BY JEFF FALK
Is it thorough and all-encompassing? NO! Is it a start? Yes.
Is it a huge, huge undertaking? Yes. Is it a project that will reach a satisfactory conclusion? We’ll see.
Is it a cause worth pursuing? No question!
The Lebanon County Historical Society has taken on the enormous task of representing and documenting our locale’s proud and rich history in athletics, through the art of exhibition. The project will require proper management, getting the right people involved, experience, knowledge, time, effort and commitment.
But the most important aspects of the project are that the Lebanon County Historical Society has recognized the importance of first acknowledging the County’s accomplishments in sports, and second has understood the importance of preserving it.
“Unless you’re involved with sports, I don’t think people know that,” said Lebanon County Historical Society president Barb Gaffney, when reminded of the locale’s rich history in athletics. “And we’re not talking abut just those players who have gone on to be professionals. Our coaches who have been so dedicated and the young people who play the sports. That’s dedication.
“It’s a select group, but a lot of people think it’s (sports) a waste of time,” Gaffney continued. “I just think it’s a part of Lebanon County’s history. It’s a part of Lebanon County that the majority of people don’t know about or care about. But we kind of owe them for the time they have given.”
For the first time ever, the Lebanon County Historical Society, which is located at 924 Cumberland Street in Lebanon, has staged an exhibit dedicated to the evolution of local sports. Hosted in an intimate setting, the display was first opened to the public on August 3rd and will remain set up through October.
The exhibit is as primitive as its circa 1900-to-1940 artifacts. It is mostly made up of sports equipment, uniforms, protective gear and garb from that era that the Historical Society broke out of its archives, dusted off and displayed around the small room.
“The reason we decided to do this was probably this being a year for the Summer Olympics,” said Gaffney. “Just people being more interested in sports. The museum committee came up with this idea. Just going over the year and what we wanted to do, this idea came up. We set it up now hoping some of the schools will want to come in and see it.
The highlight of the exhibit are items commemorating legendary baseball player Babe Ruth’s stay in Lebanon in the 1910s as a worker at the Bethlehem Steel Plant. The entire display does not contain one artifact from the 1940s to the present.
“I think probably the predominant feature of the exhibit would be the uniforms of the 1930s and 1940s, and the sports equipment used,” said Gaffney. “People can see how sports here have evolved to today, and things like how much safer equipment has become.
“By putting this exhibit on we can get people interested,” added Gaffney. “We really need that. Sports have been on the back-burner in the history of Lebanon County.”
Within the display no mention of the exploits, accomplishments or contributions of such prominent Lebanon County sports figures like Sam Bowie, Dick Shiner, Frank Reich, Kerry Collins, Gus Deraco, Lou Sorrentino, Lyle Krall, George Gerber, Patti Hower, Keith Fulk, Mike Swisher, Jared Odrick – or even Jamie Beyerle-Gray or Amy Tran-Swenson – are made.
“We feel, the museum committee feels, it seems our history has stopped in 1950,” said Gaffney. “Today is tomorrow’s history. It needs to be a living museum.
“What we’re trying to do in the future with sports is have people donate or contribute items, so people down the road, 50 years from now, can get a feel for what sports were like today,” continued Gaffney. “And just show case a lot of the athletes who came out of Lebanon County, coaches, players, anyone involved with sports in Lebanon County.”
The Lebanon County Historical Society seems to be committed to preserving, recognizing and celebrating the past, present and future of local sports. What remains to be seen is to what degree.
The Historical Society has charged Gerald Stiver, a board member who is not a native of Lebanon County, with the task of nurturing and growing future local sports exhibits. Stiver’s initial and primary task will be to contact some of Lebanon County’s most celebrated sports figures and solicit items which help commemorate their accomplishments.
Whether or not it is Stiver’s intention to tap the knowledge of some of the locale’s top local-sports historians is unknown.
“Like anything, you have to narrow your scope,” said Gaffney. “But we need to touch on at least the highlights of the things that have happened in Lebanon County sports over the last 50 years. We feel it needs to be documented. Sports have been quite a contributing portion of history in Lebanon County.”
Of course the cooperation of Lebanon County’s seven school districts and Lebanon Valley College will be essential in presenting a thorough and accurate re-counting of the locale’s sports history. Athletic records and historical data at the County’s school districts – not unlike the locale’s former publication of record, The Lebanon Daily News – are sketchy at best.
“This was just a start,” pledged Gaffney. “We just started pulling out the things we had. Hopefully we can get people interested in it and get schools interested in it. We’re just trying to fill in the blanks. That’s why we need to have people who have knowledge, people who are retired and willing to volunteer.
“The main purpose of the Lebanon County Historical Society is to preserve the history of Lebanon County through papers, artifacts and oral history,” Gaffney concluded.
Some of the Most Knowledgable Lebanon County Sports Historians
1. Ron Berman
2. Jerry Chepulis
3. George Gerber
4. Fred Goudy
5. Bruce Kilmoyer
6. Lyle Krall
7. Tony Louwerse
8. Ed Ludwig
9. Don Scott
10. Steve Snyder
11. Harry Speece
12. Mike Swisher
13. Bill Warner
14. Karl ‘Skip’ Wolfe