Do you remember Joseph Conti, the former state senator from Doylestown and proprietor of the Piper Tavern? Well, last week, he sent a very kind letter to the Herald about me. Most of the comments that I receive are from “unhappy campers” who correctly argue about my one-sided, very opinionated columns. As Mighty Betsy Meredith says regularly, “Charlie is often wrong but never in doubt!”
Anyway, I was so startled by his letter that I called him. Joe is the very successful president of the Pennsylvania Broadcasters Association (PBA). Prior to this position, Joe was the chief of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLC). In 2006, He moved to the PLC after retiring from the state Assembly (1993-1996) and the state Senate (1997-2006).
As president of the PBA, he succeeded Richard “Dick” Wycoff formerly from Quakertown. Dick was in the Boy Scout Troop (Troop 131) which I led after my undergraduate days at Penn. How’s that for small world?
Anyway, I got a kick from his thoughts about “Grumbles.” As you readers have discovered, Grumbles is a small club of couples who meet monthly to reminisce or complain (usually both) about everything … religion, politics, taxes and the like. We meet at Joe’s former restaurant, the Piper Tavern in Pipersville. I identified the Grumbles members … he knew them all.
I thought about Joe’s family and know that many of you readers will remember his family too. Joe’s grandfather and grandmother (Frank and Emily Conti) were the founders of Conti’s in 1943 during the Second World War. My mother and father would take me to dinner at Conti’s on Friday nights (I was 9 or 10). Conti’s cheeseburgers were unusual (wonderful) with just a hint of garlic and onion. Our favorite waiter was Joe Gotti who also was a trombonist, I think. My mother would occasionally belt out an opera aria which the patrons enjoyed.
Who would have thought that 25 years later while serving in Doylestown, I would order that same cheeseburger recipe? Walter Conti named it “The Commissioner.” The meal came with cole slaw and French Fries. (Delicious)
Later, Walter Conti succeeded his parents and turned Conti’s into the power house which many of you and I remember fondly. Joe reminded me that his father had purchased WBUX (1570), the radio station in Doylestown and Quakertown. Joe didn’t know that my late father had started WBUX immediately after World War II.
At WBUX (renamed WISP), Walter Conti had several impressive partners: author James Michener, Don Meredith (the Dallas Cowboys quarterback, who with Howard Cosell, hosted the first “Monday Night Football” television show), John Knoll (industrialist), Herbert Barness (the famous Realtor and industrialist), and Central Bucks lawyer and Democrat leader, Robert Valimont.
Along the way, Walter became chairman of the Penn State University trustees, with one of my father’s colleagues, William Ulrich, who owned the Clearfield Progress and radio station. Oh, what fun we used to have with Bill and his wife, Lee! It was Bill Ulrich who gave father the idea to start a radio station before some other competitor did.
So Joe and I had a nice chat about Bucks County.
I found Walter Conti’s obituary which ran in 2016 when he died at age 87. Here are a few of the salient facts from his obit: “In 1987, Penn State School of Hospitality Management established the Walter J. Conti Professorship, a program that brings industry leaders to the university on a regular basis to interact with students and faculty.
“An active member of hotel and restaurant professional organizations, Walter Conti held various leadership positions in the National Restaurant association. He received the Gold Plate and Silver Plate awards from the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association.
“Walter was a Chairman and Chairman Emeritus of the Culinary Institute of America Trustees. He served on advisory boards at Johnson and Wales College, Mercyhurst University, Oklahoma State University and the University of Delaware.”
He was survived by his wife, Patricia, sons Joseph and Michael, seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren. The Contis were among the most important families in Bucks County.
Ah, what memories! Joe Conti should have no trouble starting a “Grumbles” chapter in Harrisburg, as he proposed.
Sincerely, Charles Meredith