I’ve been studying the lives of York County’s captains of industries — both past and present — for years. Same with everyday men and women. So I pulled together some key points from all the generations for a York Sunday News column. At the same time, I pushed public service.
The writing process caused me to reflect on my own public service. Much of my discretionary time is spent alone, researching and writing. I hope it shows that public service can come in many ways — in a crowded room or in a corner of the York County Heritage Trust.
The column follows:
P.H. Glatfelter. A.B. Farquhar. S. Morgan Smith. Thomas Shipley. Giants from the Industrial Revolution in York County.
I’ve often wondered what these greats from our past were like personally. And how were these corporate captains so effective that their names will be remembered for generations?
In thinking about such things, it occurred to me that the qualities of consequential York countians today would be similar to those shown by leaders whose legacies remain admired decades after their deaths.
This is not to claim that I know many of today’s great men and women that well, so this is not an exercise in dropping the names of buddies. In fact, some of these folks have severely criticized news coverage that I helped oversee.
But I’ve tried to be an astute observer when I’ve been in the same room with Art Glatfelter, Tom Wolf, Tom Norris and others who will be long remembered around here.
Sometimes, they reveal little details that teach big lessons.
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Let’s start with a story I heard Art Glatfelter tell years ago about how he earned money growing up in Loganville.
He would drain remaining drops from discarded oil containers into a common container. Some drops here and some there, and pretty soon he had a quart of oil that he could sell at 100 percent profit.
Years later, he built Glatfelter Insurance, in part, by taking to the road, covering fire companies and other emergency responders with insurance. One by one. Now, thousands.
I once observed Tom Wolf, co-president of The Wolf Organization, drop coins into a jar to cover the cost of coffee for visitors to his West Market Street office.
A successful man like Tom Wolf taking time to pay for java for guests? That no doubt shows that his large company pays attention to tiny details.
And Tom Norris, formerly of Glatfelter paper, has the ability – reminiscent of my former boss David Martens – to make people feel that the work they’re doing is of utmost importance. You walk away from a conversation with them feeling good about yourself and ready to do even better.
Further, Norris and Martens, now publisher of The York Dispatch, are gracefully articulate, able to summarize the highlights of a two-hour meeting in two minutes.
My current boss, Fred Uffelman, has the wonderful ability to disarm serious situations with the use of humor. Fred is masterful at dissecting a complicated problem, deflating the issue and then dismissing the situation with a laugh. It makes you wonder why you thought the situation was serious to begin with.
* * *
I got a double dose of counsel one morning about a decade ago. Not only did I have the opportunity to eat breakfast with John Schmidt when he was president of York Bank, but I also learned his views on the success of Bob Kinsley of Kinsley Construction.
“He just gets up a little earlier than the rest of us,” Schmidt said.
I’ve since used that anecdote many times in visits to classrooms for career presentations.
George Glatfelter, who runs the paper company started by ancestor P.H., provided a poignant example of attention to duty earlier this year.
A Daily Record/Sunday News reporter called Glatfelter’s corporate headquarters in York during a Friday afternoon power failure.
The entire city had gone home early, but George Glatfelter himself answered the phone at the headquarters of his 2,000-employee company.
Similarly, with CA closed last Monday for the holiday, Bobby Simpson was there working, virtually alone in the big building on the big campus he was instrumental in building.
Stan Brown of Brown’s Orchards, a leader in the county’s vast agribusiness community, provided a lesson in diligence – and integrity – some years back.
For a class assignment, my daughter asked Stan to write how integrity is important in his business. Stan wrote a detailed two-page letter for the class, which we later learned took three hours to compose.
Given this commitment to such a small task, no wonder Stan Brown has evolved a roadside farm produce stand into a destination for thousands each week.
* * *
The list goes on and on.
One can learn tenacity in the face of illness from state Rep. Bev Mackereth.
June Lloyd, former archivist at the York County Heritage Trust, demonstrates how sweating the historical particulars results in a general project that attracts respect.
With awe, I’ve watched Dan Meckley, a former corporate CEO, work a meeting agenda, meeting goals in a brisk but not brusque style.
When CEO of Penn State York, Don Gogniat was wonderfully unpretentious in a position that can breed arrogance.
Michael Newsome, a former newspaper colleague now with The Wolf Organization, exudes quiet competence that assures you that it will be handled and handled with aplomb. And it always was.
All this is a long way of suggesting that time you give to community service returns lessons for use in the workplace.
And service in the community should be viewed as more than material to put on a resume.
It’s a time to learn, too, particularly if you spend time observing as well as serving. Of course, life’s lessons are everywhere and can often come from folks who don’t wear a tie or whose names won’t grace the sides of buildings some day.
A couple of months ago, I lent a hand to a supervisor and a worker moving partitions into a downtown building aboard a four-wheel conveyance.
The cart hit the curb, and the load shifted forward. No amount of pushing could move the partitions back to the middle of the now-front-heavy cart.
The worker suggested shifting the partitions back, one at a time. Individually, the pieces were manageable, and before long, the load was re-centered.
The worker thus conveyed great wisdom about breaking down a big, seemingly undoable project into small manageable tasks.
Had they been there, Glatfelter, Farquhar, Smith and Shipley undoubtedly would have given the worker a nod for a job well done.