Bill Hastie A Real Treasure To Region
On May 28, 1919, in West Pittston, William A. Hastie Sr. was born to Sarah Ann Tilley and Aaron Hastie. Today, family, friends, and acquaintances will help Bill celebrate his 100th birthday. While Bill has amassed an impressive record of public and military service and has realized accomplishments in other domains (which others will write about), in this article I would like to emphasize his contributions to “telling the story of Northeastern Pennsylvania,” including, of course, its coal mining history. A life resident of West Pittston and now a guest at the Veterans Administration Living Center in Plains Twp., Bill has devoted most of his adult life to helping preserve and commemorate the region’s history and culture, especially the anthracite chronicle. His understanding of the coal industry is just amazing, as is his knowledge of local people, places, and events. Just as important, he has been completely and unselfishly willing to share what he knows. How could we accurately count the number of historians, filmmakers, journalists, artists, school students, college students, graduate students, professors (like me), and interested citizens who have called upon his expertise? The last living employee of the Knox Coal Co., Bill has done more than anyone to promote the study and memory of the terrible Knox Mine Disaster. Beginning in the late 1970s, he began speaking about the disaster at the luncheon meetings of local clubs and organizations. He so impressed the early audiences that word quickly spread and Bill’s speaking abilities were high demand. Lucky for us that he was not in the mine when the Susquehanna River broke through on Jan. 22, 1959, killing 12 workers and marking the beginning of the end of Wyoming Valley’s deep mining industry. Bill held several other jobs in mines, factories, and railroads, and as such, he has never forgotten his working-class roots. Of course, Bill did more than think, talk and write about coal. He was a regular letter writer to The Citizens’ Voice during the 1980s and 1990s, focusing mainly on local and national politics, and he always enjoyed reading this and other newspapers. As an avid student of history (especially Welsh and mining history), he developed an impressive library as well as an extensive archive of articles and other references, which others and I have consulted. I think of Bill as one of the last of the old-time mineworker/scholars. Yet, despite his fantastic memory and willingness to share, he was never one to brag or show preeminence. His humility has been as apparent as his steadfastness. Indeed, he always held his composure when others did not agree with his progressive political views and interpretations. It was my privilege to have published mining-related articles with him in The Citizens’ Voice and elsewhere, and we co-authored “Anthracite Labor Wars” (2013), which focuses on the area’s labor-management and labor-labor clashes during the first half of the 20th century. In these efforts, I was like so many other local history enthusiasts who have benefitted from his extensive knowledge and generous mentorship. In sum, Bill Hastie has been a real treasure to the people of Northeastern Pennsylvania. He has built dozens upon dozens of friendships and acquaintanceships over decades of doing what he does. We are all so much the richer for his presence. Congratulations on your 100th birthday, Bill Hastie. Enjoy your century mark. And on behalf of the many individuals and organization that you have benefitted — a heartfelt “thanks for everything.” ROBERT P. WOLENSKY is adjunct professor of history at King’s College.