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Railroad association names new board members

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 9:05 p.m.
Ligonier Valley Railroad Association board president Bill Potthoff, (left) gathers with new board members, Mimi Owens of Greensburg and Tom Hunter of Ligonier beside a display of the original dress worn by Bessie Hoon at the 1912 train wreck. Rebecca Emanuele | Trib Total Media tAKEN BY Rebecca Emanuele on Saturday morning, January 12, 2013 at the Darlington Station Museum.
Submitted Thomas B. Hunter Jr., at age 1 1/2, with his grandfather, James W. Hunter, onboard a Pennsylvania Railroad car. The Hunters were visting the rail yard on the last day operations for the Ligonier Valley Rail Road, Aug. 31, 1952. Submitted by Thomas Hunter Jan. 14, 2013

Bob Stutzman and Pat Wallace, both recognized as leaders in fulfilling the goals of the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Association, recently retired as board directors.

Stutzman was vice president of the association and served on the board since the organization's inception in 2004. Wallace retired after serving two consecutive terms - six years - on the board.

Mimi Owens and Tom Hunter have been named to the board to replace the outgoing board members.

Stutzman and Bill McCullough co-founded the association in January 2004 with the mission to preserve the legacy of the Ligonier Valley Rail Road.

“We started the association because we were fascinated with the story of the Ligonier Valley Rail Road,” said Stutzman.

The pair collected photographs of the Pennsylvania and Ligonier Valley railroads and they were members of the Pennsylvania Rail Road Club in Latrobe.

“We collected quite a bit of Ligonier photographs and that got our attention,” said Stutzman about the collection he and McCullough, who is also his brother-in-law, had acquired over the years.

With help from people like Attorney Richard Flickinger and CPA William “Skip” Knupp, a corporation was formed and nonprofit status was acquired.

“Our goal was to open a store front in Ligonier to showcase our albums on Saturdays and Sundays,” he said. “Through a lot of good friends and support from our families, look what has happened.”

Stutzman said his biggest accomplishment is the restoration of the Darlington Station and the caboose.

“The power of two, look what happened when a couple of people put their shoulder to the wheel and say ‘Let's see where this goes,'” said Stutzman.

He said he will not be leaving the railroad group and plans to still be involved.

“I plan to visit my grandchildren in Connecticut and Virginia more now. We want to be able to pick up and go when we want to go,” he said. “To think that the museum is up and open four days a week, year-round... We never dreamed of anything like that,” he said.

Wallace said he heard about the association when it was first forming and then visited their booth during Fort Ligonier Days that year. He expressed an interest to help the group find a place to store and display their collections.

“As an eighth-generation resident of the Ligonier Valley, I am very keen on the history of the Valley,” said Wallace.

Wallace said he worked very hard to put a business plan in place to perpetuate the association for future years. He said he helped put the processes in place to get donations to facilitate the restoration of the Darlington Station as a permanent museum.

“To see these collections preserved and the Darlington Station restored to its original state is a great community asset,” he said. “I love entrepreneurship and the Ligonier Valley Railroad Association is a great example of business and being an entrepreneur.”

Owens, 55, of Greensburg will replace Stutzman. She is a job counselor for the Westmoreland County Community College Title V Program, where she is a member of the English Department faculty.

Stutzman said Owens will draw on her background in English to continue to make improvements at the association. He said he hopes she will help with the newsletter.

“I look forward to their enthusiasm,” said Stutzman. “We welcome new fresh approach to the organization.”

Owens began volunteering at the museum in March 2012. Her first project was to research the 1912 train wreck in Wilpen.

Owens said her involvement as a job counselor at the college put her in contact Bill Potthoff the association's board president. She said a visit to the museum was all it took for her to get involved as a volunteer there.

Owens said her ancestors were involved in the railroad industry and she always had an interest in finding about more about the local railroads.

“One of my great-grandfathers worked in the Pitcarin yard and the other designed miniature train scenes,” she said.

Both men lived to be 100 years old and she said she was fortunate to be around them to hear their stories about the railroad days.

“I guess I always liked that period in history, the industrial period,” she said. “I am interested in the labor history and how those changes then helped shape the every day man. What they did contributed, what they did, helped make it happen.”

Owens said she finds the research work about the history of the 1912 train wreck fascinating.

“We are discovering so many layers, new facts keep popping up for us to chase down,” she said.

Owens said she will be next looking into publishing the newsletter for the association.

“I am excited about the chance to work with current and past members as we work together to continue to make interest in the museum grow,” she said.

Thomas B. Hunter Jr., 61, of Ligonier will replace Wallace. Hunter retired from Verizon in 2008, after a 37-year career in the telephone business.

Hunter said he also has family ties to the railroad industry. He is the grandson of James. W. Hunter, a Pennsylvania Railroad express agent.

During the time his grandfather was employed as an agent in Ligonier, he, his wife and four sons all worked at the agency to deliver freight in the Valley. The family's home was near the station on Walnut Street, across from the old armory.

“I was 1½ years old when the Ligonier Valley Rail Road closed, but I remember stories told by family members about my grandfather's job at the Pennsylvania Railroad Express office,” he said.

Hunter has volunteered for the past four years for the model railroad home tour and the association's booth at Fort Ligonier Days and the Summer in Ligonier events.

“I guess it got started over Thanksgiving dinner a few years ago,” he said. “My cousin was talking about his father, David, and the family history.”

His cousin said he had rail track maps that showed the layout of the Ligonier Valley Railroad line. The family decided they would donate the original maps to the railroad museum.

“I told them if you can make me a copy, you can have the original,” said Hunter. “And, that's how I got started as a volunteer for the museum. I helped preserve a historical memento of my ancestor.”

Hunter said he hopes to bring new ideas to keep the museum running and to improve ways to encourage younger people to visit.

“I will do what ever I can do to help raise funds and keep it running,” he said. “We need to keep Ligonier history alive.”

Deborah A. Brehun is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-238-2111 or

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