Times Chronicle & Public Spirit
2 prominent historians lost
Earl Ibach and Dick Shaner have died
In spring 2007, George M. Meiser IX and Earl W. Ibach set out on an expedition to find the source of Tulpehocken Creek.
It was a demanding task for the pair of Berks County historians — Ibach was 84 years old at the time and, shall we say, Meiser was no youngster either.
Driven by an insatiable devotion to Berks County history, the pair persevered and traced the creek’s headwaters to a trickle coming from beneath a fallen tree in North Lebanon Township.
Meiser recorded the find in “The Passing Scene, Volume 15,” an omnibus photographic history compiled with his wife, Gloria Jean Meiser.
Meiser recalled the daylong trek recently while reflecting on the life and work of Ibach, 98, who died Jan. 22 in Womelsdorf.
The loss was compounded by the passing of another dedicated local historian, Richard H. Shaner, 82, who died Jan. 10 in Kutztown.
“Almost all my history buddies are gone,” lamented Meiser, a past president of Berks History Center. “It’s unsettling to me.”
Charles J. Adams III, editor of “The Historical Review of Berks County,” said Ibach and Shaner left a lasting impact on local history.
“These two gentlemen were keepers of the historical flame,” he said. “A flame, somewhat akin to the Olympic flame, that has been carried through generations.”
Earl Ibach’s presence in the town of his birth was so pervasive he was accorded the unofficial title of “Mr. Womelsdorf” and was presented with a key to the borough.
“Tuffy” Ibach served in Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army during World War II. While convalescing in London, he met and married Dorothy L. Wallis. They celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary last July.
Passionate about local history, Ibach was the driving force behind the formation of the Tulpehocken Settlement Historical Society in 1970. He edited The Tulpehocken Tattler history newsletter for 23 years, and was named director emeritus in 2006.
In 1976, Ibach published “Hub of the Tulpehocken,” a landmark 700-page history of a region whose name is drawn from the Lenape word for “land of turtles.”
He also wrote “Tulpehocken Cigarama,” a history of the region’s cigar industry.
Loretta Barnes, Ibach’s daughter, said his civic pride lay at the root of his interest in history.
“He would always say remember your roots,” said Barnes, a retired Lehigh County teacher.
Jay F. Miller, 91, a neighbor for 52 years, recalls sitting on Ibach’s patio and talking about the town’s history.
In a sympathy note, Miller wrote: “There will never be another person like Earl. There will never be another Mr. Womelsdorf.”
“Fortunately, they recorded and preserved valuable aspects of Berks County history. Hopefully, we can inspire budding historians to continue in their footsteps.”
– Floyd Turner
Dick Shaner’s insight into Pennsylvania Dutch culture is apparent in “Oley Valley Basketmaker,” an article published in the Pennsylvania Folklife magazine in 1964.
It profiles Freddy Bieber, 79, an itinerant basketmaker in the Oley Valley.
He and his wife, Annie, spoke only Pennsylvania Dutch and lived in an 18th Century fieldstone house with a spring in the cellar.
“Without electricity, automobile or automation, he works and takes pleasure in the same things our ancestors did 200 years ago,” Shaner wrote of Bieber, his great-uncle. “He is one of the few living basket craftsmen who works in the early American tradition.”
Shaner’s sharp eye for detail was demonstrated when he noted that Bieber made baskets in the eightquart size, most commonly used by the hill folk for gathering eggs, vegetables and berries.
“Dick liked people,” Eleanor Shaner said of her husband of 50 years. “He was a people person, and was always able to connect with people.”
Craig A. Koller, Kutztown Historical Society president, said Shaner was a mentor or sorts.
“I was always interested in history, but Dick taught me how important it was for us to learn about our local history,” he said. “He emphasized how unique the Pennsylvania Dutch culture is and thus very much needed to be preserved and documented.”
Shaner published the American FolkLIFE Journal during the 1970s and, in 2015, wrote “Oley Valley Heritage: The Federal Years,” with Richard L. T. Orth.
Adams, author of several books of ghost stories, said Shaner helped him with research on hauntings in the Oley Valley.
“He was an inspiration,” Adams said. “His interest in history went beyond dates, places and people; he was deeply interested in the lore of the land.”
They left their mark
Brian Englehardt, a frequent contributor to the “Historical Review of Berks County,” said Ibach and Shaner left an indelible mark on local history.
“They advanced the baton of local history for several generations,” he said. “Not only in keeping it alive, but by encouraging those who come behind them to continue the study of the history to which they have devoted large parts of their lives.”
Floyd Turner, president of the Berks History Center, said the work of Ibach and Shaner stands as a benchmark for historians of the future.
“Fortunately, they recorded and preserved valuable aspects of Berks County history,” he said. “Hopefully, we can inspire budding historians to continue in their footsteps.”
Donna Reed, former editor of the Historical Review, said their writings provide views of local history that might otherwise be obstructed.
“They loved the lore and the lure of Pennsylvania German ways,” said Reed, a Reading city councilwoman. “They dug in, came to know who lived in the old houses, who founded churches and businesses, who traveled the roads and who did the living and dying before them.”