Memories of The Champ

By on August 22, 2018

Many didn’t believe it until they saw it with their own eyes, but there he was &tstr; Muhammad Ali, in all of his glory (and in a yellow training suit) standing in front of the main door of the Wilbur Chocolate Co. building on North Broad Street.

It happened Monday, Aug. 21, 1978–40 years ago this week. While training for his upcoming fight with Leon Spinks in nearby Deer Lake in Schuykill County, Ali took time out of his grueling schedule to travel to Lititz to introduce his new candy bar–The Crisp Crunch. The unique treat included crisp rice inside of a peanut butter flavored bar, and it was all produced at the famous Broad Street facility. What’s more, the shiny red wrapper which engulfed the bar was also local–it was created only blocks away, at Wagaman Printing on Second Avenue.

“I was there with my three sons,” recalls Lititz resident Lynne Roth Magee. “My oldest son was old enough to hang out with friends and got up close. The other two boys were with me and we were across the street behind a huge crowd, but since he (Ali) was standing at the top of the steps at the door to Wilbur Chocolate, we had a good view.” While at the facility, Ali took a tour of the plant with Frank A. Evans Jr. of Celebrity Marketing Co., who handled the marketing for the candy bar.

Lititz resident George Nickel, who worked for Wilbur at the time of Ali’s appearance. managed to snap this color photo of the famous boxer.

Cheryl Port of Lititz was also there, and remembers a very special meeting with the world-famous pugilist.

“My dad worked at Wilbur Chocolate,” she said. “I got to meet Muhammad Ali. I remember him giving me the peanut butter candy bar and shaking the man’s hand. It was exciting when I was young to meet someone famous. He was a very nice guy.”

“I was 19, between my freshman and sophomore years at Temple, an intern for the Lancaster New Era,” said David Caldwell, who grew up in Lititz.

This framed photograph of Ali from his visit to Lititz also contains an original Crisp Crunch candy bar wrapper.

“They sent me out to do the reporting on the Ali appearance,” he added. “Ali did a tour of the plant and came to the front steps for a photo op of him biting into the candy bar and a brief Q&A. I don’t think the whole thing lasted more than 10 or 15 minutes. I don’t remember much about what he said–I did not save the clipping–but I remember him calling Lititz a ‘one-horse town.’ I remember going to my parents’ house on Crosswinds Drive and calling in all my notes and quotes to a reporter on the city desk, who put together a story that ran with photos on the front page of the New Era’s city edition that night.”

Matt Neff was also there.

“We lived right next door, and used to throw Nerf football with the guys on break. The day Ali came, they snuck my brother and I through the back and got us right out front. Amazing day!”

And then, after a few minutes, he was gone. While countless celebrities have passed through our town (both detected and sometimes under the radar), we have to remember that Ali’s appearance was four decades ago–years before the Internet, cellphones, and the instant gratification of social media. But Lititz was still Lititz, and it was indeed something very special to catch a glimpse of an internationally-known sports figure in our neighborhood.

Cory Van Brookhoven is a staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your comments at cvanbrookhoven@lnpnews.com or 717-721-4423. 

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