NICK BLOOM … From the Thursday, July 24, 1997 issue of AvilLaOtto Nooz
FORMER NEIGHBOR PLAYED AGAINST THE GLOBETROTTERS
By C. J. Whan
CLARENCE KWIATKOWSKI. What ever happened to him? LaOtto 8th grade graduates of 1940 will remember Clarence. You don’t? Well then, how about NICK BLOOM. Whatever happened to him?
Each of our featured AvilLaOtto Neighborz has a story to tell, and Nick Bloom has several, one just as fascinating as the next. But where to begin…………
Maybe we should start with his name. All 4 of Nick’s grandparents immigrated in the 1860-70’s from the Posen region of Poland, and Grandfather Kwiatkowski’s name became Americanized to Bloom (kwiat translating to flower). Nick’s mother’s family name was DOMBEK (meaning large tree); and the American census records listed the name as Oakes. The son of STEPHEN and MARGARET (OAKES) BLOOM was officially named CLARENCE NICHOLAS because his mother liked the name. But Nick wasn’t particularly fond of the Clarence part. Nicholas was soon NICK-named and that is how Clarence Kwiatkowski became Nick Bloom.
Nick was born and raised, along with his 3 brothers and 2 sisters, west of Ari along the Noble-Allen County Line Road. After completing LaOtto Grade School, he graduated from Huntertown High, where he played basketball for the Wildcats. And therein lies the back-ground for another chapter of his story. But not yet.
Shortly after graduating from high school, Nick went to work at International Harvester Co. That job didn’t last long. Receiving an invitation from Uncle Sam which couldn’t be declined, the factory worker became a soldier boy on the day after Christmas 1944. The Battle of the Bulge cut his basic training short, as Nick was included in troops rushed to the east coast to support the Army’s effort. But by the time he arrived, the tide was turning in Europe; and Nick was instead sent on a 2-week train trip across the United States to be shipped to the Pacific theatre of action. “The best present ever,” Nick recalls, “was the end of World War II on August 14, 1945, my birthday; but it was another couple of years before I received my honorable discharge.”
Then it was back to Harvester, where he had played softball on the company team which won the 1944 city championship. (Nick had also joined Harvester’s basketball team and played a few AAU games for the Fort Wayne Moose Lodge as well.) A fellow player, who was aware of Nick’s prowess on the basketball court, gave his friend’s name to the manager of an exhibition team. And that is how the former Huntertown Wildcat left Harvester and came to be playing the position of forward on a pro basketball team all across the 48 United States, Canada, Alaska, Mexico and Cuba. There was a new game in a different city almost every night for 3 years; and Nick’s diaries not only list the places he’s been, but include the hotels he stayed in and the games’ scores, as well. He played for the House of David, a religious sect then located in Benton Harbor, Michigan.
“We traveled in an old school bus and played local teams, as well as small college teams. The Davids were on a 4-team bill (two white and two black) with the Harlem Globetrotters. Northern courts allowed mixed play, but when in the south, white teams played white and black teams played black,” Nick remembers.
Nick’s souvenirs include programs of some of the many exhibition games the Davids played against Abe Saperstein’s world-famous Harlem Globetrotters, as well as the Kansas City Stars (young Globetrotters in the making) and the New York Celtics. They even played a girls’ team, the All-American Redheads; and one of Nick’s news clippings reads, “Davids win in Overtime”, after defeating the Chicago Bombers 46-45. Another memento is the ticket stub for a flight to Cuba for a game against the Harlem Globetrotters in Havana. On April 28, 1950, the Cuban round-trip cost $34.50.
was tops,” Nick declares. “Goose was mostly a loner and occasionally came up
missing for a few games; but on the court, he was funny – a great clown.
Another Globetrotter, Marques Haynes, developed the first dribbling act, and he was the best.” When competing with the Globetrotters, the Davids were encouraged to come in a close second; and that usually wasn’t too difficult, according to Nick.
Nick didn’t join the House of David. He just played ball under its banner – and was paid fairly well to do so. The Davids’ original exhibition play was with a long-haired baseball team. Basketball came later. “King Ben”, the leader of the group, did not allow men to cut their hair (quite unique in the 40’s and early 50’s). The non-member basketball players were allowed haircuts. Nick says he had difficulty growing a beard. “Queen Mary” led the ladies; and since the men were not allowed to consort with them, there were no children born in the group. It eventually disbanded.
Jesse Owens, the famous 1936 Olympic runner, traveled with the Globetrotters and was the master of ceremonies, introducing the players and the half-time variety acts. Nick and Jesse became good friends during the two years they toured together.
Nick eventually grew weary of being in a different city every night and losing 10-15 pounds every season. So when his brother took an exam for work in the U. S. Post Office, Nick followed suit. “It was the best thing I ever did,” he said. Starting in 1950 as a substitute carrier, Nick delivered mail in downtown Fort Wayne. Those were the days when there were 3-4 deliveries per day. Eventually routes were eliminated and deliveries were curtailed, making a “first class” mess and causing Nick to work until as late as 7:00 p.m. getting the mail delivered. Over the years Nick became a full-time carrier and worked his way on up the postal ladder, retiring from the Fort Wayne Post Office in 1981 as Manager of Delivery & Collection for nine counties.
Nick met a lovely young lady from LaGrange on a blind date. KATHRYN BOWEN, then in nurse’s training at Fort Wayne’s Lutheran Hospital, was the date, who later became Mrs. Bloom. Seven children completed the family. The eldest, KAREN, has her own business in Chicago. The youngest, JEFF, lives in Bloomington, and the rest, JANET BALTZELL, LINDA BURRELL, MARTHA CONKLING, JIM and BOB BLOOM, are near their parents in Fort Wayne. Eight grandchildren complete the family.
Conservation efforts during World War II curtailed production of yearbooks, leaving Nick’s high school class without one. In 1994, Fort Wayne News Sentinel’s LISA ESQUIVEL recorded Nick’s efforts in single-handedly (with help from his wife, of course) compiling a retroactive Class of 1944 Huntertown High School yearbook. Nick enjoys the fellowship with his high school classmates and would like to hear from former LaOtto grade school associates, as well.
With genealogy as one of his hobbies, Nick continues research into his European past. When his French and Polish speaking GRANDFATHER JOHN DOMBEK boarded the SS Gellert in Hamburg to seek his fortune in a new land, he knew life would be changed forever; but do you suppose he ever suspected it would someday result in a story about a Bloom in our Nooz Neighborhood?
Clarence Kwiatkowski, maybe. Nick Bloom? Probably not.