Block watch leader reflects on 25 years of community service
Lucy Frankwitt has been with the Knoxville 30th Ward Block Watch since its inception more than 25 years ago.
She recently resigned as president of the organization after serving in that role for the past 18 years. While the neighborhood has taken a turn for the worse in many respects since the block watch began as an innovative way for residents to band together, Mrs. Frankwitt is uncertain about the future of Knoxville and the block watch she helped get off the ground.
"A lot of the older people from the neighborhood have passed on and a lot of the younger ones have moved out while a lot of the people who have moved in just don't want to be bothered," said Lucy in a recent telephone interview. "Our meetings used to be packed, but it's rarely like that anymore."
The block watch got started through Lucy and the late Loretta Miller with the help of former district magistrate Ann Scharding who is now retired.
"Loretta was [former city council person/mayor] Sophie Masloff's secretary," Ann said. "Loretta introduced it around here. They went around door-to-door and explained how the block watch worked. Lucy would bake a cake and make a social gathering out of it. They would take me along just to see if I could help with any legal questions.
"They started it because a rape allegedly happened in the neighborhood and Loretta wanted to do something to make sure things did not get any worse. That's what triggered it.
"From there, the residents began to really organize and do things together to make the qualify-of-life one of the best in the city," Ann continued. "There was a time where there was no litter at all in that section of town and every yard had flowers. There was a lady you could call if you needed any help with your garden. The block watch [leaders] would also send out birthday cards and get-well cards to residents. The leaders would attend a separate meeting and then they would have a general meeting every month."
One of the biggest things the block watch did was form a telephone network in which people would inform their neighbors in a quick and efficient way if there was any suspicious activity going on so that every one would be alert and on guard.
"It was one of the first block watches in the area and certainly one of the most effective ones that new block watches looked to for guidance when they were setting up and I'm sure the block leaders from those areas would admit that they patterned their organizations after Knoxville's," said Roberta Smith, former South Pittsburgh Reporter publisher and editor who extensively covered Knoxville during her many years of managing the community newspaper.
"The block watch has been a big part of her life and Lucy really did a good job for a lot of years," Roberta said.
National Night Out which is celebrated the first week of August each year, was a big part of the block watch each year.
"National Night Out in Knoxville wasn't just held at one central location where everybody goes to one place like many communities do it nowadays, like the big one that was held in Allentown this year," Roberta said. "Back then in Knoxville, there were many, many streets that had their own block party where all the homes were lit up and decorated. That was the original concept for the Night-Out parties. Night-Out in Knoxville was well-known throughout the city and the politicians and other people wanted to be seen there."
There would often be a caravan of cars carrying politicians who would go from street to street to meet and
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greet the residents.
"One year at the Night-Out, [the late mayor Richard] Caliguiri and Sophie stayed with our group the entire evening, going to every party," Ann Scharding said. "They used to tease me because [Mr. Caliguiri] would say that I knew where all the food was."
Lucy looks back fondly on the days when National Night-Out in Knoxville was a big event.
"The yards were all lit up with a lot of people even using their Christmas lights," Lucy said. "We had food and drink along with games for the kids and one year we had face-paintings for them. Another year we had a moon walk so all the kids were jumping around in that.
"One year we had an artist who did character paintings of everybody and that's when Sophie was mayor and she loved the one they did of her. She took it home with her. Caliguiri was the first mayor who came here and he would drive around to every block. And Sophie loved our neighborhood. She would be here for everything. And after that there was Tom Murphy and he always came as well. He would sometimes give us money to add to the money we awarded for bingo games.
"One year  during the Night-Out we had "Hands Across Knoxville" where the kids and adults were all out on the sidewalk and at a certain time they all connected hands. A picture of that was put in the front page of the Post-Gazette to show what we did. Another year we linked crepe paper together it went throughout the whole neighborhood in one continuous line. It was really something that you probably won't see again in the neighborhood. Everybody knew everybody and you knew who your neighbors were."
Lucy Frankwitt said the Zone 3 police and the community officers assigned to her neighborhood were very caring and always available to respond to the needs of the residents. She cited officers Sam Caltagirone, Carol Byrne and Nick Wagner for their many years of dedicated service to the community.
"The police were a big part of the neighborhood and our residents were the eyes and ears for the police and they wanted us to be that way," Lucy Frankwitt said. "Unfortunately, you don't have that now…Years ago, there would be four or five policemen attend our meetings and there were always lots of questions to be asked and it seemed at least one of the officers who were there knew the answer to the question.
"Years ago, the residents would help the police catch quite a few criminals," Ann Scharding said. "They were quite valuable to the police back then when the block watch got started."
Mr. Caliguiri regularly attended the block watch meetings in Knoxville as well as the organization's annual fund-raising dinner. That was also the case when Sophie Masloff and Tom Murphy were in office.
Mr. Murphy attended the 25th anniversary dinner at the Bradley House in Baldwin back in April along with public officials such as State Rep. Harry Readshaw and City Councilman Jeff Koch.
"Lucy did a tremendous job and kept this going for 25 years," Ann Scharding said. "It's been Lucy and Bob [her husband] who've done a lot of the work along with Joan White who's been her partner [board secretary]."
Please see a related story on Page 3.