The Joseph A. Ferko String Band didn't rely on William J. Wicker just to help make the backpieces that its captains wore up Broad Street on New Year's Day.

"When we were doing a parade job" during the summer, "and it got really hot and we ran out of water," Mr. Wicker would hit the nearest supermarket's bottled water shelves on the run, Michael Caputo said.

Mr. Wicker played accordion with the Hegeman String Band and then the South Philadelphia String Band, but he closed out his 52-year Mummers career with the support staff of Ferko.

"Any time the club needed something being done, he was there to do it," said Caputo, who retired after 30 years as Ferko's treasurer in 2011.

On Tuesday, Dec. 23, Mr. Wicker, 68, of Lower Township, N.J., who retired in 2003 as a fireboat engineer for the Philadelphia Fire Department, died of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at Cape Regional Medical Center in Cape May Court House.

Mr. Wicker went "Up the Street," as the saying goes, before he could walk up the street.

"I think he was about 18 months old," Mr. Wicker's wife, Donna, said, when William J. Wicker Sr., "his grandfather, carried him up the street."

Her husband, she said, "was 13 when he joined the string bands," first Hegeman and then South Philadelphia. His career was interrupted only by military service.

"It's in their blood," she said of his involvement with Mummers. "It's a camaraderie, a family."

Born in South Philadelphia, Mr. Wicker grew up near Second and Mifflin Streets, graduated in 1964 from Father Judge High School, and worked as a fireman during his stateside Army service.

"Since he was a little kid," his wife said, "he wanted to be a fireman."

Mr. Wicker began his 37-year Philadelphia firefighting career in 1966, briefly at the former Third and Race Streets firehouse and then, for 28 years, at the Fourth and Arch house, working on Engine 8 and Ladder 2.

For the last nine years of his career, he was the engineer on the fireboat Bernard Samuels on the Schuylkill.

"He had boats all his life," his wife said. After he retired, they bought a Grady White, a 21-foot motorboat.

For 18 years, in the 1970s through the 1990s, he had yet another career - playing Santa for his nieces and nephews and the children of friends.

Besides his wife of 47 years, Mr. Wicker is survived by three brothers and three sisters.

A visitation was set from 12:30 to 1:20 p.m. Monday, Jan. 5, at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church, 525 Washington St., Cape May, N.J. 08204, before a 1:30 p.m. Funeral Mass there, with later private interment.

Donations may be sent to the church at the above address.

Condolences may be offered to the family at

610-313-8134 @WNaedele