Recalling Frank Farley

The Frank S. Farley Service Area on the A.C. Expressway.
The Frank S. Farley Service Area on the A.C. Expressway. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)

Expressway event honors "most influential legislator."

Posted: March 01, 2014

ELWOOD, N.J. Most people probably completely skip over the name "Frank S. Farley" on the signs and focus on the words Service Area while motoring down the Atlantic City Expressway in need of a fill-up on food or fuel.

But without Farley - a Republican state senator who became leader of Atlantic County's political machine when the infamous Enoch "Nucky" Johnson was sent to prison for tax evasion in the 1940s - the 44-mile run that transports drivers from Philadelphia to the New Jersey Shore might never have been built.

And so, two dozen descendants of Farley gathered at the Frank S. Farley Service Area on Tuesday to rededicate his reconditioned photographic portrait, which has adorned the lobby since the service plaza was renamed for him soon after his death in 1977. He was remembered, in the 50th-anniversary year of the expressway, as a one-of-a-kind public servant who could get the job done. Farley served 34 years in the legislature, from the late 1930s to the early 1970s.

"I can't imagine anyone being able today to do what he managed to do back then with this expressway," said Frank J. Ferry, an eighty-something former federal prosecutor who became Farley's law partner in the 1960s.

Ferry recalled how Francis Sherman "Hap" Farley, the youngest of 10 children, born in Atlantic City in 1901, had a deep voice that he could "modulate" and use to "really talk to people."

And he had his own keen fashion sense: Morning, noon, and night, Farley appeared in exquisitely tailored double-breasted suits.

"I was there when they were trying to get him into a single-breasted suit because the fashions had changed. . . . He wanted none of it," recalled Ferry.

Farley was a master at reaching across political and ideological lines, often inviting the 21 state senators at the time to come to Atlantic City for the weekend to enjoy the resort while creating camaraderie among the group that would later aid him in negotiations. That was before the Supreme Court changed representation to be by population, not county lines, making it easier for politicians like Farley to wield control over more densely populated regions.

Farley long served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention and in 1968 was instrumental in getting delegates to switch support from favorite son Clifford P. Case to Richard M. Nixon.

"But he accomplished so much more than just the expressway for Atlantic County," Ferry told Farley's family members, reporters, and a traveler or two who had wandered over from the fast-food area inside the plaza to listen to the remembrances.

"Stockton College, Atlantic Community College, Farley Marina, Hap had the foresight to know what this area needed moving forward in the future. But he was so good at making things happen because he genuinely liked people," said Ferry. He recently published a book called Nucky - The Real Story of the Atlantic City Boardwalk Boss as a kind of set-the-record-straight tome to Boardwalk Empire, the HBO series focusing on Atlantic City and a fictionalized Nucky. The show grew out of another homegrown tale, of the same name, by Hammonton resident Nelson Johnson, a Superior Court judge who in 2002 published Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City.

But unlike the larger-than-life characters that get revamped and re-created for cable TV stories, Farley was the real deal, according to Karen DiMeo Buondonno, his great-great-niece, who offered remarks on behalf of the family at the portrait rededication.

"He was a talented legislator who certainly understood the art of wheeling and dealing. He was a true visionary who used those talents to help develop Atlantic County," said DiMeo Buondonno, an unmanned aircraft researcher at the Federal Aviation Administration's William J. Hughes Technical Center in Pomona.

While in the legislature, Farley pushed to have the FAA build the center in South Jersey, and after he left office rallied support against a plan to move it to Oklahoma.

"My father worked at the tech center and without Uncle Hap's help, we would have had to move to Oklahoma and I would have been a cowgirl instead of a Jersey Girl," DiMeo Buondonno said.

Farley had plenty of nieces and nephews, but he and his wife, Marie "Honey" Feyl, had no children. When he died at age 76 at his Ventnor home, a New York Times obituary called Farley "probably the most influential legislator in New Jersey history," and an "artful negotiator whose backroom wheeling and dealing was legendary."


jurgo@phillynews.com609-652-8382

@JacquelineUrgo

www.inquirer.com/downashore

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