Latrobe man knew how to bring Compass Inn Museum’s history to life
Regular visitors at Ligonier’s Compass Inn Museum knew to look for James Koontz’s signature top hat.
“Everybody loved his tours because his way of presenting the information was so wonderful,” said Theresa Gay Rohall, executive director of the Ligonier Valley Historical Society.
Museum attendees, and even tour bus drivers, would often ask, “Is Jim here today?” Rohall recalled.
Mr. Koontz worked at the museum for years, first as a volunteer, then as an employee, then as a volunteer again after his retirement.
He would put on a period-appropriate outfit and give tours of the inn, which has been restored to look as it did in the early 1800s.
He usually was a quiet man, unless he was talking about history, said his wife, Katherine Koontz.
“When you got him on a subject, or you got him talking about history, he was a wealth of knowledge,” she said.
James L. Koontz of Latrobe died Friday, Feb. 15, 2019, at home. He was 68.
He was born Sept. 16, 1950, in Latrobe to the late James H. Koontz and Virginia R. (Freeman) Koontz Trees.
He served in the National Guard during the Vietnam War and worked for Kennametal for many years.
Friends told Mr. and Mrs. Koontz they’d make good volunteers at the Compass Inn, so they went to check it out. His first day volunteering, Mr. Koontz gave three tours.
“He’d never done it before. He was just kind of baptized by fire,” his wife said.
Mr. Koontz believed working at the inn was in his blood. He was a genealogy enthusiast and discovered he might be a descendant of Jonathan Freeman, the inn’s original proprietor.
When Mr. Koontz wasn’t wearing his historical attire, he might have been dressed as “Lester the Clown.”
“It was just something we wanted to do,” his wife said of the clown classes they took together. “It was so involved, and there’s so much to learn about clowning.”
He later taught clowning at Westmoreland County Community College.
“Once he got into character, he was just hysterical,” Mrs. Koontz said.
The couple also enjoyed ballroom dancing.
“We loved to dance and were good,” Mrs. Koontz said. “I can say that because we were.”
They would try almost anything together, she said. “We loved each other and we liked each other, and I think that’s what made it so easy for us to do things.”
A funeral liturgy and service will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday in Mary Mother of Mercy Mausoleum Chapel at St. Vincent Cemetery, Unity. Full military honors, accorded by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 33, will immediately follow the service.
Hartman-Graziano Funeral Home is in charge of the arrangements.
Memorials may be made to the Ligonier Valley Historical Society, P.O. Box 167, Laughlintown, PA, 15655, or online at compassinn.com.
Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jacob at 724-836-6646, [email protected] or via Twitter .