‘Honor is the reward for what he gave’
HUGHESVILLE – Admiration for a local storyteller sat Crystal Gansell-Whitcomb on a path to honor the lifelong achievements of Robert A. Webster, Jr. The Picture Rocks resident, currently Regent of the Lycoming Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), recently had her efforts see fruition. The presentation to Webster of the ‘Historic Preservation Medal’ occurred Saturday, May 20, during a ceremony at Trinity Lutheran Church, Hughesville.
Gansell-Whitcomb had petitioned the DAR’s National Preservation Committee listing Webster’s accomplishments. “This is the most prestigious award the National Society presents to individuals who have done extraordinary volunteer work in history preservation. Each year throughout the United States, only about 30 are given,” Gansell-Whitcomb said.
National History Committee chair, Cindy S. Phillips, responded with approval to the request by writing, “Mr. Webster’s work and leadership to preserve the history of his area through oral history projects, youth leadership and education, is outstanding.”
Aiding in the endeavor, the Lycoming DAR Regent sought letters of support from Dr. Amy Shaner Rogers, Brian Machmer and Carol Sones Shetler. During the ceremony, each gave a synopsis from their writings.
Rogers, currently an assistant professor at Lycoming College, said, “I can still remember the day then Hughesville High School Principal Dave Reese asked me to develop and teach a local history class.” Reese told her she was a Shaner, she should start in her mom’s attic, and she did. “I went to Mr. Webster and we began the first of our many adventures exploring and talking to community members to build the curriculum.”
Over the seven years Rogers taught school, she estimates having over 400 students who heard his speeches “With the help of Mr. Webster,” she said that countless children heard his stories of Picture Rocks, Hughesville’s historic Main Street, the famous one-room schools and more. Rogers said her favorite is the nick-names of local people.
Machmer follows Rogers as the current local history teacher. Of Webster, Machmer said, “A teaching career that now stretches into its sixth decade has brought such memories to thousands of students here in Hughesville. Add to that, the tens of thousands who have heard one of his community talks and we can see the enormous effect this man has had on our area.”
Machmer added, “To say that I could not do my job with this class without Mr. Webster is no exaggeration. When I took over the class nearly a decade ago, it seemed impossible for a Jersey Shore kid to learn all there is to know about Eastern Lycoming County. But, Mr. Webster was patient with my questions and liberal with his time. There are not enough thank-yous in the world to express my gratitude.”
In conclusion Machmer said, “This historical preservation award could not go to a more perfect recipient. And on behalf of all the students of HHS, congratulations and thank you for all you do for us all.”
Carol Shetler, Luminary writer since 1999, somewhat in jest said, “Mr. Webster has provided ‘job security.’ Counting today, the honoree has given 247 community speeches, not counting school presentations. We’ve covered many of his vast list of subjects. So much so, wife Jill once remarked ‘there were enough news clippings of her husband to paper an entire room.'”
Shetler said Webster had worked on the William Sones family farms in Moreland. “During the 1940’s, World War II caused labor shortages, however my parents found a solution. Harold L. Schaeffer, then HHS principal, allowed students time off from class to help with the potato harvest. His program ‘Life on the Home front’ stems for this plus other experiences of the war era.”
According to Shetler, additional times and places for encounters were listed. She said, “A dozen years later when entering junior high, teacher Webster and my mother met again. Later as an adult, when his program schedule was announced in newspapers, I made a concerted effort to attend.”
In 1999 when Shetler joined the Luminary staff, she said, “I relied on Mr. Webster for historical input. So much so, I dubbed him ‘The Go to Man.’ Later those same words became the title for my article printed in the West Branch Life magazine.”
Serving on Hughesville’s bi-centennial committee with Mr. Webster was another of Shetler’s proud moments. “He was responsible for the greater amount of text in a book printed for the occasion,” she said.
“When my granddaughter suggested an annual scholarship be awarded to a local history student, Mr. Webster’s was the obvious name to attach,” Shetler said. She and Carol Mordan visited their former teacher seeking permission to attach his name. Eventually he surrendered to their insistence, and the community responded generously.
Mordan was present during the recent presentation. Prior to retirement from Ferrell Elementary in Picture Rocks, Mordan sparked enthusiasm for local history in her second-grade students long before they arrived at high school. Annually at the district’s request, she follows in the footsteps of her mentor, when giving local history students a feel for early education at the Newman one-room school.
In accepting the honor, Webster said, “The speakers gave glowing remarks. There are no proper words to portray my feelings. Thank you just isn’t enough. This adds to my life which has been 99 and 44/100 percent enjoyable.”
One exception was mentioned, “It was a bitter pill when I had to retire due to macular degeneration. Then two doors opened. Teachers in the East Lycoming district started calling on me to add to their programs. Those educators included Rosie Hafer, Carol Lundy, Dan Peterman and the late George Nace.”
Speaking to the community was the second door. The diverse groups he cited were from Cub Scouts and Brownies to senior citizen groups, historical societies and the Grange, antique car, tractor and machinery clubs, Sunday school and church groups, plus local garden clubs. The morning of the ceremony, Webster had given a program at Lewisburg to Penn-Dot retired office personnel.
The 88-year-old honoree concluded by saying, “I’ll be high off the ground when walking home.”
Befitting the occasion, a quote was given by speaker Carol Shetler whom she credits to President Calvin Coolidge. “No person is honored for what he received; Honor is the reward for what he gave.” She went on to say, “Mr. Webster has given and continues to give bigly.”
Webster family members attending in support were wife Jill, sons Roger, and Jeff with wife Kathy, Webster’s sister, Jean and her husband Louis Robbins.
Dignitaries representing the DAR were Pennsylvania State Society’s Historical Preservation Chair, Tracy DeJonge, and Valerie Bieber, North Central District Director.