Abel Correia | WCAI

Abel Correia

Feb 6, 2012

(Note: This is not a full transcript of the radio story. The full story can be heard by clicking above.)

In autumn 2003, Scott Price and his son Pat of Nashville, Tennessee, found themselves driving around Hyannis in a rental car looking for good will. The trip was Scott's idea after Pat graduated from college. During the course of a year, they would travel to all 50 states and interview people about the good things in their lives.

"We were going to try to visit one state each day and cover New England," Scott Price said, "and so when we realized we didnít have time to take the ferry out to Nantucket, I said, 'Lets ride around Hyannis and see what we find.' And we happened upon the Kennedy Memorial -- but, no one there. And then we saw at the far end, a gentlemen sitting in a lawn chair with a baseball cap on. And he got up, walked over and greeted us and introduced himself. He said his name was Abel A-B-E-L, Correia. He spelled it for us. He said, 'Everybody calls me Abe'.

In 1947 Abel Correia joined a vaudeville adagio group, The Three Glenns, who performed in dozens of theaters from around the world. He had a remarkable physique, due to all the strength moves the group performed, and Abel later trained two Mr. Worcester body building champions.

Abe Correia was born in New Bedford, in the fall, 1920. He told his wife that as a boy he spent much of his time at the YMCA, where an instructor named Mr. Kelly, taught him gymnastics, acrobatics and strength training. He worked as a shoe-leather cutter before joining the Navy. Later in life, he spent nearly two decades greeting people at the Kennedy Memorial overlooking Lewis Bay in Hyannis.

ìHe was just delightful," Scott Price said. "And he asked, you know, "What brings you fellas up this way?" We said, well weíre, weíre working on a book. Could we interview you? And he readily agreed. And he was just so inspiring to us. Just such a delightful man who had an interesting life. One of Patís questions was which person living or dead would you most like to meet? And he said, oh Iíd most like to meet General Douglas MacArthur. Abe had served in the pacific for four years during the Second World War. He said general MacArthur was a great general and I would like to meet him. When Pat said, 'If you could begin a new career, what would you choose to do?' Abe said, 'Well, I like what Iíve done.' And he didnít say what he had done. We didnít ask him, and to this day, we still donít know what his career was but he said, 'I like what Iíve done. I feel good about it. Tomorrow will be my 83rd birthday.' And Pat said well whatís the best decision that you made in your life? He said, oh getting married to my wife Shirley."

Shirley was a dancer, a ballerina and a chorus line girl in Australia, and she met Abel in 1949.

"We met in Sydney," she said. "And we worked together for 3 months. My husband was an adagio act, the Three Glenns, and they were the star act that came from Las Vegas. And I introduced their act."

The Three Glenns were well known in America, opening for Vegas stars such as Tommy Dorse and the Big Bands, including Harry James, when a young Frank Sinatra was singing with him. The Glenn's act was not on a high-flying trapeze -- instead it was on the ground and more like dancing, with the three acrobats slowing holding themselves and each other off the floor in graceful strength positions.

"They were the first act in America -- generally acrobats, way back in the Vaudeville days, I'm talking about -- would work bare chested. But not the Glenns. They were the first act to come in and they wore full tux. The act he, when they came to Australia, they worked with Liberace. I'm not sure if you ever heard of Liberace."

Shirley Correia says her husband was recruited for the group from the New Bedford YMCA .

"When he came out of the Navy, the Glenns were looking for a top man," Shirley said, "that would do the top work in their act, so they came to the Y in New Bedford, checked him out and hired him. Then he toured America and Australia."

Six weeks after their first date, Shirley and Abel were married. Shirley's mother was not pleased. But for 10 years they lived in Australia where they raised three children before returning to Massachusetts to take their one of their sons for medical treatment.

"Our dream was to one day have the money to run a gym," she said. "That was his life. He wanted that. But that didn't work out. Because we came from a socialized medicine country, and the money we had saved up to get all these things going for my husband went in about a month at boston children's hospital. So then it was just struggle from then on."

The Correia's gave up their show business dreams to care for their children, and they moved to Worcester when Able got a job managing a gym. He trained two body builders who went on to win Mr. Worcester titles. Correia had a prize-winning physique himself. But unable to survive on his gym salary, he took a job as a custodian for many years at Blithewood Elementary School in Worcester.  Blithewood was one of the last coal-heated schools in the state, and during snowstorms, a dedicated Correia slept on a cot next to the school's furnace so he'd be nearby when it needed coal.

The Three Glenns were well known for their acrobatics and strength moves. The group was featured in this August 1947 installment of Strength and Health Magazine.

"He was just a nice guy," said his daughter, Chris Dube.

"He was known as honest Abe. That was our joke. He was honest and sweet and just liked everybody."

"Honest Abe," Shirley said. "How he got that was when we first moved to Worcester, there was quite a snow storm. And I needed something at a little store. So he walked in the snow, he came home and the snow was all over him, because we didn't own a car in those days. He walked in and said, 'I have to go back. They gave me a dollar too much.'