Tamaqua Then and Now


This book is a collection of photographs/postcards—then and now—of the town of Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, where I grew up. I graduated from Tamaqua Area Joint Senior High School in 1961, worked for two years at the Evening Courier, a newspaper that no longer exists, then joined the U.S. Navy. Thanks to the G.I. Bill, I was able to go to Penn State and I never really returned to Tamaqua except for visits to family.

So this book is a long overdue return visit. I collected old photographs and postcards of Tamaqua from many sources and then walked around town on two days in July 2009 taking new photographs of old sites. I did not use anything other than my eyes to attempt to match the new with the old. For the most part, I shot with a 10:20 lens because I believed that only a wide-angle lens would recapture the past. The camera actually captured much more than the originals, so I then cropped to more or less match.

This book is a work in progress and a labor of love. Although there is some history attached to some of the photographs, for the most part it’s the comparative scenes that I was most interested in. After all, I’m not a historian and I don’t have the resources to track down the history of each building. But I do have a camera.

I wasn’t able to photograph every site to match every postcard or photograph that I have. I just plain forgot to shoot the Majestic Hotel, and a truck that was parked in front of Odd Fellows’ Cemetery for days on end made me skip that scene. Heavy foliage kept me from shooting some scenes from the road to New England Valley and lack of time or foul weather kept me from getting some other photographs.

Given that some day I hope to go back and also my hope that other old photographs and postcards will surface, I’d like to think of this book as a first edition or first in a series. I love Tamaqua—it really was an important part of my life—and I’d like to help contribute to remembering it in my way.

I’d like to suggest that someone organize a major one-year photoshoot in Tamaqua to record what the town is like now so a century hence residents will have photos for comparison. When I think of all of the buildings that have disappeared in my lifetime (including the Courier!), I realize how important it is to document the town now for the day when it will be the town then.

R Thomas Berner


Farewell, My Lucy

A couple of years ago we replaced our noisy garage door with one that was so silent, Paulette and I never knew when one another had come home. On the other hand, Lucy would usually jump up from wherever she was and mosey down the hall to the laundry room and await the person or persons who had just driven into the garage.

We knew, though, she wouldn't be there the night we returned from a photo trip to White Sands. We knew because we knew our dog sitter had taken her to our vet after finding her lying on the floor and unable to stand that afternoon. We cut short our trip, checked out of our hotel, and returned to Santa Fe on a four-hour trip made mostly in silence. For part of the trip a rainbow seemed to track with us, but I think we both knew better. We just didn't say anything.


We rescued Lucy when she was two years old. Our previous golden retriever, Bailey, had died a couple of months earlier and our vet had alerted us that someone had an adult golden who needed a home. We both agreed we'd check out the dog and decide within a week. No quick decisions.

Lucy came home with us the same day we met her.

My previous goldens had adapted quickly to their surroundings. Show them the property line and they would, for the most part, never cross it. Lucy was a block away within seconds, chasing a neighbor's cat.

It was the first of many times we realized that she had a mind of her own and that she loved to run as far away from us as she could. No command would bring her back. We learned that the best way to have her return to us when we took her for a run in a nearby Penn State cornfield was to do it with her boyfriend, Ed, a golden one year younger. When Ed, who obeyed all commands, would return to his master, Lucy usually followed. Usually.


She did show some signs of adaptability when we moved to Santa Fe. Unlike us, she quickly figured out that when not moving around, you found shade. If she wanted to rest while on an early morning walk, she plopped down in the shade. Sometimes that meant I had to stand in the sun waiting until she was ready to move on.

We had hoped that she would stay close to home but when we took her to a nearby field and let her run, she ran, just as she had in Pennsylvania. Older, but no wiser. Getting her to return was tricky and so we seldom took her on runs, but did walk her every day, usually for four miles.

Around the age of 10, she wasn't as big on long walks and so I would walk her for about two miles and then go back out on my own. Closer to 12, she didn't always want to walk two miles and that was fine. I let her decide.

We usually entered the trail system near our house and at the first right turn, if she wanted to go home, she'd take the turn. but if she didn't, she'd move as far to the left as she could and walk past the right turn looking straight ahead. I think she was afraid that if I saw her look right, I'd take her that way against her will.

Lucy figured in three books I wrote. In the first, The Cottontails and the Jackrabbits, a children's book, a golden retriever "steals" a baby jackrabbit. All ends well, of course, because golden retrievers retrieve, not hurt. In fact, for this book I need an illustration of a golden running through a field of wild flowers. We took Lucy to the nearby field and just to make sure she'd come back to us, we took a supply of dog biscuits, which in our house are called bones.

Unleashed, she did not move. We told her to run. She did not move. Finally, I threw a bone and she went after it and came right back. So we were now in reverse of the past. Rather than using a bone to lure her back, we used it to get her to run away. (See photo above)

In The Hunt for Domingo Roybal, Lucy's eye problems became problems for one of the minor characters who spent a lot of money on clothing and was always short of cash. Then there was The Bump on Lucy's Nose, a children's book based on another medical problem Lucy came through successfully.


A couple of nights before we left on our photo trip, we had a really violent storm. Lucy got in bed with us, something she did during storms only when she got older. The next day we had several errands to run and for some reason I invited Lucy to join us. She had a hard time jumping into the car, but I suggested that it was because she was so excited she didn't position herself correctly before leaping. Still, the three of us had a grand time together running errands.

The next day we left her in the care of her beloved dog sitter and never saw her again.

We will scatter her ashes among the wild flowers in the field where she liked to run when we let her.


A Boswell Moment

(In 2002, Bill Welch, who died on Sept. 4, was honored by Penn State as a Renaissance Scholar. He asked me, among others, to make remarks. My remarks follow.)

Had I known I was going to get my three minutes of fame as Bill Welch’s Boswell—that’s Boswell the biographer, not Boswell the sportswriter—I would have taken notes. Much of what I have to say has been dragged from my aging memory. It has been contextualized, re-contextualized, romanticized—and sanitized.

By sanitized, I mean I won’t say anything that wouldn’t be acceptable in mixed company—mixed company being defined as journalists and non-journalists.

I used to think that Bill was a trivia expert because he could produce information about anything, anywhere, anytime. Now I realize that the man I met more than 30 years ago was a Renaissance scholar. I am here to pay tribute to the scholar.

As a scholar, Bill had a rocky start. When he attended Penn State, he was one of the original HUB Rats. He was so good at it that President Walker red-shirted him—and that’s the real reason it took Bill five years to graduate.

As a scholar, he takes his time. Don’t lend him a book. It took him 20 years to read and return Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. And I still don’t think he read it, but he did say it helped him fall asleep at night.

Bill is very good at coming up with a light-hearted one-line comment on just about any situation. Shortly after I started working with him at the Centre Daily Times, I noticed a story that referred to him as a native of State College. I pointed out that to be a native of some place, you had to have been born there—and he had been born in Philadelphia. After all, the word “native” is derived from “nativity.”

Without pause, he replied: “True, but I was conceived here.”

Bill may have struck the first blow for fetal rights—and we didn’t know it at the time.

Bill is an original. No cliché has ever passed through his lips or his typewriter. Jerry Weinstein, our editor at the CDT, said that Bill was his best writer—but he didn’t write enough. When I told Bill what Jerry said, Bill said he didn’t write more because he found writing difficult. And while that may sound self-deprecating, it really was his honest response, not his usual one-line quip.

If brevity is, as Polonius said, the soul of wit, then, in Bill’s case, it is also the seed of wisdom. I remember a time when he needed to rein in an aggressive city editor. Trying to find a way to make the person understand good people skills, he said: Your approach is Napoleonic while mine is Socratic.

Consider the sub-text and allusion in that sentence. In one sentence, he was able to size up a situation and give it perspective.

But enough of Bill’s quick wit. The most important thing about Bill Welch is not his humor or his intellect, but his selfless character.

Bill can tell a story about himself and not be the center of the story. It can be an adventure or a travelogue and you feel as though you’re with him. His stories entertain, enlighten and inform.

I have seldom seen Bill angry. The only two times I ever saw him get short with someone involved situations in which the other person was racially insensitive. The blood rose immediately and Bill pounced. No time for Socrates.

I have known longer than many about his medical problems and yet I have never heard him complain.

Even though, in his words, he took life on a respirator to the outer limits and he also needed to go through extensive rehabilitation, he never complained.

Even when he was on dialysis, he never complained.

Even when Borough Council is acting up, he never complains.

Well, a little bit.

He reminds me of Job. Great patience. Great role model. The ability to make us all feel good about ourselves and each other. Not only a Renaissance scholar, but a Renaissance man.

Congratulations to a very deserving person.

Thank you.