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Late Schuylkill County commissioner honored in dedication at Pioneer Tunnel in Ashland

Oct 23, 2023Oct 23, 2023

Aug. 29—ASHLAND — The memory of the late Frank J. Staudenmeier was honored Tuesday by friends, family members and colleagues at an expansive ceremony at Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine and Steam Train.

About 100 people attended the official opening and dedication of Staudenmeier Station, a boarding area for passengers on Pioneer Tunnel's steam locomotive rides.

The station salutes Staudenmeier, an Ashland native and a former county commissioner who was known for his deep involvement in the community.

Joe Cataldo, Pioneer Tunnel board president, said the facility was a crucial addition to the park and a fitting tribute for Staudenmeier, who was a fellow board member and a lifelong supporter of the tourist attraction.

"Through the generosity of the people that Frank and the organizations worked with throughout his entire career — and a lot of volunteer hours — we were able to erect this new facility," he said, "to make things more comfortable and welcoming to our guests."

Cataldo was joined by fellow Pioneer Tunnel personnel, including board member Tim McGinley, who led the yearslong volunteer effort.

McGinley said the project began in 2020, shortly after Staudenmeier's death, and was supported by local businesses and community members.

Several of the late commissioner's family members were on hand for the ceremony, including his wife, Kate, and brother, John Staudenmeier.

"Frank really loved this place. ... He was so proud of this place, and I just think it's so fitting to have Staudenmeier Station as a place that represents my brother," John Staudenmeier said.

He recalled his brother's candid, gregarious personality, and said he would have been proud to see a facility that fosters conversation and social interaction.

"That's exactly what Frank was all about — there were no strangers to Frank," John Staudenmeier said. "As a matter of fact, our dad used to say, 'There's no strangers — just friends we haven't met yet.' ...

"This place just represents him to a T. Thank you to everybody that made this thing happen. My brother, I know, would be very, very humbled and very, very honored."

Schuylkill County commissioners Chairman Barron L. "Boots" Hetherington, who was appointed commissioner after Staudenmeier's death, remembered him as a devoted friend and family man.

Hetherington said the board of commissioners had recently issued a $5,000 check from county funds to support the Staudenmeier Station project.

State Sen. David G. Argall, R-29, Rush Twp., spoke of the importance of anthracite coal region history. He said that Staudenmeier was a devoted supporter of community efforts, including the development of Pioneer Tunnel and local Little League programs.

"I know how much this facility meant to him," Argall said. "He understood what this tunnel, what this mine, this effort, means to the community."

Robert S. Carl Jr., president and CEO of the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce, said Staudenmeier was a dedicated community member with a deep love of his hometown and heritage.

"The county, this town and, in fact, this country during the industrial revolution was built on anthracite coal," Carl said, "and the legacy of the men and women and their families that mined it. ... Understanding and remembering that legacy was what Frank was all about."

Carl, a former county commissioner, said that he and Staudenmeier forged an "irreplaceable" relationship that lasted beyond his tenure as commissioner.

"Yes, it is a beautiful day in Schuylkill County," said Carl, referencing the late Staudenmeier's beloved catchphrase.

After the dedication, guests were invited to a reception and to rides on the Henry Clay steam locomotive.

Staudenmeier Station seats up to 40 people, with eight benches and a handicapped-accessible area under an enclosed metal roof.

The train, which takes visitors on a three-quarter-mile ride around the side of Mahanoy Mountain, is one of Pioneer Tunnel's signature attractions, along with its mine tour.

Each locomotive tour lasts around 30 minutes, departing around four times a day.

Contact the writer: [email protected]; 570-628-6085