Over the last two months, a relatively small group of people have met several times to contemplate the history of the Brockway area and to begin plans for a printed update covering the 35 years since the Brockway Story by Lew Reddinger was published for the community’s sesquicentennial (150 years) in 1986. A lengthy but still incomplete list of events has been compiled in need of details before the 200-year anniversary is to be celebrated in 2022.

According to a memorial in the very first publication of the Brockway Area Historical Society in 1994: Lew Reddinger was born in western Jefferson County in 1910 and was employed by Brockway Glass from 1933 until 1976 for a total of 43 years. During those working years, he began to write his initial soft-covered book Deep Roots the Brockway Area Story, which was well received by local readers. After he retired from the glass plant, Lew began writing the more detailed 190-page hard-bound volume that covered the time period up to 1936. Now we are looking at the years since then until today.

The Brockway Borough Council recognized a need to give credit to the people who have made the community growth possible, and a committee was appointed to honor a “Man and Woman of the Year” annually with a public dinner and program. A committee was formed and the Brockway Area School District supplied the high school cafeteria for a location. The last Saturday evening of January was chosen as the annual date, which has often turned out to be one of the coldest and sometimes snowiest nights of the year. One year it was decided to wait for warmer weather, but then it was too hard to find an available night, so the original date has continued except for 2020 when no date could be found.

For some years now, I’ve had the pleasure of sitting on the committee that pulls this event all together. I’ve learned to be pretty sneaky in getting together biographical information from the families without the recipient catching on. Over the years, we’ve been able to surprise almost every one, although a few have become a little suspicious as the night of the dinner approached. The real burden has rested upon the spouse or other family members who have to carefully choose their every word as they pump out bits of information to fill in gaps in the life stories.

As the names come in, I am often surprised to see names of people that I know personally and considered to be “good people,” but I never would have suspected that they did such “special” things for people in the community, around their church, and with their family. I knew they were nice, friendly people who could provide a good conversation on the street, or in the store – but that’s all. As the discussion proceeds within the committee, I find out a lot of things that I would never have guessed about them. At other times, I can supply similar information for others on the committee. The list is pulled together, the selections made by majority vote, and the plans are begun to bestow this year’s honors.

A lot of people have slipped away without recognition. I’ve always thought of Lew Reddinger as a perfect example. For many years, the “Scribbler” wrote a column in the Brockway Record telling of his youthful adventures in the deep woods of Walburn Run and Shawmut, and then offered his words of advice to young and old based on his experiences. Just as his name came near the top of our list for consideration, he was gone.

He’s not the only one. For example, there have been a lot of memorable teachers in the district – and some real characters. The women were pretty quiet and dignified such as Von Robinson Marshall who could read Shakespeare just as it was meant to be recited; and Leona Shindledecker Bliss who taught all her health classes to chew each bite of food over and over before swallowing to aid digestion, and could identify every bird in the bushes by its first and last name. During my early days in the classroom, there were my neighbors Belva Blakeslee, who accused her less studious classes of not knowing “beans from a bull’s foot,” and Bess Sibley who ruled her room with an iron hand, a sharp tongue, and sometimes a big stick.

Then, there were the unforgettable men like Jim McElhattan who taught social studies by day and farmed in the Beechwoods by night; Charlie Zoffuto who was as much at home with typewriter keys as he was with key plays on the football field; and the very humorous Clarence “Perk” Binney who could start anybody to laughing just being within earshot of his own laugh. These people are all gone from the scene. Surprisingly, none of them could ever have been candidates for “Citizen of the Year” based on their teaching or coaching reputation alone – that was their job, and they were expected to do it.

Bert Riggle was one of my fellow math teachers for many years at Brockway High. Although he led thousands of budding mathematicians through the lines and angles of geometry, composing proofs, and interpreting theorems, this would not have qualified him for “Man of the Year.” Although he drew up all sorts of plays for the football team and showed many a wrestler the right moves to pin his opponent, none of these would have qualified him either – because it was his job. The same thing would have applied to people like Dr. N. F. Lorenzo who provided family health services to half the people of town for a large part of his lifetime – that was his job.

The real qualification would have come through the quiet talks Bert Riggle may have had with former students as he walked his dog around the park in the evening, or a bit of advice on life that he offered to someone on the street as he rode around town on his bicycle, or the little favors that he did for older people from the church or from his neighborhood. The things that were extra – things that would have “earned an extra star in that golden crown to be presented at the pearly gates into heaven” – are the very things that determine who is the “Citizen of the Year.” Their names won’t make it into the history books either, unless somebody tells their story.

Anybody can help with this new book by contributing in writing or story-telling, assisting with research, assisting with editing, or creating word documents (typing, etc.) from submitted writing. To put in your own two or three cents, you can reach the following contacts from the museum that include Bob Tami, Fay Trentini, Jake Rindosh, or Mary Ann Fiddler; local authors that include Nick Hoffman, Andrew Bundy, Rob Keith, Jim Sterrett, or me (Jim Grant). Your first assignment could be figuring out how to contact one of us. But, let’s get this story moving!

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