Document Collection

Too Busy To Watch The Horses

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: 12 May 1968

IN THE 48 years she has been associated with the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, Mrs. Warren A. Croll has spent relatively little time where the equine action is. Not that she has anything against horses; her son, Warren A. ("Buddy") Croll, Jr., is known from Aqueduct to Garden State to Hialeah as a top-notch trainer of thoroughbreds. It's just that Edith Croll has been so busy each year at the Devon Country Fair cafeteria that she has been able to glance only occasionally at the horses and riders competing in the nearby Wanamaker Oval, the show ring.

The same situation will obtain during the 72d annual Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, which begins Friday, May 24, continuing through Saturday, June 1. (Devon now is the world's largest outdoor show, with some 1400 horses entered in the 1968 event.) Mrs. Croll, a resident of the Main Line community from which the show derives its name, again will be on duty in the cafeteria. This will be her 16th year as co-chairman—with Mrs. Edwin J. Schoettle, Jr., of Newtown Square—of the Cafeteria Committee. Like the 200 women who work in the cafeteria in various capacities (captains, aides, cashiers) the co-chairmen are volunteers.

To put it mildly—and idiomatically—Mrs. Croll is hung up on the cafeteria. Witness a story she is fond of telling on herself. About a week before the 1963 doings-at-Devon, Mrs. Croll attended a showing of a film made during the 1962 event. It was a good pictorial presentation of the highlights of the competition, and when the film ended someone asked Mrs. Croll whether she had enjoyed it.

"Yes," she replied. "It was most interesting." She paused briefly, then continued, and there was an expression of preoccupation on her face: "First thing tomorrow, I must make certain that we'll have enough Russian dressing for all of those salads next week."

To understand the lady's involvement with the cafeteria, it is necessary to go back to 1919. That was the year Mrs. Croll’s mother, the late Mrs. Lewis Crew Johnson, launched the project. Mrs. Johnson was chairman of the social service committee at Bryn Mawr Hospital, which then, as now, was the beneficiary of the Devon show. (Each year of late, more than $100,000 has been turned over to the hospital by the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, Inc.) Mrs. Johnson suggested that there was a need for more substantial fare than was obtainable at the tea house on the grounds. There also should be a cafeteria, she said. Officials of the show liked the idea, placed responsibility for the cafeteria on Mrs. Johnson.

The following year, Mrs. Johnson enlisted her daughter, whose first assignment was to make a special family recipe salad dressing.

"My mother," Mrs. Croll says affectionately, "was the most successful beggar I’ve ever known. She begged enough food from practically everybody in the area —merchants, farmers, her friends —to keep the cafeteria going. Every morning trucks carrying asparagus, potatoes and strawberries would arrive. So would chauffeur-driven limousines, conveying Main Line ladies bringing roasted turkeys, hams, salads and homemade rolls.

"Mother, assisted by our butler and maid, managed the cafeteria. She also conducted a rummage sale at one end of the pavilion. She had a knack for handling volunteers, getting them to work hard—and like it"

Mrs. Johnson also had definite standards for deportment of volunteers: e. g., all cafeteria personnel for many years were required to wear white dresses, white hats and white gloves, and if one reported "out of uniform" she was "relieved" of duty and instructed to return another day in designated attire.

For 34 years Mrs. Johnson headed the cafeteria, with her daughter as a sort of "administrative assistant." Mrs. Johnson died some months after the 1952 show; in 1953 the cafeteria operated for the first time under the co-chairmanship of Mrs. Croll and Mrs. Schoettle.

As you would expect, there have been numerous changes. There is a new cafeteria pavilion. The cafeteria has ceased depending on donations of food, buys most of it at cost

"Volunteers in the cafeteria have to be somewhat special," says Mrs. Croll. "They must work hard, and they have to do everything from cleaning up tables to scraping garbage—and be the smiling, gracious hostess all the while." Presently, one such volunteer is Mrs. Jane Croll Tiffany, Mrs. Croll's daughter—a "third generation worker" in the cafeteria.

Mrs. Croll smiles at the recollection of an experience a few years back. One evening, to give the kitchen crew a helping hand, she scraped scraps from plates into a huge garbage can. The door was open, and a visiting dignitary, who had been introduced to Mrs. Croll under more elegant circumstances, spotted her. "Now," he said, "I've seen everything." Mrs. Croll, temporary garbage scraper, was tastefully dressed and was wearing an orchid. Some hours earlier she had received the orchid when the Country Fair Committee honored her as "Grandmother of the Day."

For years attractive hydrangeas in window boxes at the front of the pavilion have been much admired. They are provided by Alfred Campbell, of Strafford, who began the practice when Mrs. Croll’s mother was still cafeteria chairman. Daily during the show, Campbell thrusts a finger into the soil in the boxes, then almost invariably goes inside to remind Mrs. Croll that the hydrangeas need more water. They need so much, in fact, that one volunteer is assigned to water them three times daily.

One of Mrs. Croll’s memories concerns an "International Day" at the show several years ago. Dignitaries from some African nations were being honored, and the cafeteria committee had prepared a roast beef dinner. Then, just before the dinner, the honored guests said politely that they would have to forego the meal because, as Muslims, they could eat no meat. Mrs. Croll moved quickly to change the menu and the dinner was held.

"It was simple," she says. "All I did was trot across the road to a grocery, purchase several cans of tuna and come back to help prepare tuna salad in a hurry."


References: The Devon Horse Show Association by Elinor C. J. Sensenig, TEQ 12-3 (April 1963); Where Champions meet - The Devon Horse Show by Bob Goshorn, TEQ 32-3 (July 1994)