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The levee: A fight for our community

By DOC SWEITZER

On the 25th anniversary of the building of the dike levee protecing Lock Haven, I wanted to talk about the role my brother, Charlie Ryan, played in the building of the levee.

Charlie worked at The Lock Haven Express.

He began washing windows and worked his way up to be publisher for 25 years of his 52 years at the newspaper.

In 1972 during the Agnes Flood, I went to visit Charlie at The Express.

I was making good money downtown helping a number of merchants move their merchandise upstairs as the waters approached.

I went to check in on Charlie to find out whether there was anything more that had to be done at his home along Bald Eagle Creek.

I was shocked that Charlie had not moved a thing of his own as he was about to lose everything.

At the time, Charlie was involved with flood protection, in addition to being publisher of the newspaper. I believe he was the chair of the flood protection advisory committee.

I said, “We need to go and move your stuff up at the creek.”

He replied, “My post is here, monitoring the flooding for the community.”

That was Charlie, ever the loyal soldier.

I told him that I would head out to the creek with some friends and try to move some things. Charlie warned me that it might be dangerous and to be careful.

When we got to the creek, we had to wade through the water.

When I called him for an update, he demanded that I get out immediately before the waters got higher.

I protested but left all his possessions vulnerable.

He was right, we barely made it out.

I tell the story because when the water subsided, my brother, Charlie, was left with only the suit of clothes on his back.

He lost all of his material possessions because he put the community first.

Charlie never once complained about losing everything.

Fast forward to the fight over the dike levee.

There was a well-organized, well-run and well-financed opposition to the levee.

It was primarily about the loss of views and access to the river from the Lock Haven side.

I was at Penn State at the time.

One night I got a call from Charlie.

He was concerned about the campaign against the levee.

He knew that I knew a little about campaigns and he was curious what should be done to defeat the anti-levee campaign.

Charlie explained how important the levee was to economic development and the city’s future.

Charlie had been on every economic development committee and was a relentless advocate for jobs.

He explained that we could not attract business without a levee and the community could not afford to replace the high school gym floor or courthouse floor every 10 years.

I rememberI was a smart ass and said something like this, “Hey, you dumbass you run the newspaper, the biggest mouth in town.

Use it.”

Charlie was a straight shooter.

He generally didn’t believe in taking sides, but in this case it was about jobs.

Charlie started writing editorials.

Coverage tilted toward the positives of the levee.

He ticked off a number of his advertisers, but he stuck to his guns and turned the paper into an instrument to promote the levee.

He very much helped to win the fight.

In his dying months I would often reminisce with Charlie.

One day I was reminding him about his role in the building of the levee.

He would have none of it.

He gave all the credit to Diane Steumpfle and June Houser.

I argued with him. I was there.

I had read and heard talk about the pro-levee editorials he had written. He even lost advertisers, and if you knew Charlie Ryan he hated to lose any dollar for that paper.

But he got it done.

In the end it was classic Charlie. He never took credit for anything.

He always gave credit to others. He rarely thought about himself.

But he thought about his family and his community.

He didn’t care that he lost everything from the flood; he eventually won for the town he loved.

As we reminisce on the 25th anniversary, I am proud to honor my brother, Charlie Ryan, who worked so hard to make the levee possible and keep our town flood free.

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