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New Hope Bids Farewell to Native Son ‘Captain’ Bob Gerenser

Bob Gerenser New Hope Free PressRobert V. Gerenser, heir to New Hope’s famed Gerenser Exotic Ice Cream shop, former borough council member, former president of the Independent Merchants Association, commanding officer and founder of the Coryell’s Ferry Militia, historical reenactor, and volunteer firefighter, died from heart failure on Saturday, May 28 at Frankford Hospital in Philadelphia. He was 63.

Gerenser is survived by his life partner Justine Walters of New Hope; his children Lt. Robert V. Gerenser Jr., National Guard, of Philadelphia, and Kiersten Lee Smith of Ottawa, Canada; his sister Judy Williamson of New Hope, and his nephews Frederick S. and Michael B. Williamson of New Hope.

Born in Trenton, Gerenser owned and operated Gerenser’s Exotic Ice Cream parlor in New Hope, a business established by his parents in 1946, and also operated the Coryell’s Ferry Historic Boat Ride. 

“We were together for nine years, and we worked side by side in the ice cream store, on the the ferry boat, and on the wholesale business,” recalls Walters. “We spent countless hours on the river, talking about the future, our hopes, and dreams. Captain Bob was my hero, and I was his North Star. He was the love of my life.”

Aside from membership on New Hope Borough Council, Gerenser served as a judge of elections, and was a 17-year member of the New Hope Eagle Volunteer Fire Company. He was captivated by history, particularly the American Revolution, and was the commanding officer and founder of the Coryell’s Ferry Militia. He had a penchant for historical reenactments, and in 1999 was elected to portray General George Washington in the Christmas Day re-enactment of the Revolutionary War crossing of the Delaware River, and again at two additional crossing re-enactments.

Gerenser earned an associate’s degree from Bucks County Community College, and also attended Rider University in New Jersey. A man of many interests, he collected rare coins and rocks, was fascinated by space travel and NASA, and studied acting and theater history. Gerenser appeared in local stage productions and films, including the locally-produced “History of Benjamin Franklin,” and was an accomplished karaoke singer.

His father, Stephen J. Gerenser, was teaching at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., when he met his future wife Julia Pelikan from Manhattan in New Hope. The couple frequently met at the Village Snack Shop as they made plans to settle in New Hope. When they learned it was for sale, they bought the building, and opened a restaurant of their own. One day, as the story goes, Stephen discovered a small ice cream machine in one of the storage rooms. As luck would have it, he had been raised in a dairy farm in New Jersey, and the rest is history.

Over time, Gerenser’s Exotic Ice Cream emerged, along with a handful of shops and eateries, as the backbone of commercial New Hope serving the Bucks County Playhouse crowd. For families from New York City to Philadelphia accustomed only to chocolate, strawberry and vanilla ice cream, flavors like Honeydew and African Violet seemed magical, and lines snaked for blocks. Bob continued the business until 2014.

“Bob helped anyone who was struggling, and was a true gentleman,” recounts Walters. “He was fascinating, inspiring, and tireless in his love of New Hope. He was an icon that marks the end of an era in New Hope.”

The public is invited to join in the ceremonial scattering of Bob’s ashes at Washington Crossing Park in Pennsylvania on Saturday, June 4, at 10 a.m. Local militias will be attending in uniform, and a salute is planned.

About the author

Charlie Sahner

“Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy." - Einstein


  • I live in MA so news travels slowly. I knew Bob for 20yrs. He was my Commander officer in Coryell ferry militia. He was a great Councilman. My heart is too full to say more. I will miss him. MY condoles to his family

  • Charlie, so great to see you and many of Bob’s friends and familiy! At the luncheon gathering were many folks from Bob’s past and present , all were glad to hear Captain Bob stories! Many thanks to the Hollanders who contributed delicious food trays. (They deserve some new customers!)
    Thanks to Greg for an unusual and kind eulogy featuring an original document of a program from George Washington’s funeral!! As I’ve told family members, Bob would have had a great time!

  • I am deeply saddened by this news. I have known Captain Bob for close to 40 years. I will never forget the puppet shows at the theater and the movies we watched as kids at the theater. As the years passed I was honored to be his massage therapist for close to 25 years. We had a great friendship and I loved to bring my family as well as many bucks county visitors to the ferry for Bobs great knowledge of the New Hope area. The best was Randy’s wedding on the ferry and the cannon ball fired that day. He graciously invited my whole family to his annual authentic 18th century Christmas Ball. At that time we were 22 guests. And a grand time was had by all. I will truely miss this great man. Thank you Bob for everything!!

  • My family moved to Central Bucks when I was 10. We frequently indulged at Gerenser’s, where I remember the children of the family scooping our cones. Many years later our son became a scooper, as Bob had succeeded his folks as The Boss. Kent worked there years, not only scooping, but as an artist outside the store, drawing caricatures to entice more customers. I cherish the memories!

  • I remember Bob from my days inNew Hope, we were on the Eagle Volunteer Fire Dept together back in the mid-late 1970’s for me.
    I feel like maybe life is cyclical and a couple hundred years into the future we will all watch that river flow again, Peace

  • Thank you for the great article Charlie, I worked for Captain Bob as a manager in his ice cream shop and 1st mate on his river boat one wonderful summer years ago. He was a great man to work for; in fact because he was the man he was it really wasn’t like work at all. He treated everyone with respect and was a great teacher, his enthusiasm for American History was infectious and he asked me to help him set-up for a reenactment in NJ once. Rarely does one meet someone like Bob Gerenser and I have nothing but fond memories working for him and visiting him years later. To all of his family, my deepest respect and condolences, thank you Captain Bob for a great summer job all those years ago!

  • Bob was a high school buddy. In his heart he was an actor. But duty-bound to his family business, he put that dream aside as a profession very early. I will always remember his gentleness and good nature. His devotion to our home along the river, that special place,fills my heart. So long pal, well done, good show.

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