Maybe the best monument of all is a legacy of service
Shamokin has been incorporated for 149 years, but, of course, the town itself was laid out three decades before that.
A few streets and some nearby hamlets bear the names of community pioneers and other notables. However, for the greater part of Shamokin's existence, townspeople felt no particular compulsion to adorn bits of the borough's - and, for the last 60-plus years, the city's - infrastructure with the names of prominent politicians.
That has changed over the last 30 years or so, as evidenced by the Lawton W. Shroyer Pool, the Harold Thomas High Rise, the Harvey M. Boyer Playground and the Claude Kehler Community Park. Shroyer, Thomas and Boyer were all mayors, and Kehler was a long-time member of city council.
Sadly, they are all gone now, but they were all fine gentlemen who cared about Shamokin and worked hard to improve the quality of life here. They certainly deserve to be remembered by future generations.
But in deciding to honor some city fathers for their accomplishments, it's important that we not forget others who are equally deserving of recognition.
There are probably many, and the intent is certainly not to exclude anyone, but one name literally jumped off the page as I browsed through a copy of "The Achievers," a book that compiles a series of articles that ran in The News-Item a few years back that heralded the accomplishments of "50 of Shamokin's most prominent people" (although two or three of the honorees had no actual connection to the Shamokin area). I am referring to none other than "Achiever No. 30," Daniel D. Strausser.
The fact that Strausser died only nine years ago (July 24, 2004) could be the most obvious reason why his name has not been attached to some collections of bricks or a plot of grass within the city limits. It's not like new public buildings are constructed, recreation areas are developed or new streets are laid out on a routine basis. The opportunity simply may not have presented itself yet.
Let's hope that's all there is to it. But my hunch is, there has been no rush to name anything after Strausser because, to be perfectly honest, some people didn't like him very much. In his time as a councilman and mayor and especially during his highly visible tenure as Northumberland County Republican chairman, he wasn't shy about expressing his opinions and - oh, brother! - he had strong views on just about everything. And he wasn't always the most genteel of political characters, to put it mildly.
"People call me 'Big Mouth,'" Strausser used to say, quickly adding, "But I always tell them: My mouth has served me very well, thank you. How about you?" He never gave up when he was sure he was right, he never backed down from a political fight and he didn't suffer fools gladly.
"The Achievers" article, written in 2007 by the late Dick Morgan, ably chronicles Strausser's long record of public service, including three terms on city council in the late 1950s and '60s, executive director of the Shamokin Redevelopment Authority in the late 1970s and during the '80s, a single term as mayor in the '90s and continuous involvement on countless public boards, service with the Shamokin Fire Bureau and as a volunteer organizer for many vital community activities. It seems that whenever and wherever something important in the community was going on, Strausser was somehow part of it. And you know what? Maybe it's just nostalgia, but it seems to me there was a much greater sense of community then; if there was, that was thanks to people like him.
Yet, as the ranks of his contemporaries and his partners in that ongoing and never-quite-realized quest for progress dwindle, fewer and fewer people remember what an overwhelming presence he was on the Shamokin scene. For some folks, the image that remains is that of Strausser, in the role of Republican cheerleader, who as county GOP chairman, donned an Indian headdress at a party rally. His life as a concerned citizen and dedicated public leader who devoted his entire life to trying to make Shamokin better has receded more and more into the background. In his profile of Strausser, Morgan hit the proverbial nail on his head with his conclusion that, "We shall probably never see the likes of him again, and we are the worst for it."
As fewer and fewer people remember Strausser's career, it will become less and less likely that his contributions will be officially memorialized in some way. He wasn't always successful, and he didn't always go about things the right way, but he was always passionate about the Shamokin area.
Passion isn't a bad thing when the very future of your community is at stake.
(Betz is an assistant editor of The News-Item.)