You Sure Did Make Your Mark in Life
by Eddie Adlum
Al Kress has died at age 80 of pneumonia following a bad fall at his home in Jupiter, Fla., in late August. That fall resulted in very serious injuries which brought him to the Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center where he passed away just after midnight on Monday morning, Sept. 12, 2022, surrounded by loving family members.
I bylined this piece because it’s bound to get personal. Years ago, the late Florida route operator Sol Tabb posed a question to me: “How many friends do you think you have in the business?” When I answered, “A lot, I think,” Tabby responded: “You’re lucky if you have six.”
I think he was cautioning me that business relationships weren’t like when you and your best friend Skippy played stickball back in the park and then went out for a Coke. What I know is that I may not even have had six, but I sure had at least one, “Kressie,” as he liked me to call him.
As his friend and Jupiter, Fla., neighbor Paul Jacobs said when I got him on the phone: “Al was one of those rare guys who checked all the boxes in this business…manufacturer, distributor and operator. He sure had a ton of ambition!” I’d like to add at least one more box, association work, since he once served as president of the AAMA.
Al and I actually grew up in this business, he while putting some machines out as a college student and me just after the Army cut me loose and I hooked up with Cash Box magazine.
I first met him at the Westchester Operators Guild Christmas party at some restaurant in the New York suburb of Westchester County. It was the first of many times me and my then-wife Tippy broke bread with Al and his wife of 60 years come 2023, Donna.
Before graduating from Rider College with a B.S. in business administration, Al had nailed around 15 jukeboxes and games in locations around the campus. He graduated in 1963, called his company Cortlandt Amusements, and went on to build one of the bigger route operations in that part of the world, headquartered in the Hudson River township of Peekskill. (That office served as police HQ in one of my movies, where the head cop actor was yacking into the phone while one or more cases of cigarettes were just off camera.)
Ever eager to grow in his adopted industry, Al added Coin Machine Distributors to his credits with offices in nearby Elmsford, N.Y., afterward also opening an arcade in that burg. Among the lines he represented were Atari, Bally, Midway and Rowe. At one time, he was one of Rowe’s largest jukebox dealers in the country. (For a time, he also ran a satellite office in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Talk about ambition!)
In 1988, Al, Donna and family (which counted son AJ, daughter Kathy, and the twins Melissa and Denise) relocated to Florida. In short time, he, former Bally Boston distributor Arnold Kaminkow and the former Allied Leisure’s chief designer Ron Haliburton formed a brand-new amusement machine maker they called Benchmark Games.
Beginning with Roll for Gold and heading into many others that did well on the charts and on location, Al and Ron (years after Arnold’s departure) sold the company to Elaut, the big crane and pusher manufacturer. As now one of the Florida trio of Jerry Marcus and Mort Ansky, the non-stop Kress had to face one of his biggest fears: retirement.
Jerry Marcus once said: “Al’s too antsy to sit still. And he doesn’t have a hobby. Eddie, eating isn’t a hobby!” (Forgive me, Donna. This was just too good not to include.)
So, Al passed with an unfinished dream: opening a business, probably to be called “A Amusements.” He set his mind on constructing an office building in Jensen Beach, Fla., where son AJ would move his Florida Music and Vending route HQ while Al would scour the net for old great games he’d reintroduce to the market. The building is just about complete, but I can only assume that Al’s dream died with him.
“My dad was a hero and mentor to many,” said AJ. “He was larger than life, and as your daughter Ingrid put it, he was coin-op royalty. He was a very generous, kind and caring man to many people, always willing to listen to someone’s new ideas for our industry.
“He will be sorely missed by his family, business associates and countless others he helped along the way. Game over, Daddy,” AJ added.
Countless tributes have come to family expressing regret for Al’s passing. Jersey Jack Guarnieri emailed me: “I’m so sorry about Al. I knew you guys go back forever. Al was one of my biggest cheerleaders. A sweet guy. Rest in God’s peace.”
As a lifelong practicing Catholic, a funeral mass for Al took place Friday, Sept. 16, at St. Christopher’s Church in Hobe Sound followed by a celebration of life that Sunday at the Aycock-Riverside Funeral and Cremation Center in Jupiter.
If you can hear me, Kressie, we were kids when we his first started and we grew old in this business together. You may be gone, but I’ll never forget the night of the mystery luggage at LaGuardia Airport on our way to the MOA show in Chicago. I bet the angels are gathered around you, asking: “You guys really did that? Really?’” As Jack said, rest in God’s peace.