Shock waves reverberated through the Greater Tamaqua Area and emotions were raw as word reached the streets Monday about the sudden passing of a popular town leader and a well-known businessman.
Kenneth Smulligan, 66, president of Tamaqua Save Our Station, and past president and current member of Tamaqua Borough Council, passed away unexpectedly at his Hazle Street home early in the day.
Smulligan headed Tamaqua SOS since 1991 and was the only president the group ever had.
Careerwise, Smulligan served for many years as co-proprietor of Smulligan's Glass Shop, South Centre Street, a family-run business of long standing in the community. He served in the capacity of proprietor at the time of his passing.
Smulligan was a proponent of Tamaqua community tourism and an ambassador for the Schuylkill County town. He also was a supporter of initiatives of the Tamaqua Historical Society and Museum and believed in preservation of Tamaqua's rich history and landmarks.
He was a former president of the Schuylkill County Visitors Bureau board of directors, former member of the Tamaqua Area Chamber of Commerce board, and former member of Tamaqua American Hose Company.
Those who knew him best say he was, in one word, irreplaceable.
"Tamaqua has lost a long time community supporter, leader, and friend today," said Dale Freudenberger, historical society president. "Ken was known by many, many people for his kindness and generosity. He has been involved in many community projects and initiatives his whole life and was loved by many," said Freudenberger.
"He loved his community and was always willing to lend a hand or make a donation to any worthy cause," Freudenberger added. "Ken is probably best known for his leadership in helping to save the Tamaqua railroad station from destruction and forming a new organization to lead its restoration. He will be missed by his many friends, colleagues, customers and acquaintances who had the pleasure of knowing him all these years."
Micah Gursky, council president, said the loss is a blow to the community.
"Ken gave himself to Tamaqua. He cared for hundreds of foster kids, selflessly gave his time to serve on borough council where he truly made Tamaqua a better place," Gursky said.
"His greatest gift is the Tamaqua train station which certainly would have been demolished and lost forever if not for his decades of hard work, stubbornness and pure love for Tamaqua's No. 1 landmark," Gursky said. "For many Tamaquans, myself included, he was a dear friend, a mentor, and will always be an inspiration for how one man can make a difference in the lives of so many."
Councilman Brian Connely spoke of Smulligan's familiarity with the town.
"Ken loved this community. Whenever you needed a history lesson to help you understand something in Tamaqua, he was the one to give you that lesson," said Connely. "I was always grateful for that type of insight. He will be missed by this community and me personally."
Linda Yulanavage, executive director, Tamaqua Area Chamber of Commerce, served with Smulligan on countless committees over the years. But if one thing stands out, she says, it was his tireless dedication to Tamaqua's Philadelphia & Reading Railroad passenger depot.
"The restoration of the Tamaqua train station will remain forever as a living testament to the dedication and passion that Kenny had for our community," said Yulanavage. "From the very beginning, he was the 'voice' for the project, and his hard work with Tamaqua SOS has provided us all the assurance that 'anything is possible with hard work and dedication.'"
Maureen Donovan, assistant director, Lehigh Carbon Community College, said Smulligan left his mark on the town.
"Many organizations will miss Ken's commitment to the community and the people," she said. "His positive attitude was an asset and will leave a void."
Connely remembers Smulligan as a man of reason.
"We may have had difference of opinions on things, but at the end of the day we could always sit down and talk and understand where we were each coming from and remain friends and move on to the next project."
Smulligan and wife Gloria also attained a high level of achievement as foster parents.
In fact, in an October, 2000, TIMES NEWS feature story called "A port in the storm," part of the series "Ordinary people, extraordinary lives," Ken and Gloria were recognized for success in giving endangered or troubled youngsters a chance for a stable life in a loving environment. At that point, Ken and Gloria already had served as foster parents to 105 youngsters.
Smulligan said the role of foster parent came as second nature. It's all part of helping others, he told THE TIMES NEWS.
"People often ask me, 'How can you take a total stranger into your home?'"
"I answer: 'They're not strangers, they're children.'"
At the time, Smulligan urged people to learn more about the program and offer their help.
It is unclear how Smulligan's passing will impact borough council and important volunteer initiatives such as Tamaqua SOS.
But Yulanavage said he will never be forgotten.
"Kenny will be missed by all of us," said Yulanavage. "But he'll remain in our thoughts every day when we pass by the station."
Smulligan was the son of the late Peter and Dorothy (Derr) Smulligan.
He and Gloria have three grown children. He is also survived by brother Karl and sisters Dianne Lehatto and Gloria Forte, and other relatives.
A full obituary and funeral arrangements will appear soon in THE TIMES NEWS.