Son fondly recalls mom's devotion to United Way in Connellsville
Jim Shawley of Mt. Pleasant cherishes the memory of helping his mother deliver cookies at Christmastime.
There were plenty of stops to make because Fern Shawley had many acquaintances — in fact, once Fern met someone, chances were good that he or she was a friend for life.
“One Christmas, she baked 125 dozen cookies and gave every single one of them away. That's just the way she was,” Jim said.
Fern was as united in her devotion to her son Jim and her daughter, Shirley Hillard of Georgetown, as she was to her career as secretary of the Greater Connellsville United Way. Many Connellsville residents remember the kindly way that Fern raised money for the nonprofit organizations that United Way assists — groups such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, the American Red Cross and YMCA, Catholic Charities, local recreation programs and more.
Born in 1918, Fern graduated from Connellsville High School in 1936. She held several jobs before she came to the United Way, including working for the Railway Express Agency, where she taught women railroad clerical duties.
Hired in 1969
The late Melvin Keller hired Fern as an executive secretary in 1969 to manage Greater Connellsville Community Fund, which was renamed Greater Connellsville United Way in 1983.
Interviewed by the Daily Courier in 1989, she kept a positive outlook despite the region's hard economic times. Former United Way donors such as Volkswagen, Modulus, Pittsburgh Sheet Metal and P&LE Railroad had recently closed, yet United Way soldiered on, exceeding its financial goals. Fern's sunny smile and quiet, polite approach was likely a contributor to all those contributions.
“We're raising more money now with fewer people and businesses,” she said in 1989. “That says something. It says that Connellsville people care.”
The United Way's office was tucked quietly away in the basement of Charleroi Federal Savings and Loan, along Arch Street in Connellsville. There, Fern did the dialing, typing and filing that filled her workdays.
A one-woman operation
“Fern was a one-woman operation. She is the one who kept Connellsville's United Way going all those years,” said Ruth Walters, a retired Connellsville Area High School teacher who helped distribute the cash that remained in United Way's bank accounts after Fern passed away in December 1995 at age 77.
“My mom worked up until the day she died,” said her son, Jim, who is a retired truck driver. “She loved talking to people. She was very dedicated.”
After Fern's death, Greater Connellsville United Way merged with the United Way of Westmoreland County. South Fayette United Way, which was based in Uniontown, is now a member of the same Greensburg-based agency as well.
“Small United Way chapters such as Connellsville and Uniontown found it had become too expensive to have their own administrative staff,” explained Walters, who served on the Westmoreland United Way's board of directors for 16 years.
Fayette County does have a United Way office, located in Uniontown. The office staff raises donations; however, the Westmoreland United Way administers the funding to Fayette County's eligible nonprofit groups.
Jim Shawley contacted The Daily Courier as Mother's Day approached because he wanted to honor her memory.
“I'm sure a lot of local people remember her,” he said. “Even though she's been gone nearly 20 years, I still miss her. I always will.”
Laura Szepesi is a freelance writer.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Uniontown freight train derailment blamed on bad crossties
- Connellsville middle schoolers ‘Adopt a Grandparent’
- Fayette County Crime Victims Center marking milestone
- Sex trafficking survivor to speak at Penn State Fayette
- Incumbent coroner, underling seek Dem nod in race for Fayette coroner
- Dunbar Township resort proposal approval appealed
- Fayette County Commissioner Zimmerlink lawsuit near $30K settlement
- Fayette County prosecutors drop charges filed by indicted ex-officer
- Mill Run woman sentenced in daughter’s death
- Lynn: Spaghetti benefit set at Brownfield Community Center
- Connellsville Municipal Authority gets partial refund