Russell Geiser, leader of N.J. string bands, Verizon worker

Russell J. Geiser (left) in front of the South Jersey String Band of Berlin, of which he was founder and president.
Russell J. Geiser (left) in front of the South Jersey String Band of Berlin, of which he was founder and president.
Posted: April 05, 2014

Russell J. Geiser never played an instrument, certainly not one with a Mummers string band.

But at one time or another, each of his five children marched up Broad Street playing in a string band to celebrate New Year's Day.

And at one time or another, his daughter Mary Raschilla said, Mr. Geiser was president of the Palmyra String Band, then of the Palmyra South Jersey String Band, and founder and president of the South Jersey String Band of Berlin and then its successor, the Berlin String Band.

"We all went up The Street," Raschilla said. "He was our grand marshal."

On Monday, March 31, Mr. Geiser, 83, of Berlin, a former supervisor in South Jersey for Verizon, died of lung cancer at home.

Robert Schuhl, who was one of the three inducted Sunday into the Mummers Hall of Fame, recalled working with Mr. Geiser as a member of the South Jersey String Band in the 1980s.

"He was one of the best presidents I had in string bands," Schuhl said. "You knew he was in charge when he was there."

Schuhl, 72, began his Mummers career in 1950 and now marches in the Hegeman String Band with his wife, Joni Geiser, another of Mr. Geiser's daughters.

"In 1968," Raschilla said, Mr. Geiser "and his two sons joined the Palmyra String Band."

The twin sons were 14, she said, "and he went out and bought them both banjos," which they had never played before.

Mr. Geiser became a behind-the-scenes worker for Palmyra, based in his hometown, Berlin.

After he was chosen as the Palmyra president, she said, "it became a family affair for us. Our mother started to make costumes and do the makeup.

"Everybody was there."

The thrill of marching up Broad Street wasn't what made him a Mummer.

"I would imagine it was the camaraderie of friendship and the music combined," she said.

Mr. Geiser grew up in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, dropped out of high school and served as a Navy submarine mechanic off Korea during the conflict there. He earned his high school diploma in the Navy.

He began his career as a repairman with New Jersey Bell Telephone Co. "He used to get called out in the middle of the night all the time" when she was growing up, Raschilla said.

Later, she said, "he worked in the test bureau" for the firm's equipment. For Verizon, "he was promoted to test bureau supervisor," in an office near Atlantic City.

"He retired rather young, when he was in his early 50s, because he wanted to travel with my mother."

Besides his daughters, Mr. Geiser is survived by son Russell, daughter Nancy Geiser-Tomko, and five grandchildren. His wife, Joan, died in 2006; a son, Albert, died in 1993.

A viewing was set from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, April 4, and 9 to 10 a.m. Saturday, April 5, both at Costantino Funeral Home, 231 W. White Horse Pike, Berlin, before a 10 a.m. funeral service there, with interment in Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Berlin.

Donations may be sent to the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, 1140 King Rd., Immaculata, Pa. 19345.

Condolences may be offered to the family at www.costantinofh.com.


wnaedele@phillynews.com

610-313-8134 @WNaedele

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