Waterloo Region Record
By Martin de Groot
Kitchener artist Rob Ring is working on a full-length documentary film that tells the story of Frank Groff, better known as “The Bridgeport General.”
Frank Groff’s legacy has been recognized in many ways. There’s a city street and a playground named after him. Former Record reporter Frank Etherington wrote a children’s book based on his life that was later turned into a play.
But almost 40 years have gone by since this remarkable local personality passed away, and his story has been fading out of public memory. His portrait still hangs in the front foyer of Bridgeport Public School, but the students who pass by it every day may not know why it’s there.
The story, in a nutshell, goes something like this. In 1962, at the age of 49, Frank Groff made a hand-painted stop sign and, on his own initiative, began working as a crossing guard guiding schoolchildren through the busy intersection of Bridge and Lancaster.
He was an eccentric who lived by himself in a ramshackle house and wore the same clothes every day — rubber boots, woolly hat, layers of sweaters, and a raincoat held together with safety pins. But he was loved and trusted, and became an integral part of life in the village.
In 1973, Bridgeport was annexed by the City of Kitchener, which had rules about how crossing guards should look and perform. The General refused to conform, so the city dismissed him. The village rose up in his defence with schoolchildren picketing the intersection with signs that declared, “WE WANT THE GENERAL.”
When all was said and done, Groff returned to his post and went on with what had become his life’s work, caring for the children of Bridgeport in his own way and on his own terms.
Rob Ring didn’t grow up in Bridgeport, and these events took place before he was born. But he does have a personal connection that drew him to the subject: a portrait print of The General by artist Horst Maria Guilhauman, originally acquired by his father when he lived in the area as a student. The image has been part of Ring’s home environment for as long as he can remember.
With a determined commitment from one of our region’s most accomplished video artists and modest funding support from both the Region of Waterloo Arts Fund and the Waterloo Regional Heritage Foundation, the project is off to a strong start.
“Care For The Child: The Story of the Bridgeport General” remains a work in progress. We’ll have to wait until the spring of 2017, maybe longer, to see the end result. So this is early notice — so early that there are still opportunities to get involved and help make this project happen.
To begin with, anyone interested can follow the production process as it unfolds through Facebook and a dedicated website (see link below), and help spread the word.
Since the project was first announced at the pre-production stage about a year ago, there has been an open call for relevant information, especially from people “who may have memories, stories, or photos to share. If you remember The General, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org”
There is also a campaign asking for support to help “bring the production value up to the level that this story deserves.” Contributions of all sizes are welcome, from pre-ordering a digital download ($10) or a DVD ($25) of the film, to becoming a fully credited producer (up to $5,000). Perks at the higher levels include signed and numbered limited-edition prints of that portrait of The General that inspired Rob Ring to begin this undertaking.
For full details, go to bridgeportgeneral.com and follow the link.
Martin de Groot writes about local arts and culture each Saturday. You can reach him by email at email@example.com.← BackNext →