Amsterdam gasoline station proprietor Robert “Whitie” Murray once lost out on a chance to take his hockey team to Madison Square Garden with the flip of a coin.
Born in Utica, he was the son of Sidney and Anna Duke Murray. The family moved to Amsterdam and he graduated from Wilbur H. Lynch High School.
He earned an associate’s degree from SUNY Cobleskill and served with the United States Coast Guard.
After World War II, Whitie owned Murray’s Service Station on Guy Park Avenue in Amsterdam. When he started, he sold eight gallons of Texaco gas for $1. His slogan was: Get Rid of Your Worries, Call Murray.
A hockey player in high school, Murray, in a 2008 interview, said there used to be an outdoor hockey rink behind what is now Lynch Middle School.
In the 1940s, Murray sponsored a hockey team named Murray’s Oilers. When Mohawk Carpet Mills dropped sponsorship of its hockey team, Murray picked up that team called the Mohawk Chiefs.
Murray played on the team and recalled two outstanding members, Richard Geib and goalie Warren “Spook” Buchanan.
Home ice for the Chiefs was Hasenfuss Field on upper Locust Avenue, named for William E. Hasenfuss, Jr. from a family of nine children on Northampton Road.
Hasenfuss was the first man from Amsterdam killed in World War II. A member of a B-24 bomber ground crew, he was killed by Japanese fire at Hickam Field in Hawaii during the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought America into the war.
The rear portion of Hasenfuss Field was turned into a baseball field and renamed Isabel field in 1956 to honor Alex Isabel, who had been recreation superintendent in Amsterdam.
Murray said his hockey team practiced indoors at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy but only got ice time after 11 p.m.
The Chiefs played in the Capital District Hockey League with teams from Albany, Hudson and Schenectady. In 1951, the Chiefs and the Albany Capitols were tied at the end of season play.
The league winner was to go to Madison Square Garden to play a hockey team named the New York Mets. There was not enough time to have a playoff because the Garden needed to know the name of the visiting team right away.
There was a coin toss to decide the championship. Murray lost the coin toss and was heartbroken.
The late John Szkaradek of Amsterdam was a fan of the hockey teams that played at Hasenfuss Field: “The teams had uniforms, pads. It was very enjoyable to watch them play. It was a class act and they played hard with plenty of body checking, as in the pros.”
Murray was one of the founders of the Amsterdam Little Giants football league. He also dressed as Santa Claus for 60 years at St. Mary’s Hospital and the former Big N on Route 30 in Amsterdam.
In Little Giants opening ceremonies in 1963, Murray was presented with a large plaque that said in part, “You indeed have exemplified the league’s motto: Today I Made the Best Investment of My Life — I Invested in a Boy.”
Fellow Little Giants volunteers Ed Brozman, Frank “Butch” Miller and Cliff Smalley presented the plaque to Murray. New York Lt. Gov. Malcolm Wilson attended the event. WCSS radio sportscaster Bill Hesse was master of ceremonies.
Murray’s home on Clizbe Avenue was well known for his tomato garden and sunflowers. His wife, Helen Ahnert Murray, passed away in 1999. They had four daughters and four sons.
Murray died at his home Thursday morning, March 20, 2014, on his 92nd birthday.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected]