Click here to view the Memorial Dedication Program from July 22, 1950
The history of the Veterans Community Memorial Hall’s formal inception began on Monday, November 12, 1945, with a mass meeting of the citizens of Orwigsburg in Greenawalt’s Hall. The meeting was presided over by Harry G. Fegley, President of Town Council. It was “enthusiastically” determined at this meeting to build a suitable memorial to Orwigsburg veterans. All men, women, and children of Orwigsburg were to be represented in carrying out the project and a coordinating committee was subsequently appointed.
The committee and the groups they represented included: Harry Fegley, temporary Chairman; E.E. Steinbrunn, representing the First National Bank & Trust Co.; John Morrison, Jos. W. Morrison, Post V.F.W; Rev. A.L. Creager, C.E. Huegel and L.M. Crumm, churches; Carl Koch, Lions Club; Miss Anne Linder, Girl Scouts; Jesse Houtz and Edgar Wagner, School Board; Harry B. Shoener, H.H. Fessler, Town Council; Mrs. Floyd Marotte, D.A.R; Guy Waltman, Attorney; Prof. Franklin Spitler, Schools; Mrs. Ira Fridirici, Red Cross; Burd Zimmerman, Student body; Dr. W.F. Darkes and Dr. E.L. Klock, “medical men”; Dr. F.S. Olmes, service men; Mrs. J. Bartolett Moyer, V.F. W. Auxiliary; Guy Shoener, James Steele American Legion Post; Harold Shoener, Lutheran Sunday School; Charles Sauer, V.F.W. Band; Claude Waltman, Esq., Trustee of Masonic Lodge; Arthur Bobst, business men; A.H. Edwards, moving pictures; Guy Hartman, Orwigsburg Club; George Leymeister, O.H.S. Alumni Assoc.; Linwood Krater, Reformed Sunday School; Herbert Wagner, Churchmen’s Brotherhood; Mrs. Simon Elias, newspaper; John Musig and Clarence Brown, Friendship Hose Co.; W.J. Dunn, Evangelical Sunday School; Edward Bachman, Sr. Gun Club; Arthur Zulick, H.R. Rohrer, and Philip Rosenkrantz, manufacturers; John F. Krater, Sr., Building and Loan Assoc.; Dr. R.M. Newhard, dentist; E. W. Moyer and Claude Stoyer, garagemen; Paul Faust, Sr, George A. Reed, Karl Eby, Clyde Moyer, Robert Deibert, Charles Miller, Mrs. Guy Waltman, Dr. Ira Fridirici, Sr., Mrs. J. Arthur Wagner, Mrs. Walter Greenawalt, Mrs. Guy Wagner, C. Arthur Fisher, Mrs. Edgar Wagner and H.H. Greenawalt. The diversity of this group and the representation to the intent of “all men, women, and children of Orwigsburg were to be represented” should not be lost to the history or to the success of the completion of the memorial.
Following the citizens meeting the committee named met in the high school auditorium on Wednesday, November 21, 1945 and met every week through the dedication in July 1950. The coordination committee organized as a “permanent group” included Harry G. Fegley, President; Elmer E. Steinbrunn, Vice President; Rev. A.L. Creager, secretary; Harold C. Shoener, Treasurer; Executive Board members included the four elected officers as well as Dr. W.F. Darkes, John Morrison, Jess Houtz, Carl R. Koch, Edgar Wagner and Guy Waltman. The Executive Board organized into separate committees: Campaign, E.E. Steinbrunn, chairman; Site and Building Committee, John W. Morrison, chairman; Publicity, Herbert Wagner, chairman; Program, Mrs. Guy Waltman, chairman. All sixty-one members of the committee-at-large (organizing group) were assigned to one of the committees “to execute the enormous amount of work required in the project”.
The immediate need for incorporation in order to receive funds and transact business was determined and validated when E.E. Steinbrunn, chairman of the Campaign Committee, reported a collection of $ 8000 in a short period of time deposited temporarily in the local bank in the name of the “Coordinating Committee”. Thus the incorporation occurred as “Community Memorial, Inc.” Supported by the local committee members, a meeting was held Christmas eve, 1945, and Community Memorial, Inc. became a chartered organization.
Proposed sites, essay contests, poster contests, citizens meetings, letter writing, house to house solicitations were all utilized to communicate and solicit funds for the project. The history indicates that Wednesday night meetings, extra Executive Board meetings, a constant effort and expenditure of time and money from members of the committee led to a tremendous amount of work accomplished by committee members. “Significant was the fact that all the time and effort by these citizens of Orwigsburg is in addition to their own contribution of money to the project.” A great deal of the initial work was assigned and accomplished by various committees for house to house canvassing for the specific explanation of the purpose of the project, for enlisting the interest of all people of the community, and for the soliciting of funds and pledges.
The resulting response to these solicitations was so gratifying to the committee members responsible for Community Memorial, Inc. that by April 9, 1946, $35,000 had been raised and the committee members realized their vision could not only be achieved but that “further deliberations would permit alterations to the project contingent upon changed conditions and resources”.
A major problem encountered was a choice of site. Natural land features, problems of traffic congestion, convenience, and future development of attractive surroundings created prolonged deliberations. Through the “magnanimous and philanthropic presentation” by Mr. Elmer E. Steinbrunn, a land plot at the juncture of Washington and Grove Streets created a site considered distinctive and useful, “with the possibilities of a recreational center enjoyed by few communities the size of Orwigsburg”.
By December, 1946, the total amount of money for the project reached $42,000. A newly elected Executive Board included the original Executive Board members with the addition of Linwood Krater as Secretary. The new Executive Committee set the goal at $50,000.
Additional contributions, payment of pledges, auction, community “booster” dinner, and various projects during the years caused the members of the Board to never waver from their objectives and increased the funds available. By May 1949, the first contract was awarded to the Luria Engineering Corporation for steel which arrived in September, 1949. Bids for various phases of the work were received and awarded and construction proceeded on a “material and labor cost basis” under the direction of Paul Faust, contractor. All contractors of Orwigsburg were invited to meet the Board of Directors and agreements were made that work would proceed until funds were exhausted. The support and cooperation of the local contractors was “inestimable in the completion of the enormous task confronting the Directors”. Contractors noted in the Dedication Program included Paul R. Faust, General Contractor, Edward J. Bachman & Son, Electrical Contractor, Joh Rutter, Plumbing Contractor and Clayton A. Yeager, Heating Contractor.
The Community Memorial, Inc. Dedication Program described “The support and efforts of all organizations and all groups and professions of the community give evidence of the possible accomplishments of unified action. The interest that accrues in the enriched lives of those who avail themselves of the facilities, will be sufficient reward to those who have labored strenuously.”
The Veterans Community Memorial Hall was “Dedicated to the Memory of the Veterans of All Wars” on Saturday, July 22, 1950. The Officers of the Community Memorial, Inc. Board of Directors were Harry G. Fegley, President; Elmer E. Steinbrunn, Vice President, Linwood P. Krater, Secretary and Harold C. Shoener, Treasurer. The Members of the Board of Directors were W.F. Darkes, M.D., John Morrison, B. Frank Fisher, Franklin C. Spitler, Lester D. Snow and Guy E. Waltman, Esq. The dedication program states “To them has been entrusted the herculean task of building the memorial with limited funds, overcoming obstacles of almost unsurmountable proportions, and persevering in the face of adverse and contumelious criticism. Upon these men, or those who replace them, will fall the responsibility of making this Memorial live in the hearts and minds of the people as a worthy effort to commemorate the sacrifices of our sons and daughters to preserve the ideals of a Free Democracy.”
The Dedication Program included an “Orwigsburg Honor Roll-Veterans of All Wars” including in honor of the ancestors of the citizens of Orwigsburg who fought in the Revolutionary War; the War of 1812; in honor of the ancestors of the citizens of Orwigsburg who fought in the Mexican War; Civil War Veterans buried in Orwigsburg cemeteries; Indian War; Spanish-American War; Mexican Border War; World War I Veterans and World War II Veterans. A “Roll of Honor” Monument was placed in the Orwigsburg Center Square commemorating the names of the Orwigsburg Veterans where a firing squad detail of the 908th Ordinance Reserve Unit, Shenandoah, fired a volley salute to the Veterans of Orwigsburg, during the Orwigsburg Memorial Dedication Parade earlier in the day. The Dedication Program noted: “The Orwigsburg Community Memorial stands today, a tribute, not only to those who fought for home and country, to the citizens and friends who contributed generously, but also to the untiring and unselfish efforts of the men and women who, regardless of attendant discouragements over a period of years, have brought the project to fruition. It will endure in the minds and hearts of those to come, as an inspiration to emulate the loyalty, service, sacrifice, no less in peace than in war. It stands a “Living Memorial.”
An audience of two thousand people attended the Dedication Program which included the Honorable James H. Duff, Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, as the keynote speaker, who was introduced by the Honorable G. Harold Watkins, Secretary of the State Senate. The Governor spoke of how the U.S. was “now going through one of the most serious periods in American history and for many of us here this might be the most critical periods of our lives”, referring to the Korean crisis on the heels of WWII. The Dedication Program was immediately proceeded on Saturday, July 22, 1950 by a community parade featuring six parade divisions.
The week leading up to the dedication was filled with events including the Community Worship Service, Sunday Evening, July 16, 1950; a Community Dance, Wednesday July 19, 1950, with Music by Horace Richards and Orchestra, for a 50 cent admission price; the Orwigsburg High School Play Production “Our Hearts Were Young and Gay” on Thursday, July 20, 1950; and Professional Wrestling Exhibition on Friday Night, July 21, 1950 with Gene Stanlee, “Mr. America” the main attraction. The “Pottsville Republican” on Monday, July 24, 1950 covered the dedication parade and program describing the “climax week-long program of activities centered around the community’s new $ 80,000 center.”
At the Dedication services a plaque was unveiled in the Memorial Building foyer by William Hoy, age 8, son of the late Pfc. Harry and Mrs. Evelyn Grace Litwhiler Hoy of Orwigsburg. The boy’s father Pfc. Harry Schrader Hoy, gave his life during the Philippines campaign of WWII. The plaque read “ERECTED IN MEMORY OF THE VETERANS OF ALL WARS”.
The building remained in Community Memorial, Inc. hands from the time of its construction and dedication until 1967. In 1967 the Community Hall was deeded to the Orwigsburg Borough. The building is still owned and operated by the Borough of Orwigsburg. During the many years of availability and service to the community the Community Memorial Hall served as a gathering place for many community functions with an interior space and an original seating capacity of 1,500, with both permanent and retractable bleachers, a basketball court, locker rooms and restrooms. The building served as an anchor to the overall community recreation area that includes numerous baseball and soccer fields, a playground, a walking trail and at one time an outdoor basketball/tennis court area. The building was used for many years as the home of the Blue Mt. Recreational Program for Orwigsburg. It has been the community gathering place for the formation of the Memorial Day Parade, for the Orwigsburg Lions Club Annual Memorial Day Chicken Barbeque. For many years it was known as the Schuylkill County home for Professional Wrestling. It has been estimated that over 6,000 area residents use the Community Memorial Hall each year.
After a half century of use by the Orwigsburg community, it became apparent that the lack of any significant maintenance and improvements by the Borough of Orwigsburg, the Memorial Building had begun to approach a crumbling state of disrepair including the once pristine brick façade and the cinderblocks over which the bricks were placed. It was clear that to save the building from its current state of disrepair much more time, volunteer dedication and funding would be needed.
A group of concerned individuals identified the community need and as a result the Orwigsburg Veterans’ Memorial Development Taskforce sprung to life around 2005, lead originally by Gary Hitzemann, Chairman and Steve Harding, Vice Chairman. With the blessing of the Orwigsburg Borough Council who owns the building, the goal of the Taskforce was set as 1) to develop the plans to revitalize the Memorial, and once those plans are developed; 2) to assist in raising the necessary funds to complete the project. The project was important and designed to protect the public, repair and improve the building infrastructure and transform the building into a multipurpose facility based on extensive feedback from the community. In addition to Gary Hitzemann and Steve Harding other Taskforce Committee members in 2006 included Larry Dagna, Secretary, Mike Lonergan (then Borough Manager), Treasurer, Jim Crossen, Solictor, Allen Greenawalt, Lions Club Representative and Kathy Wolfe.
In February 2006, the Orwigsburg Veterans Memorial Development Taskforce received tax exempt status under section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code—thus positioning the Taskforce for tax deductible fundraising and receipt of contributions.
To address the building’s structural defects, in 2007, the Borough received a $50,000 grant from the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) to do repairs to the building, including the removal of failed brick veneer, the repair or replacement of rotted wood, and the stabilization of the concrete block building. Also the doors, windows, and block cracks and all the concrete block surfaces were sealed in this Phase I of the renovation project.
In February, 2008, a $100,000 grant was announced by State Rep. David Argall, also provided by DCED, and targeted Phase II of the project which was addressing the heating, electrical and plumbing systems of the building to be renovated. This phase was designed to renovate the building systems to current code while adding air conditioning, additional insulation and energy systems to make the building as energy efficient as possible. Additional funds also secured included a $15,000 grant from State Senator James Rhoades, a $10,000 donation from the Orwigsburg Lions Club, a $2,500 donation from the Schuylkill County Medical Society and $15,000 from First Federal Charitable Foundation.
The Taskforce was committed to Veterans Community Memorial Hall Town Meetings which were held on June 5, 2008 and October 7, 2008 to discuss the Memorial Hall renovations and to seek advice and opinions of borough residents and groups using the building for the renovation project.
In Phase II a state of the art geothermal/solar HVAC system was installed in the Community Hall with the majority of the funds for this work provided by a PA Conservation Works energy grant awarded to the Borough of Orwigsburg by the Department of Environmental Protection. Thanks to a group of volunteers from the Orwigsburg Lions Club, the Orwigsburg Fire Department and Team Orwigsburg, the interior demolition including the permanent bleacher structure, and old bathrooms and storage areas was completed at no cost to the Borough or the Taskforce. The remaining steps of Phase II included the installation of handicap accessible bathrooms, a utility room to enclose the recently installed HVAC improvements, and an all-new electrical system. These improvements allowed the reopening of the building for public use (temporarily closed due to renovations not allowing safe use of the building by the public).
Phase III of the building renovation was initiated in early 2013 after the receipt of two DCED grants, the first in March of 2013, $ 153,000 for the installation of a new roof structure and the second in November 2013, $ 200,000 for exterior improvements including the installation and replacement of the building windows and the installation of a Dryvit, stucco like exterior finish.
Along the way, the Task Force received local and non-profit donations in the approximate amount of $250,000 including the Borough of Orwigsburg, Dale Schoeneman, Boyers’ Food Markets, First Federal Charitable Trust, the Orwigsburg Lions Club (2 donations), M&T Foundation, the Schaeffer Family, Schuylkill Medical Society, Goruck Skook and a PPL multi-year grant. Individual donations came from the Smith Memorial, over seventy “300 Club” donators and several one-time anonymous donors totaling in excess of $ 80,000 in individual donations. Fundraising events including the Memorial 5K Walk/Run in 2012 & 2013; the Derby Day event in 2013 & 2014 and Wrestling events in 2013, 2014 & 2015 and Trivia Night in 2015 have contributed $70,000 to the project. To date, in excess of $ 1.4 million has been raised and placed into the renovation of the Veterans Community Memorial Hall.
In the spring of 2015, the Borough of Orwigsburg was notified of receipt of a $ 200,000 DCED grant to complete land development, entrances, walks, and parking lot finishes on the lower end of Grove Street proximal to the new the Veterans Community Memorial Hall entrance.
The restoration of the cupola, originally part of the First Schuylkill County Court House and obtained as a donation from the County of Schuylkill upon the demolition of the 1912 Building at Rest Haven (the former county skilled nursing facility) where it resided as part of the structure, is being handled by the Masons who are also restoring the original clock which at one time resided as part of the Community Hall structure. It is the goal of the Task Force to include the cupola and the clock as part of the historical artifacts which will be prominently displayed in the Community Hall upon the interior completion.
As the Community Memorial Hall progressed, along the way in 2012, the Orwigsburg Veterans Memorial Development Task Force underwent a reorganization of officers and board members. The reorganization was felt necessary to elevate the energy and support for the project. The Taskforce continues to look for and welcomes all community residents interested in civic minded support including fundraising and event planning for the Community Hall project.
The current Taskforce officers are Greg Stewart, President, Robert S. Carl, Jr., Vice President, Kathy Wolfe, Secretary, and William Reppy, Treasurer. The Board of Directors includes John Boyer, Nick Bagdonis, Allen Greenawalt, Ed Keyworth, Darle Cresswell, Jeanne B. Porter, and Stu Richards. Other community Taskforce members include, Darle Cresswell, Heather Barrett, Denise Calderone, Brian Calderone, Nicole Campbell, Monica Walborn, Jason Steinbrunn, Gary Reager, Jim Moyer, Frank McDonough, Scott Greenawalt, Carol Boyer, James Crossen, Esq. and Sud Patel, Esq.
Although various grants continue to be applied for, private dollars are still needed to renovate and refurbish the Community Memorial Hall for the betterment of the entire southern Schuylkill County community. This building has been part of many individuals and families for over 65 years and has been used for various and numerous events over our lifetimes. This is a community project, requiring a total and encompassing community involvement much as the initial concept compelled individuals and organizations to do back in 1945. The ultimate goal of the project is to create a modern, self-sufficient building for the community, honoring all of our Veterans, and providing a multi-purpose community center for all individuals and organizations to use.
The future plans include completion of a small yet functional commercial kitchen, allowing organizations and individuals to prepare and serve food for events, the completion of two conference/meeting rooms for all organizations of the community, the completion of a new foyer entrance for the building, commemorating the building history and honoring the Veterans the building was erected to recognize and the completion of the interior finishes to assure the building is bright and attractive for all who enter and utilize it. Additional amenities including computer/wireless service, audio/visual enhancements and new tables and chairs are also planned. The construction of a second exterior basketball court, between the Community Hall and the Orwigsburg Little League Field and additional youth playground and recreational equipment are also planned.
The Orwigsburg Veterans Memorial Development Taskforce estimates these additional improvements at $500,000 and respectfully requests the residents of the community to support in volunteer action and financial support to attain this goal. The completion of the Community Memorial Hall, honoring our Veterans, will provide the amenities through completed renovations to serve our community for generations to come.