On the occasion of Warren Harding Mumford’s 95th birthday, the lifelong Bishopville, Md., resident had some stories to tell.
Stories about making the famous “World’s Largest Fry Pan” with his brother Charlie. Stories about serving in the Army during World War II. And stories about dumplings.
Mumford, who was born May 20, 1921, was the guest of honor on Friday, May 20, as family and friends gathered at Doyle’s Restaurant in Selbyville to celebrate his birthday. State Rep. Ronald Gray made an appearance to present Mumford with a proclamation from the state House of Representatives honoring him.
Gray is actually related to Mumford and grew up sharing holidays and special occasions with Mumford and his family. “I don’t know how many oysters we opened at their house,” Gray said. Gray’s mother, Anna Lee Gray, and Mumford’s wife, Agnes, were first cousins.
Gray said his parents, George and Anna Lee Gray, stood up for Warren and Agnes Mumford when the two married in 1946, and Agnes and Anna Lee were roommates together at the University of Delaware before that.
Mumford and his wife were married for 67 years — and, yes, the story of how they met was shared at his birthday celebration by his son, Jeff.
It seems Agnes — whose last name at that time was Long — was walking down the street and tripped on a part of the sidewalk that was lower because it was where coal chutes were emptied. As the story goes, she fell right into the arms of one Warren Mumford. She literally fell for her future husband.
“I consider I was a lucky person to be there,” he said in a previous interview. “Lucky for her and for me. We were married for 67 years,” Mumford said. Agnes Mumford passed away in 2014, at the age of 92.
Mumford is still very much connected to his family’s business, Mumford Sheet Metal Works; he still goes to the plant five days a week, his family said at the party.
His name will forever be linked to what is probably one of the largest cooking vessels ever made: the 10-foot “World’s Largest Fry Pan,” used to fry chicken at Delmarva Chicken Festivals from 1950 to 1988. (A second fry pan, also made by Mumford’s, replaced the original one and was used until the last Delmarva Chicken Festival was held in 2014.)
Mumford’s son Charles recalled that he helped his dad and his uncle cut out the metal for the pan. “Two or three fellows from DPI (Delmarva Poultry Industry) came and asked us to make it,” he said. The pan probably cooked up some business for Mumford’s, as well as the 100 tons of chicken fried in it over the years. “Through the years, it was very beneficial to us, publicity-wise,” Charles Mumford said.
Warren Mumford’s years at the family shop were interrupted by World War II, during which he served with the U.S. Army in Germany. His service was actually deferred for two years because the government needed Mumford’s to keep functioning — the troops needed chickens to eat, and the chicken farmers needed feeding equipment (which was made by Mumford Sheet Metal) in order to keep the chickens fed.
Mumford spoke briefly at his birthday celebration, and mostly about his World War II experiences.
“I was almost killed, but it was not my time,” he said. One time, he explained, a bullet fired by a lone sniper on the opposite side of a river narrowly missed him.
Mumford just missed the historic blowing up of the Ludendorff Bridge by Hitler during the Battle of Remagen, arriving in that area one day later, he said.
The war story that garnered the biggest reaction, though, was the one about the dumplings.
Clearly no stranger to spinning a good yarn, Mumford began, “There were these two girls in Italy,” which brought groans and a few wondering where this story would go. “They made these dumplings that were just so light!” Mumford said. “I asked them what they used to season them to make them taste so good, and they said, ‘Pigeons.’”
“So, I guess you can make dumplings with anything,” Mumford said.
Emotions overcame Mumford for a time as he recalled his wartime days, and also when Gray stopped by to read the tribute to Mumford from the Delaware House of Representatives. Hugging Mumford, Gray said, “I’m so very fond of you. You know I love you.”
Gray said he recalled fondly the many special times the families spent together. Mumford recovered his composure as Gray spoke, and before Gray left, declared to the legislator that “I voted for you!” and thanked him for coming.
The House proclamation — signed by Gray, House Speaker Pete Schwarzkopf and Rep. Rich Collins (R-Selbyville) — sends “best wishes to a special man.”