When We Were Kids: My First Employer

Once I said to Joe, who questioned some work I had done, “I think it’s good enough.” Joe, with a withering glare I shall never forget, replied, “Good enough, isn’t.”

by Dave Riley

Kids’ activities don’t run on autopilot. There have to be adults who coach and manage and make sure that stuff gets organized. Somebody with a car has to bring the bats and balls to the field, and there are other somebodys who make out schedules and the like. They give their time and energy because they like sports and love kids.

Sometime around my seventh grade year, at what was then Garland Street Junior High, I began playing ball with guys from St. John’s Elementary on State Street in Bangor — a Nelligan, two Dowds, a McAloon, a Quinn, two Kearns, a Searway and others. The adult I most associate with those teams was Frank Soucy Jr., whose family bakery — Frank’s Bake Shop — was just a few hundred yards up the street from St. Johns. He didn’t coach as I recall, but to me at least he appeared to be the driving force behind the St. John’s CYO program.

There were others who pitched in — Bud McDonough, a pharmacist, Ben Gunn, who worked at the bakery, and more whose names, I’m sorry to say, my aged memory has misplaced. Brendan Crowe, a successful undertaker, did something to help, but I can’t remember what.

The other day I got an email from my niece Patti in Maine that unleashed a flood of memories from my youth. “Hi, Uncle Dave,” it began. “On the local news tonight was a story about Frank’s Bake Shop turning 70 … I think you used to work there, right? I know Mum (Betty) worked there and I think she told me that you did as well.”

Indeed, Patti, I am a proud alum of Frank’s. My first tour of duty was after school and during summers when I was in high school. It was my first job and although I didn’t think of it this way at the time, it was a terrific learning experience.

There were really two Franks in the business, senior and junior, and in 1945 the two of them and Joe, Frank Jr.’s older brother, founded the company that has ever since proclaimed its dedication to quality with the phrase “Where Good Means the Best.”

Once I said to Joe, who questioned some work I had done, “I think it’s good enough.”

Joe, with a withering glare I shall never forget, replied, “Good enough, isn’t.”

Five years ago, when Frank’s turned sixty-five, Aislinn Sarnacki wrote in the News that they started up the bakeshop in 1945 selling cookies, bread and cakes in downtown Bangor. “Two years later, they moved to the rundown former A&P building on State Street, where they’ve remained,” Aislinn wrote.

The crew in 1985: Walter Beaulieu, Ben Gunn, Joe Soucy, Frank Soucy Jr., and Dwight Frasier. (Frank's Bake Shop photo.)

The crew in 1985: Walter Beaulieu, Ben Gunn, Joe Soucy, Frank Soucy Jr., and Dwight Frasier. (Frank’s Bake Shop photo.)

I never made a ton of money at Frank’s, but that’s not a knock on the Soucys. I’m sure whatever they paid was the going rate for that era. What I remember most was the crew I worked with — Dwight Frasier, Walter Beaulieu, Ben Gunn, Norma Dubay and a gaggle of Soucy’s. They were all fun to be around.

Dwight was the humorist:

“A guy goes to his psychiatrist to get his test results,” he said out of the blue one day. ‘What do the tests say, Doc?’ he asks.

‘They say you’re crazy.’

‘Well, now, I think I’d like a second opinion,’ the upset patient says.

‘Okay,’ says the doc, ‘you’re ugly too.’”

Dwight was fond of kidding one member of our shift, who had trouble getting out of bed in the morning and who will go mercifully unnamed:

“He comes in late,” Dwight would say, “but he makes up for it by going home early.”

At that time my dad had no car and had never learned to drive. He got to work for years by trolley and when they disappeared by bus. So Frank Jr.  taught me to drive in the shop’s green Plymouth suburban and when it was time, drove me down to Court Street to take my driver’s test. He then made me the shop’s delivery guy, which I thought was a super cool job for a sixteen-year-old.

Because of the CYO, we had a baseball team every summer and basketball teams every winter. There were Saturday night dances at St. Johns and on at least two occasions overnight bus trips to Boston to see the Red Sox play. We were also way ahead of our time. One year we had a whiz bang pitcher, whose last name was Perry I believe, who was a girl.

My path from high school to college was, to put it charitably, circuitous. The first two years I was living in Virginia and then I came back to Bangor and went to work at Frank’s again. Evenings I studied accounting, business math and personnel management at Husson, which in those days was at the top of Park Street Hill. I wanted to be a writer and a teacher, but, for reasons I don’t recall, I never did the obvious by enrolling at the U of M in Orono.

Eventually the Selective Service System gave me an edict: enlist or be drafted. So I enlisted, went off to California to study Russian for a year at what was then called the Army Language School, and, after my service was over, got two degrees in English from San Francisco State and a teaching credential from Berkeley.

Frank continued at the shop until 2010 when he retired. In 2012, he passed away at the age of 84. In what qualifies as a major understatement, Bernadette Gaspar, Soucy’s niece, was quoted in the Bangor Daily News as saying, “He loved being around people…He had a good, long life.”

Years earlier, when I was trying to get a position as a marketing writer at Sunset Magazine in California, the interviewer looked at my resume and asked why, along with some extremely good professional and educational accomplishments, I listed my tenure at a small bakery back East.

“That was my first employer,” I said politely. “I think it belongs there.”

Realizing I was a writer and therefore probably a bit loony anyway, she smiled and let it pass.

When I do the math, I realize I worked at Frank’s when the place was a mere infant — just ten years old.

Happy 70th, Frank’s!

Dave Riley

About Dave Riley

Growing Old Isn’t For Sissies is about aging. It’s stories of how some older people achieve remarkable successes, how some people make the lives of others better, and how all seniors have hurdles to face — maladies, loss of loved ones and more.