and every day of his life by it.
No one knows how he found time to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, let alone sleep at night, when he was the manager of the former Industrial Valley Bank; the commissioner, groundskeeper and official scorer of the former Royersford Area Youth Athletic League; the statistician and historian of Spring-Ford High School’s football program; the director, secretary or treasurer of thirty-some funds and associations; a member of a handful or two other organizations; and the mayor of Royersford.
No one knew or will ever really know how much of his own money he donated to those funds, associations and organizations, either.
He would give, give and give some more — and never take.
His compassion was immeasurable.
His generosity was priceless.
Ron Nettles didn’t just touch lives, he impacted them.
He was truly an ambassador of life.
When he died last week, Royersford — if not the entire Spring-Ford area — lost the man who literally was its heart and soul for more than 50 years.
“During my lifetime, I have never known another person who selflessly put everyone else ahead of himself,” said Mickey McDaniel, the athletic director at Spring-Ford High School. “I have never met anyone like him ... and likely never will.”
Ron Nettles wasn’t a giant of a man, but a man with a giant heart.
He truly cared about others, and did whatever he possibly could do to help others. He reached out to others as a banker, as an officer in those countless organizations, as a mayor, as a friend.
Giving — helping others — wasn’t merely his nature, it was part of his inner self.
Ron Nettles was, in so many ways, a divine gift to those raised in the Royersford area. He was, in every sense of the word, a blessing to those fortunate to have met him.
* * *
Since his passing, men — now in their 40s, 50s and 60s — have been sharing childhood memories they have long embraced of Ron Nettles’ ingenuity in starting the youth baseball league and his loyalty in maintaining it.
It wasn’t long after graduating from the former Royersford High School and serving two years with the U.S. Army, that Nettles joined the local Jaycees chapter. He quickly became known as the mover and shaker in organizing the youth baseball league. He helped convince Friendship Fire Company officials to donate part of its property for the playing field — located just below the corner of Third Avenue and Green Street — and was one of the tireless volunteers who built it.
Victory Park — later renamed Ron Nettles Field in his honor — was a dream come true for Nettles. But it was also a dream come true for the thousands of youngsters who would line up to play there.
“I remember back in the 1950s when I wore that wool uniform for the Warriors, how proud I was to have such a good-looking uniform and to be playing real little league baseball,” recalled Barry Shafer, a retired teacher. “Ron Nettles made sure everyone who wanted to play was part of a team, too. He made organized baseball a reality in Royersford, and his ability to raise money for uniforms and equipment made it a great experience for all of us.”
Nettles wasn’t exactly your behind-the-scenes commissioner for 33 long years, either. He used his lunch break at the bank — still in coat and tie — to rake the infield, mow the grass, line the field for games, or to fix whatever needed fixing. As the league’s statistician, he was there for every game – every game, that is – scorebook in hand. And he never missed a pitch or play when he strolled throughout the crowd, often completely around the ballfield, in the bottom of the fourth inning of games with his cigar box for donations.
He also had what his nephew Dave Evans called a “dry and subtle sense of humor.”
No one outside his immediate family remembered that better than McDaniel.
“I was only 10 or 11 when my mother jokingly told Mr. Nettles that she and a few other parents couldn’t see portions of the field because of a branch hanging down from a tree near their seats in the bleachers,” McDaniel recalled. “That was a Friday night. The next day, we woke up and found that same branch on our front porch with a note from Mr. Nettles that said, ‘You can see clearly now.’ We never laughed so hard, and we still do when thinking about it.”
Back in 1962, during the league’s annual awards night — an informal get-together of players and their parents sharing hot dogs off the grille and tubs full of every imaginable soda — my father put his arm around my shoulder and quietly said, “You make sure you thank Mr. Nettles for all he’s done for you the last six years.”
What Nettles did was provide three generations of youngsters an opportunity to play baseball, an opportunity to learn how to play it, and to have fun. He gave us Victory Park, our own Field Of Dreams. He gave us broken bats, reinforced with short nails and electrical tape, and old baseballs so we could play a pickup game or home run derby during the day. He provided the local weekly newspapers write-ups on all the games, too. And few of us will ever forget cramming into his station wagon to get ice cream and milk shakes at Bechtel’s Dairies and the Blue Hen, or the trips to see the Phillies games … and hardly ever begging mom or dad for the money to go because it was his treat.
So saying thank you to Mr. Nettles came easy. All of us did. What confused us, though, was seeing him bow a bit, shake our much smaller hand, and respond, “Well, thank you.”
But you could never thank Ron Nettles enough. He was also the founder of the Royersford (now Spring-Ford) Babe Ruth League, serving as its commissioner and treasurer. He would serve as Royersford High School’s and then Spring-Ford High School’s official football statistician for 56 seasons — missing only one game in a 49-year stretch (because of a bout with the flu). And as secretary of the Spring City American Legion Baseball Committee, he was instrumental in the building of Ram Stadium.
“Words simply cannot describe the impact Ron had on the athletic programs in Royersford and throughout the Spring-Ford area,” said Jerry Seislove, a retired teacher and coach. “His dedication to sports, from youth through high school, meant so much to so many. His vision and enthusiasm were instrumental in staring many projects. He was organized and had a way of making sure that whatever he was doing was completed, and completed well. He was able to recruit workers and direct them in ways that made projects successful.
“Ron truly cared about the people in this area, and because of it helped not only make them better athletes but better people.”
“His quiet and positive support for me and the (Spring City) Legion program in my 13 years of coaching was such an encouragement,” added Todd Clemens, former manager of the Spring City team. “I also had the privilege of being on the
board with him and witnessing, firsthand, how he was such an inspiration to all of us. He was truly the rock that steadied the foundation of our organization.”
And it wasn’t until Nettles’ health began to get worse that members of the American Legion committee recognized how much he gave to the organization.
“I never realized how much work he did as secretary of the Spring-Ford American Legion Baseball Committee until I had the unenviable task of succeeding him recently,” said John Grispon, a longtime resident of Royersford and a member of the Spring-Ford School Board. “The hours he put in …
I’ve worked as hard as I possibly can and in no way can duplicate what he ac
complished. Whenever I had a question, he had the answer. Whenever I had a problem, he resolved it. But that was Ron Nettles. I have never known anyone like him.”
Few have.
“Ron Nettles’ service, dedication and commitment to the Spring-Ford area’s athletic programs are unparalleled,” McDaniel said. “There’s simply no way we could’ve ever thanked him enough for what he’s given to all of us.”
* * *
Ron Nettles seemed to influence people the moment they met him … and again and again throughout their lives.
One in particular was Dave Willauer, who moved into the area after college to become a teacher at Royersford Elementary School. He was looking for a bank to open a checking account and was recommended by friends to see Nettles at IVB.
Willauer didn’t just open a checking account that day, but a friendship he treasured every day since sitting down in Nettles’ office.
“Soon after that day I began seeing how he was always taking care of things and how remarkable his interest and involvement with the youth of the area was,” said Willauer, now the principal at Royersford Elementary School.
“Because of his generosity, we were able to make a variety of projects and opportunities available to our students at Royersford Elementary. But he always specified that he did not want any acknowledgement or formal expression of thanks.”
Nettles’ real wealth, Willauer added, wasn’t in his financial contributions, either.
“He had an incredible sense of and appreciation of the history of the area,” Willauer said. “At several special occasions at our school, whether it was the groundbreaking for the 1992 renovations, the dedication of the Ruth Wonderlich classroom or just to kick-off the game for Field Day, he would represent the borough as mayor and always add a dimension that enlightened and inspired all of us. His recollections were detailed and entertaining.”
Much like so many people’s recollections of Nettles this past week.
What came as a surprise to a few mourning his passing was that Nettles never married, never had children of his own.
“I always felt it was a shame that he’d didn’t have children of his own, but in his heart the children of Royersford were all his,” said Carol Evans Saghirian, Nettles’ niece who grew up in New Jersey. “He would always tell us about people he knew as children who had accomplished something special in their lives. He would always share that with our family because he was so proud of their accomplishments.”
Saghirian realized just how thoughtful and how generous her uncle was as a very little girl.
“When he was in the Army and serving in Europe, he sent me a doll from every country he visited. Every one of those dolls still has a very special place in my home.”
“My great uncle’s generosity was overwhelming,” added Molley Saghirian Crellin. “Christmas was so special for him. We had a small family, but his car was always jammed with gifts … usually zany and unique items. That all stopped about five years ago (because of his failing health that limited his traveling). But he was still full of the Christmas spirit, sending everyone in the family a check. And he would get so angry if we gave him anything in return.
“He was happy just knowing he had taken care of us, even happier if we visited him. It’s unfortunate that not everyone can have an uncle like Ron … the world would be a better place if there were more people like him. I was really lucky.”
* * *
It’s hard to imagine anyone who knew Nettles didn’t share those feelings.
Especially for Bobby Strunk, who first met him as a young baseball player and this weekend will say good-bye to him as a representative of the Shalkop, Grace & Funk Funeral Home.
“Mr. Nettles, for me personally, was the icon of Royersford,” Strunk said. “He was involved with everything you could possibly imagine in our community. And it wasn’t until I became a little older that I realized how much Mr. Nettles gave back, and gave back without being asked.
“I served with him on the Royersford Community Chest (board of directors) for many years and learned what it meant to be a true part of the community … and how to be a better person through the example he set.”
In addition to his baseball and football contributions and serving as mayor for 14 years, Nettles was treasurer for the Royersford Area Community Chest, Royersford Free Public Library, Royersford Police Pension Fund, Buckwalter Scholarship Assistance Fund, Karin Lynn Thum Fund, Edward Gaffey Fund, David Brumbaugh Cancer Fund, the Spring-Ford Booster Club, and the Royersford Service Unit of the Salvation Army; secretary of the Royersford Borough Planning Commission; director of the Spring-Ford Education Foundation; chairman of the Royersford Parks and Recreation Commission and Royersford Community Nursing Service; and a member of the Spring City American Legion Post #602 as well as other community boards, associations and commissions.
“I don’t believe anyone can match his record of service and dedication,” said Walt Gadzicki, a district justice in Limerick and longtime friend of Nettles. “He did everything because he believed in his community, and he always wanted to help others. He was gentle, loving, compassionate, selfless … a truly remarkable man.”
“I never met anyone so humble and so kind in my life,” added Gadzicki’s wife, Debbie. “He continually gave of himself, but never once would take any credit for it. I truly do not know where the community of Royersford would be without the gifts Ron Nettles gave all of us.”
As simple as it may sound, Nettles cared … and cared about everyone.
“Ron Nettles was the type of person who comes along maybe once in a lifetime,” said Shafer. “What he did for our community is something no one will ever be able to duplicate.”
“Ron Nettles was about doing the right thing, about honesty, about integrity, about hard work, about respect, and about commitment,” said Willauer. “Those were the values that characterized his life, and he lived those values.”
And he lived those values each and every day of his life, too.
“We have lost the greatest friend this community has ever had,” said Shafer.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you want your title to say "lost" not "lot."

March 23, 2013 at 7:50 AM 

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