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Historic Philly Fireman’s Hall Has Strong Link To The First Tee

By Greg Gaul, Board Member of The First Tee of Greater Philadelphia

Speech From 10/13 Fireman’s Hall 50th Anniversary Celebration


My name is Greg Gaul and while you may not know me, I was one of the founders of Fireman’s Hall Museum.  Today, I’ve been asked to talk briefly about the early history of Fireman’s Hall and tell you something of which you are probably not aware.  

Back in 1977, following the launch of the museum, three of the original founders launched another enterprise that finally evolved into what is today The First Tee of Greater Philadelphia.  Aided by others in the founding group including Fire Commissioner Joe Rizzo, John Lang, and Carol Smith.  Jack Gross, Walter Smith and I conceived and formed another non-profit organization dedicated to youth development through golf that is thriving today, some forty years later.

The First Tee is a national organization consisting of over 150 chapters.  The First Tee of Greater Philadelphia, our group, is one of the leading chapters touching over 15,000 youths through its varied activities annually.  The First Tee introduces young people to these nine core values that will be character-building behaviors that will serve them well throughout their lives:  Honesty, Integrity, Sportsmanship, Respect, Confidence, Responsibility, Perseverance, Courtesy, and Judgement.  These are the same attributes that many pundits say are missing in our society today.

So it turns out, both Fireman’s Hall and The First Tee have an early shared history.  I would like to point out that both of these organizations, as affiliated groups of the “City of Brotherly Love” in their early days, had a shared mission to reach out and help the public in general with high-minded goals.  For Fireman’s Hall, it was public safety from fire.  For The First Tee it was youth character development through golf.  Both organizations at their inception had the same geographical footprint including the city proper and surrounding communities.  

Firefighters have a long-standing affinity for golf, as well.  In the early days of Fireman’s Hall, it was an active supporter of the Joe Rizzo Celebrity Golf Tournament at Bala Golf Club.  That tradition of a connection to golf continues on.

Walt Smith, the former CEO of the Contributionship Insurance Company, was the driving force for the formation of what was to become The First Tee of Greater Philadelphia.  He, along with Jack Gross and myself, were avid golfers.  The city, through its many resources including the Fairmont Park Commission and its golf courses, has fostered positive programs for the collective good that are not widely recognized and known.  Today, as an extension of that theme, The First Tee has operations at FDR Golf Club in South Philadelphia and at Walnut Lane Golf Club in Roxborough.  

Interestingly too, both organizations have a long and integrated connection to the insurance industry here in Philadelphia.  A most obvious shared connection is with The Contributionship Insurance Company founded by Franklin but also with the INA (now Chubb), The Green Tree Mutual, Reliance and Lumberman’s to name just a few.

Please allow me to look back and share some early memories with you about Fireman’s Hall. The first involves the Willet Studios’ half-moon, stained glass window which is on the second floor of the museum. Joe Rizzo was passionate about honoring the valor of fallen firefighters in the museum proper. We engaged the Willet Studios here in Philadelphia, a nationally recognized art studio, to create something. Floored at the cost at first, we decided to go forward because it was that important to our mission. I think it cost $10,000 to do and that was a reduced cost from Willet. Aren’t we glad we did?

Next in 1976 Deputy Commissioner Joe McKenna had this publicity idea for a “Muster” on Delaware Avenue just before the museum opening to promote it. Paid and volunteer units came from Reading to Wilmington to Cherry Hill to show their equipment and join in the festivities. All the papers and TV were on hand. The board was overwhelmed with the participation and success. We think there were 10,000 people there, we were flabbergasted.

Finally, the fire department had three Percheron horses and Joe Rizzo had an idea to name them after three of the “civilians” who served on the board. Two were males and one was a female but all were beautiful draft horses. So, as a photo publicity stunt in 1976 Joe Rizzo named and presented us with these horses. “Jack” was the first, named for Jack Gross head of the board, “Walt” for Walt Smith and lastly “Jean” for the female who is my wife. Ironically, both the horse and my wife were pregnant at the time giving birth a few months later. That was my first child, Scott. Those were just a few of the great times we had in those early days.

Graciously, Carol Smith who knows and understands this shared history has offered me this opportunity to present a brief snippet of this unknown early connection to you.  We, at The First Tee, hope to work together with Fireman’s Hall in the future to build a stronger tie and connection between our two organizations where our intentions and purpose will be mutually beneficial.  Thank you for your time and interest.

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