Thursday, June 7, 2018

Small community that successfully fought Nestle Waters/Deer Park sees four notable residents pass on in four months

Imagine the stories all those who experienced a creek could tell

In 2016, Nestle Waters yanked its application for an ill-conceived water extraction operation to be located along the Buckwha Creek in Kunkletown, Eldred Township.  Eldred residents had pulled together in solidarity to fight the proposal.  At the first township meeting this blogger attended, Helen Mackes and Frank O'Donnell were present.  Helen was a long time member of the township planning commission, and Frank O'Donnell the chairman of the zoning hearing board.  Frank and his wife Marion routinely attended township meetings, and warmly welcomed this blogger and outsider in the cheap seats at the back of the Eldred Township meeting room.

At another meeting, I met Earl Smale, who grew up adjacent to the proposed site for the Nestle operation, and whose father Leon still owned the family house on Kunkletown Road, at ground zero along the Buckwha Creek.  Leon was in a senior living facility nearby.

During researching the background of the site and its property lines - at issue in the application, the name Asher Smith popped up, because Mr. Smith had obtained property from the owners of the old mill decades ago.  This blogger paid no further attention to Mr. Smith, as his name never came up again.  Mr. Smith was in fact living in another senior living facility nearby.

The reader needs to understand, most everything is connected in K-town.  If you moved in later than 1950, you are a newcomer.  Many family names have a lengthy history.  The names Smale and Smith go way back.  Asher grew up on the farm where the Jaeckles now live, up on Church Road past St. Matthews Church and the cemetery where the headstones are evidence of those who labored in decades past.  Another senior K-town son, Vernon Barlieb, dug several of these graves in his youth for less than $20 a day.  It was not dirt that was dug - it was shale.

Kunkletown residents are a hard working and hearty bunch with far-reaching roots, and it is with heaviness that I report that Helen Mackes 87, Frank O'Donnell 81, Leon Smale 90 and Asher Smith 93 passed away in the past 4 months.

Ms. Mackes was a Realtor, factory worker and most recently the tax collector.  She was also a historian, and when the old mill was recently torn down, Helen sat observing for 5 hours.  She was certain that grinding stones would be found, but alas none were left.  When Helen got something in her mind, she stuck to it.  She shared with a fellow observer that day that when she disliked someone, it lasted for life.  This blogger can vouch for this, during the relatively brief time I knew Helen.  Some K-town residents were surprised to see that in Helen's obituary she had a daughter.  This is actually the daughter of Gabby Borger and his wife.  After Gabby passed away in 1977, circumstances were such that this daughter, less than 10 years old, ended up a bit of an orphan.  Helen stepped in and evidently was such an influence on her life that the woman is now considered Helen's daughter - reflecting that Helen had a big heart.

Mr. O'Donnell was a maintenance engineer and carpenter, and he was the president of the Blue Mt. Preservation Association.

Mr. Smale was affectionately known as the "mayor" of Kunkletown.  He was a World War II Army veteran.  He worked for many years as a crane operator, and in retirement drove trucks and a was a school bus in Eldred Township

Mr. Smith was known as the "police chief" of Kunkletown, and a World War II Navy veteran.  He drove buses in the morning, was a carpenter and in the afternoons ran a barber shop.  That's a full plate, and indicative of the work ethic of many of K-town's residents.

While the Nestle affair roiled Kunkletown, it was a brief and turbulent blip on the radar that will soon be largely forgotten.  Ms. Mackes, Mr. O'Donnell, Mr. Smale and Mr. Smith left a lasting legacy and whose spirits are an indestructible part of the fabric of a tightly knit community - a community whose past and future are inextricably intertwined with the ever-meandering Buckwha Creek.  Gone but not forgotten.