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To honor miners

  • DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS  Marie Ondrus, left, and Irma Leibensperger carry an oil lamp, symbolic of lighting the way for a bright future at Lansford's Kennedy Park, which will mark its 40th anniversary next year but is in need of a face-lift.
    DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS Marie Ondrus, left, and Irma Leibensperger carry an oil lamp, symbolic of lighting the way for a bright future at Lansford's Kennedy Park, which will mark its 40th anniversary next year but is in need of a face-lift.
Published March 21. 2015 09:00AM

It's been nearly 40 years since residents, businesses and coal miners joined hands to create a miners tribute on Route 209 in Lansford.

Today, the serene vista needs a face-lift.

John F. Kennedy Memorial Park is as stately as ever, but needs repairs and a few improvements.

Marie Ondrus and Irma Leibensperger are on a mission to make it happen, and they're looking for members of the community to step forward to lend a hand.

For instance, an authentic coal car is beginning to rot. A few boards must be replaced.

The park gazebo should have some spindles replaced and application of a roof sealer.

Just a few things here and there would rejuvenate the gathering place in time for its 40th anniversary.

Ondrus and Leibensperger are the perfect pair to tackle the project. They're well-known in the community for their work with the Events Committee, a branch of Lansford Alive.

They organize Easter egg hunts, veterans' dinners, Halloween parties, Music in the Park concerts, holiday tree lightings and breakfasts with Santa.

Kennedy Park, they say, is important to the town, and for that reason, they hope townspeople will help out.

Spirit of '76

The park's miners' monument, a high stone wall, was dedicated in 1976.

Everything about it is special.

It had been designed by the late Mike "Crow" Sabron, Summit Hill, one of the last of the Lanscoal miners.

The wall was constructed using heavy stone blocks salvaged from the Lehigh Navigation and Coal Company main office, which stood in Lansford for more than 100 years until it was destroyed by fire in December 1975.

Etched in granite are the words: "This monument was built in 1976 as a combined tribute by the last of the PV Deep Miners Club to the valley's deep coal miners of bygone days and the surface coal miners past and present. It is dedicated to the memory of those men who perished in the Panther Valley mines."

The west side includes the engraved names of the last of the deep coal miners.

Beneath a large chunk of anthracite on the east side is a time capsule to be opened in 2076, the 100th anniversary.

One former miner who helped to build the wall still lives in Lansford and might be the only one left who had a hand in the project.

Andrew Slog, 90, West Abbott Street, remembers answering the call. He said miner Ed "Popeye" Zuzu was one of the proponents of building the monument.

"We were the contractors," Slog says, referring to all of the coal miners who volunteered.

"I did all of the pointing. I used a handmade tool," he says.

Slog worked at the No. 14 colliery from 1949 until it closed in the 1970s.

Adjacent to the wall is a coal car, dedicated July 1 of the bicentennial year.

While it does need a few timbers added, it hasn't been neglected.

"We moved it and put in extra ties," says Dave Kuchta, president, No. 9 Mine and Museum.

Dream come true

Excitement at the park reached a crescendo years later when an elegant gazebo became a reality.

It had been a dream of Robert Leibensperger, Irma's husband. He served as president of the Lansford Improvement Committee and had several goals for the park. A gazebo topped the list.

Sadly, Leibensperger passed away in November 2001 at age 61.

In stepped philanthropist brothers Ralph and Danny Cipko. They spent $15,800 for a gazebo, dedicated in memory of Leibensperger.

Of course, all along the park had been supported by townspeople and community leaders, even if activity waned a bit.

A park tree lighting tradition was revived in 2012 after receipt of a $15,000 Department of Community and Economic Development grant written by Dale Freudenberger and backed by Rep. Keith McCall. The grant provided for lighting improvements.

Many area residents pitched in at the park over the years, including Diane Leonzi, Rose Reed, Bob Dobosh, Chris Ondrus, Jeanette Coury, Pat Haughton, Bob Silver, Matt Dunn, and the list of helpers goes on and on.

Reaching out

Ondrus and Leibensperger want to see interest in the park resurrected.

In early March, the dynamic duo trudged through knee-deep snow to examine the park and assess needs.

They also advertised in the Times News during a holiday wish list promotion, seeking $1,200 to fix the coal car. They received a $200 donation to get the ball rolling.

Just as important, they received a commitment from David Reinbold and the Carbon County Career and Technical Institute to fix the coal car, using skills and expertise of students.

Eventually, Ondrus and Leibensperger would like to add more benches, and perhaps build a cover over the coal car similar to one in Tamaqua. But it depends on community support.

And it's not necessarily about money.

"Even if people would donate time," says Leibensperger. For instance, maybe a contractor can offer to do a few repairs to the gazebo.

Or maybe a landscaper would help create a rock garden. Or maybe a Scout troop would adopt the park as a project.

Ondrus says the potential for involvement is there for anybody with interest.

"Maybe we could have a tree planting in memory of the miners," she says.

Fact is, the 40th anniversary of the memorial park will arrive in 2016. Ondrus and Leibensperger want the park to look its best and will take any help they can get.

Anybody inclined to help or offer a donation is urged to call 570-645-8665.

Ondrus and Leibensperger hope to see the town's next generation step forward.

"It'd be wonderful to have young adults become involved," Ondrus says.

There's a rich legacy of "Lansford Proud" to be passed on, and Ondrus and Leibensperger say the time is right to do it.

"We love our community," says Ondrus.

She and Leibensperger know that others, too, are proud of Lansford.

And the rejuvenation of Kennedy Park is the perfect way to show it.

Donations to aid improvements at John F. Kennedy Memorial Park can be made out and mailed to: LA Events Committee, PO Box 172, Lansford, PA 18232.

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