You could count on a friendly smile and a wisecrack from Frankie Rivas whenever you entered Harry’s Plaza Cafe and he was on duty. Rivas waited tables and tended bar at the venerable eatery for 36 years. “He was Harry’s,” said Dave Perry, the latest owner/manager of the restaurant. It’s a place where the repartee is as substantial as the repast, and Rivas was in the thick of it. “He and his customers were always trading jabs,” Perry said.
Those were verbal jabs. In his youth, Rivas delivered jabs as a featherweight boxer. Although he fought in the amateur ranks, he joked that he made money by selling advertising on the soles of his shoes. He remained a passionate fan of “the sweet science” throughout his life. His friend David Martinez recalled many times Rivas volunteered to mentor young boxers and serve as a referee or judge at amateur events.
Rivas’s cheery demeanor masked a deep sadness. His only son, Frankie Rivas Jr., died in a drowning accident at the age of four. “It’s something he never recovered from,” said Veronica Hunter, one of Rivas’s three daughters. Veronica and her sister, Christina Castro, grew up mostly apart from him, but they came to appreciate their father’s devotion to his job. He was the classic gentleman waiter, always looking good with his bow tie and jacket or vest. He got started at Leon’s, a long-gone downtown restaurant.
“If we wanted to see Daddy, we came to Harry’s,” Castro said. “He’d introduce us to the cooks, the other waiters, the busboys, and the customers.” Hunter observed, “His whole mission in life was to make others happy.”
Frankie passed away on April 7 from liver failure. He was 65. Harry’s was crowded with his old friends at a wake the Sunday after Easter.
“We got an hour with him in the hospital before he fell asleep,” Hunter said. She reported that Frankie managed one last joke. “He told us, ‘If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t be a fighter.’ We said, ‘Why, Daddy? You love boxing.’ He said, ‘Yeah, but I can’t remember it.'”
HALL OF FAME: The Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table’s 42nd annual Hall of Fame banquet is less than two weeks away-Monday, May 11, at the DoubleTree Resort. Friends and family of the new inductees-Jeff Azain (San Marcos and Westmont basketball), Ati Conner (Dos Pueblos wrestling), Ken Duncan (Carpinteria football, basketball, and track), Jenny Hehnke (Dos Pueblos softball pitcher), Amelia White-Escalante (SBHS and UCSB tennis star), Virgil Elings (generous benefactor), Mike Beresford (volleyball coach), and the late Stubby Herman (legendary umpire)-are advised to reserve their places at sbart.org. Questions? Call 705-4949.
BREAKER NEWS: Taylor Rochestie will not be playing for the Santa Barbara Breakers after all. He considered starting his pro career with the hometown team, Rochestie said this week, but he decided to train in Scottsdale, Arizona, with his agent Todd Eley and prepare for a higher-profile summer league. He hopes to be invited to an NBA camp or land an offer from Europe. The former Santa Barbara High star has to finish one more class to earn his communications degree from Washington State. He played his greatest game for the Cougars, a 33-point effort in an 82-81 victory over UCLA, after Carpinteria’s Surf Dog vendor, Bill Connell, left him a phone message urging him to “shoot the frigging ball.” “He deserves at least half the credit,” Rochestie said. The Breakers did okay without him in their home opener last Saturday, scoring a 120-78 victory over the Beijing Aoshen Olympian team. They host the Orange County Gladiators at SBCC on Saturday night.
GAMES OF THE WEEK: Dos Pueblos High swimming coach Chris Parrish says it’s going to be “an epic, epic meet” when the Chargers host the Santa Barbara Dons at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, May 1, at DP’s Elings Aquatics Center. : UCSB is offering free tickets for this weekend’s softball games to local educators. The Gauchos are playing UC Davis in a double-header at noon on Saturday and a single game at noon on Sunday. UCSB’s first-year pitcher Krista Cobb has a 16-8 record and a perfect game to her credit. Elementary and middle school teachers and administrators can pick up ticket vouchers at their schools, while high school educators should call 893-ucsb.