Righting a wrong
DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS Three nieces of the late Anna Hoban Morgan, seen here in Pottsville, recall Hoban's primary role in establishing Morgan Mills. From left: Cathy Baldigo, Terry LaPlaca and Peggy Eckley.
Surviving family members of John and Anna Hoban Morgan are seeking appropriate recognition for Hoban, a Tamaqua woman they say was an unsung hero and ahead of her time.
Sisters Cathy Baldigo, Terry LaPlaca and Peggy Eckley, Pottsville, will meet with the John E. Morgan Foundation in June with the hope of establishing a framework to honor Hoban's legacy and correct what family members say has been an injustice.
The three nieces of Hoban discussed the development with the TIMES NEWS on Wednesday.
Hoban was a native of Hecksherville Valley and a pioneer industrialist with great business acumen, they say.
One of eight siblings, she worked as a floor lady at a Van Heusen plant in Pottsville when she met Morgan of Tamaqua, a maintenance man and mechanic who happened to be servicing sewing machines at the time.
The two married and started a business in Tamaqua in 1946. The nieces say Hoban, from day one, was the driving force behind the success of J.E. Morgan Knitting Mills, which grew to be Schuylkill County's largest employer.
Hoban served as vice president and, in the late 1950s, developed the patented waffle stitch that led to the company's success.
"Anna did the stitch," says LaPlaca. "It was her idea. They wanted something that was thermal. She had to think of a stitch that would keep the heat in."
Before that, the firm was simply making t-shirts and briefs.
"But they always were trying to get a leg up," says Baldigo, pointing out that Hoban's expertise and drive were the reasons the business expanded.
The couple had no children, and so Hoban worked 10 to 12 hours each day at the firm. She and her family were invested in its success, say the nieces. Actually, Hoban's mother fronted the capital to purchase one of two sewing machines that started the operation, say family members.
John and Anna needed $1,800.
"They went to my grandmother and borrowed money for one of the machines," says Eckley.
Led the expansion
In 1967 when the firm opened a new, modern plant in Hometown, it was Hoban who was heavily involved in the planning and financing, say the nieces.
Hoban's influence in the business is corroborated in a 2006 letter by the couple's former attorney, Joseph J. Jones, Esq., of Williamson Friedberg & Jones, LLC, Pottsville.
"Mrs. Anna Hoban Morgan was a driving force behind the expansions and the later acquisitions," Jones wrote. "He (Morgan) was greatly influenced by Mrs. Morgan in almost every phase of the operation including the invention of the thermal stitch and the incorporation of it in the actual production of the product."
The three-page document describes other events that illustrate Hoban's primary role in the success of the company during her 35-year marriage to Morgan.
"She made the spitballs and he threw them," is how Jones characterized the relationship.
Sadly, Hoban died suddenly of a massive heart attack on Jan. 18, 1970, at age 62. The nieces say Morgan forbid family members to visit her at the hospital. Instead, he summoned his attorney.
At the time of her passing, Hoban had accrued assets of over $5 million, they say, monies which then were folded into Morgan's holdings after Hoban's death.
According to the nieces, Morgan remarried within months and, for whatever reason, failed to honor the intent of his deceased wife per provisions in her last will and testament. The nieces say the oversight shocked the Hoban family, who'd placed their trust in Morgan.
Hoban's sister, Helen Dodds and the other siblings, had always expressed confidence in Morgan, say the nieces.
"He will do what's right," Dodds reportedly said. Dodds was mother of the nieces.
Today, the nieces recall how the entire Hoban family admired Anna.
"We're proud of my aunt," says Baldigo. "She came from humble beginnings. The little auburn-haired lass from a poor family had the brains to establish a global business."
Even after Hoban's death, Morgan and the nieces continued a family association. In fact, the nieces visited him on the day he passed away at age 89.
They say Morgan dearly loved Anna and he knew that she was the catalyst for his success.
LaPlaca says Hoban's life should serve as an inspiration to women in business and to all residents of Schuylkill County.
"She left a legacy that people can look up to," says LaPlaca. "This is a great American story."
The nieces keep a file of letters from former Morgan employees who affirm Hoban's role.
"I truly believe without her leadership, the Morgan company would never have achieved the success they had," wrote Theresa Dunkelberger in 2006.
Dunkelberger, Tamaqua, had been hired by Hoban to run the Morgan plant cafeteria.
The nieces feel that the family's voice should be heard, and should carry appropriate influence in decisions of the John E. Morgan Foundation, a private philanthropic organization with assets reportedly in the $68 million range.
Over the years, the foundation has funded a few initiatives in Hoban's name. However, larger undertakings were done in the name of a second wife who reportedly was not involved in the business.
The nieces were on friendly terms with Morgan's second wife, they say. They had spent time with her. They say they have no ill feelings toward her. What matters most, they say, is to recognize the legacy of Anna Hoban, and they say their unique perspective as family members of John and Anna Hoban Morgan qualifies them to do that.
Their mission is to reinforce Anna's legacy and uphold an oath they gave to their late mother and the siblings, including Aunt Lena, Aunt Mary, Aunt Margaret and the rest of the Hoban family.
They say it's important for them to right what they feel is a terrible wrong.
"We're family," says Baldigo. "We know the truth."