Fred Frillici ’52 has taught thousands of children from the Bridgeport area how to fish,

by Meredith Guinness

Fred Frillici ’52 knew he could make a fisherman out of Lily Garbe. And did he ever.

Two weeks after he helped her catch her first perch in a Redding, Conn., reservoir, Frillici saw Lily, who has Down’s Syndrome, in church. “So Lily,” he asked, “how big was that fish again?

“It couldn’t have been more than four or five inches, but she held her hands out and it had become about 9 or 10 inches long!” Frillici said. “Two weeks after that, it was up to a foot.”

Fisherman FredThe next time he asked, the little girl – in full angler’s exaggeration – stretched her arms out as far as they could go. “Now that’s a true fisherman!” said Frillici, laughing proudly.

Lily is just one of the nearly 5,000 children Frillici has introduced to the fine art of fishing in the last 23-plus years. A chief instructor with the Connecticut Aquatic Resources Education (CARE) program, he goes wherever he’s asked, volunteering with dozens of public school classes in Bridgeport and with suburban kids in Greenwich, Weston, Stratford, and beyond. He often works with Aquarion Water Company, teaching children at their picturesque reservoir in Redding.

Most recently, he worked with a group of children with special needs organized by Lily’s mom, Mary Bolger Garbe ’81.

“It’s a wonderful program,” said Garbe, the daughter of longtime math professor Bob Bolger ’51, who, it turns out, was studying on campus at the same time as Frillici, a biology major. “A lot of kids aren’t really exposed to this unless they have someone in the family who fishes. As parents today, we know they’re all hooked into the electronics the iPods and the videogames. This is an alternative to that. And it’s great just to see the kids are outside.”

Frillici doesn’t just hand each child a rod and reel and head for a trout-stocked stream. His course usually includes four or five two-hour classes showing the kids the ins and outs of a tackle box, how and when to fish, basic baiting and casting techniques, and how to find fish, which is half the battle. Once they’re ready, the group heads out to a local reservoir to practice what they’ve learned. “I usually take them somewhere where I’m pretty sure they’re going to catch something,” said the retired scientist and active member of Fairfield’s Golden Stags.

The classes are about a lot more than fishing, though. Frillici believes it may be his Jesuit education that instilled in him the importance of inspiring others. “It’s that Jesuit tradition of passing it on,” said Frillici, who has six children of his own with his wife Claire. “I also learned from the Jesuits how to be a sneaky son of a gun. See, I’m giving a little class in religion along with it. I get them out in nature. There’s a thing of beauty out there and I tell them to take a deep breath and really look around. Some of these inner-city kids have never been out in nature like this.”

Dead FishFinding success with a new skill can translate to success in other areas, too – most notably, the classroom, according to Christine Griffin, a fourth-grade teacher at Stratford’s Lordship School. One of Griffin’s young students was having trouble casting during a class. Frillici worked with the boy and when he followed the veteran angler’s suggestions, he cast farther than anyone in the class.

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