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'News and Views': Newsletter keeps Sewickley Valley families informed on friends, relatives

| Friday, Dec. 29, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

The newsletters arrive once or twice a year, and the most recent reports that Gladys moved to Ohio and Mary enjoys writing verse for the family's Christmas card.

“Had a phone call from Gladys, ‘44 ... she sounds great and it was a delight to hear from her.” Farther down, there's part of a verse by Mary, who graduated in 1949. “This season ... may you find the gift of love in giving.”

Mary Jane Williams, 91, since 1994 has gathered updates largely from graduates of Sewickley- area schools, and assembled a newsletter which she copies and mails to people across the country. Today, there are more than 200 families on her mailing list, she says.

“Every time (I write a newsletter) there's somebody else who passed away, but then somebody else hears about it and they want it,” Williams said.

The newsletter — once a flourishing tradition in a pre-internet era — has migrated to mostly online now. Annual family updates might recount tragedies and highlights of the year. Williams' newsletter, “News and Views of Sewickley,” does this for graduates of Sewickley-area schools.

There's sections with births, deaths, new addresses, anniversaries and more. There's no online presence, but people may view the newsletters in person at the Sewickley Valley Historical Society on Broad Street.

She began sending the newsletter as a way for the former Sewickley High School class of 1944 to stay in touch. Graduates in the class of 80 people had been hosting reunions regularly. But at the 50th, and with fewer classmates, they thought it might be the last gathering.

Williams considered how to use the roughly $130 used to help fund the gatherings: A newsletter, she thought.

After a few editions, interest grew. More families asked to be placed on her mailing list. Eventually, the updates came not just from her former classmates, but from the larger community of families who mostly attended Sewickley-area schools.

Retired teacher Ken Johns, 80, of Sewickley, says he's kept each of Williams' newsletters; he has about 70.

“People all over the country get this. It's history,” said Johns, who also served as mayor and on council. “She tells you who passed away and people who came to town, they remember this, they talk about their children, grandchildren. It's everything you can think of.”

She mailed copies of the most recent edition to families in California, Florida, Washington, New York and elsewhere.

Her best advertisement: word of mouth. “Somebody will hear about it from another person, and they ask to be put on the list,” Williams said.

Williams used to produce quarterly updates, but now may send one or two per year.

“I'd always wanted to be a writer,” said Williams, a lifelong resident of Sewickley. “Things just fell into place after the reunion.

Kimberly Palmiero is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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