New memoir ‘plumbs’ depths of family history

by Len Lear
Posted 9/14/23

You might say that Erdenheim business owner Ryan Rex plumbed the depths of his soul to write his newly released book.

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New memoir ‘plumbs’ depths of family history


You might say that Erdenheim business owner Ryan Rex plumbed the depths of his soul to write his newly released “American Dysfunction: The Ballad of Alex Walker.” Rex's family business, Rex and Sons, at Bethlehem Pike and Rich Avenue, has been fixing plumbing problems for area homeowners for the last four generations. 

Three of his ancestors have streets named after them in Northwest Philadelphia. One of them, George V. Rex (1804-1883), was a trustee of the area’s first public school, Harmony School, and was a major force behind the founding in 1852 of the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. Summit Avenue was renamed Rex Avenue for him in 1897. According to the Erdenheim author, Rich Avenue in Erdenheim was named for Enos Rich, his great-grandfather. It dead ends onto Stevens Road, which the author insists was named for his father, Steve Rex.

But despite the family history, Rex's memoir is not exactly a valentine. It is hard on some family members – including a brother who Rex said died of a drug overdose. 

“My granddad kept everything under control, but he died in 2015,” Rex said. “I still meditate and practice the good ethics that he taught me. “

Although he is now in the family plumbing business, Rex has always loved writing, and when he wrote an article as a senior in college, “the professor said I should keep doing it, that I had something there, so I kept writing.”

He later turned that article into a comic book, and then a screenplay. 

“I kept rewriting it for three more years to make it into a book, but I could not get past 20 pages. I was a member of a book club, where Michael Pogach, an English professor at Arcadia, helped me,” Rex said. “For example, when I showed him my work, he would say, 'Women don't talk that way' or 'You have to get into the heads of the characters.'” 

He finally finished the book in early 2019 and sent it to 50 different publishers.

“Everyone rejected it. Then the 51st one, Austin Macauley (New York, London), a hybrid publisher, took it. I submitted it in November 2021, and in January 2022 they offered me a contract,” he said.  “I'm not an Ivy League grad. I'm just a shmo who loves writing. I'm just having fun. It is cathartic. I have been to numerous bookstores, libraries, newspapers and social media, promoting it. (Pennsylvania College of Technology) just put it in their library. That was a thrill.”

Ryan Rex, who is often kidded about the similarity of his name to Rex Ryan, former coach of the New York Jets (and son of the late Eagles' coach, Buddy Ryan), lived in Ambler as a teenager and attended Upper Dublin High School, where he was a wrestler and a weightlifter. 

“Where I grew up, there was too much bad behavior, drugs and partying,” he said. “When I was 13, Dad put a shovel and wheelbarrow in my hands and told me to fill potholes. I had two tons of stone, taller than I was. I spent every day after school filling potholes.”

Rex spent four years at the Pennsylvania College of Technology, a trade school in Williamsport. Then he worked for a local plumbing firm and eventually for Rex & Sons with his father and grandfather. He lived with his father, at his house in Erdenheim, before moving to Manayunk, and then eventually buying a house in Montgomeryville.

And despite the dysfunction of his early years, life has turned out well. Rex has a wife, Lauren, who formerly worked for him, two children, Logan 12, and Mackenzie, 9, a dog (Jack Russell and Chihuahua mix) and a cat. A niece, Alyssa, now works for him as well.

“My dad and I now have a great relationship, ever since he sold me the business in May of 2022,” Rex said. “He saw how I turned out and has more respect for me now.” 

Rex's business is located in a charming old horse barn that his great-grandfather built. It looks like a museum with all kinds of plumbing equipment in display cases, comic book covers covering every inch of some walls, humorous cartoons and table and kitchen cabinets that he himself built from scratch.

Rex, who has just finished writing his second book, said, “I will probably get knocked by professional English major types, and that is OK. I welcome that.” 

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