There is only one tent at the Sandwich Fair occupied by the same man and his family since 1937, and the sign in front says “Fritsch’s Oasis and Conversation Station.”
Lyle Fritsch, now 98, and his late brother Wiley originally rented the tent space to advertise their seed corn business Fritsch Brothers Hybrids, but once they gave up the business in 1955, they still decided to rent space for the tent.
“It was a good spot for our kids to find us and meet family and friends,” Fritsch said this week. His daughter, Pam, told me he has eight children, 13 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren, which pretty much fills up the tent if they all come to the fair at the same time.
Located on the east side of the grounds, just west of Ticket Booth One, near the Wick building, the family welcomes friends and newcomers to come in and sit a while. Fritsch himself presides over the gathering in his easy chair or a lawn chair. He said his family has entered something in the fair every year since the 1930s through last year. He began growing a special white, small-kernel sweet corn which he has entered and won ribbons for. He said his favorite part of the fair is the horticulture exhibits.
Being a lifelong farmer that is not unexpected.
But Fritsch had two other brief careers in the early years – pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals semipro farm team and serving in the Army Air Forces during World War II. He even got a moniker during his baseball career, “Fireman Fritsch,” for his skill throwing a fast ball that burned into the catcher’s glove. The local fire department in Sioux City, Iowa, where his team played, made him an honorary fireman with a ceremony holding an arch of crossed axes for him to walk through.
“It got a loud cheer from the crowd,” he said.
That career ended when Uncle Sam called and he went into the service.
Assigned to C-47 transport planes as a mechanic, he saw action all over Africa and parts of southern Europe. Those stories could fill several more columns. But when he was mustered out, he had injured his pitching arm in a minor plane crash, so he never found out how far he could have gone in the majors.
Now about the connection with Stan Musial: When playing in Sioux City, they needed to borrow some uniforms and he was given the one that had belonged to Stan Musial. That is his only link to “Stan the Man,” and he wishes he could have kept it.
If you visit the Fritsch family oasis at the fair this weekend, he will be glad to share more stories, ranging from World War II and his baseball days to sweet corn and his ever-expanding family.
Feel free to stop by and say hello.