Change is Coming

Heart of Williamsport is deeply saddened that our dear friend and founding member Richard James has passed away. We will always cherish our time with Richard, and appreciate his dedication to freedom and racial unity through love and engagement for all people.

 

By Sophie Herzing
Heart of Williamsport

 

When you first meet Richard James, shake his hand, and introduce yourself, you’re overcome with his presence, immediately understanding that this is a guy who is genuinely interested in your story and also has a couple good ones of his own. Even though Richard did not grow up in Williamsport, he has a deep admiration for the town. “I like the small town feel,” he says.He’s lived in the town for about 16 years now, coming from Philadelphia to gt a break from the desolate job search down there. “I ended up staying because I fell in love with the place,” he says.

Change is Coming

Richard James
Richard James

Richard has moved about the city of Williamsport, from  a small “tacky” place, as he calls it, to now living in the beautiful and historic section of Millionaire’s Row, which is a collection of older houses and stately mansions built in the late 1800s. No matter where he has lived, however, he always finds a sense of camaraderie and belonging within the town. “Here, any time you walk into the grocery store, you’re bound to find somebody you know and have a conversation with them even if you saw them just last week.”

When asked what he would hate to lose about Williamsport, he felt compelled to say the fresh air. He loves the mountainous landscape that he can trace with his eyes as he walks along the River Walk, his favorite spot. “It’s very peaceful… you’re within the city, but you feel like you’re in the country,” he says. The access to nature and the small town feel is what Richard said he believes to be Williamsport’s greatest asset. He hopes it can be retained by finding a balance between commercial development and preservation of older sites.

Richard is involved with the Beloved Community Council, which works to uphold the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The group also inspires service opportunity for residents. This sort of project relates closely with Richard’s own personal story of working at a newspaper publication company, called Web Weekly back in 2003. He was the first African American to hold a management position.Through the Beloved Community Council, and the work he does with Heart of Williamsport, he is seeing change beginning to manifest. “You saw people from all walks of life come together: young people, old people, rich and poor and we said that we are going to let this be our town,” he says, “we aren’t going to let it go to the drug dealers and the gangs, and it’s working. I’m proud of that.”

 

 

Richard added that he believes the hard work isn’t over. “I see a bright future for Williamsport,” whether that be through uniting different groups of diversity or enhancing the wonderful architecture or natural aspects we have in the city. “There is going to be new opportunities. I can feel it. I want Williamsport to be the crown jewel of Pennsylvania,” he said. “People are going to point to us and say ‘these people, they got it right’”

Becoming a River City

DallasMiller_StillDallas Miller is a volunteer for the Williamsport community who works as a registered architect, telecommuting on design projects in places such as Florida. He grew up and lives in Jersey Shore, but always considered Williamsport his downtown. He started work back in 1998 with the project Our Towns 2010, which worked to revitalize the downtown area as well as the surrounding neighborhoods by connecting natural aspects back to the city. “It’s kind of neat to walk along The River Walk and visualize the old saw mills and and see the mountains and shadows of the sun,” he comments. Dallas says that he feels connected to nature and loves having that as a focal point and attraction of the city.

Becoming a River City

Local artist, tinsmith, and musician Lena Yeagle also loves that access to natural beauty. She has become a part of the historical district and the downtown through her work and her relationships with those businesses in the community. “I think we could really be a river town,” she says, “we don’t really utilize the fact that we have this beautiful river running right through our town.” She would hope to see more available access points to the River Walk and to eventually see a culture start to surround that river lifestyle. Lena also likes to ride her bike up Sylvan Dell Road and explore the woods beyond Packer Street. That connection to nature is something she feels fuels her love for the city. “I feel like we are a cultural gem,” she says. In the city of Williamsport, Lena admires the unique setting of people who are working to better the community, and says that if you want to be a part of that, you easily can because everyone is welcoming and can be open-minded.

LenaYeagle_Still

With people like Dallas who have the creative mind to foresee and design such projects and architecture to better the city aesthetically, and Lena who uses that natural connection in her work and art, the river can truly become the heartbeat of the city. “I have a deep belief in optimism and the future of Williamsport,” Dallas says, “I think the only question is how far can it go.”

 

 

 

 

Story by Sophie Herzing

Video by Christopher Cizek
Want to share your story with us? Take our survey: https://heartofwilliamsport.org/tell-us-story/ or contact us about setting up an interview by sending us an email here: https://heartofwilliamsport.org/contact/

Generational

Otto’s Bookstore,  located in the heart of downtown Williamsport, is full of books, ranging from fiction, to poetry, to nonfiction, to funny little finds that could only be housed at a place like Otto’s. This independent store is owned and operated by Betsy Rider, who is full of spirit and devotion for the downtown area. Ever since she was a little girl, she can remember coming to that part of the city, and since then has become involved not only with her business, but with war reenactments, parades, and other promotional events. Being in the heart of the area, she experiences many different interactions with diverse groups of people, which is something she says to value. “I love the individual people with their independent businesses. I love working downtown.”

Generational

BetsyRider_Still Throughout her life, she has been able to pass that infectious love for the city to others, including long-time customer Becky Renner. “This has got everything right. It’s an independent bookstore that managed to thrive even in the ages of Amazon,” Renner says.”It’s not just an independent bookstore, it’s a really good bookstore.” Becky came to the city of Williamsport in order to experience an outdoor lifestyle, which she was able to find in groups like the Greevy Paddlers and other avid kayakers. However, she still loves to come into town to visit Otto’s, as well as participate in other events such as First Friday.

We tend to believe that generational gaps, especially with the millennial age, have grown too big; that there simply isn’t enough in common to create a connection anymore. But when you visit Otto’s and talk to Betsy, you realize that a singular love for the community and the area reigns in each individual. She is 81 years old and still resonates the same vibrancy as she did when she was younger. She passes that on to other generations, pulling in people from all over. “We get a number of people from the hotels that they want to see what the small town is really like, and they come in and say, ‘this is wonderful place, I wish we had one like it in our hometown,’” she says.

Betsy has noticed a “brain drain” happening in the city, where talented individuals are leaving the area to find high-tech jobs that are not available in Williamsport. She would like to see more opportunity for them. She wants to see a bridge between that space of one generation and the next so that the older residents and younger ones can reside in the same town and be successful. 

BeckyRenner_Still

In a city that sometimes seems as though it is falling apart, it is important to remember that similar values can be found throughout generations. The gap isn’t so big after all, and even if you can’t seem to find that, just go talk to Betsy in her store. “How dare they! Come see me, I’ll straighten them out,” she proclaims.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Story by Sophie Herzing

Video by Christopher Cizek
Want to share your story with us? Take our survey: https://heartofwilliamsport.org/tell-us-story/ or contact us about setting up an interview by sending us an email here: https://heartofwilliamsport.org/contact/