The story of Colette Haag

Back in January, I wrote a column on the Merci Train, a shipment of gifts from France in 1949. This was a national story, but locally, the gifts were unpacked down at The Lock Haven Express by three local women. I got a lot of feedback on one of them, due to one line in the column.

I wrote, “The picture shows Express employees Patricia Bacon (whom I knew personally to be a sweet woman), Martha Zeigler (whom I know by reputation, and she was awesome), and Colette Haag (whom I’ve never heard of, but if she was hanging out with the other two, she had to be really cool too.)”

In response to that, within 48 hours, I got two e-mails, one phone call at home, and a visit from Colette Haag’s daughter, Judy Lantz. It’s not the first time people have come across with information based on a line I threw offhandedly into one of my columns; everyone had information to share about this woman.

I think it’s safe to say I have now heard of Colette Haag.

Colette was born to Emil and Maud Keene Colquist on February 21, 1913, and graduated high school in Olean, New York. When her parents moved to Clinton County, she chose to attend Lock Haven State College.

Her husband, Burritt L. Haag, became an attorney in Lock Haven in 1931. He joined the law firm of B.F. Geary, which became Geary and Haag, and was at 128 East Water Street, because there is apparently a local ordinance stating that all lawyers must stay in that neighborhood. The two of them got married and settled in a house on Second Street in the early Thirties. In 1935, Burritt became the local district attorney, and kept that position until 1943.

They had two children, one of whom came to see me at the library in response to my mention of her mom.

Burritt passed away on the morning of January 22, 1945 at age 43. In his honor, the courthouse closed at noon on that day.

As for Colette, it’s nice to know that my initial assessment was correct — she was, in fact, kind of awesome. She worked for several years as a reporter for The Express, working closely with editor Rebecca Gross. This was in an age when women weren’t really considered reporter material, but Rebecca Gross made sure The Express was way ahead of the times on that one.

While working for The Express, Colette was involved in unpacking and distributing the Merci Train items, which is basically how I discovered her. A box of gifts from France was sent to The Express in 1949, as part of a huge shipment to thank the Americans for sending supplies after World War II. Clinton County was given four gifts from the shipment because we’d supplied a boxcar full of flour. Colette is shown in one photo, helping to unpack the gifts. These gifts included a sculpture of a buffalo, which currently sits in the library near my desk.

Later on, Colette got a job with the Philadelphia United Fund, and moved down to southeastern Pennsylvania. While she was there, she met John O’Shea, and the two of them got married in 1959 and Colette Haag became Colette O’Shea.

On November 26, 1977, Colette was traveling from Cherry Hill to Holyoke, Massachusetts, where her new home was. Her son was with her. She collapsed during the trip; she’d been in bad health for the previous couple of years. She had, in fact, been in the hospital with a hip injury when her second husband passed away. Her son got her to a hospital in New Rochelle, New York, but she passed away there.

She was buried in the Milton Cemetery, in Northumberland County. It’s worth noting that she put both of her spouses’ names on her gravestone — it lists her as “Colette Haag O’Shea.”

So it seems as if my discoveries aren’t ended yet. A while back, I looked into the buffalo sculpture and found the Merci Train. And I also found Colette Haag, who was worth researching. And I’m happy to know that my initial assessment was correct — she was pretty cool.

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Lou Bernard is a Lock Haven resident with a keen interest in the history of this area. He is adult services coordinator at Ross Library and may be reached at ross13@rosslibrary.org or 570-748-3321.

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