Spotlight: Frank Warholic, Commander of the Montville VFW Post 5481
MONTVILLE, NJ - “This story is not only about me but about the wonderful people of Montville,” said the humble but outspoken Frank Warholic who is retiring this month as commander of Montville’s VFW Post 5481. After serving as commander for 20 years collectively, Warholic is retiring, and Charles Ferry will be assuming the command.
As one of the post’s founders since 1970, Warholic has spent much of his life serving veterans and the community. He remembers the house and land that is now the home of Post 5481 as the Sisco dairy farm. “Montville was much different back then,” said Warholic. The post leases the property from the township and has remodeled the upstairs and downstairs. Warholic said that Peter King, who had been commander at the time, was influential in negotiating the lease agreement.
As he continued to tell his story he said, “I am not good at remembering exact dates, so dates may be approximate.” He also said, “I hope I will not offend anyone if I forget to mention them.”
The story begins in Garfield, NJ on November 1, 1930 when Frank Warholic was born. Eventually his family moved to Passaic, and he attended Passaic High School and played basketball for the Passaic Boys’ Club and the Holy Rosary Society.
One day he spotted a pretty girl getting out of a car and found out that she was a member of the Passaic Boys' Club dramatics club. So of course, he joined just to get a date. They went to the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, and the rest is history.
At 19, Warholic was drafted into the army and before he left for Camp Kilmore in NJ for training, he asked this girl to marry him as soon as he got back. Needless to say, this pretty girl is Mary Ellen his wife of 60 years. Warholic calls her “my tower of strength. Everything I did she was a part of it.”
He was drafted in 1951 during the Korean War, but he was sent to Erlangen, Germany and served there from 1951 to 1953. He was in the 7th Army 30th field artillery battalion B battery where he was made corporal. He went for leadership training, but President Harry S. Truman, saying there was not enough money, cut back and Warholic never got his stripes.
Back in the states, he took advantage of the GI bill and got his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from Seton Hall. He majored in education and minored in history. He also got his principal and driver education certificates. His post graduate work was done through Fairfield University in Secaucus through extension courses. He taught physical education for 39 years in the city of Passaic and also taught driver education. He coached basketball and baseball but was not crazy about it especially since it only paid $200 a season. In the 1970’s, he was named teacher of the year by the state of NJ and the Passaic Board of Education.
In 1960 Frank and Mary Ellen moved to Montville because they couldn’t afford the $22,000 to buy a house in Passaic. They purchased a house and property on Twaits Road in Towaco for $12,000 with a mortgage payment of $58 a month. They eventually had to knock the house down and rebuild over time. He remembers having to work multiple jobs, along with his wife working as a nurse’s aide at Passaic General Hospital, just to pay the bills. He said, “Montville was very rural then and not too many people lived here.” Warholic was a part time mailman for 25 years and remembers when the township was so small that there was only one mailman for the entire area of Towaco.
He also drove a truck for Ballantine beer getting the job not even knowing how to handle the truck’s shift. He remembers these early years as “nothing but work.” While laughing, he also remembers a car that they owned that did not go in reverse. If they missed a turn, they literally had to push the car backward so that they could drive again. He said, “Life was a lot of hard work, but we always paid our mortgage first and did whatever we could afford to do with the rest. Thank God for chop meat at 19 cents a pound.” He and his wife even collected old newspapers for Allied Paper getting 75 cents a pound. The word he said that describes his life is “sacrifice.”
The Warholics had two daughters Mary Catherine and Susan. Mary Catherine now lives with her husband in the southern part of the United States, and with much sadness, Warholic spoke about his daughter Susan, who died about five years ago of pancreatic cancer. He said that the people of Montville were tremendous in their financial and moral support. He said, “I cannot say enough about the people of Montville. It was a very hard time for us. Montville is the best place to live. Brick and stone may make up the buildings, but the people make the town.”
Warholic has another member of his family, Cubby, a chow flatback retriever, that he wanted mentioned in this article. In a local newspaper, he saw a dog that nobody wanted. He went to see him, took one look, took him home, and has loved him ever since.
He fondly recalls becoming the recreation director for Montville. He said, “There were only a few fields back then, and people allowed us to play on their land.” Insurance for registration was only a dollar a person. He remembers that for track meets they did not even have money for ribbons or certificates. They had to be resourceful and use whatever they could find. He also was a leader in youth programs such as Babe Ruth Baseball leagues, ski programs, and bicycle safety programs.
VFW Post 5481 began in 1970 with 34 members and now has about 130. When asked about his position as commander, he said, “It’s a lot of work, but there are a lot of good people working at the post making the job easier.” Some veterans mentioned in the interview were Edmond and Herman Gonski, Joe Coll, Joseph Quade, Arthur Graf, Ralph Amato, Julian Handler, Thomas Infusino, Carl DeBacco, Edwin Beil, Hjalmar Johansson, Ralph Amato, and Walter Bringsauf.
Warholic stated that Joseph Quade is one of the oldest members who served in WWII, and Thomas Infusino is one of the youngest men who recently served in Afghanistan. “Carl DeBacco is the best quartermaster. Without his great record keeping, we would not have a post,” said Warholic. Joseph Quade was instrumental in getting the tank from Vietnam and the memorial wall projects completed. Edwin Beil also was instrumental in getting the memorial wall in place. Hjalmar Johansson was a prisoner of war in WWII, and in 2005, he and Joseph Quade, Walter Bringsauf, and Frank Warholic were chosen by the St. Francis Residential Community and the local AARP Chapter as “Morris County Treasures” for their volunteer work. Arthur Graf coordinates getting flags put on graves in five cemeteries three days before Memorial Day, and Ralph Amato is very involved with the VFW’s involvement with the Boy Scouts. Herman Gonski was in charge of the Voice of Democracy program, and Joe Coll continues in his position. All these men and many more help Post 5481 stay active. Warholic is grateful for all their hard work and dedication.
He is also very proud that for 27 years the VFW, along with their women’s auxiliary, went every Monday night to the Lyons Veterans Affairs Hospital to dance and provide entertainment for the patients along with providing refreshments. Before every dance, they would sing the National Anthem and say the Pledge of Allegiance. The women involved in this were Rose Verdie, Georgette Durant, Julie Marcello, Anna DeBallonia, and Mary Ellen Warholic. Unfortunately, about six years ago, the women’s auxiliary ended due to deaths and illness of participants.
Warholic had many stories about selling poppies in the month of May. Fundraising is a major way that the VFW supports itself, and selling poppies is one of the biggest events. “One day a little girl wearing a pretty pink dress and her mother came to Quick Chek as I was selling poppies. The little girl pulled out a bag of pennies that she had been collecting for the soldiers. I did not want to take the money from the little girl, but she and her mother insisted. So with great joy, she took her pennies and put them in the container. It was so touching,” stated Warholic. Sometimes the post has earned up to $1,000 selling poppies. These proceeds are used to aid hospitalized veterans.
Warholic coordinates the Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and 9-11 Remembrance Day services for the community and coordinates the township’s recognition program of residents who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is involved in providing military funeral services for veterans and helps place flags on the graves of deceased veterans. He also spearheaded the drive to put America’s most decorated soldier Audie Murphy on a postage stamp, and he obtained over 6,000 signatures to successfully have a postage stamp issued to honor America’s War Dogs.
He has been instrumental in offering many school programs such as visiting the seven Montville Township public schools on Veterans Day, high school National VFW Voice of Democracy contest, Lazar Middle School National VFW essay contest, American flag sales, and recognition of township’s Eagle Scouts. Warholic said that Montville even had a winner in the Voice of Democracy contest. Laura Agostin, a Montville student, won this national essay competition.
He was selected as VFW All State Commander, VFW Volunteer of the Year, Mr. VFW Volunteer, and received the Nichols VFW Award. In 2006, he was the recipient of the Montville Township Chamber of Commerce Silver Service Award and was honored twice with the Meritorious Hospital Service Awards by the American Legion.
Warholic has been involved in additional community projects such as the Vial of Life Senior Citizen program, a program that recognizes township residents and businesses that fly the flag daily, and the adopt a road cleanup program.
The post’s latest project is creating a pathway of bricks around the memorial wall so that other people who missed having their names on the initial wall can be memorialized at Veterans’ Plaza, now called Community Park. Warholic said, “In my opinion, the township has built the finest complex in the area. The township has done wonders for the post, and they continue to do so.”
He remembers the “big day” when the M60 Vietnam era army tank made its way down Changebridge Road to its place now in Community Park and the memorial. It took two days to get the tank from Fort Dix to Montville because it weighs 60 tons and bridges had to be closed. The tank did work, but the engine had to be removed for safety reasons.
Stealing a question from a Michael K’s television program called “Center Stage” this writer just had to ask Frank, “If you were in a fox hole, who would be the person you would want to be there with you?” Without any hesitation, Frank said, “Jesus and my best friend. No matter who it is, you take care of him, and he takes care of you.” And this is who Frank Warholic is, a caring and hardworking man.
This is only a brief description of a man who has worked hard to serve his family, community, and country. Congratulations to Frank Warholic!