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Norvelt celebrates founding, heritage

| Monday, Sept. 9, 2002

A community that's very existence was an experiment from the New Deal era has become the latest historic site to be honored with one of the state's blue historical markers.

Norvelt - which was originally established in 1934 as part of a homestead project, providing housing, jobs and environment for unemployed workers and their families - celebrated the marker, located near the Norvelt Volunteer Fire Department, with a gathering of residents and dignitaries on Sunday.

The marker, provided by a $750 grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and a local match, commemorates the founding and heritage of the Westmoreland Homesteads, as Norvelt was originally called.

In 1937, the community was renamed Norvelt after First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who was very interested in the homestead project, by taking the last three letters of her first name and the last four letters of her last name.

Among the many dignitaries in attendance at the ceremony was state Sen. Allen Kukovich of the 39th District. He commended both Franklin D. Roosevelt and the first lady for their contributions to making Norvelt what it is today.

"In my mind, Eleanor Roosevelt was the greatest first lady this country had ever had. Her husband was also the finest president this country ever had."

Although both received a lot of criticism for the concept and a lot of people thought it was a bad idea, this marker proves the experiment worked. "That experiment was one heck of a success," said Kukovich.

He added that the success happened only because of the participation and caring of the homesteaders. In addition, the dedication of this marker only came about because of the participation and caring of a group of individuals from Norvelt.

Lois Schlingman Weyandt, chairwoman of the marker committee, spearheaded the effort. Weyandt, along with fellow committee member Earl Saville, had the honor of unveiling the marker at the conclusion of the ceremony.

James Steely, executive director of the Westmoreland County Historical Society, commended the people of Norvelt and especially members of the marker committee for pulling together to see this marker erected.

He used a line made famous by Fred Rogers to describe what this honor means for Norvelt. "It's certainly a wonderful day in this neighborhood," said Steely.

Steely added that the PHMC doesn't recognize only historical places and times, but special places and times, which is certainly true for Norvelt. The original homesteaders came to the community, put down roots, raised their families, educated their children, went to work and even saw their children return to make Norvelt their family's home.

He urged members of the committee not to stop at this marker. He said he hopes Weyandt and the committee will look into getting Norvelt placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Tom Caldwell, a member of the marker committee, served as master of ceremonies for the event. Local businessman Harry F. Prue led the more than 100 residents who attended the event in the singing of the National Anthem, while members of AmVets Post No. 94 of United handled the presentation of the colors.

The Rev. Robert Wilson, of First United Methodist Church in Greensburg, gave the invocation. The Rev. Aaron Bruzzelli, of Forty-Martyrs Church in Trauger, concluded the ceremony with the benediction.

Other participants in the ceremony included state Rep. Jess Stairs, a lifelong resident of Mount Pleasant Township; Duane Hutter, Mount Pleasant Township supervisor; Renny Renier, Norvelt assistant fire chief; John Spisso, secretary of the U.S. Army Western PA Civilian Aid; and John Emerick, past national commander of the American Defenders Bataan and Corregidor.

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