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Summit Hill loses a jewel

Published August 18. 2012 09:01AM

"I'm going to write a book about Summit Hill and put in it photographs of the old days so people can see where we came from," or words to that effect greeted me when I walked into the Summit Hill Historical Society one day in 2008 to see my cousin Lee Mantz in one of his favorite places studying the photographs and cataloging them in the museum's collection. Within a year he successfully published this volume which is still available in the museum, and he completed his goal of cataloging and providing stories with the historical photos he loved.

Lee and I were the same age although we were a year apart in school. As youngsters, we attended St. Paul's United Church of Christ and became friends. I knew he lived downtown and that he had an older brother Lyle, but it wasn't until I was a little older that I learned we were actually third cousins, descendants of Daniel Remaley who at one time was a prominent member of our community and one of the original members of our church. We were both pleased to find out we were actually related and I can recall my grandmother and great aunt Esther visiting his grandmother Hazel Carter.

As we entered high school, we remained friends but since we were a year apart we gradually grew apart pursuing our own interests but we still talked to each other when we were able. It was not until the Summit Hill Historical Society formed that he and I crossed paths again and I was delighted to learn he was married and had a daughter Kassandra. Our friendship rekindled during those years and we spent lots of time at the museum together when it first opened sharing our love of history and willing to talk with anyone who would listen to us.

My other grandmother passed away in 2001 after a short illness and it was only after her death that I discovered Lee and his family befriended her and visited with her almost every day. My great-aunt Helen who lived in front of my grandmother told me how much she looked forward to talking with Lee and Kassandra when they would be walking in the neighborhood. When I saw him, I thanked him and told him how much my aunt said my grandmother appreciated his company. He was always friendly like that and I can honestly say I have never seen him unhappy. He was the type of person who would always lift your spirit and in the words of Monty Python help you look "on the bright side of life." He was one of those rare people who befriended and enriched the lives of those lucky enough to know him.

When I served as President of the Historical Society, Lee was always right there to lend a hand. He was responsible for cataloging many of the photographs. He organized their display in the museum. When he managed to get a hold of a computer, he worked to scan hundreds of photographs and supply them in a digital format so everyone could share them online. In addition, he also provided those photographs and postcards online at for the world to share. His dad Lyle was the one who inspired him to write the book, and unfortunately he passed away before he could see Lee's work completed, but the volume was one of which I'm sure his father would be proud.

Lee was a philanthropist and even though he worked for hours and months on his volume, he donated quite a bit of its proceeds to the museum and the Historical Society which he loved. When we needed to find a better suited home, he was the one that entered negotiations with the McFadden's and arranged to relocate the museum to that location on West Ludlow Street. And it was Lee as President who led the charge to move the facility. He personally packed and moved much of the exhibits and lovingly set them up in the new location. Tomorrow is our grand re-opening but now it will be a bittersweet event as our torch, our beacon will not be able to see the fruition of his efforts, although I'm sure he will be watching over it in spirit.

Not only was Lee dedicated to the Historical Society, but he let me and our cousin Bob Gormley talk him into serving on the Switchback Foundation for a few years. When I was approached to organize a board of directors for the Grand Army Cemetery, Lee was right there to help. He and his fiancée Renee and the rest of his family were there to help us clean the grounds and paint the cemetery fence and renovate portions of the cemetery when we took over the grounds and he served on the board continuously for the last three years. I spoke to him only a few weeks ago about some cemetery business and I was looking forward to seeing him tomorrow but alas fate is a cruel mistress.

Summit Hill may not realize it but the town lost a jewel, an icon last Sunday in the unforgiving Lehigh River which carried our son away. There are no words that I can find to bring comfort to his wife Renee or his family, but I know that he lived each day to the fullest and his life was an inspiration for so many. He left a legacy that will always be remembered by the Society and his words and images will live forever in his book. He will always be a son of Summit Hill and we will miss him terribly, but he will always be in our hearts and we need to carry on his work and not let our history be forgotten. God bless you my friend and my cousin, and I know someday I will see you again. If there is an eBay offering photos of the streets of Heaven, I'm sure you are already collecting them. We love you and it's never good-bye just see you later.

Til next time …

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