Frederick A. Ahlborn ’63
Lasting impressions from Perkiomen School inspire alumnus to give back.
Talking to Fred Ahlborn ’63, is like catching up with a dear friend. One can envision Fred’s journey as an array of colorful vignettes describing the warmth of friendships, duty to our country, and various travels along the East Coast. “I want the kids to really know what went on back then… but I’m not going to tell you everything!” Fred shares with what must be a wink of his eye over the phone lines. You can hear him smiling as he recounts his stories – some from his day-to-day life in Pennsburg and others that have undoubtedly made the ranks of famous Perkiomen lore.
Picture Fred in high school in the early 1960s with a core group of friends, a penchant for fun, and a trick or two up his sleeves. During study hall, you might find Fred walking with his buddies down to the Hendricks Little Store for a hot chocolate and a toasted hard roll. Mr. and Mrs. Hendricks were surrogate grandparents to dozens of Perkiomen students. They made such an impression that the 1963 Griffin yearbook was dedicated to them. Parents of Fred and his friends knew to send the Hendricks’ a check so their kids could charge a tab when they stopped by the first floor of their house for a hot drink and a sandwich. As Fred describes these casual walks down Seminary Street, you can almost feel a crusty, warm roll in your hands.
Fred walked to other places around town, as well, including along the train tracks to a local athletic facility where he wrestled for three years and to the fields behind what is now Parents Hall to hunt pheasants. Yes, that’s right! Fred and two of his friends stored shotguns in the closets of their rooms with the casualness and inherent responsibility that existed about such things at that time. The chef in Kriebel Hall would cook up their conquests if the birds were brought to him cleaned and ready to roast!
Talking to Fred and picturing him as a teenager, one gets the sense that he’s going places in life and not just by walking around Pennsburg. During holidays, he’d rent a car and drive from Pennsburg to New England to pick up his two sisters who attended school in Massachusetts. From there, they would ride together to Florida where their parents and grandparents lived. Fred’s rules for these trips were simple. In fact, there was only one! “I told my sisters that we only stop for gas,” he shares with a chuckle. “We don’t stop to pee or for food. Whatever you need, you better make sure you have it before we leave!” One year, his rule was foiled when snow followed them all the way down to Frederick, Maryland. After sliding on the slick road through a toll (and having to put the car in reverse to pay!), he broke his rule so they could stay safe. The good news about the snow? The deer he had shot while hunting before the trip managed to stay cold in the trunk for the entire trip down to Florida.
Fred spent five years as a student at Perkiomen. By the time he was a senior, he and his friends were familiar with the area and looking for new adventures. Together, Fred and about ten other students purchased a 1953 Oldsmobile that was discretely stored in a rented garage just off campus. They took turns driving to a cabin near Allentown, Pennsylvania when they needed an escape from the monotony of studying and bologna and cheese sandwiches served at Sunday brunch. Fred simply loved exploring. The school-sponsored trips are some of his favorite memories. They would take a charter bus to see games at other schools, travel to the Lehigh Valley and tour Bethlehem Steel, or drive up the road to check out local factories. These trips left an impression on Fred. The world was someplace bigger than the little town of Pennsburg, and he was excited to see it.
Fred got married in 1965 and recalls an afternoon near Christmas when he was ice skating with his wife and some friends. The phone rang, and with his skates slung over his shoulder, Fred walked up the hill to answer a call from a Lieutenant with the National Guard near Scranton, Pennsylvania. On Fred’s birthday that following year, he traveled to Fort Jackson in South Carolina to begin his 21-year career with the Army National Guard. After basic training, Fred went on to do driver testing for the 109th Infantry. He traveled to different armories around the United States and tested soldiers for their licensures: everything from using kitchen stoves, air compressors, driving trucks, and armored personnel carriers. After retiring as an E-6 Staff Sergeant, Fred went on to work for a supply company. It wasn’t long before he set his sights on becoming an entrepreneur of his own business in plumbing and electrical contract work. He retired in 1999.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Fred regularly traveled to Pennsburg from his home in Florida for reunions, connecting with new people and searching for his friends who joined him for road trips to the cabin and walks to Hendricks Store. As a young adult, Fred spent five years with the faculty, staff, and students of Perkiomen, and it made a lasting impression. Fred has committed a legacy gift to Perkiomen in the form of a trust and IRA that will, in his words, benefit somebody else in their journey at the school.
When we can safely travel again, you might find Fred exploring historical locations, taking cruises with his wife, and enjoying the Florida weather. He hopes to make it back to Perkiomen for a visit soon. Though the Little Store is no longer there, he can still walk up the steps of Kriebel Hall where he and his friends once pushed the Athletic Director Hal Cragin’s Volkswagen Beetle up the stairs into the teacher’s lounge for everyone to see during morning chapel. The stories Fred shares are a reminder that every student and graduate, member of our faculty and staff, parents and friends have a Perkiomen story unique to them in the era they lived and learned on campus. Fred gives back because Perkiomen made an impression. It was at Perkiomen where Fred learned to make lasting impressions of his own.
To celebrate Fred’s love for his alma mater and acknowledge his generosity, the new entrance road to Perkiomen School will be named in his honor. His legacy gift will both symbolically and literally pave the path for other generations of Perkiomenites as they set out on their journeys as students to seek fulfilling lives.