After businessman William G. Rohrer saw the Yankees play in the first game of the 1923 World Series, he sent his 13-year-old son, Bill Jr., a postcard.
Dear Bill, he wrote, Some crowd some game saw Babe Ruth make a three-bagger. Hope you win your bet. Daddy. XXXXX
Nearly a century later, history buff and postcard collector Alfonso Garbayo discovered the Babe Ruth card and nearly 60 others addressed to Bill Jr. in a collection he had acquired. “I realized there was a cool narrative here," said Garbayo, "and I wanted to find out more.”
Thanks to his curiosity, he has given three generations of a prominent South Jersey family a deeper sense of the past they share.
Bill Jr. ran Rohrer Chevrolet on Admiral Wilson Boulevard in Camden for decades, founded a bank, and was mayor of Haddon Township for 36 years. He died in 1989, but his name lives on through the William G. Rohrer Charitable Foundation, created under the terms of his will and which supports educational, medical, recreational, and other facilities across South Jersey.
But Garbayo, 57, a health care analytics professional based in Middletown, Del., wasn’t familiar with the Rohrer name. To learn more, he went online and spotted a 2011 column I had written about the foundation. He sent me an email, and I put him in touch with the foundation, which connected him with Rohrer’s granddaughter Stacey Vail, and her mother, Linda Rohrer, who is Bill’s daughter. And in October, Garbayo gifted the family with the cards, which he had assembled into an album.
“I never knew my grandfather, who died when my father was just 25. But my father loved baseball and now I see the connection, the heritage," Linda, 72, said recently at Vail’s home in Haddonfield.
“From these postcards, I get a feeling about their relationships," she said. " I always called my father ‘daddy,’ and he called his father ‘daddy.’ When I read that, it gave me chills.”
Vail was moved, too.
“I was close with my grandfather, but I only knew my great-grandfather as a picture on the wall," said Vail, as her son Griffin perused the album of Rohrer postcards. Seeing the name Babe Ruth on one of the cards “was crazy,” said Griffin, a Haddonfield Middle School seventh-grader who enjoys baseball.
The cards themselves were exotic to Griffin, who has never sent or received a postcard, preferring to use the Snapchat app.
“These postcards are how people used to keep in touch,” said Vail, 45, who works in pharmaceutical marketing and hasn’t sent or received a postcard in years. The handwritten messages and quaint, almost painterly images on these little pieces of mail attest to a more resonant and enduring mode of communication "that doesn’t exist now,” she added. “Now, it’s texts.”
Most of the postcards in the album offer colorful images of tourist spots from New York to California and were mailed to Bill Jr. between 1923 and 1947 by relatives, friends, and neighbors. Several satisfied customers of the car dealership Rohrer inherited after his dad died sent him chatty cards about how well their new vehicles were doing. “People always stayed connected with my grandfather,” said Vail.
“This one is from my father’s sister,” said Linda, flipping the album’s pages. “This is from my grandparents to my father. Some of these people only signed their first names, and we don’t know who they are.”
"My father was a saver,” Linda said. “He saved everything.”
But after his death, postcards she and her sisters had apparently never seen were sold after the family homestead was emptied out. The cards eventually wound up in Delaware, and then in Garbayo’s hands.
As he sat at Vail’s dining room table, Garbayo — whose enthusiasm is contagious — pointed out favorites among the Rohrer postcards as well as others he had brought along. He especially likes old-time views of the majestic hotels along the Atlantic City boardwalk and said he has long wanted to connect individual postcards with descendants of those who sent or received them.
Being able to do so with a sizable number of postcards and make new friends in the bargain, Garbayo said, “was beyond my wildest dreams.”
Said Vail: “It’s like a piece of our family history made its way, away for us. And found its way back.”