Al Zagofsky | May 9, 2009| Times News
In the first of what Bill Allison, vice president of the Mauch Chunk Historical Society, predicate will be many awards ceremonies, former Carbon County Planning Director Bruce Conrad and the married couple of Victor Stabin and Joan Morykin, owners of the Flow restaurant and directors of the Stabin Morykin Building, were honored for the risks they took and the accomplishments they achieved in the revitalization of Jim Thorpe.
“Tonight, the Mauch Chunk Historical Society is here in support of the people who are willing to step forward and go beyond what is expected, to pull together unusual situations, and be leaders in Jim Thorpe,” Allison said.
He called Conrad a, “Lone voice in the wilderness,” when in the 1970s, he took a depressed but not a depressing downtown Jim Thorpe and turned it into the first National Historic District. Conrad was instrumental in the purchase of the defunct ConRail short line at Jim Thorpe as well as a property investor and the owner of the cockroach restaurant.
Speaker of the House Keith McCall congratulated Conrad on the award and added his recognition with a proclamation from the state of Pennsylvania, which was also given to Stabin and Morykin.
“Congratulations to Bruce on this award,” McCall said. “It is richly deserved for what he did in a community that really needed a hand up. Bruce had a vision. That vision is what se Jim Thorpe on its road to recovery.”
“We talk about heritage tourism today,” McCall continued. “At that time it was not well known by anyone. Jim Thorpe was a jewel in the rough and it took somebody to have a vision to see that jewel, pick it up, shine it up, and expose it. That’s precisely what Bruce Conrad did.”
After receiving the award, Conrad spoke.
“I have always told people who ask me what our town was like when I got here, that it was severely economically depressed, but absolutely full of life, joy and good will,” Conrad said. “It is people that matter, and the people who make a community livable, not buildings, businesses or government departments.
“The people you remember even decades later and long after they may have died are not the famous people you have met, or the richest but the ones who caed the most about you.”
Among Conrad’s accomplishments in Jim Thorpe are: helping to save the Opera House, creating the Historic District, organizing the Main Street Program, helping rebuild the Dimmick Library, nominating the Canal and the Switchback to the National Register, and saving Carbon County’s railroad.
“When I came here I was welcomed by the wonderful people of Carbon County, and I have never wanted to leave,” he concluded. “I would only hope that I may be able to say that I have you with the same generosity and love you have always shown me.”
The couple of graphic artist Victor Stabin and journalist Joan Morykin accepted their awards with Stabin acknowledging the accomplishments of Conrad.
Morykin recounted the tribulations of gestating the Stabin Morykin Building.
“I know many of you have been supporters of this project from the beginning and I see a lot of faces here that I know had personally spent countless hours attending various meetings on our behalf. Thank you all for coming out tonight,” Morykin said.
“Artists need old buildings,” she explained. “These buildings usually need lots of love and attention-in our case, an exorbitant amount of attention.”
Stabin had been renting studio space in the former wire mill building when it came up for sale. Attorney Tony Roberti encouraged them to make an offer.
“The next thing we knew, we were the proud owners of 15,000 square foot dilapidated old factory building. Holes in the roof the size of quarters, lots of moisture damage, missing and broken and boarded up windows and we were also suddenly the landlords to a 4000 square foot ‘adult sex toy’ distribution center,” she joked about the former occupants that had been ignored by the borough while they were delayed into near bankruptcy by a zoning board, which current Borough Council President described as “reluctant to see the town change.”
“Friends of ours who were in the construction trades just laughed at us,” she noted. “Then they began to help us.”
They thanked Gerry Kmetz for letting Stabin use his wood working shop and playwright Joe Hiatt for serving as foreman for the resurrection of the building.
“We’re proud to say we’ve had visitors from over forty states and many different countries,” said Morykin.
“My plan was to just paint,” said Stabin, an internationally accomplished freelance artist, a Newsweek cover illustrator, and a designer of U.S. Postage Stamps. “I looked at this building and I thought to myself there’s a lot of possibilities here. I’m not a real estate person, but I’m going to go for it because I didn’t want to look back and say, what would have happened?”
“This piece of real estate has helped me expand my creativity beyond what I ever thought,” Stabin concluded.