The Patron of Selinsgrove
The Story Behind the Bicycle
Francis Rine “Rudy” Gelnett was born September 12, 1915 to Ella and Francis Gelnett. Rudy’s early life was a difficult one, as he lost his father in the 1918 influenza pandemic when he was very young. Rudy also had two brothers, one of whom died a few weeks after being born and the other died of pneumonia as a child.
As a young boy, he received piano lessons, which he continued on for longer than other boys his age did. He also taught himself to play guitar, banjo, and several other brass instruments. This was only the beginning of his future in music.
Rudy became thoroughly involved in many things in the community from high school to college. He organized Rudy Gelnett & His Collegians while at Susquehanna University. In the summers of 1936 and 1937, his “combo” was the first Pennsylvania college band to play on trans-Atlantic liners, the H.M.S Georgic and U.S.S. Aquitania:
“We played two sets a day, over and back, both times.”
After graduating from Susquehanna University in 1937, he became a teacher in the Union City schools, near Erie, PA. He taught school from 1937 to 1942 in Union City and from 1947 to 1959 in Shillington.
He entered the U.S. Navy when World War II started and was in the combat zone. He was also called back to serve during the Korean War, serving a total of seven years of active duty.
He retired from teaching in 1959 and played solo piano for Susquehanna Homecoming and Alumni Day luncheons for over forty consecutive years.
Rudy Gelnett passed away on November 10, 2010, at the age of 95. Upon his death, he left $6 million to Selinsgrove, the community that he dedicated his life to. He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Selinsgrove, PA.
“Rudy and his sturdy Columbia bicycle, which he continued to ride until a few weeks before his death, were ubiquitous in town.”
Humility & Secrecy
"Gelnett was known as a mysterious man. He rode his bike around Selinsgrove, and few, if any, knew of his wealth until after his death."
Rudy Gelnett was a man of humble beginnings who did not actively seek recognition. He wanted to give back to his community of friends in Selinsgrove, a community that supported him as much as he did for them. His story is consistent with many other stories from around the globe of people who volunteer and actively help those around them.
The action of donating money upon his death saw to the fact he would be remembered for doing what he had always done: helping those he cared about. But the amount he had saved and set aside to give is what is most intriguing.
- $300,000 to the Synder County Library (now named in his honor).
- $135,000 to Susquehanna University
- $100,000 to three friends each, totaling $300,000
- $125,000 to Mary C. Freishaw
This, of course, does not add up to the approximately $6 million he left to the community. The rest was put into The Rudy Gelnett Trust, which "annually gives out about $225,000 to various nonprofit organizations and agencies, including the Gelnett Memorial Library, Selinsgrove Community Pool, and parks and recreation." Ensuring that he would continue to help his community well after his passing.
His bicycle currently hangs to the left of the circulation desk of the Rudy Gelnett Memorial Library; a true monument to his legacy.