Brighter Days Ahead: The Waverly Community House During Times of Crisis

“There is a responsibility for the people of this town to keep the spirit of this splendid memorial up. Its benefit to the community is incalculable, for it is an enterprise to be engraved on human hearts.” Governor Sproul, Waverly Community House Dedication Ceremony, 1920.

In 1920, following the conclusion of the First World War, the Waverly Community House officially opened its doors to the public. In the United States, the 1920’s were symbolic of change as troops returned home to their families and friends, the economy soared, and women gained the right to vote with the 19th Amendment. The decade began with a boom but unfortunately, ended with a crash in 1929. Throughout it all, the Comm forged its place in the country as an advanced place for education, recreation, and growth. It also stood symbolic of the ideals and dreams of the community it served—this cannot be understated, especially during the current crisis the community faces in 2020. As we look back on past service, it is important to remember that this too will pass, and when it does—the Comm will be there.

The Waverly Community House Dedication Ceremony took place on June 25th, 1920. As community members approached the beginning of the decade with their minds full of hope, they looked forward to visiting the new building that presented to them a space for clubs, classes, programs, and recreation of all kinds. It was also the very first of its kind in the area, and one of the first in the country as well. Early programs and events available during this time included square dances, moving picture shows, the Annual Fair and Flower Show, masquerades, story-telling, reunions for Civil War veterans, and other programs designed to enrich daily living in the community. As the 1920’s roared on, the Comm modified its programming to suit the needs of the community and as the decade came to a crashing halt in 1930—the Comm withstood one of the most tumultuous times and rallied with the community by providing them with an escape from the difficult atmosphere the country faced as it tried to regain its footing. In the Great Depression Era of the 1930’s, the Comm continued to operate as usual, filling community member’s time with a summer wading pool (free to the public), an innovative kindergarten program, camping trips, dancing classes, theatrical plays, health lectures, and holiday programs. More important than the actual programming however, was the spirit of hope that lay within the walls of the building and served as a reminder that no matter how difficult times were—the Comm would be there to serve community needs.

As hoped for, the United States made it through the Great Depression Era with resilience. However, the beginning of World War II presented another crisis. This was perhaps one of the defining moments of the Waverly Community House’s dedication to the community and undoubtedly assisted the residents of Waverly, and those stationed abroad. It was during this pivotal time in history that the Comm adapted to meet the needs of the community by creating various new programs, events, and activities aimed at taking on America’s new landscape and providing critical services to both the local region, and the country as a whole. Some of these critical efforts are highlighted below.


gsIn 1942, the Waverly Community House created a monthly newsletter designed to alleviate some of the isolation and detachment felt by those forced to spend time away from their friends and families during the War. Community House staff worked hard to create and maintain a listing of the names and addresses of those serving in the Armed Forces and soon began distributing the monthly newsletters to as many men and women as possible. It was treasured among all who received it and was produced throughout the duration of the entire war. The newsletter kept those abroad informed on community happenings and events such as birth announcements, engagement and wedding news, Community House news, the hometown weather report, and other small town news. The “Dots and Dashes from Servicemen’s Flashes” section of the newsletter also updated those in the community on the status of those stationed away, and allowed them to stay connected during a time of uncertainty and instability. This publication also boosted the morale of those away from home, and their fellow soldiers, previously unfamiliar with Waverly, became amazed at the closeness of the community. A quote from John Hull in the 1944 Hometown Newsletter states, “My buddies had never heard of Waverly, Pennsylvania before but right now, thanks to the newsletter they wished they lived there.” In addition to the monthly letter, the Waverly Community House orchestrated many other programs and activities that were structured towards engaging the community and encouraging residents to stay involved in country-wide efforts during World War II. Besides the World War II Newsletter, the Comm distributed regular notices throughout the community encouraging residents to save and donate salvage items such as newspapers, magazines, and license plates. These items were brought to the Comm Lobby to be collected and organized by the Waverly Boy Scouts. Defense Meetings were also held at the Comm in the Scout Room and focused on preemptive measures to take in the event of an attack in the United States. The Community House automobile’s dinner bell served as a warning signal and staff member Joe Dixon drove around the neighborhood completing the test drills. The Waverly Girl Scouts also became involved on the home front and knitted afghans, sweaters, and socks for soldiers under the direction of Comm staff. These were simply a few of the ways the Waverly Community House stood as a symbol of resilience and companionship during a historical time of conflict and uncertainty.NL 3

 


After World War II, the Waverly Community House resumed operations normally with their daily calendar full of events and activities designed to enrich the public. As the years went on, the Comm added to their schedule a multitude of programs that serviced the needs of the community, as they were ever-growing and changing. In the 1950’s, the Comm transitioned to offer a community programming initiative designed to suit a broader range of ages, focusing on many young adult events such as: teen dances, bowling competitions, and the theatrical group, the Abington Players. In the 1960’s-1970’s, America started to shift once again, and the Comm focused on bringing the arts to the community in a significant way with the Belin Arts Scholarship. This scholarship gave funding to artists of all disciplines to continue their craft under its direction. As the 1980’s-1990’s approached, the Waverly Community House broadened its community calendar once again with the inclusion of art shows/ exhibits, restoration projects, parent education seminars, cooking classes, and a revamped Comm Camp program for children. Comm Camp later became one of the Comm’s most popular programs, and gained notoriety in the 2000’s, along with the Easter Bunny Breakfast, Santa Breakfast, holiday parties, and more. Currently, the Waverly Community House offers the largest community calendar it has ever seen with events and programs such as: Comm Camp, the Comm Kids After School Program, the Comm Kids Interactive Learning Center, the Destination Freedom Program, the Northeast Pennsylvania Film Festival, the Belin Arts Foundation, and much more.

The Waverly Community House recently celebrated its 100th year anniversary in July of 2020. Echoed throughout all of the speeches given by our special guests was one major thread—this building is more than just a building, it is a home for the community. It is a reminder that no matter what is going on around you, you can always find our doors open for you. With the current crisis on our hands, the Comm has been directed to temporarily shut its doors for the safety of the community. We can assure you this is only temporary, and we will be back soon. We look forward to bringing our community back together in the very near future and celebrating the end of this crisis with all of you. During this time, you can stay connected with us through our Instagram and Facebook pages. We cannot wait to see you all again. For now, we will close out this blog post with a fitting quote from the late Henry Belin III, spoken at the 1940 Annual Meeting.


“Yes, the past twenty-one years have brought many changes in the world. In 1919, we were satisfied that the world had once more been made safe again. We had seen the end of the war to end wars, the future laid placidly before us. The next ten years saw boundless prosperity. Everyone was busy—lots of good wages. It did look as though the Great War has accomplished the purpose for which it had been fought. Unfortunately, we came into the 1930’s—a decade that few, if any of us will ever forget. Economic strife such as the world had never witnessed had been thrown into our paths. What had happened? No one seemed to know. There were lots of answers, but actually none seemed to be the right one. As though we had not had enough troubles, the end of the decade approached with it another war. Fortunately, for now, the United States does not seem to be involved, though I feel that none of us sitting here tonight would gamble a deal that we will not become involved before peace once more rules the world. I cannot help but feel that if there were more organizations like the Waverly Community House, a greater spirit of love and friendship would prevail in the world. And so I say, if the world were to have more communities like Waverly, with Community Houses like the Comm where people can meet, grow, and learn together, that we would be able to withstand the turbulent times—there would be peace in our world.”