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Norvelt's natives reunite at Roosevelt Hall

| Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Barbara Denning | For The Mt. Pleasant Journal
Committee members who organized the 17th annual reunion of descendants of the original Westmoreland Homesteaders held recently in Norvelt are (from left) Earl Saville, Sally Heide and Lois Weyandt. Photo taken Thursday, July 18, 2013
Barbara Denning | For The Mt. Pleasant Journal
Tom Caldwell, of Bear Rocks, is among those reminiscing while attending the recently held 17th annual reunion of descedants of the original Westmoreland Homesteaders in Norvelt.
Barbara Denning | For The Mt. Pleasant Journal
Len Solo, a Norvelt native who today is a highly regarded teacher and author, returns to the village for the 17th annual reunion of descendants of the original Westmoreland Homesteaders held recently.

Descendants of the original Westmoreland Homesteaders recently gathered to celebrate their upbringing in Norvelt and celebrate their pride in the village's history and culture.

The group gathered July 18 at the Roosevelt Hall for a 17-year reunion.

The Westmoreland Homestead was founded in 1933 by the federal government as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal Homestead Project.

With 250 homes, the area — that was later named Norvelt — provided housing, work and a community environment to unemployed workers and their families during the Great Depression.

It was renamed “Norvelt” in 1937 in honor of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who personally visited the area to promote the program.

Tom Caldwell of Bear Rocks, a Norvelt native, was wistful in recollecting what life was like growing up there.

“Each family was given a house, a chicken coop, a garage, a wheel barrow, a rake, a hoe, a shovel and a grape arbor,” Caldwell said.

Earl Saville, a member of the event's organizational committee, has been residing in Norvelt in the same house for 77 years.

He's proud to say that his original grape arbor is alive and well.

“It still produces grapes,” Saville said.

Among the guests was Norvelt native Len Solo, a teacher and author who currently resides in Massachusetts.

Solo said the Norvelt homes were outfitted with valuable resources for everyday living.

“They had inside toilets, running water and electricity,” Solo said.

Solo added that the poor were given an opportunity for advancement by “the actions of a caring government.”

“No matter where I go, this little world has stayed with me,” he said.

Paul and Florence Schlingman, the parents of Lois Weyandt, chairperson of the reunion committee, were original Westmoreland Homesteaders, she said.

“There's a lot of history here, and the younger people should know that,” she said. “I think it was a successful effort of the government that really worked.”

Barbara Denning is a contributing writer.

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