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Basketball helped my dad travel the world, but he had other dreams as a high school senior

Today, my father would be 116 years old. Hardly seems like 33 years have passed since 1989, but it is a good time to reflect on his contributions to not just our family, but to look on his quest for success in the world.

And to reflect on the goodness of the man.

And to see how his dreams were shattered by a group of hateful people dressed in white robes.

Repost from Father’s Day, 2019:

His dream was to be a Midshipman, but the intolerance of the KKK ended that.

Nevertheless, at the age of 38, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, became a community leader and top football and basketball official.

… gone, but never forgotten

After he entered the Navy:

Aug. 4, 1945

Left NYC on Lehigh Valley at 7:10. Had good accommodations. It’s a long way around to Chicago, but should prove interesting. We rode all night reaching Canada via suspension bridge at N. Falls.

Diary, Hugh B. Conrad, Sr., U.S. Navy

Although he had his plans set in his senior year of high school, setting in motion plans to earn an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, that never came to fruition.

My father, Hugh Brady Conrad, Sr., had worked with a local man who knew and had good ties with the local Congressman who represented the area in which Lilly, Pa. was located in the Congressional district.

In those days, ties to the local Congressman were key to obtaining that appointment. I cannot remember the name of the man who was working with him to secure that appointment, but he was a Republican, as were the Conrad family because of their business backgrounds.

The family had arrived in Lilly in 1859 and bought a large portion of land, placing on it a grist mill and a saw mill. John Conrad built the home that served as our homestead for years.

As one of six children of Charlie and Katie [Brady] Conrad, my dad dreamed of college, even of playing football there. However, his father had died in 1915, when my dad was just 9-years-old, leaving five children and one on the way. Things were tough for Katie, an Irish immigrant, but the eldest of the three sons, Phil, went to work right after graduating from high school in 1918 and helped raise the family with his paychecks.

Phil, the eldest boy

Phil dreamed of traveling all over the world, and he started by working on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Employees could ride for free in those days, and he eventually became a conductor. That gave him the opportunity to at least travel within the state.

However, Phil was bumped off that job in 1923 by a person with more seniority, and after being laid off, he went to work in a coal mine in Moshannon, which was about three-quarters of a mile from the Conrad home.

Phil’s money that he shared with Katie did not preclude his engaging in a few of his favorite pastimes. As my Aunt Helen, the youngest in the family, said later,

Phil kept Louie Shullman in business by buying all the latest records and buying some snazzy clothes.

Conversation between HBC, Jr. and Helen Conrad in the 1990s

Shullman’s was what would be called a department store later in the 20th Century. They had all kinds of goods in there, and apparently, Phil loved to dress with as much sartorial splendor as he could afford.

We had the Victrola that he purchased in our basement for years, but my dad never talked much about Phil or his propensity for the latest hit music of the 1920s. There was a reason for that: Pain.

My dad traveled to the Far East, working for the State Department to bring good relations to West Pakistan, with a college all-star team -- here teaching the little, bare-footed kids in Karachi how to play basketball.

Phil was the scorekeeper for the Lilly High basketball team

The Conrad boys, Phil, John Hillary (Jimmie), and Hugh were all crazy about sports. However, Phil was somewhat diminutive, probably a trait from the Brady side that came from Ireland. Still, he supported my dad by being the scorekeeper for the Lilly High School boys basketball team. Their sister Adele, the fifth child, played on the girls basketball team during those years.

Ann, the eldest in the family, and Helen did not participate in sports, though Helen said that when my dad was playing football, Katie would tell her to go up to the game and she how my dad was doing physically,

Well, I guess that you better go up and see how many times he got hurt today.

Conversation between HBC, Jr. and Helen Conrad in the 1990s

My dad never told me about the injuries, except for his knee, which he always called a “trick knee.” I never knew what that was exactly, nor did he, but today, this is the explanation that is given for what is called a “floating patella,"

The term “trick knee” is used to describe an unstable knee that can buckle or give-way without warning. This can be very disconcerting when it happens, even causing a person to fall to the ground when [his/her] knee buckles.

Boyd Haynes, “The ‘Trick Knee’, not magical, just unstable,”

Orthopaedic and Spine Center, April 1, 2014

That, however, would not have kept him out of the Navy. It was just a bother.

April 5, 1924

All of those plans crashed to the earth when my dad and his high school teammates were playing their final basketball game of their high school season, one in which they had won 24 games and lost just two. Phil and my dad crossed the railroad tracks and walked the half-mile to the Opera House, located in the southern end of Lilly. That was where the Lilly squad played its games.

They were set to face St. Joseph’s of Renovo that night, but at 7 p.m., just before tipoff, the lights in the building went off, baffling everybody. Somebody from Lilly had cut off the electricity to the community in the northern part of the town.

Everyone went out onto Main Street, which is where they discovered that the Ku Klux Klan had arranged to have the electricity cut so that everyone would come out and watch them march through town and burn their two crosses in Piper’s Field.

Les Piper, a son of Walter Piper, a local mine owner, was on the team, too.

The Klan ended up in a field owned by Walter Piper.

Short version

In short, Phil was killed by the KKK that night, devastating the family. It was a blow to all of them, and Helen said that her mother, Katie, never recovered from it.

That changed my dad’s potential opportunity to attend the U.S. Naval Academy. He went searching for a job so that he could do what Phil had been, a sustenance to the family financially. He aided his mother until she passed 16 years later, and he helped his sisters gain an education, that the KKK stole away from him.

Adele went to Misericordia in Eastern Pa. and earned a R.N. in nursing degree, while Helen earned a associate's degree in business from what became known as Cambria Rowe Business College.

Said that he loved staying in Lilly

While some people would have been held back by that development, my dad was not. He worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 40 years, he became a college and high school football and basketball official, eventually earning the presidency of the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials (IAABO). He officiated games at Penn State, Pitt, West Virginia, St. Francis, and many of the other colleges on the East Coast.

He also became a leader in the community, both in his church and in the secular world. His major accomplishment was leading the effort for the construction of the Lilly-Washington War Memorial, an athletic facility that was founded to recognize those who had given their lives to the country in war.

Hugh B. Conrad, Sr. also had a strong belief in the Catholic Church, attending mass daily as often as he could during his adult years. He was an usher and lector at St. Brigid’s Church. When he started that daily trip to mass I never know, but remember well when as an altar boy and then a church organist I would be awakened at 6:30 for the 7 a.m. mass. That faith, which is apparently a gift, was something that he saw in his mother, who brought Catholicism to Lilly from Ireland. She came to live with her uncle, Father Philip Brady, who was an assistant, and then pastor, at St. Brigid’s Catholic Church, and then attended Mount Aloysius for elementary, high school, and for her teaching certificate.

My dad receiving the Benemerenti Medal from Pope Pius XII, taking it from Bishop Guilfoyle in 1955.

Joining the Navy

While the midshipman dream never came to fruition, my dad decided in 1944 to enter the U.S. Navy. He was 38 at the time and was not certain that he would be accepted — but he was.

Why did he decide to do that especially with two children at home, my brother Jim and sister Pat?

I just thought that it was the right thing to do.

Conversation from the 1970s/80s

That was pretty much his philosophy of life.

My dad spent about a year in New York City, which he loved because all of the Navy personnel have access to broadway shows and other shows in the city, along with tickets to see the Yankees, the Dodgers, the Giants, the Knicks, and college games at Madison Square Garden. He did not regret what happened to him,

I did pretty for a guy from a small town … and who knows if I would have been happy as a naval officer. I was happy in Lilly, Pa.

The family in Lilly, Pa., Circa 1950: Jim, Mary Finley Conrad, Hugh Jr., Hugh Sr. holding Mary Kay (Strauss) and Patsy (Moraski).

A wonderful father, leader, worker, and religious man.

Gone, but never forgotten.

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