In 1998, a retired scientist from Brooklyn visited Schuylkill County and fell in love.
Valerie Macdonald had no local ties or connections; she'd come to the area to visit a friend's parents.
Macdonald saw Shenandoah and Schuylkill County in a different light from many local folks. She adored the strong, ethnic coal region fabric and decided to stay and demonstrate her admiration.
What did she do?
First, she became part of the community by opening a small shop, Caledonia Antiques.
Inspired by activity in nearby Tamaqua, she organized Shenandoah's first Heritage Day in 1999.
Then she started an organization called the Greater Shenandoah Area Historical Society.
Picking up steam, she helped to establish Downtown Shenandoah Inc. and served as president.
She also spearheaded a new annual event called the Parade of Nations, where residents march behind the flag of their ancestral homeland, showcasing the town as a melting pot.
Each year, Macdonald, the petite sentinel of pride, marched as the sole representative of Scotland, waving the Scottish banner while smiling and greeting spectators.
And that was the point of her mission: to convince local residents to be proud flag wavers, to honor their lineage, and to recognize themselves as the good, hardworking people they are.
Macdonald showed Schuylkill County how to shine and residents embraced her. She became one of us, known simply as "Val," someone who'd slipped in like Professor Harold Hill of "The Music Man" and made a difference.
The irony is that Val, the adopted county daughter, never revealed anything about herself. Everybody knew her, but nobody knew her.
Turns out Val was Dr. Macdonald, a 1961 graduate of Brooklyn College with a major in biology. She earned a master's degree in marine biology and immunohematology.
Her graduate work at NYU Medical Center spawned her doctoral thesis on the "Structure and Function of Hemophiliac and Von Willebrand Factors."
She worked for Bellevue Hospital and was among our country's notable pharmaceutical diagnosticians.
Val never said a word about her heavy-duty background. Nobody had a clue.
But she paid the coal regions a great honor.
The special woman who'd spent her life in service to others chose to live her final years in Schuylkill County.
She did more than show us how to wave our flags. She encouraged us to better understand ourselves.
Val passed away July 12 at age 74.
She is survived by a nephew, two nieces and her stunned and indebted county family of 146,920.
By DONALD R. SERFASS