Long-Felt Want in Panther Valley
Recreation Center Photos may be seen - scroll to the bottom of the page.
Recreation Center Fills Long-Felt Want in Panther Valley
(Lansford Evening Record, 1946)
It was the evening of June 16, 1943, and a hundred kids, for want of a better place, were swimming in an old cistern in the Stoney Lonesome area, east of Summit Hill.
Among them was 8-year-old Cornelius Bonner, whose father was in the Army doing his bit that American kids might enjoy the better things in life. Something happened to Cornelius and he went to the bottom. When they got him out he was beyond the power of man to help.
The Bonner boy wasn’t the first to drown in this vicinity because of the lack of safe swimming facilities. Hauto Dam claimed a victim nearly every year. But the fact that young Cornelius was a soldier’s son prompted a sharp sense of insufficiency among Valley people. The big and the little man, the powerful and the insignificant man, went to bed that night with something to think about.
Evan Evans, Jr., vice-president and general manager of the Lehigh Navigation Coal Company, thought about it, too. He thought more about it a few days later when he got a message from Summit Hill Borough Council, asking him to have the old cistern eliminated to guarantee that no other boy would lose his life there.
EVANS CALLS MEETING
Mr. Evans thought about several thousand kids in the Valley whose fathers and brothers were lying in mud and snow, shooting it out with a common enemy to protect kids back home from harm. On June 29, 1943, thirteen days after Cornelius Bonner drowned, Mr. Evans called a group of men into conference at his office in Lansford.
The men went there, only a few knowing what was coming. Mr. Evans faced them and said: “With your help we will give the Valley a swimming pool. With your help we will show our soldiers and sailors, when they come back, a better Valley than they left.”
It was but the seed of an idea germinated in the mind of a man who was born here, reared here and had the interest of his neighbors uppermost in his mind. The reaction of Valley adults was spontaneous. Today the Panther Valley Recreation Center is the matured product of that seed and is the pride of the Valley.
DEDICATED YEAR LATER
On July 4, 1944, little more than a year after the idea was born in Mr. Evans’ mind, the recreation center and its beautiful swimming pool were dedicated to the memory of his parents, Evan G. and Mary Richard Evans, late of Coaldale.
That was indeed fitting because without his leadership and the support he mustered together, the speed with which the pool was completed could not have been attained. In fact, without “Evie” Evans the recreation center would not be here today.
The second step taken in 1944 toward construction of the pool was organization of public groups in Lansford, Summit Hill and Coaldale. They unhesitantly accepted the proposition that the L.N.C. Company would match every dollar contributed by the townspeople. They responded willingly and generously.
Mr. Evans pledged $25,000 from the company immediately. No one except a few within the company’s official family can state how much it actually cost to make the recreation center what it is today. It isn’t good form to ask. Suffice it to say that $50,000, the goal originally set, represents but a fraction of the investment.
BECAME A PHENOMENON
It started out to become a swimming pool whose purpose would be to protect the lives of Valley youngsters. It didn’t stop there. Apparently out of nowhere came trees, shrubbery, pavements, bath houses, picnic tables, picnic stoves, lawns, lighting and color effects, refreshment stands, quoit courts, basketball arena, ice skating rink, softball field, parking areas, the embryo of a great stadium, bleachers, etc.
No one looks a gift horse in the mouth. Valley people just watched in glorious wonderment and made the best of a paradise beyond their fondest dreams.
When it was all finished the L.N.C. Company and Mr. Evans modestly disowned the entire center and turned it over to a commission, representing the three participating towns, for operation and management. It need scarcely be stated that the commission has kept faith.
A PUBLIC TRUST
It remains now for all Valley people, young and old, to keep faith by making individual and collective efforts to protect that center, to constantly guard against abuse of it, to perpetuate its existence for many generations to come.
The Panther Valley Recreation Commission today is comprised as follows:
Coaldale membersJames H. Gildea, President; T.J. West; T.J. Evans; Stephen Radocha;, and, Evan Stevens.
Lansford membersJames Reese, Burris Kressly, John Mitchess, Edward Powell and D.C. Helms.
Summit Hill membersHarry McMichael, John R. Boyle, Daniel Rodgers, Victor Ploplis and George Garrett.
Photos Submitted by Bob Sharpe