Colina L. Fischer Jordan Seeley – My Feminist Activist Partner 1928-2017

Picture of Colina Jordan Seeley sitting on her back porch.

Colina L Jordan Seeley. Photo courtesy of the family as posted at http://www.rouppfuneralhome.com/notices/Colina-Seeley

On Sunday, July 30 I received an email that my close friend Colina Jordan Seeley had died in Wilkes-Barre, PA from complications of a stroke.  She was an 89-year old fireball.  An activist, a fighter for social justice, a social worker, mother, wife, and a life-long fighter for the rights and safety of all. A real feminist.

She was born in Utrecht, The Netherlands a year after my mother was born.  By the time she was 12, she had become a fighter for the underdog; one of her first acts was becoming a part of the Nazi Resistance in the Netherlands.  Her family told this story in her obituary that came out today – a story she often said to me.  The only part she left out in her storytelling to me was that she was the one that convinced her father to go into hiding. Here’s a clip from the obituary:

She was born in Utrecht, the Netherlands on 7 May 1928.  She grew up in an academic household where her father was [a] professor of anthropology at [the] University of Utrecht, and her mother was a history and geography teacher. 

When the Nazis took over the Netherlands, her father was called in to explain why he no longer taught.  He said that the Dutch students had mostly evaporated and all that was left was Nazi sympathizers.  When Colina heard this story that evening, at age 12 she instantly saw that the Nazis would be coming to pick him up, and made such a scene that her father reluctantly went into hiding that night.  The next morning the Nazis were at the door to pick him up.  Colina became the mainstay of the family consisting of the other 5 children and her not very functional mother.  Colina was the person who scrounged for tidbits of food and coal.  She cooked in the back yard over a tin can.  As a small girl with long blonde braids, she was able to hoodwink the Nazis and lead off men out of the groups being marched to Germany to work in the factories there.

Here’s a bit more to that story.  Colina told me that she helped lead these men away from the Nazis after they crawled through a hidden hole at the back end of the Gymnasium (school) into a safe house that abutted the back of the school. She would go each day and walk the escapee away from the area pretending to the Nazi’s that her “uncle” was so drunk he couldn’t talk and tell them she was taking him home to his wife and kids.

Another story she told was about her food scrounging adventures.  Apparently, the Nazis had food and milk trucks that rumbled through town on a regular basis.  As a young teenage girl she was able to get near these trucks, and when the Nazis backs were turned, she’d grab milk off of the trucks and run.  A dangerous activity, but she got away with this too.

BTW, she didn’t see or hear or know where her father was throughout the war because the family feared that if the children knew of his whereabouts they might have been tortured to tell.  He came home safely at the end of the war.

After the war, Colina came to the US and obtained a Master’s degree in Social Work.  She married Joseph Jordan whom she met at the University of Minnesota. The moved to State College where they raised their four children – Saskia, Sharon, Naomi, and Adlai.  Joseph died in August 1992, and she married Ralph Seeley in April 2004.  ,

She continued her activism here in the states. Among the things I know that she accomplished were:

  • Successfully advocating for low-income people with mental health issues.
  • Providing mental health care as the sole practitioner in the Penns Valley area of Centre County. For those that don’t know the area, it’s a rural farming community with a large Amish population. I believe her work in Penns Valley also helped foster her love of nature and the work of the Clearwater Conservancy.
  • Forcing the local Elks Club in Boalsburg to open up membership to people of color. She did this by contacting John W. Oswald in 1970 right after Penn State University announced that he was going to be the new University President.  She pointed out to him that his welcoming party was planned at the racially segregated Elks Club in Boalsburg.  He agreed with her that this was wrong and notified the University that he wouldn’t step inside the club as long as this policy continued.  The venue changed, and soon the policy was too.
  • Starting the first NOW (National Organization for Women) chapter and the local women’s domestic violence and sexual assault center in Centre County in the early 1970s.  The Women’s Resource Center is still going strong today. And Colina remained a member of NOW until her death.
  • Using her love of storytelling, she also became active in the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association towards the end of her life.  She thought up and helped create our Out Loud program. This program highlights local poets, poetry, and local storytelling.

I moved to Centre County in 1981.  She was one of the very first people I met. That was at a NOW meeting. We crossed paths on an irregular basis until 1991 when I, along with Colina and a couple of other women founded Ni-Ta-Nee NOW, the current local chapter of the National Organization for Women.  She became my activist, feminist partner in crime.  We spent time listening to each other, traveling to rallies and protests, and organizing actions to improve the lives of women, LGBTQIA, and people of color here in Happy Valley and at Penn State University.

My favorite memory was setting up a protest ladder on Old Main Lawn with her in September of 1992. The day before President George Bush came to campus to speak for his second run for office, she and I brought in a ladder and a banner and laid them on the ground about halfway up the lawn near the area where the general public was going to be admitted.  Our plan was to set up the ladder and put some broken dolls on the ladder with a sign saying something about his lack of support for early childhood care.

The next day we got there, picked up the banner and the ladder. We then set up the ladder with the baby dolls. Almost immediately, a Secret Service agent came up and confiscated the ladder saying it was a “safety hazard.”

So throughout the rest of the rally, we held up our eight foot-wide “Four More Months!” banner along with the baby dolls.  It was the ONLY sign in the rally protesting Bush’s policies; every other protest sign, including our childcare sign, had been confiscated by the gatekeepers on the way onto the Lawn.

We returned the next day and picked up the banner and the ladder. We then set up the ladder with the baby dolls. Almost immediately, a Secret Service agent came up and confiscated the ladder saying it was a “safety hazard.”  So throughout the rest of the rally, we held up our eight foot-wide “Four More Months!” banner along with the baby dolls.  It was the ONLY sign in the rally protesting Bush’s policies; every other protest sign, including our childcare sign, had been confiscated by the gatekeepers on the way onto the Lawn.

So throughout the rest of the rally, we held up our eight foot-wide “Four More Months!” banner along with the baby dolls.  It was the ONLY sign in the rally protesting Bush’s policies. Every other protest sign, including our childcare sign, had been confiscated by the gatekeepers on the way onto the Lawn.

The press soon found out about this confiscation and broadcast the news as a violation of Free Speech – courtesy of Colina and myself.

Afterward, we went up to the Secret Service agent and asked him what they had done with Colina’s ladder.  The Secret Service agent looked shocked and said to Colina, “It’s your ladder!? I can’t believe an old lady would bring a ladder here!”  He obviously didn’t know Colina!  At that time she would have been 64 years old. He then smiled, told us where they had put it, and we picked it up.

Colina, you’ll be missed.  My condolences to your entire family.  And for those wanting to hear more about Colina and her life, the family is holding a memorial service sometime in September at the Unitarian Fellowship in State College.  Instead of flowers, donations can be made in Colina’s name to any organization of which she would approve, many of which are listed here in this blog.

Farewell, my dear friend.

Scrooge to Bellefonte: “Bah! Humbug!”

Streetscape next to the Centre County Courthouse if and when the Garman Opera House is razed. We need to stop this before it happens. Photo rendition by Mary Vollero

Streetscape next to the Centre County Courthouse once the Garman Opera House and Hotel DoDe are razed.  Photo rendition by Mary Vollero

Three days ago, Ara Kervandjian, in his capacity as head of PDG and Bellefonte Mews (both are limited partnership companies created by Kervandjian), started tearing down the Garman Opera House and the Hotel DoDe (also see my previous blogs on this issue here, here and here).  He received clearance to start the demolition after the Bellefonte Borough Council by a 5-4 vote granted a permit for demolition of this structurally sound historic theatre. The windows are already gone as are, I understand, the chairs inside. Teardown of the building, brick by brick is expected to start on Friday, December 20–five days before Christmas.

This morning, Gary Hoover’s letter to the editor appeared in the Centre Daily Times.  He focused on the effect of the impending demolition of the Garman Opera House and the Hotel DoDe to the Bellefonte, PA community. Here are a couple of sentences from that letter:

It will take years to reckon the true cost for our community on multiple levels and, because of the precedent it sets, for future preservation efforts across the state.

But I bet the sum, when fully known, will be astonishing. Just the damage done to various important community-working relationships, erosion of trust in the responsiveness of local government and of faith in the fairness of our court system already frame a disaster.

I agree fully with Gary Hoover.  This callous destruction of the Garman Opera House and the Hotel DoDe is truly Scrooge-like.  Ripping down these gems of Victorian Bellefonte is ripping out much of the heart of our town. In terms of history.  In terms of historic architecture. In terms of economic sustainability. In terms of community.  In terms of trust in our local government.  In terms of business continuity.  And inevitably, in terms of continued respect and interest from visitors to our town.

Bah! Humbug!

Ignoring and dismissal of the public concern about destroying our history is part of this Scrooge-like behavior. How was the public ignored?  Here’s just one example of the “Bah, Humbug to you” mentality of the people in power; it is one of many that have occurred since this saga started.

In late October, Bellefonte’s Scrooge-like Council initially tried to clear the room of supporters of the Garman at a Council meeting.  On the agenda that night was a vote for demolition of the Garman Opera House and the Hotel DoDe.  They cited a fire hazard when they ordered us to leave.  They backed down and tabled the vote for two weeks after I stood up and cited Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Law regarding public participation and comment before taking any official actions.

Two weeks later, over 130 people came to the special meeting.  Twenty-six people spoke out; none of them supported the demolition of the Garman.  After the public comment period ended, Council asked Ara Kervandjian for comments. He stood up and had a letter written into the record that erroneously stated that the demolition follows federal preservation rules. When several people in the room called for proof of this statement from the appropriate authority, the President of Council denied any further comment from the public and called for a vote to demolish the buildings.

Three days later, Borough Council, Kervandjian and several others received a letter from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s (PHMC) Bureau of Historic Preservation stating that the letter read before the vote was incorrect (see quote below). Thus the vote for demolishing these historic buildings appears to have been flawed.  Yet when the public asked the Council to reconsider this vote based on having been presented flawed information, Council said no.

In other words, “Bah! Humbug! to the citizens, businesses and visitors of historic, Victorian Bellefonte.

The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future Speak Out

Quoting from the PHMC Bureau of Historic Preservation letter:

We recently received a copy of the November 11 letter addressed to you from Holly Glauser of PHFA. In it, she mistakenly states that the review process under Section 106 is complete [emphasis added]….

In our opinion, although fire damaged, these building retain sufficient integrity to convey their significance and contribute to the Bellefonte Historic District.  Therefore, the removal of the contributing buildings and new construction has the potential to adversely affect historic properties, specifically the Bellefonte Historic District….

Under Section 110(k)of the National Historic Preservation Act, any demolition (even as a result of a court order) that occurs PRIOR to [emphasis in original] completing the Section 106 review process would be considered “anticipatory demolition” and could put your use of HUD funds in jeopardy. Every effort should be made to resolve the potential adverse effect prior to any decision to demolish a contributing building within the Bellefonte Historic District.

Andrea McDonald, Acting Director, Bureau of Historic Preservation

Who is Scrooge?

Who is Scrooge in this act of destruction?  There’s more than one Scrooge in this comedy of errors.

There’s the developer, Ara Kervandjian and his companies PDG and Bellefonte Mews who ignored all calls for saving the Garman. They said it’s “too expensive” to preserve even the facade.

There’s the Bellefonte Area Industrial Authority who pooh-poohed the alternative plan by the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association (BHCA) to preserve the theatre and create a regional arts center. They gave Kervandjian essentially a free ride in presenting his plan while at the same time created multiple hurdles for BHCA to jump over that weren’t raised in Kervandjian’s plan.

And then there’s the majority of members of the Bellefonte Council who ignored calls, petitions, and public meeting calls for saving the building  and then voted to destroy part of the town’s National Historic District based on false information.

Here in Victorian Bellefonte, we are not likely to see the happy ending written into the original Victorian classic, “A Christmas Carol.”  Our Scrooges haven’t seen, or heard the spirits of Bellefonte’s past, present, or future. Their hearts and minds appear to be heartlessly frozen.

Neither Bellefonte nor the state want to see these miserly Ebenezer Scrooge’s harm our town and historic preservation in general.

Scrooges, do the town some good.  We still have a chance to turn this travesty around before the buildings are completely gone. These historic buildings are our town’s Tiny Tim.  Save “him” now.

Halloween Ode to the Garman Opera House

Happy Halloween readers!

It’s a day of “Trick or Treating” or “Trunk or Treating” depending on where you live.  In my case, a safe, historic town with lots of door-to-door trick or treaters.

However, it may also be a sad day – IF the Garman Opera House is allowed to be demolished by the Bellefonte Borough Council when it votes on the recommendation to raze this historic theater Monday night, November 4.  Despite the fact that the plan to demolish the Garman is on appeal in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.

So a friend of mine (who is also a member of the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association) has created a Halloween lawn Ode entitled “Let Us Eat Your Town” on his front lawn to the Garman Opera House (1890-?) and to the destruction of Historic Victorian Bellefonte – our town:

 

Photo of Patrick North's front yard with his Halloween Ode to the Garman Opera HouseGarman Opera House

Ode to the Garman Opera House: “Let Us Eat Your Town.” Photo taken by Sally Houser

What will be lost?  Here’s the streetscape as it looks today.  On the left is the Centre County Courthouse. The Garman Opera House is the building on the right with the black bonnets over the first-floor windows:

 

Streetscape of High Street as seen today of the Garman Opera House across the street from the Centre County Courthouse.


Streetscape of High Street as seen today of the Garman Opera House across the street from the Centre County PA Courthouse.

And here’s what it will look like once the building is razed, courtesy of the artistic Photoshop skills of my friend Mary Vollero – a locally well-known artist and PSU faculty member.

 

Streetscape next to the Centre County Courthouse if and when the Garman Opera House is razed. We need to stop this before it happens. Photo rendition by Mary Vollero

Streetscape next to the Centre County Courthouse if and when the Garman Opera House is razed. We need to stop this before it happens. Photo rendition by Mary Vollero

Note, the developer, who purchased the building through a local court order, has given no guarantee that he will build ANYTHING in the next two years to replace the Garman.  His only guarantee is to raze the building and plant grass.  If he doesn’t restore/rebuild, he has agreed to give town council the right of first refusal to buy the property back at his cost for purchasing and razing the building.

The Bellefonte Borough Council is meeting on Monday, November 4, 2013 at 7:30 pm.  They will be voting on the recommendation to raze the Garman.

Despite opposition by the community (at least 700 residents of the town and more than 1700 signers on BHCA’s Save the Garman petition).  Despite the fact that the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association has a feasible plan (and initial funds) to save and restore this structurally-sound historic theatre as a regional community arts center. And despite the fact that the decision to destroy this historic building was done through the misuse of Pennsylvania’s Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act; that decision is now on appeal in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court.

For more info, you can check out the complete Save the Garman Opera House website as well as my two earlier blogs (here and here) on this gem of history and the arts here in rural central Pennsylvania.

So…

Happy Halloween All!

It might be the last one for the Garman Opera House UNLESS we can change the minds of the Bellefonte Borough Council. Come to Bellefonte’s council meeting on Monday evening, November 4 @ 7:30 pm to stand up for and speak out against the demolition/razing of the historic Garman Theater. Meeting will be held at Borough Council Chambers, Bellefonte Municipal Building, 236 West Lamb Street, Bellefonte, PA 16823.  If you can’t come, you can contact members of council through this link: http://bellefonte.net/government/directory/borough-contacts/

Thank you and

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!  BOO!

Preservation: We’re Down to the Wire

picture of the front facade of the Garman Opera House in Bellefonte, PA

Help Save the Garman Opera House

On July 1, I posted a blog about a local historic theatre in Bellefonte, PA.  At the beginning of August, Judge Kistler ordered the Bellefonte Industrial Development Authority (IDA) to seriously consider the plan offered by the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association.  We presented that plan on Monday, August 26.  Then on Friday, August 30, the IDA responded with a series of conditions. One of these conditions includes raising more funds by September 11, when they will make their final decision.  We have already raised 60% of the necessary funds in the last 6 weeks.  We are now down to the wire and need your financial help.  Here’s the background.  Please read and consider donating or pledging to help us raise these start-up funds.

History

The Garman Opera House is located on East High Street on the south side of the Courthouse in Bellefonte, PA, next to the Garman House. Later known as the State Theatre, it was constructed next to the Garman House in 1890. This Theatre added another attraction to the busy world of fashion and culture. The song “After the Ball is Over” was first sung in public here. The theatre was host to the likes of George Burns and Gracie Allen, Houdini, the Flora Dora Girls, and a myriad of Wild West and one-act shows. In the 1900s it started showing films, first silent and then talking, but the last movie was shown in 1961. It then became a warehouse. It was restored in the 1990s as a stage performance center and then turned back into a movie theatre as well as performance center. In 2006 the rear portion was expanded upwards with guest rooms and suites. That venture did not, unfortunately, meet with success.

In September 2012 the neighboring Garman House (Do-De Hotel) was destroyed by fire, and the roof and upper floor of the Opera House were damaged.

And at that point the Bellefonte Industrial Development Authority (BIDA) was appointed by the court to determine what to do with the Garman Opera House.

 Vision

OUR VISION: A STANDING GARMAN THEATER–and a vibrant arts center for the community and region.

  1. The Garman can become a venue for plays, concerts, readings, and other arts, rather than a rubble pile left from a wrecking ball or an empty lot.
  2. Once we stabilize the building and launch our capital campaign, the Bellefonte Regional Arts Center (BRAC) will operate as a nonprofit arts organization under the umbrella of the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association, with its own governance structure and directorship. Reborn as the BRAC, the Garman Theater will become a dynamic, multi-use center for regional arts and culture, accessible to everyone.
  3. A Regional Arts Center makes economic sense. Non-profit arts and culture organizations are a 2.5 billion dollar industry in Pennsylvania alone, supporting over 81,000 jobs in the state and generating hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue to state and local governments, as well as to residents.
  4. Throughout Pennsylvania, small towns and cities alike have revitalized their downtowns through arts organizations: Johnstown now has its own Kernville Arts District, featuring major public art and a variety of new arts spaces such as Art Works and the Bottleworks Ethnic Art Center. The rural towns of Wellsboro and Towanda are major tourist destinations on account of their arts-centered downtowns; both feature historic theaters that have been adapted to show films, plays, music, and other performing arts. Easton, Reading, Lewisburg, Bethlehem, Sewickley, Farmington, Jim Thorpe, Milford, and many communities have benefited substantially from regional or community arts centers.
  5. The BHCA [has contacted and] can benefit from partnering with other organizations, such as Artspace and the League of Historic American Theaters, two non-profits with experience in helping communities rehab empty spaces into creative places that draw people and commerce into communities. This is certainly preferable to empty lots and cookie-cutter housing units.

On Friday, August 30, the Bellefonte Industrial Development Authority sent the BHCA a series of conditions for selling the Garman to us to rehab.  Since mid-June, when the court ordered the IDA to seriously consider our plan for the Garman, we have raised just about $150,000.  The IDA has now said that we need to have $250,000 “in the bank” by September 11, 2013.  So those of us on the planning and fundraising committees are reaching out to everyone we know to ask them to make a tax-deductible donation as large as you can in time to meet this deadline.

We have two websites. One of them— http://garmanoperahouse.org — focuses on the Garman Opera House and our vision for the future. The other one — http://bellefontearts.org — presents the credentials of the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association; it also provides a look at the arts projects we currently organize and conduct.  I have a 34-page plan we put together that I can send to anyone needing additional information.  I also have a copy of the PowerPoint presentation we presented before the IDA on Monday, August 26 that I could provide.  My phone number is 814-355-3056 and I’m willing to talk to anyone who wants more information.

Donations can be made either by check or online. Online donations can be made via PayPal or credit card; go to the home page of the Garman Opera House and click on the “Donate” button.  You can also mail in your donation; make checks payable to BHCA and mail to:

BHCA
P.O. Box 141
Bellefonte, PA 16823

“The official registration and financial information of BHCA may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State by calling toll-free, within Pennsylvania, 800-732-099. Registration does not imply endorsement.”

Thank you in advance for helping us out in this time-crunch period.