Herman "Hymie" Rockman is a huckster. In Tamaqua, on weekends, he sells cabbages, apples and potatoes that he grows on his 100-acre New Ringgold farm.
Farming is a difficult life for a man in the prime of life, but when he was in the prime of life, Rockman was too busy boxing, playing AAA baseball, defending his country, and earning a living, to enjoy the pastoral pleasures of farming.
Now that he's 99 years old, he doesn't mind relegating the boxing and baseball to the past. These days, he enjoys the fruits of his labor by farming.
The soon to be centenarian will turn 100-years-old on May 3, 2010. He was born in 1910 in Tamaqua to parents David and Yetta Rockman. "My father was a farmer from Lithuania," Hymie said. Although a Jew, David Rockman had served among the Cossacks, the Russian Calvary noted for their adventurism, horsemanship and military skill.
David came first and earned the money for passage of Yetta, their daughter, Sarah, and sons: Sam, Louis and Abraham. When the Rockman family passed though Ellis Island in 1901, Abraham, a rabbinical student, had contracted tuberculosis and was sent back to Europe.
David and Yetta Rockman bought two farms near Tamaqua, the current 100-acre farm in New Ringgold where Hymie farms, and a larger one where the family raised cattle and goats, and overwintered horses.
That was a time before automobiles, trucks or even tractors were generally available. Farming was done using teams of horses. The Rockmans had two teams of four work horses on each farm. When winter was approaching, local farmers who couldn't overwinter their horses, sold them to David. As a former Cossack, he knew how to overwinter horses. In the spring, he sold the horses back to the farmers.
David was so well respected for his knowledge of horses that when horses were brought to Tamaqua for auction, his was asked to inspect them. "He would check the teeth and raise the tail," Hymie said. "If he OK'd the horse, the auctioneer would sell it."
At 15, Hymie learned to box. At 18, he was old enough to fight as an amateur. The 135 pound lightweight fought 20 fights as an amateur and another 20 fights as a professional, fighting in Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton. He felt that he was a good fighter but his manager was making most of the money.
Hymie played AAA baseball with a Cardinals farm team. Most of his siblings had left the farm. He stayed on and became a farmer.
Hymie has a speed bag and a weight bag at his farm. His son, Dan, remembers how his father was blindingly fast when he skipped rope. When Dan was growing up, his father took him to the Tigers games in Detroit, where he grew up.
During World War II, Hymie operated heavy machinery-building airports at locations such as Fort Dix, for the Philadelphia Navy Yard. "I'd be operating and the damned plane would be coming down-zooming right over my head," Hymie said.
During the war, Hymie met and married Bella. Bella, also physically fit, had completed three years towards a degree as a gym teacher at the University of West Virginia.
After the war, Hymie's brother urged him to come to Detroit where the Big Three automakers were hiring. He applied to Chrysler. "They were picking out guys right after the war. They put me to work right away because my brother was already working there.." He became a quality control inspector. Soon, in addition to working at Chrysler, Hymie bought two service stations.
Even while working in Detroit, Hymie kept the New Ringgold farm going by leasing the land. The farm dates to before the Revolutionary War with the barn believed to have been constructed around the 1760s. The main house, a 2-_ story stone building was built around the 1770s, burned in the 1970s. Hymie salvaged the stones and had the house rebuilt as a single story.
After retiring from Chrysler, Hymie and Bella returned to his first love, his family's New Ringgold farm, where for the past 30 years, he has grown produce and sold it locally from his pickup truck.