Post office stamped with Jimmy Stewart's name

| Saturday, June 11, 2011

On a picture-perfect afternoon that would leap off the silver screen, Indiana's post office was renamed to honor the town's most famous son.

The facility along South Seventh Street will be known as the James M. "Jimmy" Stewart building for the Indiana native who went on to gain fame in such films as "The Philadelphia Story," "Rear Window" and "Vertigo."

The bill renaming the post office for Stewart was signed by President Obama in January, and the Postal Service held a ceremony on Friday to unveil a plaque that will hang inside the 1917 building that Stewart would have used as a young man.

"Of all the institutions and organizations who have honored our father, we can think of no other, even in this electronic age of ours, that is such a quintessential part of the American experience and that touches so many people in their everyday lives as the United States Postal Service," Stewart's children, Kelly, Michael and Judy, said in a statement. They were unable to attend the ceremony.

The event, held on the steps of the post office, began just after the town's church bells tolled at noon -- an homage to the ringing bells in Stewart's famous Christmas movie, "It's a Wonderful Life."

Some of Stewart's lines from that movie were recited by famed Stewart impersonator Chris Collins, who later performed excerpts from "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" during an open house at the Jimmy Stewart Museum.

"It truly is a wonderful life here in Indiana, PA, isn't it?" Collins said, mimicking Stewart's unmistakable voice.

The renaming was the idea of U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, an Indiana University of Pennsylvania graduate, who was surprised to discover that a post office had not been named for Stewart.

"I thought, 'Boy, here's someone we want to make sure that his legacy continues,'" said Critz, D-Johnstown.

Critz gained support for the measure from fellow Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Altoona; U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and former Sen. Arlen Specter.

Stewart deserved to be honored, not just because he was an Academy Award-winning actor and the star of more than 80 movies, but because of his love for America, Critz said.

Stewart left his movie career to serve in World War II as a B-17 bomber pilot, flying in 20 official missions, including one on "Black Thursday," a day in which 60 bombers were shot down on a mission into Germany.

"He didn't do it for recognition," Critz said. "He did it because it was the right thing to do."

Charles McCreadie, Western Pennsylvania district manager for the Postal Service, said he hoped the renaming of the building for Stewart would serve as a reminder to generations to come of how Stewart lived his life.

"It's really an opportunity to remember great Americans who have left behind meaningful lessons and legacies to follow," McCreadie said.

In front of the speakers' podium rested a large reproduction of a stamp issued in Stewart's honor four years ago.

"We know that Dad would be not only touched and honored, but also utterly delighted, just as he would have been in 2007, when the Jimmy Stewart stamp was issued," Stewart's children said. "If he were here, he would want to be the first to mail a letter from the newly named post office."

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