He started cemetery job 60 years ago _ and is still there
By MIKE ARGENTO, York Daily Record
Nov. 18, 2017
YORK, Pa. (AP) — Ron King grew up working.
It was what you did. His father drove truck for a living and the kids had to help out as much as they could. When he was 12 or 13, he and his brothers - he's the youngest of six, one of four boys - would walk from their home in the city neighborhood called the Swim Streeters (for its propensity to flood during heavy rains) to the unemployment office on the other side of town. There they would wait for a truck to cart them off to a farm out in the county to pick peaches or apples or potatoes or tomatoes.
It was hard work for little money. He hated picking peaches, the fuzz would scratch your neck. He liked picking berries, raspberries or strawberries, getting paid by the pound for the ones you didn't eat while picking them. You could make 25 cents a day, sometimes as much as 75 cents a day, picking berries. Tomatoes paid better. He made $3 one day picking tomatoes. That was good money back then.
The younger kids picked potatoes, which was much easier than picking berries or tomatoes. The farmers would plow up the potatoes and you'd just have to go down the row and pick them up.
Ron and his siblings hustled to help their family make ends meet. He and his brothers would go Loucks Mill Road - on the wrong side of the tracks, literally, from town - to the foundry on Arch Street, not far from the old prison, to scavenge for iron leavings dumped behind the factory, carting them home in their wagons and saving them for the time of the month that the scrap metal guy would come by and collect them. They also would walk the railroad tracks that separated the city's more prosperous neighborhoods from theirs and collected coal that spilled from locomotives, taking it home to stock the bin in their home's basement.
When he was 14, he worked with his dad, riding in the truck and unloading furniture delivered to Philadelphia and other locales. It was hard work, but he was brought up not to fear hard work. It was what you did to get by.
His family never wanted for anything. Things were tight, to be sure, what with six kids to feed. But they got by. Sometimes breakfast would be bread and milk, dusted with sugar. That was good stuff, as far as he was concerned. Ron was the baby of the family. His sisters quit school to take care of him while their mother toiled in a sewing factory.
He grew up playing sports - basketball and softball - at his family's church, Westminster Presbyterian, not far from their home, the poor people's church, just a few blocks away from the more prosperous First Presbyterian on Market Street. "We always said we liked going to church because we could meet girls there," he said.
Even on the wrong side of the tracks - wealthier citizens would drive blocks out of the way to avoid driving through his little neighborhood, a cluster of a few farmhouses on the land that eventually housed the now-defunct Cole Steel and Route 30 - there was a divide. Just south of his neighborhood was one called The Swamp, and the Swampers didn't take kindly to the Swim Streeters cutting through their turf, throwing rocks at them and picking fights. That ended when Ron's older brother entered York High and befriended some of the Swampers.
He played softball in the church league - and later he played for weightlifting magnate Bob Hoffman. He recalled seeing Hoffman around the softball fields; he took an interest in the sport and recruited teams that played, and played well, in national tournaments, hoping to make York the softball capital of the world. At one time, it was. Tournaments attracted 180 teams or so. Ron's team often traveled to regional and national tournaments, placing second in a national tournament in Louisville once. Ron was captain of the team because he knew the rulebook so well that when he would approach an umpire to argue a call, the other players would roll their eyes and say, "Here he goes again."
In 1957, when he 17, Ron was looking for work. He had been working at York Expansion Bolt. He lasted five months. He wasn't cut out for factory work. By coincidence, his parents went to visit his grandfather's grave in Greenmount Cemetery and were appalled by the condition of his final resting place, the grass high by the marker. They talked to the foreman, who apologized and lamented that he just couldn't find anybody who could do the job right.
Ron's mother said, "I have a strapping boy at home who could do it."
And so it came to be that Ron went to work at the cemetery, under the tutelage of foreman Art Schweitzer. Art was a good man, and a good boss, and he took Ron under his wing, teaching him the ropes.
Ron went to work at Greenmount Cemetery when he was 17. At 76, he's still there. Wochit
It was hard work, mowing the cemetery with push mowers and digging graves with a pick and a shovel, a process that usually took two days.
But Ron took to it. He liked the work, and he needed it because he was planning to marry a girl he met at church, Joan Lutzinger, and start a family. They married in 1958, the same year the cemetery changed hands, falling into the ownership of the March family, which had a contracting and paving business called Stewart and March (now Stewart and Tate).
One of the first things the Stewarts did was buy a backhoe for the cemetery, meaning that instead of a crew digging a grave by hand over the course of a couple of days, one man could do it in a few hours, tops.
They kept Ron on because he was newly married and needed the job. It was a job. He never made a lot of money, he said, but he made enough to get by.
When Schweitzer retired, Ron became the foreman of the cemetery and got a 10-cent-an-hour raise. He was making about $45 a week then. He ran his crew by one simple rule: He wouldn't expect any of his guys to do anything he wouldn't do himself.
He and Joan moved into a house on the edge of the cemetery, the foreman's house, built in 1889, and raised their family as Ron took care of the cemetery. He knew the cemetery like the back of his hand. Whenever people came to visit a grave and couldn't locate it, he knew exactly where it was and would guide them. He was good with people.
In 1982, a local church bought the cemetery and changes came. Ron stayed on. In 1983 and 1984, he pretty much ran the cemetery. He would work in the office, and when he finished up there he would take off his sport coat and mow the lawn. As owners changed, they kept Ron on the job. He knew the place and how to run it. It all worked out.
He and Joan raised three kids on the cemetery grounds. They never had a lot of money, but they never wanted for much. They had what they needed, he said. They built a life there, on the edge of a place dedicated to honoring the dead.
At 76, Ron is still working, entering his 60th year at the cemetery. He looks younger and is in good shape. He had back surgery about 15 years ago, and that went well. Some years ago, he was diagnosed with cancer of the colon and the prostate. He won his battle and is free of the disease now. At the same time, a buddy of his, a guy he grew up with, was diagnosed with cancer, and within a month he was dead.
He tries not to go to funerals, even though it is part of his job. The only ones that really bother him are children and suicides. "I used to ask, 'Why?'" he said. "I don't anymore."
He still works 40 hours a week. He'd like to retire, but he can't afford to. The new owners of the cemetery, the same people who own Prospect Hill, want to keep him on, at least as a consultant. Ron wasn't sure what to make of that and asked what he was supposed to do. "When we need to know something," was the answer.
"I didn't need to change," he said. "I was satisfied here. My wife was satisfied here. Everything worked out for us. The way I work is the way I was taught to work."
He doesn't do much gravedigging, leaving that to his crew. He could still do it if need be, though.
"I don't regret any of my years working here," he said. "If I died tomorrow, I'd have nothing to complain about. I had a great life."
Information from: York Daily Record, http://www.ydr.com