Tommy Thomson, 72, the neighborhood cop who was the heart and soul of the 26th District Police Athletic League, a Fishtown institution from 1968 to 1983, relaxed at his son A.J.'s home in the neighborhood Sunday, celebrating the youth sports program's imminent return after a lack of funding forced its closure three decades ago.
Bookended on a sofa by his oldtime PAL coaches Pat Cain, 69, and Joe Diaz, 73, Thomson said the groups of kids in his programs at St. Peter the Apostle Church, Fifth Street and Girard Avenue, and St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church, Second and Jefferson Streets, were 40 percent white, 40 percent Hispanic, and 20 percent black.
"And they all got along in my PAL programs," he said, because he told them that if they didn't, they would have no place to play organized basketball, baseball, soccer, and football. In those days, he said, there was no other place.
As soon as a new site is chosen, PAL will be able to return to the 26th because of pennies from heaven, and angels on the ground.
The earth angels are Maria Rosario, 73, and Connie Galiczynski, 84, friends and Fishtown activists for 52 years, who quietly earlier this year donated $350,000 to finance PAL's return to the 26th District.
"This is really crazy," Rosario said. "Connie and I were just little people living in the community, and we wanted to make a change. I'm in awe that 52 years of volunteer service have come to an end and we closed it off with a bang. It's unbelievable."
Rosario and Galiczynski were the last surviving members of Olde Kensington Senior Housing Associates, which developed and ran Olde Kensington Pavilion, 103 units of subsidized senior housing on Third Street near Thompson in a former Dietz & Watson slaughterhouse.
This year, getting older and finding it harder to get volunteer help, they decided to sell Kensington Pavilion for $6.6 million to a company that will continue to provide subsidized senior housing. Rosario and Galiczynski paid off the $5 million mortgage, and business expenses. They donated the rest to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Shriners Hospitals for Children, and the Bridesburg Boys and Girls Club ($250,000 each), Big Brothers and Big Sisters ($200,000) - and PAL.
Rosario said the 26th District PAL, like the antipoverty and fair-housing organizations she and Galicyznski ran, was racially and ethnically diverse.
"We were Latino, black, white," Rosario said. "Nobody could tell us, 'You're all for the Latinos,' or the blacks or the whites because that's bull. We were all different races. We were all for everyone.
"Connie was the instigator who knew the political system, and I was the fighter, making sure we took care of people who came in from the street. We never, ever got a cent, not even reimbursement for carfare or for babysitting. Nothing. And here we were able to give away over a million dollars. That's mind-boggling."
Thomson's mind is happy, not boggled. "Whenever someone asked me to take the test for corporal or sergeant, I said, 'No,' because I wanted to stay with PAL," he said.
"When I grew up in this neighborhood, I saw so many good ballplayers who had no place to play ball because we didn't have any volunteers to coach them," Thomson said.
"I wanted all the kids around here to have a chance to play."