To celebrate our first anniversary, the Reunion Committee decided that the program had to be timely and of historic importance. What could have been more timely and historic than commemorating the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby's entry into Major League Baseball by honoring the “living Legends of Negro Baseball”, the pioneers who paved the way for the great achievers of today. More than 26 of these legends ranging in age from 60-85 years reside in the state of Florida.
Most importantly to honor “Hometown Legend” Robert “Bob” Mitchell, who was a pitcher for the Kansas City Monarchs and a teammate of the legendary Satchel Paige. Bob now resides in Tampa, Florida and serves as Coordinator of the Communications Network for the National Negro Baseball League.
At the suggestion of Bob Mitchell, former resident and spokesman for the Negro Baseball League, the Reunion Committee entertained 26 former baseball players with the assistance of Robert Robenecker, Manager of the West Palm Beach Municipal Baseball Stadium. The group was housed in the Omni Hotel, had a clubhouse reception, were introduced individually at the last Major League baseball game at the West Palm Beach Stadium, and were given an awards banquet. This event gave the community an opportunity to meet players of the Satchel Page era, get their autographs, and to be photographed with them.
As we planned the event, an Awards Banquet at the Omni Hotel for August 30th, we were stunned to know that more than Bob and the six players we were planning for wanted to attend. The players have been traveling and have been honored around the country as a group and they all were anxious to come to West Palm Beach. Our problem was that they required a professional fee and expenses. The Reunion Committee has no special grants and out entire program is funded by our membership, who like the players are retirees and on fixed incomes.
The West Palm Beach Expos were to play their last evening game in municipal stadium on August 29th, so we thought that presenting the Living Legends at that game would be an excellent promotion, if we could get the Expos to become a Sponsor.
The Expos were busy building a new stadium in Jupiter. We appealed to the City, the county and to several community organizations. All felt that we did not have enough time to accomplish our goal, but we are a praying group and kept our focus.
The nature of the program lent itself to wide scale publicity. Tom Collins with the Palm Beach Post wrote an article that indicated that the Awards Banquet may be canceled for lack of support. Channel 12 , Channel 5, and Al Baker of WRLX Radio brought our case to the attention of baseball lovers, who felt we could not let this opportunity pass to present the “living Legends” in the Palm Beach county area.
BASEBALL LOVERS TO THE RESCUE WEEKS BEFORE THE EVENT
Robert Robenecker, General Manager of the Expos, agreed to become a program sponsor. He gave us the opportunity to use his office, staff secretary, and whatever was needed to make the program a success. We wanted to have as many Little Leaguers as possible meet these legends., so we visited coaches at all of the local parks. We were successful in getting Pratt Whitney and The Republican Party of Palm Beach county to sponsor tables for the Al Tatum Little League.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 29th
The players began arriving at the Omni Hotel about 10:00AM. Pat Patterson and Willie James Lee had driven in from Alabama on Thursday evening. Honoree Bob Mitchell and his lovely wife Wanda arrived in time for his press conference at noon. Soon the lobby at the Omni was alive with laughter and stories of the great ones as these old timers gathered for the event, including Albertus Fennar, Arthur Hamilton, Clifford Brown, Walter Gibbons, John Kennedy, Eugene White, Booker T. Robinson, Jackson Owens, Eli Williams, Herbert Barnhill, Roderick Silva, Sydney Wynn, Billy Felder, Willie Williams, and Al Eady.
The players and guests were transported by Annette Charter to the Pleasant City Heritage Gallery. After a brief lecture on the history of Pleasant city, reviewing the exhibits, artifacts and memorabilia, the group was treated to a delicious buffet sponsored by Yvonne Peterman and the World Famous Restaurant, followed by the Heritage Gallery's traditional champagne toast and a photo shoot without photographer, David Preston, it was back to the hotel and time to get ready for a very busy evening.
The V.I.P. Reception, held in the Erte Suite of the Omni Hotel, provided a wonderful opportunity for sponsors to network with each other, to meet the players, get their autographs, share baseball tales and purchase memorabilia. The Reception was sponsored by Bell South. Brown Distributing Company provided a continuous flow of their best beer, fruit punch, a table laden with fresh fruit, various cheeses, and hot & cold hors d'oeuvres.
The group proceeded down to main ballroom where a large crowd was entertained by board members Edgar Mae Worthy and Frances Clarke, home from her administrative duties at BET, Washington , D.C.
The banquet program was off to a good start with Master of Ceremonies and WPEC TV News Anchor Bob Nichols presiding. Popular West Palm Beach Diva, Iona Gamble, led the body in singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. Board Member, Dr. Leah Gaskin Fitchue gave the invocation.
Music throughout the evening was provided by M.R. William T with a Touch of Debonnaire, who mesmerized the crowd with his musical renditions and showmanship. The guest speaker, former St. Louis Cardinal and Hall of Famer Lou Brock was introduced by Robert Robenecker, General Manager of the Expos. Proclamations in honor of the Living Legends and our honoree were presented by Palm Beach county commissioner Maude Ford Lee, Gloria Shuttleworth representing Wet Palm Beach Mayor Nancy Graham and Riviera Beach Mayor Clara Williams. Norman Jones, sports reporter from Columbus, Ohio, who came down to cover the event for The Black Press gave the history of the Negro Baseball League.
The Reunion committee and Heritage Gallery presented Certificates of Appreciation to program sponsors. Among this prestigious group of financial institutions, businesses and professional leaders were: Bell South, Montreal Expos/St. Louis Cardinals Joint Venture, WPEC Channel 12 TV, Brown Distributing company, Palm Beach County commission, Matthew Mierzwa and Associates, Republican Party of Palm Beach County, Florida Power and Light, Dixie Printing, Fidelity Federal, Kenneth Mager, Pratt & Whitney, Palm Beach Post, WPTV channel 5 and Sign-A-Rama. From Roger Dean Stadium: H.O.H. Architects, P.S.I. Testing Engineers, Brian Dickey, Steele Hocter & Davis, Anastasi Manonary, N.C.N. Electric, Case Contracting, B.C.H. Mechanical, Inc. Dickerson Florida, Inc., and Graham Plastering, Inc.
A surprise chorus of “Happy Birthday to You” was sung by everyone to Living Legend Roderick Silva, celebrating his 85th birthday and our illustrious Master of Ceremonies, Bob Nichols. Ellis Goldberg, manager of the Awards Center, designed the plaque for the Honoree and designed the special medallion with the likeness of Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby that was presented to each legend.Door prizes and awards presented by the Expos included Honorary Bat Boy for the Cardinals, Expos, and Florida State League games, autographed baseballs and spring training tickets.
As the Living Legends prepared to leave West Palm Beach and in notes from some of them since they were here, they declared that the Reunion here in our city was the best and most memorable, including the 765th anniversary celebration in Kansas City, Missouri. The West Palm Beach Commissioner Ike Robinson and others invited Bob Mitchell and others to come back to the area for a celebration naming Coleman Park in honor of George Coleman and, and we the Sponsors of this great event a memorial to make Coleman Park a memorial to the Baseball league, were not invited. The credit that has been due our organization has been denied.
The members of the Pleasant city Family Reunion Committee and Heritage Gallery are so pleased that we had the opportunity to present such as outstanding program and are so very grateful to the many sponsors and friend who helped to make it possible. Any material or photos included in this presentation is copyrighted and cannot be used or redistributed without the written consent of the Pleasant City Family Reunion Committee.