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Gatekeeper of history

  • AMY MILLER/TIMES NEWS Richard E. Forgay sits in his favorite seat in his home in Lansford.
    AMY MILLER/TIMES NEWS Richard E. Forgay sits in his favorite seat in his home in Lansford.
Published March 22. 2014 09:00AM

When you walk into Richard E. Forgay's Lansford home, you are greeted by the warmth of love and memories of family that have settled into the walls over the decades.

Richard sits in his favorite armchair, a beige floral print high-back chair, enjoying one of his favorite beverages.

His eyes are kind, his smile inviting, and he is dressed like he just came home from a day at the office.

He is sharp as a tack, even at 84 years old, remembering the good ol' days as if they were yesterday.

Richard is one of the remaining gatekeepers of Lansford's rich history.

Life begins

Richard was born on May 3, 1929, to Hannah Mae and William Harry Forgay of Lansford. He was the youngest of the couple's eight children.

His father was the chief coal shipper for the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company and, as Richard explained, was always an excellent provider for the family.

Throughout his school career, he enjoyed sports, having been the captain of the Lansford High School basketball team in 1946 and 1947.

He recalls that he made the varsity team as a freshman, and was a forward.

"We had a good time playing basketball," he said.

He also was on the Lansford Legion baseball team that won the Tri-County Legion Championship.

Richard's football career, though, was short-lived.

With a chuckle and smile, he explained that his father never allowed him to go out for the team, but that didn't stop him.

As a freshman, Richard decided to try out for the team and earned a spot on the roster.

He told his father that he was the team manager.

When the opening day of the season came, Lansford was playing Summit Hill and Richard got a chance to get in the game.

"I didn't expect to get in the game, but I did and I returned a punt for a couple of yards," he said. "Well, Monday morning came and a couple of people told my dad down at the coal office that I played good. That was the end of my football career."

Richard also tried his luck with track and field.

"I wasn't too good at it," he chuckled.

Today, he enjoys watching sports and rooting for all the Philadelphia teams.

The love of his life

Richard met his wife, Catherine McCall, in 1945, as a sophomore in high school.

His eyes filled with joy as he spoke about his high school sweetheart that he never let go.

The couple wed on Oct. 20, 1951 and only spent a few months apart while he was stationed in Greenland throughout the 56 years they were married.

In 1953, Richard and Catherine welcomed a daughter, Mary Ellen, and in 1957, a son, Rick Jr.

The pair was active in the community, volunteering their time and talents to the people they grew up with and loved.

They ran the kitchen at the Elks for nearly 25 years, serving up to 300 people at a time for weddings, St. Patrick's Day celebrations; and many other milestone events.

Catherine loved crafts and she and Richard would make and donate tree bows each holiday to welcome visitors to Lansford.

"There were approximately 26 trees along Patterson Street," Richard recalled. "She would make them (bows) every holiday and I would tie them to the trees. She loved her community as much as I did."

She also decorated St. Ann's Church for Christmas annually and helped her family whenever they needed.

The family enjoyed sporting events, church dinners, juried craft shows and traveling.

"She loved Cape May," Richard said, adding that they visited many places along the East Coast, but never anywhere farther west than Pittsburgh. "There was enough here."

But as the years went on, Catherine's health and eyesight began to fail and on Sept. 15, 2007, Richard lost his true love.

When asked about her, Richard's tone softened and he said, "I miss her terribly. It's lonely here without her."

But Catherine's memory is still alive in the Forgay home, her floral arrangements and other crafts that she created or purchased decorating the walls as a sign that the pair's love will never end.

Love for his country

After graduating from the former Lansford High School in 1947, Richard began working in the mines at the No. 10 Colliery, as a motorman.

He was drafted in the Army in 1951 and served during the Korean War before being discharged in 1953.

Richard explained that he was stationed at Fort Eustis, Va., before being deployed to Thule, Greenland, where he helped build an air base.

"We worked there for eight months of the year, 12-hour days, because that is when it was light," he said.

During that time, he and Catherine lived in Williamsburg, Va. Those two years were the only time Richard lived outside of Lansford.

Following his military career, Richard settled into his long-term employment in the United States Postal Service.

For nearly 40 years, he served the community as a letter carrier in Lansford; delivering the daily mail while building relationships with his neighbors.

Love of his community

In addition to working as a mail carrier, Richard was, and still is, an active member of the community.

He was a member of the First Presbyterian Church in Lansford, now the town's fire company parking lot, where he was the secretary of the board of trustees for 15 years; has been a member of the American Fire Company No. 1 in Lansford for 67 years; has served on the Carbon-Schuylkill Industrial Development Corporation board of directors since 1978, where he currently is the executive director; and has been a member of the Lansford Elks Lodge, now merged with the Tamaqua Elks Lodge, since 1950, where he served as the exalted ruler in 1965-66 and the district deputy grand exalted ruler from 1971 to 1973.

Richard also served as the Lansford Borough secretary from 1976 through 1986 and enjoyed his time on the board.

He recalled at the time they were looking for a secretary so people said he should apply.

"I really enjoyed it," Richard said.

He is still an active member in the Carbon County Railroad Commission, the last charter member of the board that was formed in 1980.

He credits Bruce Conrad, the county's planning director at the time, for the county getting into the railroad business. At the time, the county purchased nearly 20 miles of railroad from Packerton Yards to the Haucks Junction in Schuylkill County.

"I got to name the rail line though," Richard said, smiling. "I named it the Panther Valley line."

Today, Richard can be found sitting on his porch, where he and his wife shared many a evenings watching the children play, enjoying an evening out with friends at area restaurants, playing chef in his kitchen or traveling to visit his son in Connecticut.

When asked about the former days of Lansford, he smiled and said, "All the homes were filled. Everyone knew everyone. If you were out playing with the neighbors, the mom would invite you in for lunch or dinner just like you were one of the family. They were the good ol' days."

Times have changed, the booming coal industry has deteriorated, family sustaining businesses have closed and people have moved out of old family homesteads, but Richard remains, like a sentinel, guarding the past and watching over the present.

One thing that will never change though is the love Richard has for the place he always called home.

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