The volunteer chairman serving at the helm of the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership for the past 12 years has decided to step down.

Pat Freeh-Stefanek will retire from the position later this month after serving four, three-year terms.

Freeh-Stefanek said she'd like to spend more time with family and make room for others to step foward.

"I think it is important to have new, younger people involved. After so many years people have a tendency to become blasé and I don't want to become like that," she said. "New people have more energy, more creativity, more excitement and they are the future and they should create what they would like to see. I want to spend more time with my family, the grandchildren, attending their functions, and traveling."

Freeh-Stefanek emphasizes that she is not leaving the partnership. She will continue to serve on the organization's board.

She is the group's third chairman.

The organization's first chairman in its formative years was then-state Rep. David G. Argall. Argall held the position until early 1998 when Bob Roche took over for a three-year term. Roche served until 2000. He has since relocated to another state.

The partnership began in 1994 when local residents became alarmed over what they saw as a serious state of decline. Rather than allowing it to continue, they chose to take action.

That year, three workshops brought together elected officials, businesses, civic organizations and concerned citizens. Guided by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, the volunteers developed short, medium and long-term goals to improve the quality of life in the local area.

The contingent split into four task forces to focus efforts on historic preservation and tourism; downtown revitalization, recreation, and economic development. The four-pronged approach brought results. Today, the Eastern Schuylkill Recreation Commission and the Tamaqua Spirit of Christmas Festival are two examples of programs spawned by the partnership.

"It's been a whirlwind of activity and a mountain of success, thanks to the work of so many groups and volunteers," says Freeh-Stefanek.

"The progress in our community is amazing. We became a college town, something that was only a dream 12 years ago. Thanks to the collaboration of the John E. Morgan Charitable Trust, Lehigh Carbon Community College and the Tamaqua Area School District we're now an educational center.

"Our children are our future and the Tamaqua of today is providing a solid foundation for the future, providing free tuition for two years of college right here at home," says Freeh-Stefanek.

A key time for the partnership was in 2004 when the program reached its target date.

At that point, successes were recognized and goals expanded and more finely tuned. The 2004 partnership decided to move foward under a new name, the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership.

Freeh-Stefanek cites many successes that define the initiative, such as the Victorian fountain rising 12 feet high at the center of town, the creation of Depot Square Park, and a $2.7 million Victorian streetscape project begun in 2006 to transform the downtown into a progressive looking commercial district that pays homage to its heritage.

"But it never was about simply making things look pretty," says Freeh-Stefanek. "We've moved forward with aggressive initiatives to promote job creation, recreation, health and safety, tourism and all of the components that help to improve the quality of life in Walker, Schuylkill, Rush and West Penn townships, and Tamaqua Borough. In fact, our area is now recognized as a Blue Print community designated by Rural LISC due to our revitalization efforts, our vision for the future, and our willingness to pursue a vision through cooperative projects."

Freeh-Stefanek says "Tamaqua is regarded as an example of community revitalization by other towns across the state and country, testament to a high level of accomplishment, and for that we can be proud. It's been a privilege to work along side so many wonderful and gifted local residents."

Freeh-Stefanek's final statement as chairman will be presented at the Tamaqua Area Community Dinner on April 25.

Micah Gursky serves as executive director, while Lee Shafer is vice chairman.