News, Southside Stories

Preserving History on the Southside

By Scott N. Lowery

In the years preceding her passing several years ago longtime South Williamsport resident and Webb Weekly columnist Rosemary Neidig was engaged in a literary project to write a book encompassing the history of the community she loved so well. While she was never able to complete that endeavor, the subject of her fervor remains alive thanks to the interest of others who share her passion of recording the history of the South Williamsport community for future generations to learn from and enjoy.

In its relative infancy a fledgling group organized as The South Williamsport Area Historical Collection (SWAHC) has been formed to move forward dedicated to the mission of preserving and sharing the historical legacy and rich cultural heritage of the residents, events, organizations, landmarks and legends of the combined communities of South Williamsport Borough, DuBoistown, Nisbet and Armstrong Township.

“Rosemary Cummings Neidig was raised, educated and lived in South Williamsport for many years, so the borough and its people were close to her heart, revealed Nancy Lundquist Baumgartner, one of SWAHC’s original organizers. During 2012, she was writing a memoir, titled “Every Two Minutes.” As friends of Rosemary’s, Margie Bower Potts and I were helping to edit the book. Following the book’s publication in August, 2013, Rosemary mentioned to me that no history book of South Williamsport existed. I ask her, “Why don’t you write one?”

“Rosemary was excited about that idea and immediately began researching the South Williamsport area. Sadly, Rosemary passed away in October of 2014 and her notebook full of stories and interviews were passed on to Margie. Because we did not want to see Rosemary’s work go to waste, we met with Robin Van Auken to discuss the possibility of publishing Rosemary’s material online.

“Together, the three of us were joined by Georgie Stroup Ulrich and Chuck Luppert at some subsequent meetings. Those seeds Rosemary planted eventually blossomed into the current South Williamsport Area Historical Collection.”

Van Auken, a local author and founder of Hands-on-Heritage and a friend of Neidig, is assisting with the group’s organization as a project consultant.

“With Rosemary’s passing, her friends – and the community – inherited the gift to discover and conserve their shared hometown’s history,” Van Auken explained. “Rather than place her notes into a small book to be read once and then shelved, I believed they should become a living, breathing movement, embracing generations through a storytelling project. This way Rosemary’s story is everyone’s story.

“As people join the History Collective, they bring with them an amazing variety of viewpoints that add to the overall knowledge of beloved, but forgotten places, people, groups, and events. Conserving these stories on an encyclopedia website means there is not only a repository for every story, but people can decide which story they want to hear.

“Eventually, people will be able to ‘collect’ the stories and photos they love best – the ones that tell their unique history and celebrate their connection with the community – and publish their own book!

“This is a new adventure in publishing and I’m excited to help develop it and introduce the concept to the world.”

The SWAHC has established a Board of Directors led by president Dori Rankinen, treasurer Chuck Luppert and secretary Carol Waltz, and is composed of general members that include researchers and writers. Monthly meetings are held at the South Williamsport Borough offices the first Thursday of each month at 12 noon which are open to the public. Interested individuals are encouraged and welcomed to attend.

“I was contacted by Robin after we had worked together on the South Williamsport WVIA television program that aired earlier this year. She suggested I get involved with the SWAHC group. I do love to organize. I do love a good fund raiser and I think it is so important for the South Williamsport community area to maintain their heritage,” Rankinen explained. “Once this current generation that has knowledge of so many good stories about their community are gone I haven’t seen a lot from the younger generation looking to preserve the history of the area. It is important that we do so.”

Individuals who have a desire of archiving information that has been passed down from generation to generation are encouraged to share those with the SWAHC by attending a monthly meeting, contacting Rankinen or Robin VanAuken or go to the group’s website southwilliamsportareahistoricalcollection.org

“It is important to know that individuals do not have to be technologically savvy to get involved or provide information,” Rankinen added. “We can provide that assistance but we are in search of those great stories about the community and we encourage individuals to contact us and share that information.”

As a Christmas gift suggestion SWAHC is selling copies of WVIA-TV’s Our Town program featuring South Williamsport that was premiered this past June. Copies are available for $15.00 or two for $20.00 and may be purchased at the South Williamsport Borough Hall office or by contacting Dori Rankinen, 570-772-2423.

SWAHC’s monthly meetings are held at noon the first Thursday of each month at the South Williamsport Borough Hall. The meeting is open to the public.

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