Death of an industry giant
DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS A $4.75-million investment by the John E. Morgan Foundation was parlayed into a $10-million campus that has turned Tamaqua into a college town.
Twelve years after his death and the closing of his namesake mills, John E. Morgan has a growing influence in his Tamaqua hometown and the region.
The industrialist's philanthropy supports medicine, arts, education, sports and science.
For example, endowments to Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, John and Dorothy Morgan Cancer Center at Lehigh Valley Hospital, and Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics are a few among a long list of entities propelled by Morgan's generosity. At the Penn State Schuylkill Campus, a gift in the 1980s made possible the construction of the Morgan Auditorium.
Closer to home, a new college campus and special educational program in Tamaqua touches the future of young adults. Some of those youngsters, representing tomorrow's workforce, likely would've have secured jobs in the Morgan Mills textiles plant that once served as the region's primary employer.
But the economical climate has changed. Traditional jobs have evaporated, giving rise to hope in new fields, new opportunities. Amid a flurry of fanfare, halls of knowledge were dedicated on August 26, 2003, high atop a mountain in Tamaqua's South Ward.
"John Morgan, you will live forever in the legacy of young lives who will walk through these doors," proclaimed Donald W. Snyder, president, Lehigh Carbon Community College (LCCC), before a ribbon cutting at a $9.75-million college campus.
Founded in 1966, LCCC serves more than 7,500 students from Lehigh, Carbon, Schuylkill and surrounding counties, offering more than 90 programs of study. Its main campus is in Schnecksville and satellite campuses exist in Allentown and Nesquehoning. The arrival of LCCC in Tamaqua represents the college's first foray in Schuylkill County.
The new facility was constructed at the site of the old 1927 Tamaqua High School, later a junior high, then middle school. There, at 90 High Street, a 38,000-square-foot building was constructed with a touch of heritage as it incorporated and repurposed the old THS auditorium.
At the time, Snyder credited the cooperation of the borough and school district for expediting plans.
"They helped to get the permits we needed. We're looking to a great future here in Tamaqua," he affirmed.
Snyder predicted that the education and workforce training advantages of LCCC would be a force felt not just in Tamaqua but throughout Schuylkill County. He said state funding would help put programs in place and provide important infrastructure enhancements. Several years later, the Carriage Street iron steps were unveiled, a neighborhood pedestrian stairway leading to the college.
LCCC's John and Dorothy Morgan Center for Higher Education is touted as the promise for a better future in eastern Schuylkill and western Carbon counties.
The John E. Morgan Charitable Foundation, Inc., provided almost $4.75 million toward the effort to make Tamaqua a college town.
The foundation, in care of the Bessemer Trust, is a Tamaqua-based private grantmaking corporation. It operates behind the scenes in the same quiet, unobtrusive manner in which Morgan himself conducted philanthropy. A 2010 report lists the foundation as having assets of $67.8 million.
Free college education
News of the college's move into Tamaqua was announced by Gov. Mark S. Schweiker, who visited the town on August 28, 2002.
The appearance made headlines, marking the first time in 85 years a sitting governor visited the town. It hadn't happened since 1917, when Gov. Martin G. Brumbaugh spoke at the Victoria Theatre, likely at a graduation ceremony for nurses.
For Schweiker's visit, the acclaimed Tamaqua Area High School "Raider" Marching Band welcomed the governor with a rousing rendition of Sousa's triumphant "Washington Post March."
Schweiker pledged to match the foundation's $4.75 million, a promise fulfilled when on December 10, a $5 million state grant was authorized and budgeted from the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, earmarked as renovations to the Tamaqua Education and Workforce Training Center project.
However, even bigger news was in store. It was an announcement of a concomitant program that raised eyebrows across the county, state and beyond. And it helped to elevate the Tamaqua area as a desirable place to raise a family.
In what was a move that broke new ground in community education, a unique endowment was unveiled to provide free two-year college scholarships for all Tamaqua Area High School graduates, with the first benefactors the members of the Class of 2003.
What exactly does that mean? Essentially, the Tamaqua Area School District now hosts 14 years of education, providing students with an associate degree. The TASD-LCCC-Morgan scholarship program is believed to be the only one of its kind in the country. The educational boost is intended to provide a pathway into the job market or continuation to a baccalaureate degree.
The innovation was made possible through collaboration among the foundation, LCCC, the school district and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It was the crowning glory of the college dedication program.
In honor of the momentous occasion, a time capsule was filled with memorabilia, then sealed and placed on site. It includes: an LCCC college planning guide, invitation to the ribbon-cutting ceremony, a brick from old Tamaqua High, a copy of the National Center for Higher Education Management Report, LCCC pennant, LCCC agenda, Fall 2003 program tabloid, LCCC annual report and a copy of the Profiles of Academic Excellence.
The textile mills were closing, but the dream of homespun opportunity through John Morgan became a reality within days.
In fact, 250 students hit the books the following week. LCCC representative Maureen Donovan said enrollment reached 400 the following year. This past year, according to Heath Mullen, assistant director, recruitment, enrollment increased to 456. Of those, 77 were TAHS students receiving "Morgan Success Scholarships."
The arrival of LCCC in Tamaqua and the distinct advantage of two years of free college awarded to TAHS graduates has written a new page in the standard book of education. It also helped, for some families, to ease the pain of career loss due to the closing of the all-important knitting mills.
In the nearby industrial park, several new industries have been acquired over the past decade, although not the size of Morgan Mills. Employment opportunities are still scarce in the region, which routinely exports its youth and talent to other areas.
Much has changed since post-war 1945 when Morgan joined with his industrious first wife, Anna Hoban, to plant seeds that grew to define the economic foundation of a community.
Today, the doors of Morgan Mills are long shuttered. But new doors of promise are opening.
The Morgan name continues to inspire and motivate, resounding with tones of opportunity in support of local families by helping to shape their future.