American Waltzes At The Ardmore: The Edith Whetstone And Al Richards Story

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Alfred 'Al' Newton Richards Jr. was born October 3, 1909 in Chicago, Illinois. He grew up on Rugby Road in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. He was the only child of Lillian (Woody) and Dr. Alfred Newton Richards Sr., who served as the chairman of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine's department of pharmacology and the University's Vice-President of Medical Affairs.

Alfred Richards, Sr.

Edith Blabon Whetstone was born September 18, 1923 in Philadelphia. She grew up on Monument Road in Overbrook, the daughter of Blanche (Durham) and Samuel Whetstone. Samuel Whetstone was a real estate assessor. Edith and her older brother grew up comfortably, their needs attended to by a live-in servant.

Talented skaters both, Edith and Al were members of the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society. Edith passed her first test in 1936, and competed in singles at the Middle Atlantic and Eastern Championships, with little success. In 1940, Edith and Al competed against each other in the pairs event at the club's annual Championships. Edith and her partner Harry Mayer placed second; Al and his partner Laura Wilhelm placed fourth. Nancy Follett, one of the club's coaches, thought they'd both be better suited to ice dance and decided to pair them up.

Despite their fifteen year age gap, Edith and Al proved to be a match made in heaven. Though they had been skating together for less than a year, they entered the senior (Silver) dance competition at the 1941 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston and placed an incredible third out of fourteen couples. The following year, they won the ice dance title at the Eastern States Championships and headed to Chicago to compete in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. They pulled off an incredible upset at that event, becoming the 1942 U.S. dance champions... and besting three time and defending champions Sandy MacDonald and Harold Hartshorne in the process.

Al Richards and Edith Whetstone, Walter Noffke and Doris Schubach, Jane Vaughn Sullivan, Walter Sahlin, Bobby Specht, Dorothy Goos, Dick More and Mabel MacPherson at the 1942 U.S. Championships. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Edith and Al's future in skating couldn't have looked brighter. However, shortly after their victory in Chicago, Al received his commission as a Lieutenant and was sent down to Miami for Active Duty in the U.S. Naval Reserve. During the War, he served as a seaman for the Marine Transport Lines on the S.S. Ponca City and a Lieutenant Commander with the U.S. Navy. Edith took a job on the assembly line at the Bendix Aviation Corporation.

Edith and Al got married on February 19, 1944 in Philadelphia. After Al finished his bachelor's degree at Haverford College and masters in architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, the couple lived in New York and Texas before settling in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, where Al got a job at the Baader, Young and Schultze Architectural Firm. The couple had four children. They continued to skate together socially at the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society well into the fifties.

Al Richards, Jr.

On November 22, 1962, the exploded wreckage of a private plane which had been missing for two days was found on the side of a mountain near Rockville, Pennsylvania. The plane, which was flying from Ogdensburg, New York to Philadelphia, had encountered inclement weather enroute. Among the five victims (four Howell Shay employees and the pilot) was Al. He was only fifty three. The tragedy occurred just over a year after the Sabena Crash which claimed the lives of the entire U.S. Figure Skating team. Ironically, two of the Sabena victims had Pennsylvania connections. Eddie LeMaire had trained under Gustave Lussi at the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society. Bill Kipp later took over Lussi's students at the club. Edith passed away fifty years later and both were inducted into the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society's Hall Of Fame as Honorary Life Members.

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