Richard "Dick" Seltzer, 91, longtime educator and actor

Posted: July 03, 2014

EVERY CHRISTMAS season, an ebullient guy in a sweater was shown in a Pennsylvania Lottery TV commercial throwing open his window and taking in the happy sight in the street below.

Snow is falling, carolers singing, everybody looking eager for the coming holiday. And what would be Christmas without a Pennsylvania lottery ticket as a gift?

The man called Joe comes out of his house and, acting like Ebenezer Scrooge after his conversion, hurries to Rita's coffee stand and other businesses, handing out the lottery tickets to thrilled recipients.

If you lived in the Philadelphia area and watched TV in the last 20 some years, you probably were exposed to this hokey but charming lottery pitch, filmed in Philadelphia and starring an area educator/actor named Richard "Dick" Seltzer as Joe.

Dick Seltzer, a history and social studies teacher and school administrator who fulfilled a lifelong dream of becoming an actor after his retirement from the schoolhouse, died June 14 of complications of a stroke. He was 91 and was living in West Roxbury, Mass.

Dick starred in a number of other commercials over the years, and showed up in some popular films. He dressed as a circus ringmaster in the PBS commercials for "Reading Rainbow," a children's show hosted by LaVar Burton, to encourage kids to read.

In the film "Signs," starring Mel Gibson and filmed in Bucks County, Dick can be seen standing in line at a pharmacy and looking grumpy.

He didn't have any lines in that film, but got small, but spoken, parts in other movies, like "A Beautiful Mind," "Gettysburg," "Killer Angels," "For Richer or Poorer," and the TV series, "Law and Order."

Maybe he was never in the running for an Academy Award or an Emmy, but he had fun, said his daughter, Sallie "Raven" Estes.

Dick also liked to sing, and performed with the glee clubs of the Union League and the University of Pennsylvania. He also was a skilled violinist and played with the Parkway Orchestra in Boston.

Dick was an Army veteran of World War II, but was never able to get into combat despite being an anti-tank gunner and bugler with the 422nd Infantry Regiment of the 106th Infantry Division.

His unit fought at the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium in 1944, but he wasn't there. Every time his outfit was about to embark to Europe, he was summoned elsewhere.

"He wanted to see combat, but it didn't happen," his daughter said. "He was very upset that the man who took his place in the unit was the only one taken prisoner by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge."

Dick studied German, and was trained in counterintelligence and code-breaking. He was a second lieutenant, but after the war remained active in the Army Reserves and attained the rank of colonel.

He met his future wife, Helen Estes, a native of Philadelphia's East Falls neighborhood, at the Stage Door Canteen in the basement of the Academy of Music in 1943. They married in 1944.

Dick was born and raised in the Washington, D.C., area. He graduated from Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md., in 1941. He went on to Gettysburg College and the University of Maryland, from which he received a bachelor's degree in 1948, after his Army service.

He received a master's degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania in 1951 and a doctorate in education in 1957.

Dick taught in the Upper Darby School District from 1948 to 1951. He held other teaching positions in Maryland, and was vice principal of Wheaton High School in Silver Spring, director of field services for the Maryland State Teachers' Association, assistant director of the University of Maryland's Baltimore campus, and dean of Plymouth State College in Plymouth, N.H.

He was superintendent of schools in Bristol, Pa., from 1963 to 1964, and superintendent of schools in Lower Moreland Township, Huntingdon Valley, from 1964 to 1974. He was superintendent of schools in Columbia, Pa., from 1974 to 1980.

Dick's first attempt at an acting career came after World War II when he was accepted into an acting program at UCLA. He and his wife and their first child, Richard Jr., went to California, but were stymied by a severe housing shortage. He put his acting dream on hold and returned to the Philadelphia area to begin teaching in Upper Darby.

Dick was 57 when he retired from education and took up acting full-time.

He and his family lived on Rittenhouse Square for about 20 years. They also lived in Bryn Mawr, Wynnewood and Huntingdon Valley. He and his wife moved to the Boston area in 2003 to be closer to their children and grandchildren. His wife died in 2010.

Besides his son and daughter, he is survived by four grandchildren and two great-granddaughters.

He will be buried with his wife in Arlington National Cemetery.

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