Wayne County Wanderings Features a Chat With Legendary Honesdale Announcer
He is the the first to admit that he's never been much of an athlete. However, over the course of the past 50 years, no one has dedicated more time or been a more passionate advocate of the Honesdale football program than Ab Rutherford.
The man who's been known for a half-century as the “Voice of the Hornets” is getting ready to pass the baton to the next generation of announcers.
Before he rides off into the sunset, though, it seems only fitting that we take a few moments to honor Ab and let him tell his tale.
He recently invited me into his home where the two of us sat in the living room while Ab proceeded to take me on a guided tour down Memory Lane.
It's a fascinating story, one that began during his high school years and continues to this day...
Ab was born in Honesdale in 1941. He is the son of James & Dorothy Rutherford.
He and his wife, Sally, are quickly approaching their 60th anniversary. They are the proud parents of five children (Sarah, Wally, Jamie, Sherry, Bert).
Ab graduated from HHS in 1958. He began his college career at Virginia Military Institute, but eventually finished his undergraduate work at the University of Scranton.
He earned his law degree at Dickinson College and returned to his home town in 1966. He started a practice with Judge Bodie at a time when his Dad, a highly-respected jurist in his own right, sat on the Wayne County bench.
Ab quietly went about the business of building a life for himself and his young family. While he focused on establishing what would one day become a thriving practice, Ab still found the time to indulge his love of Hornet athletics.
He has served as public address announcer and emcee for Honesdale football and basketball games for the better part of five decades.
“I just love it,” Ab said. “There's just nothing like being there to see the kids play. It's something I've been blessed to do for a long time and I'll never forget it.”
Ab was immersed in sports lore from a young age, largely because he grew up alongside a local legend: His grandfather, Frank Schuerholz.
A lifelong fan of our National Pastime, Schuerholz was once a teammate of the great Christy Mathewson. He himself played for many years, then graduated to coaching, officiating and sponsoring teams in his later years.
“It was always a joy talking with him and going with him to a game,” Ab said with a wistful smile. “He had the best stories. He and his buddies just loved baseball so much. It's something he passed down to me.”
That love of the game led Ab to a long association with Honesdale's vaunted semipro team. He served as the Ramblers' scorekeeper and equipment manager for many years during the golden age of sandlot baseball.
“Those guys were my heroes,” Ab said. “They were larger than life and I really liked hanging around with them.”
While baseball was his first love, Ab also developed a passion for football that continues to this day.
A lifelong fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, Ab jokes that he “watched an awful lot of bad football over the years.” Until just recently, that is, when his beloved team finally rewarded him with a Super Bowl title.
By the late 1960s, high school football had been noticeably absent from the Maple City for more than four decades. And so, when a movement arose to bring it back, Ab was right there volunteering to help.
“There was a real push to bring it back starting around 1967-68,” Ab said.
“There was a cadre of local guys that got behind the idea and really made it happen … guys like Doc Hippensteel, Bill Rogers and some others.”
According to Ab, the School Board was enthusiastic … to a point.
After several meetings with local advocates, members let it be known that they wouldn't oppose a football program at Honesdale. However, they weren't about to allocate a large amount of money either.
Obtaining the funds for everything from helmets and pads to equipment and even the playing field itself would be up to the fledgling booster group.
“I remember that the magic number was $87.50,” he said with a laugh. “That was how much money you needed to raise to buy the equipment for one player.
“And so, we went up and down Main Street with a little book saying: 'It's 87.50 for a uniform. How many can we put you down for?'”
Thanks to the support of countless businesses and individuals, the goal was met. Honesdale played a JV schedule in 1968 and then graduated to the varsity ranks in the fall of '69.
On the Air
Ab Rutherford and Bob Schilling formed a dynamic duo in the broadcast booth during the earliest days of Honesdale football.
Bob handled the microphone from the very beginning, while Ab served as his spotter.
The two worked out of what can only charitably be called a “booth” perched atop the field behind the bleachers (Ab recalls them referring to it as the “Chicken Coop”).
Most games were played on Saturday, then broadcast to the local area each Monday evening on Henry Kalinowski's Cable TV channel six.
Bud Wilcox was the technician who handled all the intricacies of the actual broadcast, while longtime funeral director and mortician Franklin Meyers handled make-up.
“I remember this one time we were having trouble because there was a lighting issue with Kalinowski,” Ab said.
“Franklin told him the lights were reflecting off his dome so he needed to put some powder on his head.
“'Lie down on the couch, Henry,' Franklin said. 'I do better work with people who are lying down.'”
Schilling passed away in 1991. Several years prior to that, though, Bob handed the microphone to Ab.
He remembers that games in the early days were done with a portable sound system cobbled together and loaded onto the back of Dick Osborne's pick-up truck.
“Charitably, we'll call the whole set-up primitive,” Ab said with a chuckle. “We didn't have a lot of technical know-how, but boy did we have a lot of fun. The camaraderie in the press box has always been great.”
Ab has thoroughly enjoyed his association with Honesdale athletics. He believes that he's likely seen more Hornet football games than any living person.
“The number of games I've missed over the years I can count on my fingers,” he said. “It's just been a wonderful experience.”
Some of his favorite memories include...
•The win over Weatherly on Thanksgiving Day back in 1969
•Terrin Ash's pursuit of the PA state rushing record
•The Red & Black's historic title run in 1980
•An electrifying last second win over Blue Mountain in the 1983 Eastern Conference playoffs
And many more.
“All the coaches and athletic directors have always treated me with respect,” Ab said. “And I appreciate it greatly. They're wonderful people and I've enjoyed every minute of it.”
Honesdale football is a tradition that will carry on without Ab; but, somehow it won't be the same without “The Voice of the Hornets” resounding under the Friday Night Lights.
So, thank you for everything, Ab. From one old Hornet to another, your contributions will never be forgotten.