When I proposed sculpting a Mount Rushmore of the greatest members of my Hall of Fame, one of the respondents named four giants in Lehigh Valley philanthropy.
This shamed me into creating still another mythical Mount Rushmore, for men and women who truly have made a great positive impact on the area.
This attracted a lot of nominations coming from many different places. Some readers thought immediately of entertainers, athletes and businesspeople whose national and international success has put the Lehigh Valley on the map. Others looked back in the area's history and chose people who helped shaped the region. Still others opted for people who in recent years have used their financial resources and expertise to make this a better place to live.
Here's everyone who was nominated. Anything in quotation marks represents the words of the nominator. I apologize for one of these nominations, but I promised I would include it.
Department store co-founder Max Hess. Declaration of Independence signer George Taylor. George Crane, Welsh ironmaster for whom Crane Iron Co. was named. Musician Steve Kimock ("played with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead and so many others, a true Lehigh Valley talent.") Billy Joel. (I know, but he did write "Allentown.")
Automobile industry legend Lee Iacocca. Turkey farmer/developer Fred Jaindl. Former Allentown Mayor Joe Daddona. IronPigs mascots Ferrous and FeFe. Olympic gold medal winning-bicyclist Marty Nothstein. "Rev. John Raker and his wife, Estella, for founding the Good Shepherd home, and their son Dr. Conrad Raker and his wife, Grace, for all their work in growing it."
"Concrete Charlie," NFL Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik. Me. ("At the top of the list of sculptures for Mount Rushmore Lehigh Valley must be YOU, Bill White.") Allentown landlord Joe Clark. ("What the hell, he's outlasted many mayors on and on; he beat them at their own game.")
So who should be memorialized on the side of South Mountain? I consulted with my favorite local historian, Frank Whelan, in hopes of giving this project some gravitas that I certainly lack. We ended up with four men who shaped the creation of the modern Lehigh Valley. Here they are:
Gen. Harry Trexler. It's hard to imagine a local Mount Rushmore without Trexler's face. You know him for the park system, the Trexler-Lehigh County Game Preserve, the Trout Hatchery, Hickory Run State Park, the charitable trust that continues to benefit local causes, and other manifestations of his civic interests. But he also was a great industrialist who began as a lumberman but had a strong hand, among other things, in the creation of PPL and its corporate location in Allentown, the Lehigh Portland Cement Co., the Consolidated Telephone Co. and the Lehigh Valley Rapid Transit (streetcar) Co., which in turn helped spawn Allentown's Eighth Street Bridge.
Josiah White. His visionary founding of the Lehigh Canal — along with fellow investor Erskine Hazard — turned the Lehigh River into a major commerce artery that transformed Northampton County from a backwater into one of the nation's first centers of heavy industry. The coal that traveled down the canal from Carbon County eventually led to present-day Catasauqua's Lehigh Crane Iron Works, the first successful commercial anthracite-powered iron furnace in America. It sparked the Lehigh Valley's introduction to the Industrial Age, the first step on the path that would lead to Bethlehem Steel.
Asa Packer. Packer helped launch the Lehigh Valley's next step into industrial prominence with the creation of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, which improved on the canal as a way to move coal to the East's industrial areas. Whelan wavered between Packer and Robert Sayre, the civil engineer whom Packer brought on to lay out the route, build the stations and handle most day-to-day functions for the railroad. But it was Packer's money and energy that got the project rolling, and he has the added cachet of being the founder of Lehigh University, although Sayre played a big role in its development, too.
Eugene Grace. Tempting as it would be to give that final spot to Bethlehem Steel's Charles Schwab — largely a New Yorker, not a Lehigh Valleyite — it was Steel President Eugene Grace who really led the company to greatness as a huge supplier of arms for two world wars and through production of H-beams, essential in tall buildings. When he retired in 1957, Bethlehem Steel was one of the most profitable and productive companies in America. Grace also founded Saucon Valley Country Club.
So there they are. "If you're talking about the economic and industrial development of the Lehigh Valley," Whelan concluded, "it's those four."
We'll leave it to someone else to start carving the mountain.
Bill White's commentary appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun