Litz brings Local Government, Small Business, and Conservation Experience to the Table.
Jo Ellen is a 5-term Lebanon County Commissioner who is the Boots on the Ground for local government implementing programs to Protect Children, Serve Families, Secure Justice, Manage Emergencies, and Safeguard Elections. In short, Commissioner Litz Safeguards the Public Trust.
Whether it was the 2004 Campbelltown Tornado, Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, or the 30" 2016 Snowstorm Jonas, I've been here for you.
Litz was elected by her peers from across the state of Pennsylvania to serve as the 2012 president and 2013 chairman of the Board for the statewide commissioner's association.
Litz is about starting a conversation from public structures like roads and bridges, water and sewer, schools, and energy. A sound infrastructure is the basis of a sound economy. Litz believes we need these Economy Boosting Jobs to put money into the pockets of people so that they can buy homes, cars, and goods. Litz supports a transportation plan to make our roads and bridges safe. In this way, we will create good paying jobs, get people to these jobs, our goods to market, and children to schools.
Jo Ellen served as the chair of the MPO (2012-15)--Metropolitan Planning Organization for Lebanon County--where she helps to prioritize local road and bridge projects with PennDOT and the Federal Highway Administration.
Keep Litz doing the People's Business.
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Team Litz: Treasurer, Cathy Garrison
Honorary Chair: Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll --a woman who broke the glass ceiling and contributed greatly to PA politics; born in 1930, died November 12, 2008.
Lebanon County Commission for Women
Web site paid for by Jo Ellen Litz.
Sara Greiner Leffler--2006 article
County history peppered with influential women--2009 article
The First Women in Lebanon County Politics
By Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz, March 2005
Lebanon County Commissioners Rose Marie Swanger, Ed Arnold, and Bill Carpenter formed the Lebanon County Women’s Commission on March 20, 2003. Their mission is to assist women in achieving economic self-sufficiency in order to improve their status in the community. As it strives to implement its vision and mission, the Lebanon County Commission for women serves as a link between the Lebanon County Commissioners and women’s organizations whose shared goal is that of enhancing the status of women in our community. On June 12, 2003, commissioners made the first appointments to the commission: Josie Ames, Marianne Bartley, Lori Brandt, Mary Burchik, Carol Checket, Joyce Dissinger, Harriet Faren, Representative Mauree Gingrich, Cindy Heisey, Bridget Hoffman, Barbara Kauffman, Susan Funk Klarsch, Donna Eberly-Lehman, Donna Moyer, Karin Right-Nolan, Jenny Murphy Shifflet, Dawn Shultz, Kathy Snavely, Pam Tricamo, Kathy Verna, and Brigadier General Jessica Wright.
It was 1920 when the nineteenth amendment gave women the right to vote. Who do you think was the first woman to hold office in Lebanon County? What motivated her and other women firsts to run for office in Lebanon County?
Throughout the United States, women in higher office seemed to follow their husbands in instances where they passed away while holding office. But here in Lebanon County, things were different. Maybe it was because of our strong farming background, where men and women worked side by side from sunrise to sunset, that men could see the strength of women and consider them partners, equals, who also kept the books and paid the bills. We thank and lift up our men who had the self-confidence and ability to support their spouses in the political realm.
Rather than keeping you in suspense, we’ll move to the first woman elected to office in Lebanon County. There are a few people still living who can remember Sally McKinney Hartman who was the Recorder of Deeds for 24 years. Sally took office in 1936 and left office in 1967. That was only sixteen years after women gained the right to vote. Sally died in 1987 at age 93. Paul (Punch) Krause, married Sally’s stepdaughter, Mary Hartman. He said that Sally was a Kohr from Greenpoint. Raymond Hartman, her step-son, was visiting Punch, and offered the following:
“Sally’s husband was Raymond, an Assistant Postmaster. She was active in the Republican Party. Sally was a great lady who did everything for everybody. Everyone respected her, including the people who worked for her. She loved that courthouse. Her 85th birthday party was held at the Friendship Fire Company. Everyone attended, including Congressman Walker.”
Raymond recommended that I call John Walter who Sally considered “one of her boys.” Judge Walter said that Sally was, “one of the most gracious office-holders that I have ever known, very efficient as the Recorder of Deeds. I first met her in 1953. I wanted to get into politics, but I didn’t know what I was going to do. I went to Philadelphia and got sworn in to Naval OCS, or I would have been drafted. When I came back, my Dad said, “work at the cottage in the mornings, and in the afternoon go see Haps Krause, our family lawyer. So, I did. One of the first things I learned was how to search real estate titles. It failed going through the Recorder of Deeds office. So Haps took me over to the courthouse and introduced me to Sally Hartman. Ray Hartman, Sally’s husband, was my Dad’s foreman at the post office (Dad was postmaster from 1934-54). Dad liked Ray a lot. When I came back from the Navy and went into law school, in 1959, over the summer, I worked for Krause again, and spent a lot of time searching titles in the Recorder of Deeds office. Sally was a great politician, but she also made everybody feel great when they went into her office. She insisted that you take care of the lawyers and treat them with respect. Her girls always did. We did a lot of kidding because she was a republican and I was a democrat. She just was a great gal. She was not afraid to walk up to somebody and talk to him or her. She was earnestly interested in other people. It wasn’t a political thing. She had a great sense of human nature. She would talk to you confidentially or generally. She was one of the neatest people I ever knew, not just as a woman, but also as a person. She always wanted to know how you were doing. She was always the lead vote getter, because people really loved her, and she loved people.”
According to Flash Light, “she was a fixture in the Court House.”
Donna Lutz is the only other woman to hold the office of Recorder of Deeds.
Next came Naomi M. Pope who was elected in 1953 as the Clerk of Orphans Court. A republican, she served one term in office. According to the 1/3/55 Salary Board minutes, Naomi moved that the salary of her deputy, Miss Emma Haak, be fixed at $2415 per annum, but the motion failed a second and was declared out of order. Today, it is common practice for an elected official to move the salaries of his or her staff. While Frederick S. Frantz did serve as treasurer from 1957-1959, it is also interesting to see the mentoring for the position that transpired from Naomi to Emma through Edith Grumbine until the office was abolished in 1983.
Then, in 1967-1972 and 1976-1988, Jean Gohn, was the first woman to be elected to and serve on the Lebanon School Board. She had a Bachelor of Arts degree from Ohio Western University; was vice chair and member of the Lebanon County Housing Authority; vice chair and member of Lebanon County Redevelopment Authority for six years; and had 10 years of teaching experience in York, Allegheny, and Lebanon Counties. Firsts in other school districts included: 1971 Cornwall Lebanon SD, Alma Wise; 1975 Northern Lebanon SD, Fern Harman; and 1979 Annville Cleona SD, Eleanor Witmeyer.
Another woman, Catherine Coyle, became our first elected District Justice in 1969. She took office January 1970, and served for 20 years. When she decided to run, she went to the Democratic Committee meeting. Keeping in mind that she ended up liking him, that meeting was her first encounter with John Anspach. He said, “Lady why don’t you pack up your bags and go home? You won’t win. You’re just a housewife.” I was ready to tell him to go to hell. He was not cordial, but I decided to stay. John W. Coyle, my husband, was in advertising (his accounts included Haak Brothers and Witners Department Store in Reading), so he helped develop a message and strategy. I had five kids, and we all went door-to-door. I made phone calls from morning until night. On election night, my older kids made the rounds to the precincts, and tallied all of my votes, and the others. I ran against Bruce Stoner who was a Republican. I won by seven votes, we thought. The next day it was in the paper that I lost by five votes. Janet Fortna was the voter registrar. My husband, being a bull-headed Irishmen, asked for a recount. They said no. We went to a commissioner’s meeting. He talked Dutch to them. Jim Reilly, my cousin, was running for council. My husband approached him too. A count followed, and it was determined that I won by seven votes. Then, Republicans asked for another recount. It was done, and I still won by seven votes. The whole time that I served, I had a big “7” framed in my office behind my desk on the wall. After all of this time, there wasn’t anyone who I put in jail that I would be afraid to talk to today. If an inmate had a family, from part of my wages, I took care of their family anonymously. One day, a former inmate knocked on my door at home. I invited him in. Fifteen years prior, I had left him go home for Easter, and he remembered that. He brought me Tom Brokov’s book, The Lost Generation, in appreciation for what I did for him. That meant so much to me. Catherine paved the way by showing how hard woman can work and the admirable job that they can do in office. I don't want to leave Catherine's interview without mentioning that John Anspach became an advocate and mentor for me. He and Laura, his wife, first encouraged me to run for county commissioner.
Other women served as district justices at the same time as Catherine, but they were appointed Justices of the Peace--by Party nomination and confirmed by the president judge. In 1970, Lucy DiNunzio, Mary Spannuth, and JoAnn Shultz were grandfathered into the system, and did not have to run for district justice right away. Additionally, Hazel Swisher, Betty Ann Smith, and Christine Heck were elected District Justices. Now the justices are known as district judges.
From 1978-1985 both Betty Eiceman and Dr. Betts Shultz, who graduated from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, served as our first City Councilwomen. In 1988, Betty Eiceman moved up to become the City of Lebanon’s first woman to serve as mayor. According to Betty, “Running for office was the easy part. Betts and I proved ourselves working on Council. The reception from everyone was good. There were a few people that didn’t want to accept that a woman was Mayor, especially on the telephone. Some people would say that they didn't want to talk to the secretary. On the whole, the employees and community accepted it. It was not an easy job, but it was enjoyable. It feels the same way to be a woman mayor as it does to be a male mayor. There was a job that had to get done, male or female. Although, sometimes it felt as if you had to work twice as hard. There were many challenges to be met. Eiceman is a graduate of Lebanon high School.” While Jacqueline Parker is the only other woman to serve as Lebanon’s mayor, according to Flash Light, Sue Leffler ran for mayor prior to Eiceman, but lost by a few votes.
In 1994, Rose Marie Cunningham became the first woman of color to serve on City Council. Sandy Meluskey currently serves on City Council, and in a mother/daughter first, Maria-Meluskey Dissinger also serves on the Lebanon City School Board (2003). At this time, they are both serving the community.
Beginning in September 1960, Lois Bomberger worked as a clerk in the treasurer’s office, and was eventually promoted to deputy treasurer. After Treasurer Irvin Gordon passed away while hunting, she was appointed by the governor to serve as our County Treasurer in 1983, then was elected to the position twice, and served through July 1989. She graduated from Lebanon High School in 1946. The first time she ran for office, George Ross, a realtor, challenged Bomberger, but she won handily in the primary (5945 to 2814). Lois worked every day in the office and did all of the bank statements. Overseeing a staff of three, she enjoyed working with the people. She thoroughly enjoyed her job. Dianne Rhoads and Sallie Neuin followed Lois in office.
Rose Marie Swanger served as Lebanon’s first woman County Commissioner from 1984-2003. A graduate of South Lebanon High School, she attended Thompson Institute in Harrisburg and completed several courses in management at Lebanon Valley College. She was employed by the City of Lebanon for eighteen (18) years. In 1984 she left her job as City Clerk – Personnel Officer to become the first woman to serve as Lebanon County Commissioner. At alternating times, she served both as Chairman of the Commissioners and Chairman of the Prison Board. Locally, Rose Marie served on the boards of the South-central Employment Corporation (SEC); the South Central Assembly for Effective Governance (the Assembly), where she held the office of Treasurer; United Way of Lebanon County, where she was Chairman of the Agency Relations Committee; the Lebanon County Victim/Witness Program; the Victim and Witness Advocacy (VAWA) Task Force; and the PROBE (Potential Re-employment Opportunities in Business and Education) Board. She is an active member of Kiwanis of Lebanon and served as President. On the state level, she was active with the County Commissioners’ Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) where she served on the Courts and Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committees, the Pennsylvania State CASSP (Child and Adolescent Service Systems Program) Board, and the Advisory Committee for the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) Program. In 1996, Jo Ellen Litz became the next woman to serve as a county commissioner.
In 1987, Diann Shultz became the first woman elected to the office of Jury Commissioner. Two other women, Henrietta Steiner and Donna Lutz also served in this position.
Prothonotary, Anita Haulman, served from 11/3/1988-3/29/2002. Prior to taking office, Anita was first deputy for Prothonotary Corwin Erdman. Anita was a graduate of Lebanon High School. Her first deputy, Lisa Arnold, succeeded her in office.
Joyce Yingst, was elected as City Controller. She graduated from Myerstown High School, and was formerly associated with her husband in his business, Aldus Yingst Construction. Yingst also served as treasurer in different organizations.
Deirdre Eshleman (1999-2005). As district attorney, Deirdre supervises more than 30 people, and is responsible for prosecuting more than 2000 adult and 400 juvenile criminal cases each year. In addition, her office administers more than 15 different criminal justice programs covering specialized prosecutions, diversionary programs, specialized investigations and victim assistance programs. The County of Lebanon funds the office. The office has applied for and receives Federal/ State monetary grants to assist in funding programs.
In 2002, Dawn Resanovich, became the County’s first woman Register of Wills. Prior to taking office, Dawn worked for the County for 21 years.
While it took a while for a woman from Lebanon County to serve at the State level, the 101st PA House Representative is currently Mauree Gingrich (2003-2006). She is a former president of Palmyra Borough Council where she served for twelve years. As a businesswoman, she also owned Mature Market Concepts, a qualitative market research company specializing in senior consumer behavior. Gingrich worked for over 20 years in healthcare and the long term care industry. Her education includes Lebanon Catholic High School and PA College of Medical Arts (formerly Harrisburg Institute of Medical Arts).
While not elected, Brigadier General Jessica Wright is Pennsylvania’s first woman Adjutant General and commander of the Pennsylvania National Guard. Her responsibilities include command, control and supervision of all Air and Army National guard units in PA, the Scotland school for Veterans’ Children, six state-owned veterans’ homes and programs for Pennsylvania’s 1.3 million veterans. General Wright was also the first female maneuver brigade commander in the Army, and the first female aviator in the Army National Guard. Governor Rendell appointed Wright as the Adjutant General
Another first is PA Lt. Governor, Catherine Baker Knoll, who took office January 2003, and became the first woman to occupy the Lt. Governor’s mansion at Fort Indiantown Gap, Lebanon County. Knoll presides over the Senate, but can only vote to break ties. She chairs the Board of Pardons, and would succeed Governor Rendell, should he be unable to serve. She is a former State Treasurer 1989-1997 and former schoolteacher and businesswoman. Her education includes a Bachelors and Masters Degrees, Duquesne University; attended Harvard University Kennedy School of Government; and Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
In Lebanon, there are still firsts for women to aspire to: Controller, Coroner, Sheriff, Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, Representative of the 102nd PA House Seat, Senator in the 48th PA Senatorial seat, US Congressman, and US Senator.
In municipal leadership, boroughs elected significantly more women than townships. While these records were harder to research, it appears that in 1973 in Palmyra Borough, Ruth S. Baldwin became the first woman member of a borough council. She served through 1977. However, the woman to serve the longest tenure, twenty-six years, is Myerstown Borough’s Gloria Ebling (1979-present). A graduate of Myerstown High School, Gloria owns Ebling’s Meat Market. She is a member of Myerstown Women’s Club. She said, “I was on the planning commission when Walter Whitmoyer approached me to sit on Borough Council. After some thought, I said yes, I would consider it. Two months later, I was appointed, and I’ve been running ever since. Being the first woman on council, serving with all those men, I had to learn how to make myself heard. During a roll call vote, a fellow councilman said, “ I know you’re correct, but I can’t vote with you.” He voted with the men.” “I enjoy doing things for the people of Myerstown. I enjoy talking to them even though sometimes they think things are wrong. It rolls off your shoulders.” Fifteen other women are known to have served on borough councils. Only six women are known to have served as township supervisors. Back in 1980, the first woman elected to the West Lebanon Township board of supervisors was Virginia Reed. She served as a township commissioner for 18 years. A lifelong resident of West Lebanon, she passed away July 12, 2004. William, her husband, had a plumbing business, and Virginia was his bookkeeper. They had one daughter, Janet, who served in the US Navy. According to Bernice Mease, secretary, “Virginia was a very good commissioner. I always say, ask a woman, and she’ll get if finished. She was active, and did not sit back. Upon retirement, she received an engraved watch that was presented by board president, Lenny Hoffman. A newspaper article says, “I made a lot of friends…. Everybody is super dooper,” Virginia said.” Virginia retired for health reasons. In West Lebanon Township, Virginia was followed by Luann Horn and Rosemarie Fuhrman. In 2004, three other townships elected their first women supervisors: Bethel elected Beverly Martel, North Lebanon elected Dawn Hawkins, and Annville elected Joann Zimmerman.
As women further their education, hone their leadership skills, and make decisions on how their income is spent, just as women comprise about fifty percent of the voting public, qualified women will no doubt hold fifty percent of elected offices.
(Admittedly, there were many other women firsts in offices such as auditor and tax collector, but researching these offices was beyond the scope of this article.)
In 1902, Sara Greiner
Leffler was born in Lebanon PA to Jere and Abby Greiner. She married Earl J.
Leffler, a self-employed printing engraver, in 1927. They had one son, Jon
Jon continued, “She was a (1924) Lebanon Valley College graduate with a teaching degree. In the 1920s, she worked at Reeds Settlement House, Philadelphia, where they assisted poor immigrants.”
“Then she was a police reporter.” Eventually, according to a Daily News article, she became the first badge-carrying police woman, “with all the powers, but without the pay.” As a reporter, she’d go along on police raids. She’d tell of her adventures under a pseudonym of “Jane Frail.”
Jon added, “Eventually she entered politics. Finally, she was a home and school officer, a truant officer, for 20 years in the Lebanon School District. She did it her own way. She had the experience and knew how to help people in need. She'd help them find jobs. She contacted her friends in business for donations to help other people. The Daily News clarified, “Undaunted by her inability to drive a car, she made her visits by taxi.”
Jon concludes with, “She worked hard for President Eisenhower (campaigning in all 67 counties) and Governor Duff, and then she retired. It's a gift to know when to be kind and when to be tough with people, but she had that gift of intuition. She’d meet them on their level to help them. Even if she gave them hell, they still liked her.”
Joe McDonald was her neighbor at Walnut and Gannon Streets. “She lived in a brownstone building. It’s still there today. Her dad had an office in that building. He had a construction company. I remember that she was a truant officer and a good neighbor. I was a kid. She got along well with my parents. She was smart in politics, and well-respected.”
Sara had chutzpah that
received statewide recognition. In 1954, from Governor John S. Fine, Sara
received the Distinguished Daughters of PA award, which recognized her
leadership and contributions to the state. Per a Daily News article, “In 1961,
she was appointed to the first Civil Rights Commission….In 1969, she received a
Service to Mankind Award from the Lebanon Sertoma Club. The quality of her
achievements was above reproach.”
In 1983, a Lebanon Daily
News feature by Nancy Frye stated that she was a, “feisty, free-spirited female,
a woman…declaring her independence.”
She passed away in 1987. A Lebanon Daily News editorial writer wrote, “Mrs. Leffler…was a pioneer on several fronts.” Russell K. “Flash” Light said, “Sue Leffler didn’t have women’s lib…She made her own rights. She walked that path and no one walked in front of her…. Sue Leffler is small in physical stature, but she stood tall, as tall as anyone in the state of Pennsylvania.”
Lebanon Daily News - Updated: 03/06/2009 10:21:54 PM EST
The following is the first of four articles prepared by the Lebanon County Commission for Women in conjunction with Women’s History Month.
By JO ELLEN LITZ
Lebanon County has been blessed with women who are movers and shakers, somehow balancing their personal lives with full-time jobs and serving on boards for a better business and educational climate. Women’s views benefit boards not because they are better, but because they are different from a man’s perspective.
For example, in 1972, Jane B. Parker became the first woman to break the glass ceiling as an elected member on the Board of Directors for the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce. As a mother raising three children — attorney Wiley Parker, Joan Daubich and Patty Monar — Jane owned and operated the Parker Collection Agency, which served the hospital and local businesses, and she collected delinquent taxes.
Her parents were Lloyd and Anne Boyer, who owned Boyer Printing, where Jane had worked for a short time. Jane was also the first woman member of the vestry board at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. She’s gone now but has earned her place in Lebanon County women’s history.
Next, Wendie DeMatteo Holsinger served as the first woman on the board of the Lebanon Valley Economic Development Corp. Wendie is the chief executive officer of ASK Foods and Today’s Chef. She is also a Lebanon Valley Farmers Bank board member. Finally, Wendie serves as co-chairwoman of the Team Pennsylvania Foundation.
Likewise, Jody Kasperowicz was the first woman on the board of the Community of Lebanon Association, where she served for seven years and coordinated the CLA’s holiday parades and New Year’s Eve bologna drops. Since selling her Downtown Mini Mall in 2003 to make room for the Lebanon Farmers Market parking area, she has been selling real estate.
At Lebanon Valley College, Dr. Elizabeth Kreiser Weisburger broke the mold. In 1969, she was elected to the board by the alumni where she served for 19 years, the last years (1985-89) as the board chairwoman.
Elizabeth was brought up in Ono. Her parents were Amy and Raymond Kreiser. Elizabeth married John Weisburger, a chemist, and they had three children.
Elizabeth said she wasn’t the first person up a mountain, but “I got things going. I wasn’t going to start any new buildings, but in 1980 Dr. Sample was the president, and we had an agonizing discussion about starting the science building. Afterwards, I went to a chemical society meeting to present a paper in Las Vegas. After seeing all of that money squandered on gambling, we did start the science building.”
After graduating from LVC in 1940, Dr. Weisburger went on to the University of Cincinnati to earn a Ph.D. in organic chemistry, then beginning in 1951 worked at the National Cancer Institute for 40 years, retiring as the highest-grade scientist for the U.S. Public Health Service, which she said is like a captain in the Navy.
According to LVC, “It was Weisburger who, in the 1970s, initiated the investigation of the fire retardant that was used to make children’s sleep wear, but was later banned. She established the National Toxicology Program at NIH in Bethesda, Md., that investigated the carcinogenic potential of hair dyes, food additives, drugs, environmental pollutants, and many products used by industry, such as the antioxidants in rubber tires.
Not only did she serve as a chemist at the National Cancer Institute, with special expertise in chemical carcinogenesis and toxicology, but she also established the analytical methods and research protocols that have led to our understanding of how those chemicals metabolize to cause cancer.
Those methods, in turn, have led to a rational, scientific basis for finding ways to control the disease and for removing harmful chemicals from the environment.
After retiring in Maryland, she launched a second career as a consultant, served as an expert witness, and continued to write for and edit journals in her field. She is the author of some 240 professional articles and various book chapters.”
“I was the third recipient, following Representative Jack Seltzer and Vernon Bishop,” she said. “It was the most memorable award that I received.”
Mary Louise was married to Dr. Carl R. Sherk, who died from cancer in 1979. They had three children.
Mary Louise is best known for her love of education. She shepherded both the Boost II and Head Start programs in Lebanon County.
“In 1968, the County Commissioners were approached to organize a Head Start Program, but volunteers were told that there was no poverty in Lebanon County,” she said. “The organizers knew differently, and started the Boost and Boost II Programs, which were fashioned after Head Start.”
Mary Louise visited Harrisburg and Lancaster’s programs to find out how they worked. Two United Methodist churches, the first at St. Paul’s on North Eighth Street and then Covenant on North Ninth Street, provided housing for the Boost II program during the school year.
In the summer, the priest at St. Mary’s Church created a Boost program for pre-school children. Mary Louise taught 12-16 students at a time. Tina Washington, an elementary teacher with the Lebanon School District and later recognized as Pennsylvania’s Teacher of the Year, held evening meetings for the parents while Mary Louise conducted home visits — to get to know the parents who were invited to a free clothing bank, which was open one day each week.
Eventually, Intermediate Unit 13 applied for funding to open a Head Start program. So, beginning in 1979, Lebanon County had an official Head Start Program, and Mary Louise was hired as the Education Coordinator where she worked until retiring at age 70. In 1996, Lebanon City Schools and Head Start combined services, and became known as K4, and she coordinated the program for Lebanon city schools.
In homes, Mary Louise taught English as a second language, Reach Out and Read at the Good Samaritan Hospital, and currently serves as a board member of the Lebanon County library and is board chairwoman of the Lebanon County Housing and Redevelopment Authority. Mary Louise is also a member of the League of Women Voters. She currently resides at Cornwall Manor.
To Jane B. Parker, Wendie DeMatteo Holsinger, Jody Kasperowicz, Dr. Elizabeth Kreiser Weisburger and Mary Louise Sherk, the women of today owe you a debt of gratitude for leading the way for women to hold positions of influence in Lebanon County.
Women’s History Month article by Jo Ellen Litz, February 13, 2011.
In the community, we have seen Ruth Dietz active in the Northern Lebanon School Board, Chamber of Commerce, Developmental and Disability Services (DDS), and Northern Lebanon Rotary Club where she is a founding member. She also serves on the PA Motor Truck Association and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association Boards. She seems like a confident, sometimes tough and outspoken, lady. Have you ever wondered what makes her tick?
Well, if character is built by adversity, Ruth Dietz is solid as a rock. She has been widowed twice, the first time with three children at home, one with special needs. A devoutly religious person, she could have sat by and waited for her fellow Christians to take care of her as a widow. But this now 85-year old woman was college educated in a time when most women did not go to college. She studied to become a nurse, and took care of people like Maude Donmoyer, the widow of Jonas Donmoyer, who died in 1968. Two years later, in 1970, and two days after Monroe J. Bohn, her first husband, died from a heart attack, Ruth’s daughter, Kristel Bohn, moved into a home for children with mental disabilities. At the age of 16, in 1971, Kristel succumbed to pneumonia. Such heartbreak and tragedy would be hard for any of us to handle. Then, in 2011, Ruth lost Dick Dietz, her second husband.
Instead of giving up and pitying herself, over forty years ago, she took the advice of her attorney, George Christianson, and took charge of JP Donmoyer, Inc., the business left to her by Maude. No, she didn’t study business, but Ruth had character, determination, and common sense. She took over the reigns of the business, and diversified—running the Country Apple Restaurant, convenience stores, and a truck stop. Jeff Bohn, her son, joined her in running these businesses, but their success was both a blessing and a curse. Jeff’s heart was music ministries, and he took on a silent partner role at the businesses in order to lead Shining Light, a well-known local Christian teen singing group who visits prisons as an outreach of his and Barb’s, his wife’s, ministry. By the way, Hans, her other son, plays the trombone with the Boston Pops Orchestra. To their mother’s delight, in 2009 Jeff and Hans played a guest duet performance at former teacher Harlan Daubert’s Performing Arts Center tribute at NLHS.
To stay on top of her game, Ruth did what any leader does, surrounded herself with the best, by hiring Fortune 100 company managers. Realizing the business with the most growth and profit potential was the trucking firm hauling dry bulk shipments like lime and coal, the other businesses were sold. To this day, Ruth is involved in the decision making of the business, meets with her 200+ employees, and opens all of the mail. What a great way to keep tabs on the bank accounts, delinquent bills, and any complaints or compliments the company receives. She also lobbies for better trucking legislation, and could expand the business as the economy grows.
Ruth is determined to be the best in both her field and personal life. Her vision is unwavering and everlasting. She says, “We must remember that there is no security, only opportunity.” Ruth lives her life by the Rotary motto, “Service Above Self."
In closing, Ruth has received numerous awards, like the first Athena award from the Chamber of Commerce and the “50 Best Women in Business” award from the Central PA Business Journal. Then there’s her admittance to the Alpha Beta Gama Society of Business Advisory Board at Penn State, Middletown. Do not expect this trail blazer to retire anytime soon. Ruth Dietz is a role model for me and other women, not just in Lebanon County, but across the State and nation. I am honored to call her a friend.
US Navy 1943-1946
Pharmacist’s Mate Third Class
Served: US Naval Hosp. Phila., PA
Submarine Base New London, CN
Interviewed by Jo Ellen Litz, August 2011
Living in Annville in the early 1970s, I remember seeing Marion Colvin at community events. She always carried herself well--good posture, not loud, always a lady. I knew her boys from Church Camp and at the Annville Cleona Swimming Pool. I didn’t know Marion served in the military until attending the opening of baseball season at the Neversink Fire Company in Pleasant Hill. But there she was, in a wheel chair. She may have been the only woman among World War II honorees. At least she’s the only woman I remember. Even in her wheel chair, she held her head high. I wanted to know more, and because of the Women’s Commission project to research and write articles for Women’s History month, had the opportunity to interview Marion concerning her service to the United States of America.
Arriving at the Lebanon Valley Home on Main Street in Annville, I saw Marion sitting quietly in the shade of a tall tree in front of the Home. Apparently, she spends a lot of time there, enjoying the outdoors, reading, and watching the cars go by.
Marion was born December 16, 1923. She grew up in Annville. Her mother was an Ensminger from Pine Grove, and worked in the Kreider Shoe Factory. Her father was from York, and worked at the PennWay Bakery, delivering baked goods with a horse and wagon. Her grandparents raised race horses.
One day, Marion and her friend Pearl Nicholas were riding their bicycles in the country when they saw signs that said Join the Navy, See the World. Marion said, ‘You know Pearl, if I had someone to join the Navy with me, I’d join.”
Pearl said, “I’ll join.”
So Marion rushed home to ask her mother for bus money to hop a ride to Harrisburg. When she arrived at the recruiting center, she found out that, at age 20, she wasn’t old enough to join the Navy. She had to be 21. She was told to come back on her birthday, and they would sign her up. So she did, and so did Pearl. They left in January for Philadelphia, and stayed at a YMCA until both women were ‘processed.’ They got sworn in and shipped to New York for boot camp. Unfortunately they had to stay in different barracks. After their shots, next was Bethesda Maryland for nurses training where the two women were reunited. Sharing a room, they lived on Heath Bars by the carton. Marion said women weren’t allowed to go overseas. Their next assignment was at the Philadelphia Naval Hospital, then Swarthmore College, which was a building taken over for soldier’s physical therapy and rehabilitation. Ironically, it was the same building her son stayed in during his college days years later.
Then Marion went to a sub base in Connecticut where she worked until she was discharged after 2 ½ years of service to our Country. She remembered a captain who wouldn’t let anyone but Marion give him shots. According to the captain, Marion was the only one who could give shots without hurting.
As Marion sat there with the locusts singing in the background, it was as if she was reliving those days. She said, “I gave a lot of shots and bandaged a lot of wounds. War is hell. Then we had a lot come from Africa. They had malaria. It was bad. Some of them lost their limbs. In Philadelphia, one guy who was from Alabama had half of his face shot away…. They did plastic surgery on him using skin from his arm. His wife wanted to come to see him. He kept saying, please write her and tell her that I don’t want her to see me this way. Well, she did come anyway. There were too many sad, sad faces. It was horrible….It’s so sad. But, I’ll tell you what, if I could go again, I would.”
She would try to encourage the men, get them to talk about family or their children, whatever interested them. A nurse at the VA Hospital was in Vietnam, and she tells their story, which was very much like World War II. For example, a good football player who won college scholarships was drafted and injured. They kept encouraging him to try to do things so that he could play football again.
After the war, she was swimming at the Water Works, where she met, then married her husband. For 35 years, Marion worked at Unger Brothers then Henise Tire Service.
Growing up, she looked up to her Mom. She was a compassionate lady. They lost a lot of money in the 1920 stock market crash. People would give them clothing. Mom stayed up half the night remaking those clothes to fit us. I try to live by what my mother told me, “Always remember, God created all people equal. You don’t look up, and you don’t look down.” Bums used to come around begging for food. “She told me I was equal to the man who gives the food and to the one who needs it.” We could be eating potatoes and beans, but she always had a bologna sandwich for the men.
Her advice to women looking to join the military, “Go and make the best of it….Think positive, and do the best you can to do the job that you’re required to do.” Marion says she had a good life; she still has a good life.
Thank you for your service to our Country, your positive attitude, and for being so gracious to share your story with us. God bless you, Marion.
Portions of Marion’s interview are posted on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKFvNWFhf9g .
US Coast Guard Women's Reserve
Served: Palm Beach, FL; Indiana;
Star Barracks, Brookline, MA; Rockland, ME; Boston, MA
Interviewed by Jo Ellen Litz, February 2013
Litz is a member of the Lebanon County Board of Commissioners and the commissioner liaison to the Women's Commission.