CHESTER — Right under the noses of one of the largest collections of law enforcement officers in Delaware County, a massive covert operation was undertaken Thursday night at Widener's Leslie Quick Stadium.
After all, that's what it would take to get by the watchful eye of Patricia Felker, working the gate as she has for decades at the 38th annual Hero Bowl.
The operation, spearheaded by Hero Bowl Commission chairperson Robert Lythgoe, required clandestine communication with Felker's 10 children and 22 grandchildren. Lythgoe enlisted the help of Widener, which supplied several vans with painted-over windows that allowed the relatives to roll by Felker unbeknownst to her.
The reason for the subterfuge was a worthwhile cause, one that the matriarch of the Felker family wouldn't have allowed any other way: It was the only way to surprise Felker, who was recognized for her decades of service to the Hero Bowl with the eighth annual Ted Pokoy Memorial Award.
Felker has been more than just a volunteer, more than just a concerned citizen through the years. Few people can appreciate all that the Hero Bowl stands for more than she.
Felker's husband Donald served as a first lieutenant for Collingdale Fire Co. No. 1 until April 16, 1978, when he died in the line of duty, leaving Pat — "Patricia" is just too formal for the tastes of her family — to raise 10 children by herself. Of those 10, eight received Hero Bowl scholarships after their schooling at Collingdale High for the first three, then Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast. Her second-oldest son, Tim, was one of the first scholarship recipients, back in the days when the assistance was just $350 per semester.
Since, the Hero Scholarship Fund Delaware County's ability to assist children of first responders who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty has grown massively, thanks in large part to people like Felker.
"That's why I continue to help out," Felker said. "I figure it's the least I can do for all they've done for me. It's a great bunch of people to work with."
Summing up Felker's contributions to the Hero Bowl, just as trying to encapsulate Felker herself by simple means, is no easy task. Felker is never one to trumpet her accomplishments, and she admitted being a little embarrassed at being thrust into the spotlight after so many years of devoted work behind the scenes keeping that light shining.
Her kids and grandkids attest that there's no one story that really tells the tale of how many people Felker's work has touched; it's just one movie, a lengthy narrative of admiration.
She's the "go-to person" for advice, of any kind. There's a sense of awe at how, as a single mother, she managed to not just raise, not just fund, but to so deeply nurture and influence her children. And there are 40-some relatives who can set their watches by the weekly pizza party hosted by Felker at her modest home in Collingdale for the last 40 years. (Aside from the two weeks a year that she's in Florida, of course, which leaves the rest of the family in a bit of a quandary, if they're honest.)
But the biggest testament to her ability to inspire others lies in the huddle of loved ones haranguing her for dozens of pictures before kickoff. Five of her six boys followed in their father's footsteps to volunteer for the Collingdale Fire Co. Add to that auspicious list two grandchildren, who recently joined.
Then there are those in uniform around her: Sons Kenneth, a sergeant with the Collingdale Police Department, and David, a sergeant with the Easttown PD, who had members of his department cross county lines to be part of Thursday's festivities.
Their service is vital in keeping the legacy of Donald alive.
"I'm surprised at that, too," Felker admitted. "... I think it's great. When you do something for somebody, it always helps you."
What better role model could they have to realize that statement's truth?