Letter to the Editor
O'Hara Letter Donated
to Historicial Society
By Stephen J. Pytak
Reprinted from Pottsville Republican Herald
On the eve of 1961, noted author John O'Hara, a Pottsville native, sat at his typewriter, composing a letter to an editor at the Allentown Call-Chronicle Newspapers.
It was in reference to a Pottsville native, a pianist named Helen Foley.
"You want to know if I remember Helen Foley?" O'Hara said in the letter dated Dec. 31, 1960.
He did and offered up his memories in the one-page reply, which the surviving husband of the Call-Chronicle editor donated Wednesday to the Schuylkill County Historical Society.
"It's the real McCoy," said James I. Lawler, 80, of Allentown, husband of the late Sylvia L. Fenstermacher Lawler, who died in October 2006 at age 72. He visited the society's headquarters at 305 N. Centre St., Pottsville, on Wednesday to make the donation.
"That's a treasure," Thomas B. Drogalis, the society's executive director, said.
"I'd say it's worth anywhere from $100 to $1,000," Lawler, who gave it to the society free of charge, said
"It's worth what somebody wants to pay for it," society President David Derbes said.
This is the only O'Hara artifact in the society's collection, according to Derbes and society Director of Research Peter Yasenchak.
"We have some of his books, but that's it," Yasenchak said.
Yasenchak said the society may display the framed letter on the wall of its headquarters.
O'Hara was born in Pottsville in January 1905. His novels include "Appointment in Samarra" and "Butterfield 8." He also penned screenplays, plays and short story collections. He died in April 1970 in Princeton, N.J., and was interred in Princeton Cemetery. In October 2002, a life-like bronze statue of O'Hara by sculptor James J. Ponter, Pitman, N.J., was placed at 115 S. Centre St. The Pottsville Bicentennial Committee raised the funds for its creation.
Lawler is chairman of the "Sylvia Fenstermacher Lawler Foundation for the Arts Fund," which is managed by the Lehigh Valley Community Foundation. He said he started the foundation as a tribute to his wife.
"It supports the arts, including the Allentown Symphony," Lawler said.
In the letter, O'Hara offers up his memories of Helen Foley.
"The Foleys lived on Market Street and on North Second, but I don't think they ever lived on Mahantongo. Minor point, but I shall go on: Helen Foley's mother was a Higgins," O'Hara said in the letter. And he pointed out that Helen's brother, "Con," was one of his childhood friends.
"As to Helen: she was a first-rate pianist and, I believe, taught at the Braun School of Music, when it was on South Centre Street. I have often wondered what happened to Helen and to another gifted pianist, Gertrude Eber, who was a pupil at the Braun School when Helen was there," O'Hara said in the letter.
Helen E. Foley Boyle, a Pottsville native who resided in Allentown, graduated from the Braun School of Music and the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music. She taught piano and organ until she retired in 1974. She died May 2, 1975, according to an obituary published in The Pottsville Republican Saturday on May 3, 1975.