May 2010

Weaving Silken Dreams…Here in Allentown

Anne Hills I’m in the process of writing my first column for the Morning Call in almost a year. The topic will be the stress our military is under due to so many multiple deployments and how the new Veteran’s Sanctuary, opening this fall in Allentown, is a much needed resource. The story will appear on Memorial Day.

As part of my research for the article, I attending a benefit concert held in the partially restored building that will house the Sanctuary. Standing in the auditorium of the former St. John’s Lutheran School on 5th St., the more than the one hundred people and I that were in the audience, were carried back in time not only by our surroundings, but by another local treasure, singer and songwriter Anne Hills.

What a wonderful voice singing so many beautiful songs that spoke to the human condition. There were of course many veterans in the audience, and when Anne sang, “Your new companion” about the loneliness of alcoholism, often an early symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, you could have heard a pin drop.

And in a poke-in-the-eye to Billy Joel and his awful song about Allentown, Anne wrote a beautiful ode to all the workers who made the Queen City just that…the Queen of the silk mills. “Silken Dreams” tells the story of a retired weaver and her friend who came here as young women from Austria and spent their lives at their looms. “On a hot summer night, you could hear those looms; they never shut them down. Weaving and spinning the silken dreams of the workers in Anne Hills w-banjo Allentown”.  

It’s no wonder Tom Paxton, Anne Hills’ friend, fellow songwriter, and folk legend, said the following about her..

“Anne Hills is such an exquisite singer that it’s understandable that people might be swept up in the pure beauty of her voice and thereby overlook her writing. That would be a mistake. For me, Anne’s writing, in songs like ‘Follow That Road’ and many others, is as direct, melodic and deep as any work being done today. She is quite simply one of my absolute favorite songwriters.”
                    — Tom Paxton

Anne, who volunteered to entertain at the benefit, lives in Bethlehem with her husband and daughter. Her career takes her around the country, but she does occasionally appear locally. Her concert dates are listed on her website.

It was a very special afternoon filled with beautiful music and heartfelt sentiments…all for a very good cause. If you believe that our Veterans deserve your support, please consider donating to the Veteran’s Sanctuary.

Blogger’s Note: My thanks to Christopher Scappaticci for the generous use of his photographs. I tried to download Anne’s song, “Silken Dreams” to accompany this post, but being the techno wizard that I am, I couldn’t figure out how to do it. There’s a beautiful version on Rhapsody.

So What Are You Doing Next Weekend…

Dealing with blog gremlins and finishing a project have caused the prolonged neglect of this blog.

But I do want to take advantage of what opportunity there is to let you know about two wonderful and worthwhile events that are happening next weekend.

First is a benefit concert by the Craig Thatcher Allstar Review at Zoellner Center on Saturday, May 22. The concert is sponsored by, and will benefit, St. John’s UCC in Coopersburg.

The Craig Thatcher Band, with Don Plowman and Wayde Leonard, will perform in the Lehigh Valley Review.

The event also will put a spotlight on rising student musical stars. They include Brett Broczkowski, Freedom High School (Bethlehem); Andrew Davis, Northampton Community College; Dakota Dell, Souderton High School; Kris Ewaniuk, Palisades High School; Alan Georgiadis, Quakertown High School; Melanie Loveless, Pennridge High School; and Maggie Montoney, Quakertown High School.

Each year, the church identifies people in the Southern Lehigh, Upper Bucks and Saucon Valley area who are burdened by serious medical conditions and unaffordable costs (beyond their resources and insurance coverage). So far, they’ve donated more than $280,000 … yes, that figure is correct … to 24 recipients.

According to Glenn Kranzley, former VP and Editor at The Morning Call, this initiative started out with their small congregation: Glenn says they’re lucky to have 50 or 60 people in church on Sundays. The effort has now grown to involve several other Solehi area churches and school community groups. About 300 people actively volunteer.

Tickets are available at the Zoellner Arts Center: or 610-758-2787.

For more details about COB, including testimonials from some of the folks they’ve helped …

The congregation also holds summer block parties, and what’s more fun than a block party; St. John’s ninth annual party will be held Sunday, July 25, 2010, so you may want to make note of that date, too.


The following day, Sunday, May 23, in Allentown, there’s a Concert to Benefit Veteran’s Sanctuary featuring Anne Hills

Hills, a well-known folk singer, will perform at a concert in Allentown on May 23 to benefit Veterans Sanctuary, a community based treatment center dedicated to serving veterans and providing support for their families.

Service men and women coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan are returning with increasingly higher percentages of post traumatic stress disorder, partly due to extended and repeated tours of duty. This increases the risk factors for substance abuse and addiction. Veterans Sanctuary will provide long-term addiction treatment, specialize in the treatment of PTSD, and assist veterans and their families by intervening in periods of acute distress. It also will act to sustain recovery and assist in the transition back into civilian life.

Veterans Sanctuary is scheduled to begin accepting clients in the fall of 2010, and will be open to all veterans.

The concert will be held at 2 p.m. May 23 at Veterans Sanctuary, 24 South Fifth Street in Allentown. Tickets can be ordered by mail or online at or by calling 610-439-8479. Reserved seating tickets are $30 in advance or $35 at the door. General admission tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door.

What better way to honor the spirit of our veterans and Memorial Day than by supporting this event.

Voices in the Wilderness

Blogger’s Note: The primary purpose of the following post was to highlight the email message that Charlie Versaggi distributed yesterday to city council and the city administration, continuing to point out the issues with council’s approval of the funding for the proposed 7th St low income housing project. The point being that council’s approval is not the end of the objections to the lack of vision being shown regarding Allentown’s future.

The main point of discussion has been waylaid by the detail of council’s vote relating to the funding. Jarrett Renshaw of the Morning Call and Councilman Michael Donovan have both weighed in this morning with clarifications of council’s vote on this project. Jarrett to say that yesterday’s story was not as clear as it could have been and Michael to post a written explanation in the comments to this post. I thank both of them for their consideration.

The main premise of this post remains: I encourage you to scroll down and read Charlie Versaggi’s well reasoned message to the city’s leadership.


It was discouraging to open today’s Morning Call and read that Allentown City Council had done the exact opposite of what I suspect most tax-paying citizens wanted them to do: Council, by a 5-1 vote Wednesday, The final vote was actually 6-0 by which City Council agreed to use $433,333 in federal funds to support a proposed project that will build low to moderate income apartment units at 22. N. Seventh St., site of the former Corporate Plaza.

I am simply at a loss to understand how council could justify this vote. Looking over the larger picture of the city’s current condition and the ripple effect of such a decision on everything from the potential need for increased security to the increased demand on the school system, it boggles the mind that people elected to look out for the overall good of ALL Allentown’s citizens, would allow this project to go forward. Surely there are better, more productive uses for that money.

In an attempt to try to reason with council, a respected member of the community spoke out. Charlie Versaggi, a former Air Products exec and former member of the Allentown School Board, was quoted in an article on Wednesday, May 5, urging that the focus be placed “exclusively on adding middle- to upper-income housing for the next 10 years to achieve a healthy housing stock mix”.

Council approved the plan at Wednesday night’s meeting, and Charlie Versaggi has again spoken out. Addressing city council and the city administration in an email which he has shared with this blog, his message follows reproduced exactly as I received it. Thank you, Charlie, for continuing to be a voice in the wilderness that has become public policy in Allentown.


To: ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’
Cc: ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; Ed Pawlowski (
Subject: "Affordable Housing"

I just got back into town and read that Council is supporting the Lancaster HDC’s proposal for the 7th Street project.  In spite of my telephone conversation with the Mayor Tuesday evening, I’m still not on board with this.  My concern is that we’re adding to the number of low-income housing units when we should be doing exactly the opposite. What we should be doing is setting a target of a maximum number of low-income families in the City (let’s use 25-30%) as a starting point and produce a plan that gets us down to that number.  I told the Mayor that the City needs to take a minimum of 200 slum units off the street –the City, AEDC or another City agency can acquire them and bulldoze them.

I don’t believe anyone should live in a slum, and I don’t believe this City should tolerate slums (and we aren’t). But it is not healthy or sustainable for a City and School District to support the  70+% level of poverty in its school system. And it’s not like we only have a 2% unemployment rate either – it’s closer to 10% – so that even if we provide additional housing, there’s still no work for these folks.

Please let me re-iterate, I’m not anti-poor… but we cannot have a healthy City at the current levels of poverty. We are doing the poor in this City a disservice by putting the City into a poverty hole that neither the City or its citizens can dig-out of.

I’ve attached my February e-mail to your for reference and below are comments I posted to the Morning Call story on Council’s decision.

To add insult to injury, assuming this project will be owned by a non-profit, not only will your and my federal and state tax dollars help to fund this, but it will be off the City’s and School District’s tax rolls too!!!
As I told the Mayor Tuesday night, for starters, I want to see 200 deeds of scum landlords acquired by the city and those properties bulldozed – without that scale (larger actually) of slum housing razed, these "affordable" projects only net-increase the poverty level in the City. If you can’t afford to live here, go somewhere else!
Charlie Versaggi.

versagcj (05/06/2010, 4:22 PM )

In addition to taking a minimum of 200 slum units off the city’s roster, I suggest we require the Lancaster HDC to make this property a true “mixed income” property and contractually agree to the following housing mix for the first 10 years of operation: 34% Low Income, 33% Middle and 33% Higher Income. That would be good for the City. If those conditions prevent the Lancaster HDC from qualifying for the use of my tax money to build the project – tough.

Best regards,


A Story Worth Reading: Allentown Grants

Signs-closed_sign There is a story in today’s (Sunday, May 2) Morning Call, written by Jarrett Renshaw, that is a “must read” for anyone who is interested in the politics and the future of Allentown. Titled, “Mixed track record on grants for Allentown businesses”, you can read it for yourself by clicking on the live link.

It’s a fascinating and discouraging portrait of a city hall and an administration that has become for all practical purposes, a theocracy.

No need to do a recap. I’d rather you read it for yourself. I will close with the one overriding impression that remained with me after I read the story: If I were one of the city workers who has been laid off, I’d be furious.

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