Ervin ‘Herb’ Beck turned 90 in August, and last Wednesday was honored by Factoryville Borough Council with the naming of ‘Herb Beck Day.’
“It’s hard to imagine anyone devoting as much of his life to a community as Herb has,” Factoryville Borough Manager Mary Ellen Buckbee said last week. “We have long wanted to do something for him.”
Beck was enticed to come up to the borough hall by councilman Gregg Yunko under the pretense of someone visiting the town who wanted to share some artifacts with the nonagenerian who frankly has just about seen it all.
Back in February of 1950, the recent Factoryville High School baseball all-star had dreams of becoming the next Christy Mathewson when he headed to Sanford, Fla., to try out for a spot on the New York Giants.
Beck said his high school coach believed in him, and when he got to Florida, his fielding was pretty darn good but his hitting was flat.
He came home a little dejected about not being able to play in big league ball parks, but their loss was Factoryville’s gain.
With Mayor John Austin as baseball team manager, Factoryville’s town team was often the top attraction in the old Abington League, and Beck said it wasn’t a bad gig each spring and summer to play for the hometown folks. Nor to find his name on multiple All-Star teams.
Looking back over his long life Beck said he couldn’t quite make out “why the fuss.”
But, the plaque given him Wednesday in front of his four grown children said it all: “The Borough of Factoryville hereby proclaims October 14, 2020, as Herb Beck Day in honor of his contributions to Factoryville Borough, Factoryville Masonic Lodge #341, the Factoryville Baptist Church, and the entire community of Factoryville.”
Asked which was most important to him, he said he was richly blessed to have his late wife for 64 years, and still has four great children.
As for the Baptist Church, where he was baptized in 1942, he said he was presently moderator and had served almost every role except preacher and choir member, joking that his wife once told him she would leave the church if she had to listen to his singing.
In the Lodge on Riverside Drive, Beck said he became Past Master in 1986 and has enjoyed the many friendships forged. He also noted that he and the town boys learned to play ball in the sand lot next to the lodge, allegedly to keep them out of trouble.
After advancing to school ball about a mile away on College Avenue, Beck helped put those memories aside as a member of the Lackawanna Trail School Board from 1966 to 1972, and which eventually saw the old ballfield become the site for a new elementary center that his kids attended.
Literally located behind it, he was part of the legion of men in the Factoryville Civic Men’s League that included Anthony Borgia and Tom Davis — who helped transform Christy Mathewson Park into a destination for generations of Little Leaguers- and, yes, he helped build concession stands, as well as seating for fans, there.
Beck said he was a carpenter by trade, and started out after high school working for the old Mayflower Showcase, making cabinets at 70 cents an hour, “which was big pay in those days.” In the mid 1950s he recalled working up to $1.36 an hour at the Showcase when he got a tap on the shoulder wondering if he’d like to make more than twice that helping to build bridges on an unfolding I-81, mostly in the Poconos.
“When can I start,” was a memory that rolled off his lips, and he recalled many of the bridges and schools that he helped build in the region, as well as other projects doing construction for George Ketchur for 14 years. He said his last major project was the Willowbrook Assisted Living facility in Clarks Summit around 1996. But he never put away his tool box, and his basement is a testament to a carpenter’s life where he still makes furniture pieces that he gives away as gifts.
Even this past Saturday, at age 90, he was diagnosing a bolt issue in the covered bridge that links the Trail Elementary Center with Mathewson Park.
Beck had a hand in building the first bridge that got washed away by the flood of 1996, “just terrible,” he recalled, but in the aftermath, rolled up his sleeves with so many others in building the current one.
Since 2008, Beck has served on the Wyoming County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, an agency which helped bring senior housing to Factoryville in the way of the Mathewson Park Apartments.
A lover of golf, Beck has been to some noted golf courses and in later years has planned vacations around playing in places like Myrtle Beach, S.C. But outside of the baseball tryout in 1950 in Florida, he said that he and his wife and family have stayed pretty close to home.
He did, however, spend two years in the Army, and was quite shocked one day to see his hometown of Factoryville lifted up, when passing through an Army base exchange in Germany. There, on the front page of one of the newspaper tabloids, was a picture of Charles Homeyer.
Beck recalled Homeyer as one of his biggest supporters while he was playing town ball in Factoryville — “didn’t miss too many of my games as I recall, and gave me heck when I didn’t perform well.”
Well, the reason Homeyer was in the news was because he was wanted in the disappearance of his seventh wife, and the police had just located some of her bones, including her skull, in the basement of a house at 210 Riverside Drive, where it turns out Beck had been born 20 years earlier.
“So, you see, it really is a small world,” Beck laughed.
The treat for him, he recalled, about relaying the crime that eventually saw Homeyer found guilty and facing death in the electric chair, “was bringing the paper back to my barracks and telling the guys about knowing this guy in a wholly different light.”
“That was not the Factoryville I have known,” Beck said he told them.
Over his nine decades, Beck recalled, “God has made it possible for me to have a long life and I am grateful. It has been a great life and I thank everyone for letting me be a part of this fine place.”