Posts Tagged ‘Bloomsburg’

Heroes Without Headlines, Part 1

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

Heroes Without Headlines
By Tony Mussari
Copyright 2011
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

What has made this nation so great? Not its heroes, but its households.Sarah Orne Jewett

Heroes without Headlines, Part 1

Sunday, November 6, 2011, was a beautiful autumn day. Kitch and I decided to make our way to several flood damaged communities in Northeastern Pennsylvania to speak with people who were trying to rebuild their homes and their lives.  

During the Agnes Flood of 1972, Kitch was one of the first female broadcasters in Pennsylvania. She worked as a reporter for WARM Radio. Known to listeners in this part of the state as the Mighty 590, WARM had the largest radio news team and the biggest audience.

I was an independent contractor working as the editorial director and an investigative reporter for WNEP TV. Ironically, our paths seldom, if ever, met during that time.

On this beautiful Sunday afternoon, we took the blue-lined roads to small communities along the Susquehanna River: West Nanticoke, Mocanaqua, Shickshinny and Bloomsburg.

Quite honestly, this Face of America trip would not have happened, if Trish Hartman, anchor and reporter for WNEP TV, had not asked for an interview for a special she is producing about the aftermath of Tropical Storm Lee.

To get ready for the interview, I read chapters of my Ph.D. thesis about Hurricane Agnes as an agent of change, and the book that preceded it, Appointment with Disaster. I spent a good deal of time reading reports about both disasters. A conversation with Jerry Mancinelli who works for the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare provided context for Tropical Storm Lee.

As helpful as this information was, I needed to speak with people who experienced the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Lee. I wanted to experience the human side of the disaster. I wanted to do it with Kitch who, in 1982, compiled a 96 part series about Hurricane Agnes.

On this trip she had to stay in the car while I did the heavy lifting, but having her by my side gave me the confidence I needed to make the day pleasant and productive.

Tidewater People

Driving along Route 29, we stopped in West Nanticoke, a very small community located next to Harveys Creek. The name Nanticoke is derived from Algonquian, and it means people of the tidewaters. There, we met Lynn Traatr. He is not a man of wealth or power.   He is a registered nurse who works in home health care. He lives in a modest neighborhood. Visible signs of the September flood are everywhere.

An American flag has a prominent place in front his flood damaged home. When he speaks, he is does not mince words.

Lynn had flood damage in his home and in the neighboring mobile home he owns. He is angry and frustrated about several flood-related experiences and the response he received from federal and state agencies of government.

He told us FEMA would not give him money to repair his mobile home. He found no difference in securing a loan from a local bank or the SBA. His anger, frustration and exhaustion surfaced when he categorized federal and state assistance to flood victims with these words: “I think the federal and state help stinks.”   

When our conversation turned to the basic questions we ask everyone for our Face of America project, his answers reflected his appreciation for his country and his longing for American exceptionalism.

He is proud of his country because he can voice his opinions. To use his words, “I can state things like I have just stated without somebody coming back ready to put silver bracelets on you.”

“I would like to see us getting back to everybody being willing to help one another, to work together, to improve,” he told me. “That’s what this country was founded on.”

Five Mountains

Shickshinny is a small community located along Route 11. Its population is less than 1,000 people. The word means five mountains in Native American. According to local historians the town name celebrates the Shickshinny Creek, a place were five points of the Appalachian Mountains meet.

Wherever you look in Shickshinny, you see flood damaged businesses, and people trying to make repairs. Only one person we met was willing to talk with us, and that was on condition that we not record her comments digitally or take her picture.

The Only Incorporated TOWN in Pennsylvania

Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, is located 50 miles from our home. It was incorporated in 1870 as a town, and to this day it lays claim to being the only incorporated town in the state. The state recognizes that claim in its publications.  In reality, there is another incorporated town in western Pennsylvania. The town of McCandless incorporated 1975.

In Bloomsburg, the flood damage is shocking. On West Main Street, homes and other structures were moved off their foundations. Yet, in the midst of this carnage almost two months after the storm, we found the most positive and helpful people.

Richard Fornwald is a person you would want to be your neighbor. An Army veteran who served in the Honor Guard in Washington, DC, he is a big man who is thoughtful and very welcoming. He did not expect the flood to be as damaging as it was. Tropical Storm Lee caused more damage to his home than Hurricane Agnes 39 years earlier. In 1972, he had 5 inches of water on the first floor. Today he is dealing with a disaster that brought 26 inches of water to his home.

Mr. Fornwald is very pleased with the local, federal and state response. He has flood insurance, and he is waiting for his settlement.

For him, America is a great country, and about his situation, he is very honest; “We live down here and we must put up with this stuff.”

Richard’s neighbor Colton Fisher had 34 inches of water on the first floor of his home. His garage was torn from its foundation. “You have to get into the swing of things. You have to keep moving on,” he told me.  “You have to keep moving forward.”

Colton has high praise for help he received from volunteers in church groups and from all levels of government. He has flood insurance, and he applied for an SBA loan.

An American flag flying in Fisher’s back yard and a table covered with a pink cloth on his deck caught my attention. On this Sunday afternoon, he and his wife, Sharon, returned to their home to work on their laundry room and have a picnic on their deck.

I was not surprised to learn that Fisher was a Marine.

He told me he is proud to be an American. He appreciates the freedom he enjoys, and he believes America on its best day is exemplified by “people who are hard working, people who get knocked down and get back up and keep on moving.”

He is very much aware that as the days and weeks pass, he and his wife are on their own.

Sharon Fisher is an administrative assistant at the Geisinger Medical Center’s Division of Quality and Safety.  When I asked her to walk with her husband and her neighbor to the street in front of her house to meet and talk with Kitch, she responded positively and without hesitation.

There, in between the shadow of her damaged house and the rushing, soothing sounds of Fishing Creek that caused all of the damage, she spoke words that I will never forget:

“You have to stay as positive as you can. I could be down and out like some people are but what good is that going to do? A positive attitude keeps you going…going forward. I’ve learned that I’m not going to put all my heart and soul into a house any more. I want to spend my money on travel and recreation and having a good time.”

On this day, Kitch and I were fortunate to meet people who personify one of the most compelling characteristics of America on its best day, resilience. They were down but not out.  They were hurting, but not about to give up.  They were working hard to make their tomorrow better than today.

As we drove north toward Mocanaqua, the words of Helen Keller came to mind:

“The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each honest worker.”

To be continued.

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