Frank Onder: 'PAL' to generations of Fairfield youth
Over the years, the Fairfield Police Athletic League has gone through many changes. Programs like the rifle or sewing clubs have given way to sand-sculpting contests and travel field hockey teams.
One constant has been the annual Fishing Derby each April at Gould Manor Park. Another has been Frank Onder, a retired police officer who has been involved with PAL since its inception about six decades ago.
Following his honorable discharge after service in the U.S. Army, which included a combat deployment to Korea, Fairfield native Onder returned home and joined the Fairfield Police Department in 1953. In 1958, a fledgling organization for local kids officially became PAL.
Onder , who currently is PAL's treasurer, has served as a director of the group that became PAL since 1954. He will be honored for his long commitment during Monday's Memorial Day Parade, riding in a convertible with his wife Marion, behind the Police Department's color guard.
Asked why he got involved with the youth group all those years ago, the answer is easy: "Sports take a lot of time," Onder said. "If a kid plays sports, it takes up their time and keeps them out of trouble. That's why I joined PAL."
Onder's been trying, jokes PAL Secretary Bob Seirup, to resign as treasurer for 20 years.
"If I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't stay." Onder admitted.
One of the long-gone PAL activities was a marching band. "The kids didn't know how to play any of the drums when it started," Onder recalled. "At the end of the year, 40 kids were playing beautifully."
PAL's activities have "morphed with the kids," Seirup said. "We used to have a stamp club, a sewing club. We started up a baseball card collecting club."
Onder's own three daughters, now grown, weren't that interested in PAL, he recalled. "Except with carrying the banner or flag in the parade, that was about the extent," Onder said. "My middle daughter did play softball about 20 years ago.
There was even a bicycle repair club. "That was a good one," Onder said. "Times have changed."
And it wasn't just PAL that Onder helped to found, Seirup said. "Frank started up the Little League" organization in town, Seirup said, and he also helped to establish the Police Explorers.
Times may have changed, but one thing has held steady, said PAL President Officer Gary Wikman. "He's basically the face of PAL. This guy here showed me the ropes. He's a great asset."