California Area Historical Society Seeks Stories

Article excerpt

You do not have to be a celebrity to have a story to tell.

In fact, everyone has a story inside, a tale of beginnings of families, ancestors, traditions, places, schools, careers, church and social life.

The California Area Historical Society, in its efforts to fulfill its mission to "preserve the significance of its settlers and to educate the public," is putting a new emphasis on encouraging older area residents and their families to share their stories to enrich the history of the whole area.

"We are losing more and more of our older citizens. It is important that we get the family and community stories they have while they can still remember facts," said Pat Cowen, historical society president and coordinator of the Oral Histories Project.

Gathering such stories began informally in the early 1980s when the California Area Historical Society spun off from being the Archive Committee of the Friends of the California Area Public Library into its own organization in the Gallagher House on Wood and Fifth streets in California.

Merrell Holman, a retired elementary principal of Noss Laboratory School on the campus of California University of Pennsylvania, and Miriam Donavon Wilson, retired California School District and Cal U music teacher, both charter members of the society, began by interviewing people.

They interviewed "community pillars" such as the late Adelia Birkinsha, better known as "Dilly," a retired special education teacher and social worker who spent the rest of her life as a full- time community volunteer. They also sat down with Bertha Gue, who for many years was an elementary teacher at the East Pike Run Elementary School and the two-room Coal Center Elementary School before that. They also interviewed George Harris, owner of Harris Builders and Supply, which built many of the private residences in the Mon Valley. …