Interview with Regis C. McNamara
Is Part Of
Broome County Oral History Project
Interview with: Regis C. McNamara
Interviewed by: Dan O’Neil
Date of interview: 27 April 1978
Dan: OK, Reggie, would you start out telling me about your life and experiences and working experiences in the community starting with your date and place of birth?
Reggie: Well I was born in ah Pittsburgh, PA, February 2nd, 1908 and ah I lived, I lived there very shortly and I came to ah Binghamton, NY, during ah the First World War, about 1918 and ah all my preliminary education was in the Binghamton School system—I went to Thomas Jefferson School, grade school, and Binghamton Central High School and ah—
Dan: Pardon me. [checks tape recorder] OK, go ahead.
Reggie: I played ah ah I played ah football for the Binghamton Central High School and then from Central High School, I went to the University of Notre Dame and ah at that time ah Notre Dame had a ah worldwide reputation as a ah football school as well as a good educational school and I, I matriculated at the University of Notre Dame ah I can remember I paid ah my first year’s tuition out there which took care of my board, room and tuition was $800. I’d earned the $800 ah myself ah working as a newsboy for the Binghamton Press and as workin summers on various laboring jobs. Laboring jobs were mostly to keep in shape for football, were in the fall seasons. Ah while at Notre Dame ah my course was, I took up Civil Engineering and ah by playing football at Notre Dame, I played in two National Championships football teams in 1929 and 1930—that was under Knute Rockne.
Dan: And who were some of your teammates, Reggie?
Reggie: Ah the team ah some of my teammates were ah ah Frank Carrideo—
Reggie: —who was ah an All American and was one of the ah ah best ah place kickers and punters that I've ever seen in my career of watching football.
Dan: Uh huh.
Reggie: Better than professional football like and ah I don't say that just because ah I knew Frank but for a long time in professional football they never believed in kicking out of bounds. Now, professional football has got back to kicking out of bounds but Carrideo had perfected it while he was at Notre Dame and he was a real professional when it came to kicking the ball out of bounds. Ah Marchie Swartz was another ah ah one of my players on that team. Marty Brill who was the ah—Swartz was the left halfback and Brill was the right halfback and ah we had a center was Tim Monahan and we had a couple of ends by the name of Cord and ah Marty Beezy and ah then ah I also played with what they called the shock troops during those days. Rockne had introduced the shock troops to football which was something new ah to football. The idea of the shock troops was that they would go in and play the first half, the shock troops, and try and wear down the opposition—then the other team would come in and try to score on the opposition. The shock troops were back in the third quarter with and the same idea in mind was to wear them down and then the other team would come in the fourth quarter with the hopes of scoring.
Dan: Uh huh.
Reggie: And it worked successfully for ah two seasons because we were National Championship in 1929 and 1930.
Dan: Uh huh—they didn't have the platoon system at that time?
Reggie: No, there was no platoon system, you played ah both ways.
Dan: Uh huh.
Reggie: You played on offense and defense.
Dan: Uh huh.
Reggie: And ah one of the things that ah I really believed in those days and I think they should change in the ah back to it and that was the leather helmet. The ah leather helmet was safe and it gave you plenty of protection to any blows to the head.
Reggie: As a matter of fact, in those days, they used to allow the opponents to hit you on the head. Today you can't hit your opponent on the—it's been ruled out and still they have these ah plastic helmets which do more damage than do good. The point of ah the opponents use the plastic helmets to ah to hit your opponent on the arms or legs or in the stomach and oftentimes you can bruise a muscle that would put a player out for maybe a month or two or even break an arm or so with a plastic helmet and to me I see no reason why they should use a plastic helmet today, ah.
Dan: What position did you play, Reggie?
Reggie: I played left tackle.
Dan: Left tackle.
Reggie: Left tackle and ah the other player that played right tackle on the shock troops was Frank Leahy, who later became ah the coach of Notre Dame and was the second coach ah in the history of football that had a record similar to Rockne's. Rockne, as far as I'M concerned and it maybe ah it may be a football record—Rockne was the first coach and then I believe Leahy was the second, had the best record in football. I'm not sure of that but ah that's my recollection remembrance ah Frank was ah ah a fella that got hurt very easily.
Dan: Uh huh.
Reggie: He ah I believe his first year at Notre Dame he was a center and he ah got hurt—he got hurt and was out most of the season and when he played ah tackle, he got hurt too and ah ah and when his football days were over, he spent some time at Mayo Clinic with Rockne and they were both in the hospital at the same time and ah I believe that’s where Leahy got the desire to become a coach and also got a lot of Rockne's ah secrets.
Dan: Now Rockne died in 1931.
Reggie: It was 1931.
Reggie: Yeah when Rock—
Dan: And who succeeded him?
Reggie: Hunk Anderson.
Dan: Hunk Anderson.
Reggie: Succeeded Rockne—Hunk at the time was the ah was the ah was one of the assistant coaches that coached the line.
Dan: I see.
Reggie: And then he succeeded Rockne and they had another player there—was a backfield coach, Jack Sheven, who was later killed in the World War II ah Jack was a great player and also a great coach at Notre Dame.
Dan: Uh huh—what kind of a man was Rockne, personally?
Reggie: Rock was a, he was, he was a nice guy to ah, ah to meet. Matter of fact everybody, everybody liked him when they met him but he was a real tough man when it came to teaching young guys on the football team—in other words you were only out there for maybe an hour and a half or two hours practicing and it was all, all work—there was no such thing as play—it was all work.
Dan: Now you spoke of your first year—it cost you $800 room and board, did they have such a thing as scholarships in those days?
Reggie: They had scholarships in those days but not, not too many. I can remember ah—I didn't have a scholarship when I went out there—I went out there because I heard of Notre Dame's reputation—well I thought I'd take a chance.
Dan: I see.
Reggie: And ah the first day when we were supposed to report to football, it was on a Sunday and to get our uniforms and so I think there was something like ah a thousand guys in line to get a football suit and ah I finally, I was, was told to get over there early and ah I was about 50th in line and ah—No, I was about 10th in line. I, I and then the coach, Rockne, came over with the Freshman football coach and ah he said, now ah our Freshman football coach that year was Bo Poliski—he had been a tackle on the Notre Dame team the previous year and he told Bo, he says, “Bo, you go up and down this line and pick out some fellas you think can ah make your Freshman football," and ah Rockne picked out one guy himself and says, "Some guys like this," and then ah Bo started to ah pick the men out and ah there must have been 50 guys in the next line. Bo finally picked me out—I think that's the only way I got a uniform because he picked me out.
Dan: Yeah—you played football all four years you were there?
Reggie: Ah yes, yes I did—I played Freshman and my 3 years as Sophomore, Junior and Senior, then I was later—ah I didn't graduate when I was supposed to in '32 so I had an extra year and ah I was, I helped coach the Freshman team out there. We ah we taught, we had in those days—the Freshmen used to play just one game—it’s like a reward for them ah efforts of being banged around by the Varsity all year long. Today I think they do play a schedule—in those days, they just played the one game.
Dan: Umum. Now after your graduation from Notre Dame, where did you go, Reggie?
Reggie: Well ah I went ah, my father was living in Pittsburgh at the time and I went home to Pittsburgh.
Reggie: And ah that was in 1932, ‘33, 1933 and that was at the height of the Depression and ah I had no, I had no job or anything—no prospects of getting any job ah but at about that time the ah the professional team of the Pittsburgh Steelers was formed and ah I ah I had a tryout with the Steelers.
Dan: Uh huh.
Reggie: And ah I didn't, I didn't make the team but—[Wife reminds him of 3 o'clock appointment]—I didn't, I didn't make the team but ah ah I remember the salaries that they paid. They used to pay $50 a game. If you had made it, of course you'd get paid $50 a game and they had I think they had three stars on the team that were under contract—what they got I don't know but the rest of the fellows, it was $50 a game.
Dan: Uh huh.
Reggie: And ah course today the Pittsburgh Steelers is quite a team.
Dan: Oh they are, they are.
Reggie: But ah then I, I as I say, I couldn't, I couldn't get ah work in Pittsburgh, I finally came back to Binghamton and my first job was ah working for ah IBM and ah as I say I was a graduate engineer from the University of Notre Dame. I couldn't get a job as an engineer and there was a, I was able to ah talk my way in with the assistance of some friends and I got a job with IBM for $20, or what did I tell you I was getting.
Dan: 50, 40 or 50.
Reggie: Ah let’s see now, $2.00, I was getting $2 an hour, that was it.
Dan: $2.00 an hour.
Reggie: $2.00 an hour, yeah I think that’s what I got, I think.
Dan: Was it a forty hour week?
Reggie: Yes it was a forty hour week.
Dan: So you were getting $80 a week?
Reggie: Something like that.
Dan: Yeah—that was what year, about '34 or '35, Reggie?
Reggie: Ah I think it was around '34.
Reggie: ‘34 or ‘5.
Dan: Was—what job did you do down there?
Reggie: Oh I was what you call a pickup boy—I picked up material, putting them on a truck and delivering to one department and delivering them to another department.
Dan: Yeah, yeah.
Reggie: It wasn't my profession as an engineer.
Reggie: Well I finally the ah I got a job in the ah the New York State Department at Chenango Valley State Park as an engineer.
Dan: What year was that?
Reggie: That was about 1935, I believe.
Dan: Uh huh.
Reggie: I worked along with the CCC boys.
Dan: Oh yes.
Reggie: Teaching them surveying and then also doing design work for the Parks Department and then ah after that ah I would ah—I'd some work for the Army engineers and then after that I worked for the City of Binghamton.
Dan: What year did you start with the City?
Reggie: Ah I think it was 1922 that I first started.
Dan: Ah, no.
Reggie: Oh wait a minute, not ‘22 ah was just before the War, 1942.
Reggie: 1942, yeah—I worked for the City as Deputy City Engineer and then ah later on I became the City Engineer.
Reggie: And I was 16 years City Engineer of the City of Binghamton.
Dan: Umum. Now all told how many years were you with the City?
Reggie: I think it totaled up something like 22 years.
Dan: 22 years.
Reggie: 22 years I was with the City.
Dan: Uh huh. Did you go into Service at all?
Reggie: Yes, ah ah I left the, I left the City when I was Deputy City Engineer to ah join the Navy and ah I took my indoctrination at Harvard University and ah I was assigned to Corpus Christi ah flying aviation field and ah from there I ah, I, I wasn't in what they call a construction battalion at that time but later joined up with the construction battalions and from there ah from Corpus Christi I was sent overseas as a Lieutenant in charge of what they call a CBMU, that's a Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit, that was five officers and 200 men and ah I was the Commanding Officer, and I spent time in the Pacific area in Wallace Island and ah ah British Samoa. Then after I came out of the Pacific, I spent time with ah ah down in New Orleans ah as a Public Works officer down there.
Reggie: And then I was honorably discharged and ah I came back to Binghamton and ah I started a consulting engineering business and I worked at that for a while and then I was ah I became a City Engineer.
Dan: City Engineer.
Reggie: City Engineer of the City of Binghamton.
Dan: Uh huh, but you were an assistant at first—right?
Reggie: I was the Deputy City Engineer.
Dan: Uh huh and that was prior to the War and right after—you got a leave of absence to enter the War?
Reggie: That’s right, yeah.
Dan: OK, yeah, and what was your salary starting out as a Deputy, Reggie, if it's not too personal?
Reggie: No, it's not too personal. I'm trying to think ah it wasn't very much ah it seems like it was around maybe $8000 a year, something like that.
Dan: And then as a Civil Engineer at the time of your retirement, what had it gone to?
Reggie: Well ah as a even as City Engineer I think I only made ah as high as 12 or $13,000.
Dan: Is that right? Now was this a Civil Service position?
Dan: You didn't have to take—
Regrie: No it was an appointive position.
Dan: And you were appointed by who?
Reggie: I was appointed by Don Kramer who was the Mayor at that time.
Dan: Uh huh.
Reggie: And I think that was in 19, 1955, I believe.
Dan: 1955 and you retired—what year?
Reggie: Ah well I didn't retire—I was the ah the ah opposition party that had control of ah City Hall I think it was in 1960. That would make it about 16 years anyhow or ‘66, something like that, ‘66, 1966 and ah they appointed their Engineer so then I went back to my consulting engineering business.
Dan: I see, yeah.
Reggie: And then I worked at that for a while and from there I ah I had various positions ah with the New York State—I worked in the New York State Office of General Service. I worked on the, as an engineer, on the Municipal or State Office building over here in the center of Binghamton and from there I ah worked on various ah ah buildings like the new Post Office building—I worked for an architect on that and then I worked on for the Broome ah up here on Glenwood Avenue.
Dan: Oh yeah, the retarded to the Broome Developmental Center.
Dan: Or was it BOCES?
Reggie: No not BOCES, it’s the school for the—
Dan: The retarded.
Reggie: The retarded children.
Dan: Yeah—that's Broome Developmental.
Reggie: Oh is that what it is?
Reggie: Well I worked on that ah for one of the contractors I guess and then later after that I worked for the New York State Housing and Community Development ah ah as a Code Engineer.
Dan: I see—did you work in conjunction with Dorothy Titchner at all?
Dan: You didn't?
Dan: Because she was the Housing Authority.
Reggie: She was the Housing Authority and ah no my, you see my area working for the housing ah people were in the Code Sections.
Dan: Code Sections.
Reggie: Yes and I used to travel the ah western section of New York State to visit building inspectors to ah answer any questions they may have concerning the New York State building code.
Dan: I see.
Reggie: And then after that I ah, I retired.
Dan: Uh huh—that was in what year would you say?
Reggie: Well let’s see about 3 years now ah.
Dan: 3 years—'75.
Reggie: About '75.
Dan: Yeah but as a civil engineer, what was your duties—the City Engineer?
Reggie: Well as City Engineer you were responsible ah to see ah that the streets were properly paved, new sewers were put in ah repairs of ah of ah structures and also the building of new structures, the letting of contracts for incinerators, water filtration plants, sewage disposal plants.
D an: Uh huh so you worked probably with ah Charlie Costello.
Reggie: No ah ah at that time the Water Superintendent was Cy Carmen.
Dan: Oh is that right?
Reggie: Yeah Cy Carmen was the Water Superintendent and I worked a lot with Cy.
Dan: I see.
Reggie: But ah—
Dan: Did you have anything to do with the downtown urban renewal?
Reggie: Oh yes ah as one of the officers in the City Administration ah the City Engineer was on the ah board—it was called the Urban Renewal Board and there was the City Engineer, the Mayor first, the Mayor was the chairman and the City Engineer, the Corporation Counsel, the Comptroller and ah I believe there was one other—there was 5 altogether that was on that board and ah we had to, we had to make certain decisions for urban renewal and ah I remember at the time ah the ah, ah the regional man, I can't remember his name now, he wanted me to take over the urban renewal and I, I turned it down. I didn't want any part of it although some engineers in other cities throughout the State did have both jobs—the City Engineer and also the Head of the Urban Renewal.
Reggie: I think Bill Green was the one that got the job—he took it over as Head of Urban Renewal.
Dan: Yeah but you were in office when the ah Urban Renewal built the new Post Office.
Dan: That is the Brandywine Highway and new Post Office and all of that.
Reggie: Well I was in office when all the ah I would say a great, a great ah majority of the construction was done during my 16 years. The arterial highways were all built during that time, ah the new Water Works was built, incinerator was built, the sewage disposal plant was built, the intercepting sewers were all built during my time as we built the ah we built a couple—we built one fire station, we built the Ely Park ah clubhouse up there so ah I remember it was a very active building time.
Dan: It was because since then, it has been dormant.
Reggie: “It has been dormant,” is correct.
Dan: And what do you think of the prospects of Mondev—do you think that's going to go down the tube?
Reggie: I really believe so.
Dan: You really believe so.
Reggie: I believe so, I think.
Dan: Uh huh.
Reggie: I ah I don't think Mondev is sincere and ah the reason I say that is because ah Mondev has been trying to get every possible inch that they can and of course if I was in Mondev's shoes and was a builder, I would ah maybe do the same thing because they are trying to get every possible thing that they can get.
Reggie: And I think it's about time the City of Binghamton realizes that is all they're interested in and if they don't get everything that they want they'll just drop it like a hot potato.
Dan: Well of course they have diminished the plans to the extent now that it doesn't make much difference whether they take it or leave it.
Reggie: That's correct, that's correct.
Dan: Of course in the meantime all the business has gone out to the Mall.
Reggie: Right, right.
Dan: Ah Reggie you mentioned that you were born in Pennsylvania.
Reggie: Pittsburgh, PA.
Dan: Pittsburgh, PA, and you came here in 1918 and for what reason did you come to Binghamton?
Reggie: Well my father was connected with ah ah a tire company.
Dan: Oh I see.
Reggie: He ah it started out in Gallipos, Ohio, this tire company, and then it moved to Binghamton—it was called Achilles Rubber and Tire Company—it was located at the north end of Floral Avenue.
Dan: Uh huh.
Reggie: Matter of fact it was the first tire company in the world or in the country that guaranteed their tire to go 10,000 miles. (laughter).
Dan: So, so he stayed here then.
Reggie: He stayed in Binghamton.
Dan: And then you went, you went to Central and all your grammar school and everything.
Dan: Your education was here in Binghamton. OK and do you belong to any clubs at all Reggie?
Reggie: Yes I belong to the New York State Professional Engineers ah Society and also belong to the Knights of Columbus and of course the Notre Dame Alumni and also the Notre Dame Monogram Club.
Reggie: I think that’s about the extent.
Dan: That’s about the extent and you're married and how many children?
Reggie: Married and I had two boys ah my youngest son was ah killed in an automobile accident and my oldest boy, John, is a professor at the University of Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.
Dan: I see.
Reggie: He's a clinical psychologist.
Reggie: Doctor of Clinical Psychologist.
Dan: Wonderful, wonderful, fine and you had your first grandchild this ah—
Reggie: Just ah, let’s see, just a couple of weeks ago.
Dan: Just a couple of weeks ago. (laughter). OK now is there anything else you would like to include in this interview Reggie before I terminate it?
Reggie: No I don't think so.
Dan: I think you have covered your working experiences quite well.
Reggie: Yes I think I have.
Dan: Uh huh but you were in office during the height of the building ah development of downtown.
Reggie: Right, right.
Dan: And since you left, why, it's and it was a politically appointed position.
Reggie: I was, yeah, uh huh.
Dan: OK fine—well thank you very much Reggie—would you like me to play this back for you?
Dan: Reggie you mentioned you wanted to make some corrections in the interview especially starting now with the starting salary you got when you first went to IBM.
Reggie: Yes ah I mentioned I got $2.00 an hour well that was a mistake, I got 20 cents an hour at that time.
Dan: OK and then you ah at Notre Dame.
Re ie: Yes the other player I would like to mention I played with out at Notre Dame was ah ah Jumping Joe Savoldi who was an All American at Notre Dame and later he played with the Chicago Bears as a football player and then after that he went into wrestling and became the World's heavyweight champion wrestler and ah he defeated ah Strangler Lewis for the championship and that ah and in those days ah that was a regular championship match—as you know today wrestling is more of a—
Dan: —a show.
Reggie: —a show more than anything else but not in those days, they were championship matches.
Dan: Right, right. Thank you Reggie.