Benjamin Sergi, iceman for 58 years

January 29, 1995|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

Benjamin F. Sergi, an iceman who roamed the streets and alleys of East Baltimore serving his customers for 58 years, died Friday of heart failure at the home of a daughter in Little Italy. He was 95.

Mr. Sergi, who emigrated from Sicily through Ellis Island in 1904 and moved first to Philadelphia and later to South Albemarle Street in 1907, began his career as an iceman in 1914.

He started Sergi's Ice with a horse and wagon and later motorized with a Model-T Ford truck, initially delivering eight tons of ice daily. When he retired in 1972, he was delivering about a ton a day.

Back-breaking work, the 50- to 100-pound cakes were carried on the shoulder up stairs to second-floor ice boxes or down to dark and dreary basements.

"He worked seven days a week and 365 days a year, he never took a vacation or time off," said his son, Anthony "Clarky" Sergi of Parkville.

"I delivered ice come rain, come shine or two feet of snow," Mr. Sergi said in a 1960 interview in The Evening Sun.

He served residential customers who placed triangular cards in their windows detailing their ice needs, as well as to the bars and restaurants of The Block.

As Mr. Sergi turned down city streets and alleys his arrival was heralded by children singing: "Put out your dishpan, here comes the iceman."

"When you spend 40 years in a job, it's not too easy to leave. You become attached to it," he said in the interview.

The need for the iceman's daily call was eliminated in the late 1940s when refrigerators became available to homeowners, and ice machines began proliferating at corner grocery stores. By the early 1960s, nobody was without a refrigerator.

"Why not? For convenience, an ice box can't compare with a refrigerator," he told the newspaper. "If you get a pound of meat on Wednesday and put it in an ice box, you'd probably have to throw it out by Saturday.

"But, if you put that same pound of meat in a refrigerator, you could keep it in the freezer for years. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not knocking refrigerators. I've got one myself."

The 87-year resident of Little Italy was born one of 21 children and only attended school through the third grade when he left to help support his family.

"He was a serious man whose entire life was the ice truck, his wife and three kids," said the son. "He used to say, 'When I worked I had nothing -- and when I retired I was too old to do anything.' "

In 1929, he married Theresa Sala, who died in 1982.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow at St. Leo's Roman Catholic Church, 227 S. Exeter St.

In addition to his son, survivors include two daughters, Mary Jane Weaver of Freeland and Concetta Castagna of Little Italy; two brothers, John Sergi and Frank Sergi, both of Baltimore; four sisters, Natalie Sodoti, Jean Kidwell, Lauretta Krysiak and Antoinette Briggs, all of Baltimore; seven grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

Memorial donations may be made to St. Leo's Roman Catholic Church in Little Italy.

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