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Charles Meredith: Commissioners 50 years ago


Dear Friends,

Good morning. Before I get to former Bucks County Commissioner Andy Warren’s book about the history of the commissioners and my part in that story, here’s an item from a new book about the Latvians who immigrated to Haycock Township and Quakertown after the close of World War II. It was published by the Richland Library Company in Quakertown.

Founded in 1788, the Richland Library Company is one of the oldest libraries in Pennsylvania. Recently it published two books about the Quakertown area. The first is titled “Juniper Street” and includes stories written by residents who’ve lived on Juniper Street from the 1930s to the present. Since I’ve lived on Juniper Street for 80 years, I included a few “tall tales” for “Juniper Street.”

The second book is titled “Dangerous Journeys to Freedom.” It contains 32 stories written by Latvian immigrants who fled Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. All the stories are worth reading … all are harrowing. There’s a third book about Quakertown’s Main Street in the works.

We can thank attorney Rodney Henry, a Quakertown resident, for both books. He encouraged present and former residents of Juniper Street to share their memories. And he asked Karina Sturman Rilling to do the same. Karina’s family fled Latvia after World War II. She wrote a book about her experience and also identified the 32 Latvian American families and helped collect their stories.

One of them, Aivars Straume, worked with me at the Quakertown Free Press years ago. He still lives in the Quakertown. In his chapter in “Dangerous Journeys,” Aivars recounts a story that certainly belongs in the small-world department.

“In September of 2000, I was in Riga, Latvia attending the Biennial Baltic Psychology Conference,” Aivars began. “There were a number of guest presenters from Europe, Israel, Canada and the United States. At dinner, I sat next to a retired psychology Ph.D, some years older than I.

“When he hears me speaking Latvian with some of the locals but knows I’m an American, he inquires. I briefly mentioned my immigration story … having to learn English in first grade from this wonderful teacher who left to teach in the U.S. military system in the 1950s.

“ ‘What was my teacher’s name?’ he asked. When I told him ‘Vahovich,’ he was astounded. He told me that he knew my teacher and her husband. So here I was in Riga, Latvia, sitting, at random, next to a man from Georgia who knew my first and second grade teacher in Quakertown in 1954! All of those events and people separated by thousands of miles and covering a span of 45 years came together in that place, at that moment. Good deeds and good people have a spiritual energy that transcends time and space.”

Wow! What a small world.

And now to former Bucks Commissioner Andrew Warren. Andy asked me to share my experiences as a Bucks County Commissioner in the 1960s and early ’70s. Hal Marcovitz, a former Allentown Morning Call reporter and columnist, is assisting Andy’s project. Andy believes the story of the Bucks commissioners from the 1960s to the present needs telling.

I noted that the county budget for 2020 is $452 million. I called Larry King, the Bucks County director of public information, for some history. “What was the Bucks budget when I was a county commissioner?” I asked. It was $18.7 million in 1970, King answered.

Andy Warren has been in public life for 55 years, starting as a teacher and track coach for 15 years (1965 through 1980). He was a Bucks commissioner from 1980 to 1995 (15 years). Andy was the district executive for PennDOT from 1995 to 2005 (10 years). He was the borough manager for Tullytown for one year (2008). And the executive director for the PENJERDEL Council from 2008 to the present.

The PENJERDEL Council is interesting. It’s dedicated to informing and educating the business community in the tri-state region (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware) by leading and supporting issues and projects affecting the infrastructure, mobility, sustainability and growth. Andy’s been a busy fellow.

Andy Warren and Hal Marovitz spent a few hours with me in Quakertown. They asked me about the highlights of my years as a Bucks commissioner. The early years of the Bucks County Community College and the Neshaminy Water Resources program were the most newsworthy and occupied most of our attention.

I also included the purchase of the Moravian Tile works (for $150,000, I think) and the work release program at the Bucks County Prison under Jack Case, the warden.

I’ll share some of those moments with you next week.

Sincerely, Charles Meredith

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