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Honor Winter Wonderland song, writer Dick Smith; and General Lyman Lemnitzer
By Peter Becker
Two more of Wayne County, Pennsylvania's claims to historical distinction are being honored with official roadside State Historical Markers.
The signs will commemorate the song Winter Wonderland, written by Honesdale native Richard B. Smith, and General Lyman Lemnitzer, Honesdale native, whose military career included being selected as Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.
The location where these signs will be installed, and the dates of the installation and dedication are to be announced.
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) received nominations for these markers. PHMC announced on March 9 that 23 approval of Pennsylvania Historical Markers, statewide, including these two in Wayne County. These are the only markers approved for Northeastern Pennsylvania.
The new markers, selected from 39 applications, will be added to the nearly 2,300 familiar blue signs with gold lettering along roads across Pennsylvania.
The application for the Winter Wonderland sign was made by Lisa Burns, Executive Director of Greater Honesdale Partnership (GHP) in August or September, 2020.
While plans are still being formulated, GHP is hoping to extend their community holiday celebration to four weeks in 2021, between Black Friday and the Saturday before Christmas.
Formerly known as “Honesdale for the Holidays” but now known as “Winter Wonderland,” they hope to have a Santa parade this year and the traditional lighting of the Christmas tree in Central Park and lighting of the Star on the cliff.
This event each year includes singing “Winter Wonderland” by the crowd, and has pointed out the fact that the lyricist's boyhood home is in view across from the park, at 922 Church Street.
Burns said at some point in the four week celebration, they want to hold a ceremony unveiling and dedicating the Pennsylvania Historical Marker.
GHP is not ready to announce the location.
She acknowledged Rep. Mike Peifer for making his own private donation to pay for the marker.
The PHMC charges $2100. for the marker.
It was Governor Tom Wolf that gave her the idea, Burns said. Gov. Wolf visited Honesdale on December 11, 2019 and met with Burns. She didn't even mention the town's connection to the famous song; she said the governor brought it up. “He asked, 'Where's the Dick Smith Winter Wonderland' plaque?,” Burns recalled.
She said they didn't have a state marker for it. “He said we better get one,” she said. “I said, 'All right, we'll do it!.'” Last summer, GHP's summer intern, Lillian Slate, was tasked with researching about Dick Smith and the song, in preparation for the application documents.
She contacted the Wayne County Historical Society and other sources. Burns said that the PHMC is very detailed, and needed proof that Smith was born in Honesdale- the GHP found his church birth record- and evidence of national and even worldwide significance of the song.
Although the exact wording of the marker hasn't been confirmed, the PHMC press release indicated the following description: “Winter Wonderland, Honesdale, Wayne County “Classic Christmas song written by lyricist and Pennsylvania native Richard Smith.
Smith wrote the words while convalescing in a tuberculosis sanatorium outside Scranton and was inspired by the winter scenes he observed out his window.
Tragically, Smith succumbed to the deadly disease at the age of 34.” “We're really excited it was approved,” Burns said.
“We're excited we can celebrate it as a Winter Wonderland event this year.” Smith lived, 1905-1934. A Honesdale High School graduate, he went on to Penn State and pursued a career writing songs in New York City. He had 10 songs published, the most famous being Winter Wonderland.
He was said to have been inspired to write the song from childhood memories of winters in the park across from his house, and also from seeing kids play in the snow from his sanatorium window.
The Honesdale community has celebrated the song and Dick Smith in various ways through the years. The Wayne County Historical Society (WCHS) published a book, “The Heritage of Dick Smith's Winter Wonderland” in 2018, updating it in 2019. Also in 2018, Honesdale Council officially designated the historic Christmas Star on the cliff as the “Winter Wonderland Star.”
Mary Ann Savakinus said she made the application for the General Lemnitzer Pennsylvania Historical Marker, as a favor for Raymond Pilch, who asked her help.
Pilch said he he retired from Honesdale National Bank where he managed the Trust Department. He had the privilege of working on the estate of General Lemnitzer's daughter Lois He said he learned so much about the General and his legacy. Pilch said he wanted to help honor the General's
memory, and saw that there was no PA Historical Marker for him.
He expressed how pleased he was that the marker had been approved, and that it was approved at the same time as the Winter Wonderland marker.
Savakinus had experience with PHMC applications from her position as director of the Lackawanna Historical Society, although the Society wasn't connected with the application.
Mary Ann Savakinus and her husband Bob are family friends, he said. Pilch had lived in Moosic and commuted to Honesdale.
Savakinus said they need to decide on a location for the marker and when to have the ceremony.
The PHMC released this description: “Gen. Lyman Louis Lemnitzer (1899-1988), Honesdale, Wayne County “Lemnitzer had a long and storied military career that culminated in his role as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and supreme Allied commander of NATO in the 1960s during the height of Cold War alliances. Following two tours in the Philippines and roles as military instructor, Lemnitzer was instrumental in the North African theater during World War II. When the US entered the Korean War, Lemnitzer, at 51, underwent jump training in order to command an airborne division.”
This is a banner year for remembering General Lemnitzer.
The Wayne County Historical Society is opening a permanent exhibit on General Lemnitzer at the museum reopens to the public, May 22.
Last fall, the Society announced the completion of a granite memorial to General Lemnitzer, which stands outside the museum at 810 Main Street. Paula Roos led a committee to establish the memorial. A dedication of the memorial is expected in 2021.
The PHMC lists 13 Pennsylvania Historical Markers in Wayne County. The last one that was dedicated was for champion billiard player Ruth McGinnis, in Honesdale on November 19, 2016.