October 1 – KUTZTOWN – At the grand opening of the new Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center at Kutztown University, Lee S. Heffner thought about the legacy left by his grandfather, Milton J. Hill.
“My grandfather was a renowned star barn painter,” said Heffner, co-author of the book “Painter of the Stars: The Life of Milton J. Hill.” “His legacy lives on in the barns of Berks County.”
Students, researchers and the public will have access to information about Hill, who died at age 85 in 1972, at the new $2.4 million archives center near the Kutztown campus.
The 10,000 square foot facility, named after Berks County industrialist DeLight E. Breidegam, establishes Kutztown University as a center for the preservation of Pennsylvania German culture.
In its vast collection of Pennsylvania German books, letters, and academic papers—one of the largest in Pennsylvania—are the archives of the late Dr. Don Yoder, the father of the American folk studies movement.
“We have worked tirelessly for more than four years in anticipation of this moment,” center director Patrick Donmoyer told a crowd of about 100 guests at the inauguration on Thursday. “This much-needed new facility celebrates the history, language and vibrant living conditions of Pennsylvania Germans in this region.”
Dr. Kenneth S. Hawkinson, president of the university, recalled the similarities between Kutztown and Germany, where he was once stationed in the military.
“When I first came here, I fell in love with this small Pennsylvania town with German-American ties ingrained in its people,” he said. “This dedication shines a light on a unique institution dedicated to preserving Pennsylvania’s German heritage.”
David Gill, Consul General of Germany in New York, spoke of the shared heritage between the Germans of Pennsylvania and the land from which they emigrated in the 1700s.
Both cultures share a commitment to freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, he said.
“We need to remember our history, our heritage, our customs, our habits and our inherited wisdom,” Gill said. “It’s important to stand up and act together when our values are under threat.”
Founded in 1991, the heritage center has preserved a Pennsylvania bank barn, a one-room schoolhouse, and a 19th-century farmhouse in a parcel bordering campus.
Until now, its extensive archives have been housed in a mobile office on site and in a building on campus. The new center brings it together in one place.
Dr. David L. Valuska, who was the center’s first director, marveled at the extent of the archives.
“This facility integrates the Pennsylvania German community,” said Valuska, 84, a retired Kutztown University history professor and author of “Damn Dutch: Pennsylvania Germans at Gettysburg.”
Among the guests at the inauguration was Dr. Daniel Greenstein, chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which oversees 14 public universities, including Kutztown.
Dan Breidegam, the son of DeLight E. Breidegam, recalled the influence of the Pennsylvania German work ethic on his father.
After World War II, DeLilight and his father founded East Penn Manufacturing Co. near Topton. During his lifetime, battery manufacturer Deka became one of Berks County’s largest employers.
“My dad always said to find opportunities and make the most of them,” said Breidegam, who is president of East Penn. “He would be very proud to see this facility dedicated to the preservation of culture.”
Designed by KCBA Architects of Lehigh County, the center includes a 3,100 square foot library and reading room; a 1,000 square foot space for archives and special collections; and office space for center staff and the Freyberger Endowed Chair of Pennsylvania German Studies at the university.
It also houses the William Woys Weaver Architecture Collection, the Pennsylvania German Versammling Archives of Berks County, and the Francis Kline Pennsylvania German Dialect Collection.
The project was coordinated and funded by the Kutztown University Foundation.
Contact the author: [email protected]; 570-628-6007