It was not long after I became the bureau chief of the Observer-Reporter’s Greene County office that I made the acquaintance of one Thelma Callaghan.
She would send typewritten releases about Carmichaels Chamber of Commerce and Greene Academy of Art and, as August rolled around, I would be inundated with information about the Pennsylvania Bituminous Coal Show.
I asked a colleague in the Waynesburg office if they knew Thelma Callaghan. “She’s been around for years,” came the response. “And she worked for us out of this office.”
So she did, for 35 years. And I consider myself fortunate to have “worked” with her for many of the 15 years I have been in Waynesburg.
Thelma Callaghan died Sunday at age 96 and although she passed her public relations torch to others a few years back when her health prevented her from continuing what she loved to do, I will miss getting those news items, from the typewriter to eventually from a computer, about all happenings in Carmichaels.
She was my “Carmichaels correspondent” and every community needs a Thelma Callaghan, someone to promote its people, someone to go to for answers and someone who just gives tirelessly.
In 2007, I interviewed Thelma for a personality profile. She was 89 at the time and still had her fingers on the pulse of Carmichaels Borough. She recalled her community involvement began with a simple gift from her husband: an electric typewriter.
Her two young daughters were taking dancing lessons from the wife of the general manager of the Waynesburg office and she just casually mentioned to her that she had a new typewriter. The newspaper was looking for someone from Carmichaels to work at the paper in Waynesburg and her correspondent life began.
She covered just about everything, including youth baseball games, but it was the King Coal Association that provided her with a new opportunity – publicity work.
She attended board meetings as someone interested in the coal industry as well as a newspaper representative. The first coal show was held in 1954 and for 53 years, Coal Show publicity became synonymous with Thelma. She retired from that position in 2006 and said she was getting older and didn’t want an old person doing publicity. They never listened, she said, so she decided the only way they would replace her was if she quit. So, she did.
She once said you can only say so much about bike parades, cheerleading competitions and golf tournaments.
There was a time, although a brief one, when Thelma pondered giving up her community work. That was in 1977 when her husband, Bill, died at age 58.
Thelma would come home from all the meetings and tell him what was going on. After he died, she had no one to report to. But that didn’t last. One week later, she went back to work.
During the interview seven years ago, Thelma was busy putting together items to send out to newspapers. She sat in front of her computer in a room she converted into an office in her home on East George Street.
Chatter from a police scanner was heard from her living room. She said she liked the company and she liked to know was going on.
Yep, that was Thelma.
Jon Stevens is the Greene County bureau chief. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.