It has been said that death comes in threes. That has certainly been the case in the past week in the tourism community of the Raystown Lake Region. In the seven days from January 20, 2012 to January 26, 2012, we said goodbye to three remarkable men, who each made our tourism product offerings better even if that wasn’t their primary goal, or even within their thoughts.
On Friday, January 20th, Larry Way, owner of Miller’s Diner 3 miles east of Huntingdon, succumbed to a heart attack. Larry was an ardent supporter and promoter of Raystown Lake. He would engage anyone who would listen in conversation about the lake, its tremendous impact on the local economy, and its potential to increase that impact. Larry had an infectious smile, and was not shy about speaking his mind on any topic. His restaurant has a hometown air about it, and it is very common, and oddly welcoming for conversations to be taking place between booths, tables, and even the counter seating, engaging every patron there at the time.
On my first day as Executive Director of the Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau, my staff arranged to have lunch delivered by Miller’s Diner to the Visitors Center. This isn’t a normal service that the Diner provides, but Larry was eager to meet me and help to shape my vision of the area and its tourism industry, so he brought the meal out himself. We wound up sitting at our conference table engaged in conversation for more than two hours. I was already enthusiastic about my new job, but Larry’s viewpoint helped me to put into perspective the tremendous opportunities that exist here for residents and visitors alike.
Much local and national publicity has surrounded the second death that affects Huntingdon County’s tourism industry, that of Joe Paterno on Sunday, January 22nd. While not directly involved in HCVB, there is no denying the overwhelmingly positive impact he has had on our tourism industry. Six weekends per year, more than 100,000 people flock to Beaver Stadium in State College to experience a game day at the best show in college athletics. Joe Paterno is singly responsible for that volume of visitors to Central Pennsylvania. The lodging establishments of Huntingdon County have no trouble selling their rooms on those weekends. It is entirely likely that JoePa never considered his impact on the rural county to his south, but it certainly exists.
I am not an alumnus of Penn State, nor have I ever shaken hands with the man, although I have been in the audience while he addressed an assembly of high school student government participants more than two decades ago. However, I am and always have been a Penn State Nittany Lion fan. And I for one, will always remember the beloved coach, philanthropist, educator and family man fondly.
On Thursday, January 26th we lost a man whose dedication to his job rivaled that of coach Paterno in its loyalty and longevity. Stanley Hall started with the East Broad Top Railroad in 1959 as a painter, fresh out of high school. He was charged with preparing the narrow-gauge railway’s cars and engines that had been dormant since it ceased operations in 1956, for an excursion to celebrate the Orbisonia/Rockhill bicentennial. From that moment he dedicated his life to the EBT, doing every job involved in running a steam railroad, including serving more than two decades as its general manager. The monumental task of maintaining 32 miles of railroad right-of-way, century-old machinery, acres of wooden and steel structures, and running weekend excursions with all of it for 50 years, boggles the mind, yet that’s what Stanley did.
I had the great fortune to nominate and witness Stanley Hall’s induction into the Keystone Society for Tourism, Pennsylvania’s tourism honor society. He had amazing stories to tell about the railroad over the years, and quite literally dedicated blood, sweat, and tears to its operation. As I sat in the Governor’s Mansion in Harrisburg with the Hall family, and listened to all of Stanley’s accomplishments read as the award was presented, and saw the pride in their eyes, and the sense of satisfaction in his for recognition of a life of dedicated service, I was nearly brought to tears.
I consider it a true blessing to be promoting an area that has been so greatly influenced by these three great men. My heart, and those of the entire tourism industry in Huntingdon County is saddened by their passing. To their families, please know that their impact on the area they loved so much, is sure to be felt for generations to come, and will not be forgotten.
Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau