The Five Grace boys and the 1920’s

The ice, dairy products and soft drinks enabled the family to prosper during the 1920s. Frank and JT kept the business side flowing, and the brewery produced a variety of income-earning items. Money came in, and the five sons of Frank P attended and graduated from Santa Rosa High School. The brothers’ dates of birth follow: Frank, the oldest, was born in 1903, Thomas in 1904, Jim in 1906, Jack in 1908 and the youngest, Bill, in 1911. Santa Rosa was a growing town in 1920 – the population was 8,758 and still a largely rural town. Can you imagination a small town like Santa Rosa with a family of five boys, perhaps given a generous amount of freedom from what I have gathered, and the havoc they might have wrought on the town? Fortunately for the town they were involved in athletics and kept busy during the school year. Or at least some were.

As I perused the Santa Rosa High School yearbooks for 1921 to 1931 I discovered a number of facts about the five brothers. Tom Grace and Bill Grace apparently were the best all-around athletes. Tom and Bill and Jim were All-Star sweater winners (called white sweaters in 1950’s and 1960’s). Tom was not only an All-Star, but he was the first president of the newly formed Block S Society. Tom seemed to be everywhere in his senior yearbook. He played football with the great Ernie Nevers (Nevers Field, SRJC, Stanford, NFL, etc) on the 1920 team and they both matriculated to Stanford where Ernie went on to star in several varsity sports and Tom played on the varsity basketball team. At SRHS, Tom played end on the football team, captained the basketball team and played first base on the baseball team. It was said that he could play anywhere on the field but was usually at first base. Tom’s last will and testament in his senior yearbook included this remark: “I, Tom Grace, the Apollo of the departing senior class, leave my sterling character.” Little did he know that 45 years later, upon his death, there wasn’t a soul in Santa Rosa that would utter a bad word about him. All my life I have heard nothing but kind praise regarding Tom Grace. He was called a gentlemen’s gentlemen, a kind man. It was said that he never would say no to anyone. So I guess Uncle Tom did leave his sterling character to the whole town of Santa Rosa.

(Tom football uniform ,scanned photos 1920s,, Tom Block S, Tom Block S Society, Tom Basketball )

Frank (Moses) was the oldest child, though he graduated a year after Tom–1923. His ambition listed next to his yearbook photo was “to finally graduate”. In that era there was no arbitrary age limit for high school attendance, and the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) apparently did not have eligibility rules regarding age because Frank played on a number of teams as a tackle in football and played baseball over a five-year period. During his last year at SRHS, 1922-23, he managed the football and track teams. It was not unusual in that time period to take time off from school to work on the farm or help out at home, and that may have been a factor in Frank’s tardy graduation. Or, school might have bored him. At any rate, after high school graduation until 1940 he worked at the ranches, primarily at the ranch at the end of Grosse Ave. I assume he was called Moses because he played for so many years and managed so many high school teams that they referred to him in the yearbook as the “old man,” hence, the name Moses.
( 1920s scanned photos Frank football, 1921 and 1923, sports manager, frank grace 1923)
During Frank’s junior year, SRHS won the North Bay League championship in football but then was nosed out by Berkeley for the C.I.F championship by a score of 82-0. So, when Frank graduated in 1923 that left younger brothers Jim and Jack as the remaining Grace boys at Santa Rosa High School. “Genial Jim Grace” was an all around athlete who was awarded his All-Star sweater for lettering in football, basketball, baseball and track. He was also sophomore class vice-president and wrote for the Echo, covering sports. Like Tom, he was a first baseman and played forward on the lightweight basketball team and later the varsity. In addition, Jim lettered in swimming.
(Scanned 1920 photos. Jim grace basketball baseball 1922 24,24 andl, Uncle jim 1925 and track)

In the spring of 1924, two Graces scored in a track meet. Jim in the javelin and Jack in the shot put. Like Tom, Jim was very involved in the school. He sang in the men’s glee club and seemed to be everywhere on the campus. In fact, Jim and Tom were very similar looking, as were Frank and Jack. During the twenties, at least one Grace attended SRHS and competed on multiple athletic fields. After Jim came Jack, and he also was a good athlete. I realized, much later in life, that Jack, my dad, transferred to and graduated from St Mary’s high school and attended St Mary’s College where he played one year for the coaching legend Slip Madigan in 1929. Coach Orb Fortier, a beloved SRHS coach from the 1925 to the late 1940’s, told me that Dad once sank a shot from half-court to win a game. He also was an excellent golfer in later years. Jack played end in football during the fall of 1924 at SRHS with his big brother, Jim. He started some games and subbed in others, according to the Echo, the SRHS yearbook. The team beat St Helena 141-0, a national high school scoring record, in one of those games. Both brothers lettered though it was the only year Jim played football. Jim also set an NBL record in the javelin. Jim graduated in 1925. Many years later my brother John and I played football together on the very same Nevers Field. We also played basketball and competed in track on the same team.
( scanned photos 1920s Jim and Jack football, Jim and Jack Block S)
Bill Grace was undeniably one of the greatest athletes to “grace” (pun intended, sorry) the campus of SRHS. Bill played from 1927-1931. I think he competed in and lettered in five sports in 1930–golf, tennis, football, basketball and baseball. I believe that Bill Grace was one of very few SRHS athletes who accomplished this feat. The Press Democrat said, in his obituary, that he competed in six sports-a record never matched. He was captain of the basketball team in 1931 and was an all league selection in football that year. The football team won the NBL championship, outscoring opponents 210-59. Their only losses were to non-league teams. It was the school’s first championship since 1923. (Read the attached article from the Press Democrat on the “The last of the five Grace Brothers”).
(scanned photos 1920s Bill Grace football, basketball, baseball golf)
The boys continued sports after high school. Tom played basketball for Stanford, and Jim made the UC Berkeley varsity basketball team in his sophomore year. Both Tom and Bill played American Legion ball after college. So, counting Jack playing at St Mary’s, three Grace Brothers played at the collegiate level–not bad. Bill Geary said his uncle, Finlaw Geary, a great friend of the Grace family and their attorney, told him the boys played on an AAU team together, and that it was a dynamite basketball team. This must have been in the mid 1930’s. Since both Tom and Jim had college experience and since Bill was such a great athlete, it seems only natural they would play on AAU teams or other local teams. The brewery did sponsor a Blue and Gold AAU team in the 1940s and early 50’s that was very successful. Bill played for the Blue and Gold team for a few years. There are 16 mm movie pictures of Tom hosting the team and their families in his backyard.

With Bill’s senior year over, an era had closed at the Home of the Panthers. The last of the Grace Boys had graduated in 1931. From 1919-1931, Graces had played for SRHS. Two were captains, three were All Star sweater winners, and a number of all-league honors and many varsity letters earned. That’s quite an impressive athletic performance for one family. They set a very high standard. I wish I could say the next generation was aware of these athletic exploits, but, sad to say, by the time that generation was competing at the high school level only Uncle Tom was alive, and he was too modest to tell us of his achievements. But the torch was passed to Jim, Bill, John and me and we all participated in sports in high school. Jim did football, basketball, swimming and baseball. John and I competed in football, basketball and track together-in fact we played alongside each other in football. John was an end and I played tackle. We also threw the discus and shop put in track. The next generation of Josh, Ben, Jamie and their cousin Tom competing in these field events in high school. Josh is still competing in throwing in the Scottish Games (joined by his wife Jeannette). For the record, Jim, John and Mike all played three sports in high school spanning 1958-1965, and both Jim and John played on championship teams. During Jim’s junior and senior years the Panthers won NBL championships in football and basketball. During John’s sophomore year the football team placed first and the basketball team was second in NBL competition. Bill Grace played football for three years and was on two championship teams, playing with John on the 1962 team. All four played either football or basketball at SRJC