The needler in the haystack.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Remembering Mike Wroble

Mike Wroble, preservation enthusiast.

Word came from Plainfield Today reader and Van Wyck Brooks Historic District activist Vicki Blasucci this past Monday evening that Mike Wroble had passed away unexpectedly that day.

An obituary for Mike has been posted online in the Courier today (see here).

Mike was among the very first people we met after moving to Plainfield in 1983, first at a party at the Questover mansion on Central Avenue hosted by then-owners Alan Mintzer and Randy Phillips.

Later, because we had no workable kitchen in our 3-family wreck, we spent a lot of evenings dining at What's Your Beef, a popular steakhouse at 3rd and Roosevelt (later ruined and closed after being bought out by the corporation that owns the Charlie Brown's franchise).

What's Your Beef was a remarkable watering hole -- absolutely packed to the gills every night with all sorts of folks from Plainfield and surrounding towns. (It was also a favorite haunt of then-mayor Rick Taylor, who always stopped to chat when he and his entourage came in almost nightly.) There has been nothing like it since.

Mike was part of a circle that included John Grady, Chris Larew, Jerry Clark, Jim Eberle, Don Sobieski and others -- many of whom had bought and were restoring vintage Plainfield homes and all of whom were involved in the city's historic preservation efforts.

Mike was deeply involved in the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District, which had been recently formed, and served as president of the group as well as organizing the District's annual Twelfth Night Dinner, a progressive meal that has become a sold-out favorite activity every year since it started.

Mike was one of the photographers for the famous Blue Book, the 1985 publication that celebrated the 300th anniversary of Plainfield's settlement. With a blue velvet cover, the yearbook-style volume contained photos and descriptions of hundreds of Plainfield homes as well as vignettes of various periods of Plainfield history. For many years, Swain Galleries had a small reserve and I used to give them to homebuyers as a keepsake, but there are no more copies available. Too bad.

The Fitz Randolph House on Randolph Road, which
Mike spent many years restoring.

One of Mike's passions was the Fitz Randolph house on Randolph Road next to the Muhlenberg Hospital campus and across from Hub Stine Field. This 18th-century home is one of the oldest dwellings in Plainfield and preserves much of its original style -- low ceilings, small windows and small rooms -- typical of early settlers' farmsteads.

Mike was also a great wit and one of the (quietly) smartest people I can recall knowing. He would regale friends at dinner parties at the Larew-Clark home on Evergreen Avenue. Though he had an unlisted telephone number, he freely gave it to everyone and it was easily recalled as the numbers translated on the old rotary dials to: SLOE GIN.

Those were grand days, Mike, and we remember them, and you, fondly.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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