Jinx Becker: An Early Champion Reminisces
Last June marked the 50th anniversary of the Philadelphia Girls’ Rowing Club’s win in the very first National Women’s Rowing Association Championship. Anita (Jinx) Becker Sacco is now wading deep into her memories of that 1966 triumph in Seattle as she organizes a reunion of those pioneering oarswomen some time this year.
“I was a member of that crew and sat in seven seat,” she wrote me. “We were having trouble ‘clicking’ when we got to Seattle, and Frank Cunningham, a coach and boatman for one of the clubs in Seattle assisted us greatly. He went out on the water with us and got us focused. He had been a rower at Harvard, I believe, and had a soft spot for rowers of the eastern style.
“The following year, 1967, we repeated our first place finish in Oakland, California, and I finished first in the heavy single. Doors started opening for us and 1967, in retrospect, was a charmed year. PGRC produced the first U.S. women’s crew to compete internationally in the European Rowing Championships held in Vichy, France that year.” Jinx holds another first place honor. In 1968, she became the first woman rower to join the Vesper Boat Club, that is, if you could call it “join.” Dismayed by some infighting at PGRC at the time, Vesper’s “Gus Constant took pity on me and allowed me to utilize his single there. I was not an official member and had to tread very carefully when going to practice because of the hostility of some male members.”
About then, John B. Kelly Jr. – realizing women’s crew would soon be an Olympic sport – asked Gus to begin recruiting. “Gus became an advocate for women’s rowing at Vesper and an official women’s program was established when his fiancee/wife, Karin [Constant], began to row,” Jinx said. “We had a small core group and produced some impressive wins in national competition, considering our number.”
Jinx during that time lived in a third floor apartment at 2220 Green Street, a brownstone mansion.. “When the Spring Garden area had been fashionable at the end of the 1800s, it had been the private home of Samuel Fleischer,” Jinx said. “Interestingly, as a high school student in the early 1960’s I had attended Saturday classes at the Fleischer Art Memorial at 8th and Catherine in South Philadelphia. Never dreamed that a few years later I would be living in the late Mr. Fleischer’s former home. I admired the work of Thomas Eakins and knew his home had been not too many blocks away. I often wondered how the area actually had looked in its prime. “
As for the reunion, Jinx laments the passing of two members of their crew, Evelyn Berman and Nancy Farrell. “We are all in our 70s, and my philosophy is that we need to do this while we still can.”
(Published Jan. 25, 2017)