Carl Fretz, an iconic figure in Oxford, passes away at the age of 85
● By Steven Hoffman
Carl Fretz, the longtime president of the Peoples Bank of Oxford and a tireless advocate and supporter of the Oxford community, passed away on Thursday, July 2 at the age of 85.
By all accounts, it was a life well-lived for a man who had a positive impact on not just his family and friends, but the community that he called home his entire life.
“He was a giver,” said Oxford resident and longtime business owner Charlie Hannum, who knew Fretz since childhood. “He did everything he could to please everybody, especially his church.”
Fretz was born on Feb. 19, 1930, the son of Herbert Fretz Sr and Lillian Pierce Fretz. He graduated from Oxford Area High School in 1948 and soon thereafter he applied for a entry-level clerk position at the Peoples Bank of Oxford, which had grown somewhat profitable in the years leading up to World War II. Fretz interviewed with Clyde Mason, the bank president. It was the start of a long friendship and professional collaboration, and Mason helped Fretz learn about the banking industry.
In 1951, Fretz married Eleanor Nash and soon they started a family that would eventually include three daughters.
When he wasn’t working or spending time with his family, Fretz was usually singing—people said that he had a wonderful singing voice, and he was a natural showman. While he was still in high school he was involved in a local radio program called “Oxford on the Air.” He was a natural people person, and he became a well-known figure around town—in part because of his involvement with the church and other community organizations.
“He was always active in the community,” said Lawrie Drennen, whose family has owned Oxford Feed & Lumber for generations. “Carl was a classmate. We graduated together in 1948. Then he went to work at the bank and I came here. Everybody knew Carl Fretz.”
As a lifelong resident of Oxford, Fretz was heavily invested in the Oxford community. He was a president of the Lions Club, vice president of the Union Fire Company and its ambulance association, and a founding member of the Oxford Athletic Association. He also served on the Oxford School Board and was on the board of the Oxford Area Historical Association. When Oxford Mainstreet, Inc. was founded, Fretz was a chairman of the board of directors.
As his responsibilities at the bank increased, Fretz played a role in helping many families get the loans they needed to buy their homes. The Peoples Bank of Oxford also extended a lifeline to many small businesses in the area. Fretz was a proponent of supporting local businesses, and was a catalyst for growth in the Oxford area.
“He led the Peoples Bank of Oxford into a new era,” said Vernon Ringler, a longtime business owner in Oxford. “He was always open to supporting businesses in the community.”
During a talk about the history of banking in the Oxford area in 2014, Fretz illustrated the role that the Peoples Bank of Oxford played in the business community by using Dave Eldreth as an example. Eldreth was a teacher at a local school and was seeking a $5,000 loan to pursue his dream of starting a pottery business. He had difficulty securing the funding necessary to pursue his dream, but then he met with Fretz, and was able to get the loan. He turned that $5,000 into one of the largest pottery operations in the U.S.
Fretz’s stature at the Peoples Bank of Oxford grew year after year. He became an executive vice president and then, in 1972, he was selected to serve as its president. One of his primary goals was to help the bank expand its services. When a neighboring building went up for sale, Fretz was able to convince his colleagues to have the bank purchase the building so that it could be torn down to make room for parking and a drive-thru window. The drive-thru window was a useful marketing tool, and attracted many new customers.
Peoples Bank of Oxford opened its first branch on the southern part of town and the new branch proved to be popular. More branches were added throughout southern Chester County as the area experienced a commercial and residential building boom in the 1980s and 1990s. At its peak, the Peoples Bank of Oxford employed more than 120 employees at seven locations from Longwood to Oxford and captured 80 percent of Oxford’s banking business. Fretz liked to say that the Peoples Bank of Oxford was small enough to know a customer, but big enough to provide the customer with the services that he needs.
Fretz celebrated his 50th anniversary with the bank in 1998. The milestone received a great deal of attention in the local media. He also received more than 400 cards and letters from people who had been his customers through the years.
When Oxford Area High School established its distinguished alumni program, Fretz was an obvious choice to be in the inaugural class. He was cited for not only his leadership as a banker, but for serving the community with humility, integrity, and compassion. Fretz also received Oxford's Citizen of the Year Award.
Fretz’s banking career spanned 56 years until he retired in 2004, the same year that the Peoples Bank of Oxford merged with National Penn Bank. He and Eleanor shared 54 years of marriage until she passed away in 2006. Fretz was also a member of the Oxford Methodist Church for 71 years.
Reverend Mark Terry said that Fretz loved attending church services, and was very supportive of the church through the years.
“He stayed involved at the church through a number of different activities,” Terry explained. “He was very passionate about the music program. He loved to sing.”
Terry described Fretz as a very likable person who treated others well.
“I think it's an example of you get what you give,” Terry explained. “He was a good friend and a supporter. He gave others a lot of love and encouragement, and they gave it back to him.”
Buzz Tyson met Fretz in 1995 when he became the executive director of the Lighthouse Youth Center.
Tyson recalled that when he and Lighthouse Board Chairman Barry Hostetter signed an agreement to get a loan to purchase the building on 47 South Third Street for the Lighthouse Youth Center, Fretz was interested in learning about Tyson's family and the big plans that he had for the center.
“I learned later that Carl wanted to know my family values and work ethnic to gauge if he should give out a loan," Tyson explained. “The fact that I grew up on a farm and had two jobs to get me through college was something that Carl appreciated, and he had a desire to help me bless the children of Oxford.”
More than a decade later, Fretz was instrumental in organizing a fundraising breakfast to bring Steve Wingfield, an evangelist from Virginia, to southern Chester County for a three-day outreach event in Jennersville.
“Carl liked to see individuals who had a big vision and ideas to bless the Oxford community,” Tyson explained. “He always wanted them to succeed. He enjoyed seeing the new Lighthouse built and liked that we were building for now as well as the future.”
Tyson said that Fretz supported the Lighthouse during various fundraisers. When the Lighthouse would sell subs or Easter Eggs during fundraisers, Fretz would buy enough to feed the children at the Lighthouse. He also made a contribution to the building project.
“Carl was known for his encouraging words and got excited to see a big vision and ideas going on in Oxford to bless the community,” Tyson said. “Carl would love to financially support these programs and love to encourage individuals to keep dreaming big in Oxford.”