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At 95, Family Patriarch Leads Remarkable Life

At 95, Family Patriarch Leads Remarkable Life

from the Gretsch House Telegram

Richard “Dick” Gretsch

The youngest of three brothers, Richard Francis Gretsch, nicknamed Dick, was born in 1908. He grew up with his brothers Bill and Fred in the family home in Forest Hills, NY.

Dick remembers trips to Europe with his father, to their offices in Paris and Germany, where they traveled by ship in those days. These trips could last up to a month, and the brothers would take turns traveling with their father. The boys also enjoyed train trips to the Gretsch office in Chicago. When not working, the brothers also took turns caddying for their father when he played golf, which, Dick tells us, he did “quite often.” Their father would pay them $1 plus a 25-cent tip.

Golf was a prominent pastime in the Gretsch household and has continued to be so throughout Dick’s life. Dick’s father Fred shared his love of golf with his close friend Nathan Jonas, founder of Manufacturer’s Trust Company. Together in 1921, they decided to create a match between the winner of the American Open Golf Championship and the British Open Golf Championship, creating the first unofficial championship of the world. The two men contributed $2,000 each to bring the match to the Sound View Country Club in Great Neck, NY. The 36-hole match was held on Labor Day and was won by Jim Barnes, the American Champion. The winner received $1,250 cash and a trophy and the loser received $500 cash. This purse was said to be, up to that point, the largest ever posted for a golf match of this nature in the U.S.

Dick and his brothers worked at the Gretsch factory at 60 Broadway in New York on Saturday mornings packaging phonograph needles and filling orders. He remembers climbing into the truck for weekend trips to Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island to pick up drum heads from the tannery and to the docks of New York to collect product when it came in. He is very careful to point out that all these business adventures as a young lad were done on weekends, NOT on school days.

All three of the Gretsch brothers took piano lessons. Their Grandmother, Rosa Kling (their father’s mother), was a tremendous pianist and it was believed to be important for the boys to study music. None of them, however, could play the instruments the family sold.

Dick and his brothers all attended school in Forest Hills, up to the 6th grade which was as high as they would go. After that they then walked “a couple of miles” to and from school in Richmond Hill, the neighboring school district, regardless of the weather- “rain, snow, sleet or hail.”

Fred, the oldest son, had attended Cornell and Dick was all set to enroll there as well. However, he completed his high school curriculum in February and he couldn’t get into Cornell until September. A friend was attending the University of Michigan and suggested Dick join him, and so he did. Tuition at that time was $98 in-state and $125 out-of-state. Dick shipped his laundry home each week where it was washed, folded, and shipped back to him. He was allocated $100 per month for expenses and was required to provide a written account for everything spent or he would not receive the next month’s expense money. Any surplus was to be applied to the next month’s expenses!

The Gretsch brothers were quite mischievous in their nature and they tended to befriend individuals of like natures. The many tales of their college years could make any parent pale and any law enforcement officer cringe. There were endless practical jokes played among them and their friends, most of which one could not get away with today. They communicated primarily by telegram, and quite often those telegrams were delivered by police officers for they were either fictitiously signed by a notorious criminal that was eluding police at the time or they alluded that the solution to a crime currently in the papers awaited police at the recipient’s location.

One of Dick’s college buddies was driving to Florida after graduation and didn’t want to drive through traffic so he sent a telegram to the police departments in all the towns along his route that the then-famous Charles Lindberg would be passing through on a certain date and time and he would appreciate the utmost privacy on his passage through their town. In most towns a police escort awaited him and the school children lined the streets waving flags in celebration of the supposed Mr. Lindberg. Dick states that this friend “did get in some kind of trouble for that”, but he doesn’t remember what and he’s quite certain “it wasn’t serious.”

Fred, Dinah & Uncle Dick

Dick returned to New York after receiving his Engineering degree from Michigan. There he worked for the Brooklyn Edison company while studying law at St. John’s at night. He eventually moved to Hollywood, California where he worked for the Kliegl lights, the first totally silent professional lighting system required for moving pictures studios. While there, his brother Bill asked Dick to get product placements for Gretsch instruments in the movies. In one telegram sent December 28, 1933, Bill says “Contact all main studios. We are planning 1936 sales campaign. Will give studio that will feature our instruments in major picture free publicity in 10,000 retail windows through the United States. Must have advance on picture with plenty of still shots showing our instruments.”

When Dick decided to return to New York from California, he learned he could travel West all the way around the world for less than it would cost to travel directly East to New York. Being a very clever fellow, that is exactly what he did and the entire trip cost some ridiculous sum like $136!

Upon his return to New York, Dick took a position managing utility properties for the Manufacturer’s Trust Company. In 1942, during World War II, Dick was called up to serve in the Army War Show. According to a book about the shows, “America was financing a war effort. It wanted to know how its money is being expended.” So Lieutenant Richard F. Gretsch, Electrical Engineer, utilizing his Hollywood lighting experience, worked alongside the Director of Radio City Music Hall and the head of the Yale School of Drama to create “an elaborate lighting system necessary for the desired dramatic effects.” They brought the Army War Show to eighteen cities into stadiums without any electrical wiring, and it was Dick’s job to manage a team of men to wire the stadiums for each show. The show consisted of a “cross section of the Army”, featuring a tank, anti-tank and several service units.

Dick’s life from that point forward remained focused in the Electric Utility business, while his brothers Bill and Fred ran the family business. Dick stayed involved in the Gretsch business as a member of the board and in the management of the Gretsch buildings and properties.

In 1944 Dick married Barbara Jean Ininger, also a Lieutenant in the Army, who he met in the Pentagon. Together they relocated to Wisconsin (Oconomowoc-a town Dick’s father didn’t like to visit because he couldn’t pronounce the name and didn’t know where to tell the conductor he wanted to get off) to a utility there and then in Connecticut where he remains today. He and Jean raised eight children after which Jean went to medical school and opened a private medical practice at the age of 53.

At the age of 95, Dick still reports to an office every day where he reads the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to stay current on world and business news. He enjoys visits from his eight children, twelve grandchildren and especially looks forward to visits from his nephew Fred and his wife Dinah, who discuss details of the family business and looks to him for his advice.