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An era comes to an end

Posted: March 31, 2017

by John Benson

 

For the last 70 years, the Pedigo name has been synonymous with Richfield. 

 

Whether it was the Richfield Auto Center, Richfield Auto Parts, Elaine’s Beauty Shop – going back to the 1950s and 1960s – or the popular Community Day frog-jumping contests, the business-minded family made its presence known, and the community benefited. 

 

The era comes to an end with Richfield Auto Center owner Martin Van Pedigo selling the garage and parts center. 

 

“I reached full retirement age,” said Pedigo, 70. “I just felt like moving on.”

 

His departure is not only as a business owner but also in some ways as a historian of the area. His parents, Martin and Elaine, discovered Richfield during their Sunday drives from Akron to Cleveland. They often would picnic in Fairview Cemetery. 

 

In fact, that’s where they discovered not only a gas station for sale on Broadview Road but soon thereafter a house on the corner of Humphrey Road and Route 303.

 

“It had been for sale for awhile,” said Pedigo, a 1965 Revere High School graduate. “My mother, father and grandmother came up with something like a $700 down payment.”

 

The three-acre property, located just west of the former Richfield School, was a truck farm with apple, cherry and peach orchards as well as two greenhouses, where Pedigo said his grandmother, Minnie, grew fruit and vegetable plants for sale in the spring. Also on the property was a barn that Pedigo’s dad converted into the beauty shop his mother ran from the early 1950s to the late 1960s. 

 

As for the gas station, Pedigo’s father took it over in 1947. However, the Atlantic Richfield (later renamed ARCO) station was destroyed in a 1959 fire. That’s when the business was rebuilt as the Richfield Auto Center alongside Richfield Auto Parts, which Martin opened two years earlier. 

 

When talking to Pedigo about his memories of the Richfield Auto Center and Richfield Auto Parts, his voice expressed earnest excitement.

 

“When I was 7 years old, I tormented my sister so much that my mother had trouble running her business and refereeing,” Pedigo laughed. “My parents decided I should go to work with my dad. When I was a little kid, I had a junkyard for a playground. It was idyllic.” 

 

In addition to carrying on his father’s businesses – he took over Richfield Auto Parts in 1969 and the Richfield Auto Center in 1976 – Pedigo had his father’s passion for collecting stuff. Famously on full display at the entrance to the Richfield Auto Center is a collection of antiques and oddities that seem right out of an episode of “American Pickers.”

 

“The Richfield Automotive Emporium of the Fantastic is a collection of stuff over a lifetime,” Pedigo said. “It’s whatever struck my fancy: empty gas pumps, dead animals, snake skins, old bikes, saddles, campaign button collection. I call it a museum because it’s filled with old crap, just like every other museum.”

 

Pedigo will tell you he never shied away from monkeying around. Just ask him about one of his funniest memories.

 

“Over the years, we had a lot of circus performers bring their jalopies up here to be fixed while they were at the old Richfield Coliseum,” Pedigo said. “One day there was a big truck full of chimpanzees needing a water pump. 

 

“A guy would be back there working and something would set them off. They’d go crazy and start screaming and shaking their cages. The truck would rock, and the poor bastard working would be scared silly.” 

 

Regarding the aforementioned frog-jumping contest, many local folks will remember Pedigo was the frogman of Richfield. For roughly 35 years not only did he run the Community Day event, but he also rented out the hopping amphibians. 

 

“It was kind of a low-key operation when I took it over,” Pedigo said. “I made divisions based upon age groups, and then we gave out custom-printed T-shirts to the top 10 jumpers in each class. The price never changed: It was 50 cents to enter the jump and an additional 50 cents if you wanted to rent a frog.”

 

As for finding frogs, well, he did that, too. 

 

“We went to local golf courses where I asked permission,” Pedigo said. “We would take a utility cart, usually a six-pack of beer and make a night of it. We tried to get a minimum of 40 frogs.”

 

Finally, when asked how he hopes the community remembers his family and its contribution to Richfield, Pedigo said, “I just hope the majority of people have warm thoughts.”

 

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