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Hubert J. Erb (1951) sent these recollections of his days at St. Bonas in response to a call from the Bona Venture on the occasion of its 75th anniversary in 2000.


My time as a responsible editor, reporter and columnist on The Bona Venture coincided with the coming of age of St. Bonaventure in American education. It was a tumultuous time, a time never to be equaled. Everything was new and different.  Everything you touched was news.

St. Bonaventure College became St. Bonaventure University. Thomas Plassmann, scholar, a six-feet-five Prussian from Pomerania, became President. As a Catholic seminarian, he had to leave Bismarck's Protestant Germany. His successor was Juvenal Lalor, a Brahmin philosopher and educator from Brooklyn, who cleaned his own room.  There was Thomas Merton and The Seven Storey Mountain. And if I needed a feature I would go to Irenaeus Herscher, that passionate librarian who knew all the world.

Father Irenaeus was from Alsace as was my father. They got along splendidly. For a commemorative piece, Father Irenaeus showed me that "Blackjack" Pershing really was the son of Johann Pfirsching. The father had to leave Alsace after he slugged a Prussian officer in a dispute over the right of way along a sidewalk. Arrived on Ellis Island, Pfirsching became Pershing and the rest is history. After I left Bonaventure, after another war and Army service as a paratroop officer and early member of the Green Berets, I joined the AP in San Francisco. This led to realization of an ambition born while at Bonaventure: to become a Foreign Correspondent. Until he died, Father Irenaeus kept a folder of clippings of my stories printed in newspapers from around the world.

Plassmann, Juvenal, Herscher; the incurably optimistic and devout Brian Lhota; the loquacious and critical historian, Francis Borgia; outer space cosmologist William Kearney; along with the impeccably correct Jerome Kelly and the eloquent English of Father Alcuin, 0. F. M., all have a special niche in my remembrances of St. Bonaventure, The Bona Venture, and journalism as an eye on the world. So do Ferdinand Woerle, an incredibly kind man, and Russ Jandoli, teacher.

Brother Ferdinand tended the university grounds and cared for the chapel. Each night he would go to the chapel and say while kneeling, " good night sweet Jesus." I never could find out who it was who on one night replied from behind the altar, "good night Ferdinand."

During my time you could not exactly call Russ Jandoli main stream. He had a small office and a few students. He told me with great zest of his days "abroad" with UP1 as correspondent in Puerto Rico. That did it. I was hooked. Years later when we met again I had the impression he liked my having become AP Chief of Bureau and resident Foreign Correspondent in Berlin. I know I liked my memories of those days with him.

He stood by me when I needed it, especially during what became a national debate launched by my editorial criticism of a position taken by the daily at the University of Minnesota. At issue was who should allow what to be printed and when. Jandoli took no sides but let me say what I thought was right. But I still remember a letter to the editor run under the headline, "Erb Egged."

Those also were the days of Ed Milkovich and the dawn of Bonaventure as a basketball power. He took the Bonnies (sic) to their first NIT in New York. After a loss to St. John's, I wrote Bonaventure had to pay the price of a partial referee in the interest of keeping a New York team in the tournament. A few days later, Father Coleman passed me as I walked along a campus path. He never looked at me but said, "I hope you've got insurance against libel."

Milkovich and basketball were really big. He had Eddie Donovan, later of the Knicks, and Ken Murray who became a star in the NBA. There was also Sammy Urzetta from Rochester who also became American amateur champion in golf; along with Bill Kenville, another NBA star, Hank Mueller and Fred Diute. 

Then there was football, real football, with dreams of national glory and even a reflecting shimmer from the Golden Dome of Notre Dame.

Hugh Devore left Notre Dame to coach St. Bonaventrure. That got a lot of ink nationwide. He was followed by another Notre Damer, Joe Bach. It was astounding the players they recruited and molded into a real contender. Devore players included Dave Curtin, quarterback, along with Hugo Marcolini, fullback, Frank Luovolo, tight end, George Nicksich, guard, the Hayes boys and of course, Phil Collella. Collella was a candidate for All America when he left Notre Dame to play left halfback for St. Bonaventure. That got a lot more ink. In two seasons Devore's team put a dozen players in the NFL.

Joe Bach was no slouch either. He fine-tuned quarterback Ted Marchibroda and his wide receiver Jack Butler. Teddy you know about, he who is now on the Bonaventure Board of Trustees. Jack Butler though was something else. He made All-Pro as a comer back for the Pittsburgh Steelers and some still say he was the best ever to play the position.

Writing and reporting about all this could be intense. Hugo Marcolini would die young. Dave Curtin had a bad back that prevented him from becoming what he could have been. Both came to St. Bonas out of the Great War, as did many of the football players of the Devore-Bach era. I remember them well, these GI benefit students who filled the classrooms and who with me and other much younger members of the student body lived in makeshift barracks out back near the river.

I don't remember the figures, but with the retuning veterans, most of them grown men, St. Bonaventure exploded. The student body no longer was counted in the hundreds, but in the thousands. This young-older mixture was common to campuses across America. But in the rural downstate crucible of Allegany-Olean-Bonaventure there was probably more cheek by jowl than elsewhere.

When the ROTC, of which I was a member, took the field to drill, the World War I1 vets would gather to watch. They didn't say much. Mostly they laughed. I didn't realize until much later that based on their own experiences, volunteering for something having to do with the military was not very smart.

Let me conclude with Dan Rooney, the director of athletics, and George Sokolsky, columnist for the New York World Telegram. Father Dan was a professional boxer, baseball and football player before he became a priest and missionary to China.

His brother was Art Rooney, a gambler who also owned the Steelers. I got to know Dan Rooney well. Heavy stuff for a reporter on The Bona Venture.

Dan Rooney was run out of China on horseback pursued by bandits just as Mao-Tse-Tung took power in Peking. He got away but he got malaria in the bargain.

It was Dan Rooney who brought in Milkovich, Devore and Bach and all those, players who really did put Bonaventure on the national collegiate map. But the malaria never left him. He would go from hot to cold in a flash. Then he needed quinine in a hurry. I still don't know why he picked me to take along on some trips by car to buy equipment or recruit players. But along the way, if it flashed on him, he had someone to help with the medicine.

I am indebted to him for the experience. I learned then and there the value of having an inside source and the mandate of protecting background material as agreed upon.

I enjoyed my time on The Bona Venture, as you can tell. More importantly, I came away with the tools to become a professional journalist, for me still no mean calling, one that provides a never-ending opportunity to observe the world.

It was George Sokolsky who charted for me the importance of an historical perspective that looks beyond the news of the day, the events of the moment.

Sokolsky was Jewish, from New York City. His paper, the World Telegram, sent him to cover the 1917 Russian Revolution and the rise of Lenin and then Stalin. He stayed until 1921, went to China and stayed there for the Mao-Chiang war and the Japanese invasion. Along the way he married a Chinese woman and their children all were baptized as Roman Catholics. Sokolsky came out of China about the same time as did Dan Rooney.

I was assigned as ROTC escort cadet for Sokolsky's appearance at St. Bonaventure as commencement speaker. I asked him for an interview which turned into an hours long discussion of his experiences and the profession ofjournalism. We sat in Father Irenaeus' library and at the end I asked him for a concluding summation of all he had seen, all he had experienced.

He sat silent for a while and then said; "historical mistakes only can be corrected at a cost in blood."

Hubert J. Erb

Last Updated: Friday, May 11, 2007
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