Ernie Friese                         

Written: Sept. 2005

It isn't until you decide to do an autobiography that you begin to realize all of the things that have happened to you or influenced your life in some way.  It was just this exercise that started my my exploration into my past.  Part of that search raised questions such as "WHY?", "WHAT IF?", "SUPPOSE", along with a host of other interrogatives.  To some, you have answers; to most, however, you still have lingering wonder.  I believe the best course is to jump in with both feet and see where the trail leads.

I grew up in Tottenville, unaware, for the longest time, that Staten Island wasn't part of New Jersey; after all, Mom took me on the ferry to Perth Amboy anytime big holiday shopping was necessary, all of my relatives lived on the other end of the Outerbridge Crossing (I somehow failed to comprehend why there wasn't an "Innerbridge Crossing").  Outings to Wolf's Pond Park were major excursions.  Heavens, Great Kills was the "end of my world".  The Billop House was a treat especially when I was allowed to roll down the lawn toward the beach.

Elementary school (P.S. #1) was an eye opener for me.  On reaching the upper grades, 6th, 7th and 8th, I came across teachers that had taught my father when he was in elementary school; not a fond memory.  You see, my Dad emigrated from Germany at the age of twelve and my grandparents felt the best way for him to be assimilated into the American culture was to enter main stream education.  Unfortunately, he spoke no English and consequently was always in trouble for not obeying instructions.  My fate at the hands of his former educators was painful at times, embarrassing at others.  My first day of school in 7th grade earned me a slap in the face from my teacher before I even removed my jacket.  "That's to remind you that I will not tolerate another Friese's misbehavior."  I discovered that my Dad's older brother had also had this teacher under the same conditions.  One of my biggest pleasures in elementary school was music class . . . not the one where you listen to scratchy phonograph records of "To a Wild Rose" or "Barcarole from the Tales of Hoffman" . . . the one where you learned to play a real musical instrument.  Mine happened to be the Cello.  It was here that I learned to read music and appreciate the sounds that I could make.

High School was a shock to a neophyte's senses.  All these sophomores, juniors and seniors were bigger than I was, even the girls.  All the freshmen were kids I had never seen before.  They came from strange places; Huguenot, Annadale, Princes Bay, good grief, Great Kills.  Did they talk differently?;  Did they dress differently?;  Did they beat up little kids from Tottenville?

Fortunately, fears were a lot worse than reality.  Some of the best friends I ever had came from among those "strange new kids from outside Tottenville".  I don't know if my enjoyment of music had anything to do with these friendships or not.  I like to think that it did.  I had so enjoyed the experience of learning to play an instrument, I wanted that pleasure to continue.  As a freshman, I enrolled in Agnes Bubb's "music school".  Since I had my fill of lugging that Cello home and back, I wanted something smaller.  Drums were not appealing to me, horns were not appealing to my family.  I settled, finally, on the Clarinet.  After the first semester, I even got to experiment with an Oboe.  By my Sophomore year, I was good enough to join the Band.  The rest is history.

When graduation came, it was tough to move on.  I had learned that I lived in a microcosmic corner of the great metropolis, New York City.  I had been accepted at CCNY School of Engineering.  In case you didn't know, that's at 139th Street and Convent Avenue in Harlem.  I had only been to the city two or three times in my life let alone to Harlem.  From the southernmost part of the city to, almost, the northernmost . . . and I would have to commute this trek every day . . . 1 hour on the S.I.R.T., 30 minutes on the ferry, 20 minutes on the I.R.T. 7th Avenue local to Chambers Street, 45 minutes on the express to 96th Street, another 25 minutes on the local to 137th Street.  Only to repeat the trip in reverse at the end of the day.  Oh! How I hated those 8:00 am and 4:00 pm classes.  R.O.T.C. classes and drills usually occupied the early time slots.  Not living on campus meant commuting in uniform.  I lost count of the number of times I was "propositioned" (by both sexes).

While in the early college years, I never lost my passion for music.  I continued playing with the South Shore Community Band.  I began Accordion lessons.  Eventually, I even took lessons on the Organ, becoming well enough accomplished to fill in as church organist in a pinch.  To this day, I still play the Accordion and a Roland Keyboard.

After receiving an Associates degree in Mechanical Engineering, I transferred to Bloomfield College in Bloomfield, New Jersey.  I suppose the stark realities of the "Big City" had effected me to the point that I wanted to "save mankind's soul" single handedly.  I enrolled in this Presbyterian College's Theology program and minored in foreign languages.  I graduated in 1965 with a Bachelor of Arts degree which I took with me to New York Theological Seminary in midtown Manhattan.  There, I continued my theological training as well as my language education.  Part of the curriculum called for field work . . . serve in a church in some meaningful capacity.  I did as I was directed.  For the next two years, I served as Youth Pastor at New Dorp Moravian Church, as Associate Pastor at Christ Methodist Church in Port Richmond, as substitute Pastor for St. Paul's Methodist Church in Tottenville, Bethel Methodist Church in Tottenville and St. Mark's Methodist Church in Pleasant Plains.  During this time, I held a "Local Preacher's License" from the Newark Conference of the United Methodist Church allowing me to perform marriages and inter the deceased.

Serving in these churches was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.  It was at New Dorp Moravian Church that I met Adelaide ("Dell") Knoud who was to become my wife in 1967.  I also learned a painful spiritual lesson.  I learned that vanity and spiritual corruption are as insidious in the church as they are in secular society.  After 2 years in seminary, I left my religious studies but took with me, a Master's Degree in Education.

Dell and I married in 1967.  No sooner had we returned from our honeymoon in the Pocono's, than Uncle Sam demanded some of my time.  Grudgingly but dutifully, I served 2 tours in Viet Nam with the U.S. Army, 101st Airborne Rangers.  Unlike so many of my comrades, I managed to come home.

Arrival home meant starting a family.  Our son, Paul, was born in 1970, on Elvis Presley's birthday, January 8th.  While Paul was "baking in the oven", I worked as a banker with Chase Manhattan Bank, attaining the position of Assistant Cashier/Assistant Branch Manager.  I spent most of Chase career in Brooklyn (by then the "gangplank" had been erected) but after an extremely bloody robbery of my bank office in Williamsburg, I decided anyplace was safer for my family than NYC.

In 1974, we relocated to Esperance, New York.  Where is Esperance?  What is Esperance? How big is Esperance?  All valid questions; all answered the same way . . . "the most idyllic place the good Lord could have created for raising a family".  The "Village of Esperance (meaning Hope)" was located 85 miles west of Albany, 60 miles west of Schenectady, and 30 miles south of Amsterdam.  A village 4 blocks long by 3 blocks wide with a population of 278.  It was in Duanesburg, a town 10 miles to the east that I continued my banking career.  I served as Assistant Treasurer and Branch Manager of the Central National Bank of Canajoharie.  We had a beautiful 150 year old farm home which Dell and I were restoring as funds were available.  In 1978 and 1979 the fuel oil crisis hit.  You know you're in trouble when the monthly oil bill is more than double your mortgage payment.  I diligently sent out resumes to banks in the south . . . I wasn't going to live in a climate where the thermometer didn't rise above zero for 3 months straight . . . I was ready for warm.

1980 brought us an offer of a job from the Hendry County Bank in LaBelle, Florida.  Gee, sounds like Esperance . . . Where is it?; What is it?; and How big is it?  LaBelle (French for "the beautiful" ? ? ?), but the name is not as romantic as it sounded . . . the city was named by it's founder, Capt. J. C. Hendry after his two daughters, Laura and Belle.  The town population was approximately 3,500 and was situated halfway between Ft. Myers on the gulf coast and Lake Okeechobee on the east.  Here I served as Assistant Vice President, Commercial Loan Officer and Manager of Information Systems.  ? ? ? ? ? Excuse me, where did M.I.S. come from?

The 80's were a period of computer super-development.  Processors were becoming smaller, prices were falling and "in-house data processing" was within range for the smaller, independent bank.  Since I had taken a tour of the computer processing center when I worked for Chase, I immediately had more experience in computers than anyone at Hendry County Bank.  I took courses at the University of South Florida and Ohio State University in data processing and programming attaining my Associates Degree in Computer Sciences.  During the time I was learning about computers, I was teaching as an Adjunct Professor of Banking and Commercial Law at the University of South Florida.  In 1987, I, along with 6 other gentlemen, found a new bank in Ft. Myers, Florida called South Florida Bank.  The bank grew rapidly in assets to the point it became a prime target for a buy-out by a larger bank.

In 1988, Paul graduated from high school and by September, he was in Lackland Air Force Base, in Texas, taking basic training.  Once completing advanced training at Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois, he reported to his duty assignment at Andrews Air Force Base.  We were so proud of him . . . he was given top security clearance and assigned to the ground support crew for Air Force One.  He spent five years at Andrews.  During his tour he met and married a young lady from Russia.  A year later, Paul, Jr. became our first grandchild.  In 1993, he was transferred to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany


3 generations of Friese       Taryn Friese       Nathan Friese

Meanwhile, it was time for me to move on.  I took a position as Executive Vice President and C.E.O. of Clewiston National Bank in Clewiston, Florida.  Eighteen months later, it was bought out.

Twice within three years, I was outside, looking for another position.  I was getting older and jobs were getting more difficult to find.  I read an ad for a business manager at a private prison being built no too far from the bank that was just bought out.  I applied.  Surprise of all surprises, I got the job.  In 1995, I began my corrections career.  Shortly after completing the start-up of this prison, I enrolled in the University of Central Florida's Criminal Justice program.  After two years of night school, I received my Associates Degree in Criminal Justice.  I also became certified as a Law Enforcement Officer with the Florida Department of law Enforcement.  I was promoted to Assistant Warden of the prison in Moore Haven, Florida.

After setting up prisons in Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Puerto Rico, I transferred to set up a new facility in Adelanto, California where I became Warden when it opened in December of 1997.

In November of 2002, I began having symptoms of heart problems.  I took the advice given and retired.  Not content to sit around and watch the "soaps", I started my own business, "Creative Dimensions in Wood", designing and building custom wood furniture for neuromuscularly challenged children.  My backlog runs out over ten months.  I also read two or three times a week to first and second graders a local elementary schools besides doing drafting for several local architects.  Dell continues to work and looks forward to our 40th anniversary in 2007 as well as her retirement the same year.

I'm looking forward to the THS class of 1960 50th reunion.  I haven't been to any before, but if the good Lord allows, I'll attend this one.

 Ernie Friese

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