GCSHOF 2022: Frye grew up in glorious athletic era and spend his later life giving back to his community
By Richard Walker
When Bob Frye first made a name for himself in Gastonia, he was a part of one of the greatest eras of athletics and athletes in city history that included his older brother.
Now 95 years old, Bob Frye is best remembered for contributions to his community, his church and his college alma mater of Duke University.
“You’ll never hear him talk about how great an athlete he was – and he was an accomplished three-sport athlete,” said his oldest son Bobby Frye. “He’s always passed along the compliments to others.”
Adds younger son Toby Frye: “My father’s passion spreads to everybody. When you talk about a solid human being who reflects Christ and was a good man, it was my dad. And he also was a great athlete.”
A three-sport star at old Gastonia High, Bob Frye played football and baseball at Duke University before embarking on a business career with the Mount Olive Pickle Company that got an assist from his mother. He also created a legacy by becoming an influential member of Duke’s “Iron Dukes” booster club, helping create Gaston County’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes and has had a building named in his honor at Gastonia’s Holy Trinity Lutheran Church following his years of teaching Sunday School classes.
A broken arm kept Bob Frye from playing football as a high school sophomore as he watched his older brother Jerry Frye along with future Gaston County Sports Hall of Famers like Wade Walker (1972 induction class), Earl Groves (1975) and Charlie Pearson (2011) help Gastonia High to unprecented success.
The Green Wave not only won its first conference title in school history in 1942 but also knocked off nearby rival Charlotte Central for the first time before finishing as N.C. Class 2A state runner-up.
Bob Frye started his athletic career in basketball and baseball while also prepping for future greatness in football.
With Pearson as his halfback, Bob Frye and Gastonia High had a 12-7 football record the next two seasons with Pearson scoring 179 points – including a county-record 122 in 1944 – with Bob Frye throwing 10 touchdown passes.
The 8-2 football team of 1944 shared the Western Conference title for the school’s second league championship in three years.
On the basketball court, Bob Frye was an all-conference performer who helped the Green Wave to a 40-16 record.
And on the baseball diamond, he was a standout hitter and pitcher who helped Gastonia go 33-8 in his last three seasons. That included a co-state title in 1945 due to World War II gas rationing restrictions that kept Gastonia from meeting Wilson for the state championship.
In that spring of 1945, Bob Frye had a 7-1 pitching record with 72 strikeouts in 68 innings that included both victories over Winston-Salem in the best-of-three series that gave Gastonia the Western title for the first time since 1937.
“I played on a football team with Charlie Pearson, Jimmy Hooten, J.C. Roberts, Ken Deal, Ken Bost and so many other talented players,” Bob Frye said. “Charlie Pearson was the best little player around. He weighed 138 pounds and was just a wonderful player. I was the quarterback and he caught everything I threw and made good things happen.
“In baseball, we beat Winston-Salem to win the Western part but we were declared co-champions because we couldn’t travel due to the gas rations.”
Bob Frye’s talents, just as Jerry Frye’s talents two years earlier, gained the attention of Duke football coach Wallace Wade and Duke baseball coach Jack Coombs. And just like his older brother, Bob Frye was offered a full scholarship to play both sports for the Blue Devils.
That post World War II era was incredible for college athletics in the Triangle; Duke and North Carolina were among the country’s top football programs (with future Cherryville resident Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice starring at North Carolina) and legendary coach Everett Case had just been hired to build a championship-winning basketball program at N.C. State.
The Frye brothers helped Duke to a 18-15-4 overall football record and 13-5-4 league record from 1945 to 1948 and a 60-47-2 overall baseball record from 1946 to 1949. Jerry Frye was a two-time baseball captain while Bob Frye got early playing time at quarterback but had a career derailed by persistent shoulder injuries.
“We had great football teams and players,” Bob Frye said. “When I played, everybody had talented players because all of the soldiers from World War II were allowed to play.
“I was an 18 year old boy playing college football and I started my third game there as a freshman. Unfortunately for me, I was injured in football a lot. I had a shoulder injury and couldn’t throw a baseball anymore.”
After college, Bob Frye spent time in the military before returning to Gastonia where his mother Birdie Robinson had been hired as the first female saleperson for Mount Olive Pickle Company.
Bob Frye would work briefly for a pharmaceutical company in the 1950s before embarking on a 66-year career at Mount Olive that saw him rise all the way to national sales manager. His two sons later worked at Mount Olive and Bobby Frye is currently in his 41st year with the company as its president and CEO.
Having business success wasn’t enough for Bob Frye.
He would get involved in starting the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in 1965 after his Duke fraternity brother, Loren Young, came to Gastonia to help get the group started locally; Young was a FCA regional director based in Atlanta at the time.
Bob Frye also was active at his church, Holy Trinity Lutheran in Gastonia, as a Sunday School teacher. And in honor of his efforts there, the Sunday School building at that church is named in his honor.
“I’ve been blessed with a lot of things in my life,” Bob Frye said. “This (Hall of Fame honor) is just another one of those blessings.”