Published Friday, Feb. 6, 1998.
Amateur historian keeps Titanic memory afloat
By Julie Hannon
Herald Staff Writer
Frank Rendes believes everyone has a story worth telling.
That's why for more than 20 years, the 40-year-old Girard, Ohio, man has collected endless memorabilia and read dozens of books about the ship once called unsinkable.
His curiosity about the White Star Line's crown jewel, the R.M.S Titanic, and those who sailed on its only journey, has even led him across the country to spend time with a handful of its aging survivors.
Among them was a woman he fondly refers to as the ``real Rose'' _ Marjorie Newell Robb. It was through her eyes Rendes said he has relived the extraordinary events that took place in the wee hours of April 14, 1912, and which claimed the lives of some 1,500 passengers, including Mrs. Robb's father.
Just as the fictional character Rose in the blockbuster hit Titanic pulled at the heart strings of millions through her struggles and triumphs during the short maiden voyage, Mrs. Robb, who died a few years ago at the age of 104 in Westport, Mass., captured Rendes' heart by sharing her memories of the paralyzing terror she reluctantly recalled some 70 years later.
``I stayed with her and helped care for her as she got older,'' said Rendes, a 13-year-veteran of Warren (Ohio) Fire Department. ``I would have loved to have her as a grandma, not because she was a survivor of the Titanic, but because she was a wonderful woman who was willing to share a very painful part of her life. You have to understand that most of the survivors never told their own children about what they saw, what they lived through. It wasn't until the '80s that a lot of them began sharing their stories.''
Since age 11, Rendes has been fascinated with the ship that stood 11 stories high, a sixth of a mile long, weighed more than 46,000 tons and had a top speed of 24 to 25 knots.
``I still remember the episode of the TV program, `Time Tunnel,' where I first saw the ship sink,'' he said, noting that at the time space travel was his first passion. ``A couple of weeks later, I remember asking my Dad about it and he told me a little but there were only one or two books on the shelves at the library.''
That's why Rendes was happy to see the latest Titanic movie released even if the story focuses on fictional lovebirds.
``It is a hauntingly beautiful movie. It's great to see kids leave the theater weeping and leaving with a sense of a wonderful but lost era without all the violence, sex and drugs,'' Rendes said as he flipped through a catalog of postcards depicting the magnificent ship before it set sail. ``Yes, it is based on fictional characters but I believe a love affair like theirs probably did happen, maybe with a married couple or other young people who fell in love while enjoying the excitement of such a wonderful experience.''
His fascination doesn't end with the ship or its passengers, he said. When he is asked to give public presentations on the historical event like the one he will host at 1 p.m. and again at 3 p.m. Saturday in Warren-Trumbull County Public Library, he prepares for weeks in advance, brushing up on the most minute detail and organizing the collectibles that illustrate the tale. He also walks his audiences through the ship with the help of slides and shares stories about some of the 63 passengers who at one time or another lived in Ohio, including the only third-class survivor, Elin Nummi of Warren, and well-known philanthropist Col. George Wick, the first president of Youngstown Sheet and Tube.
Among his treasures are more than 40 postcards, three depicting the ship
before the disaster and many featuring some of the 200 vessels documented to have heard Titanic's cries for help. A large painting of the sinking ship hangs over the mantel in his home and a curio is filled with a variety of finds, including a piece of coal from the Titanic's wreckage.
``I just don't want people to think I've jumped on the band-wagon because of the movie. I've been doing this since the early '80s,'' Rendes said, noting that he is a co-founder of Titanic International, a non-profit group that fights to preserve the history of great oceanliners and those who sailed aboard them.
``I love the whole period,'' he said. ``The clothes they wore were also fascinating, nothing like the suits of today. And the feeling you would have with a woman on your side, locked arm in arm, no wonder they presented themselves with so much confidence. That's why I do this, to preserve their story. I want to learn from them so I can pass it along.''
Frank Rendes will present free programs on the Titanic at 1 and again at 3 p.m. Saturday in Thomas Meeting Room of Warren-Trumbull County Public Library, 444 Mahoning Ave. N.W., Warren, Ohio. Information: (330) 399-8807, Ext. 122.
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Updated Feb. 6, 1998
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