Easton’s Power Couples
Committed to their community
Easton's Power Couples
Find out how Easton is being improved by some
of Easton's dynamic duos.
ARTICLE BY EMMALEE ECKSTEIN
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ED ECKSTEIN
Apparently, no one likes to be called a “power couple.” However, when the Elucidator set out to shine light on Easton’s “power couples,” we sought to define the term in a new way. To the Elucidator, a power couple is not about a pairing built on blind ambition and flashy wealth. A power couple shares a proven commitment to each other and to their community, a community which they love and which loves them back.
There are many such duos in and around Easton, and the following are just some of the numerous loving and community minded pairings in our area.
Jeffrey Gilbert and Oliver Andes had been working for years in corporate architecture in New York when they decided to migrate to Easton with the intention of making it more beautiful.
“We started out fixing up run-down buildings downtown or frumpy little houses owned by elderly people,” Jeff explains. “We would buy eight or nine at a time and by the end of it all, what we did [aesthetically] gave people the confidence to invest their money here.”
Jeff and Ollie went on to assist in drafting the legislation for Easton’s Architectural Review Board, which protects the aesthetics of our community, enabling it to skyrocket economically through restoration and development.
Before any of this was possible, Tim Hare had to save Easton from demolition. It was the early 1970s and Tim had just come off a long flight from Australia. He was trying to decompress on a bus to Harrisburg when they stopped for a break in a little town called Easton, PA. Tim wandered around, still jet-lagged, and eventually came across a demolition service that was planning to tear down the building where our beloved Quadrant Bookshop lives.
“They say you should never make decisions in jet lag,” Tim laughs, “but I thought, well, I like that building, and as long as it’s still standing I can stop them.”
Tim went to a town hall meeting that very evening, where he discovered they were not only planning on tearing down the Quadrant building, but the whole city of Easton.
“They’d already evicted 12,000 people from their homes and the plans they had drawn up were just for parking garages, interstate highways, and industrial buildings—there was no room for people, there was no monument, no downtown.”
But Tim, who was active in preservation in Australia and had the advantage and experience of being an architect, caught them on a technicality. “They didn’t have an environmental impact statement! They can’t spend federal money without an environmental impact statement!” So the next morning, Tim Hare took a bus to Washington and got a Federal court injunction to stop the demolition of Easton, Pennsylvania.
Tim Hare now lives in Easton with his partner Earl Ball, and together they have made it possible for thousands of people to continue living here. Earl, who directs a Chaplaincy program at Grand View Hospital, was very active in implementing a non-discrimination ordinance in our city.
“Easton didn’t have a non-discrimination ordinance to protect anyone,” Earl explains. “Anything to do with equality, I try to get involved in.”
The non-discrimination ordinance protects minorities in the workplace, as homeowners, and as civilians. “This ordinance is now attracting the right people—sharp people, creative people—they can come to Easton now and feel comfortable and safe—now they have an ordinance to protect them.”
“It says a lot about a place to have these laws,” adds Tim, “and that’s something we absolutely love about Easton—the ability of just a few people to make such a huge positive difference.”
Monica Samoyoa-Brown and her husband Ken Brown also feel very strongly about minorities. Monica, an intensivecase manager for KidsPeace, rallied with her husband to launch El Puente (or “The Bridge”), a community outreach program that helps minorities integrate into their environment.
“When we say ‘minorities’ we mean it in the purest sense of the word,” Ken explains, “anybody can be a minority.”
Monica agrees that their program is very much built in this spirit. “A minority is someone who feels they don’t fit into their own community—they feel left out and they don’t know how to approach it.”
Ken, who is the Executive Director for the senior care facility Shiloh Manor, and who is currently running for his third time on Easton’s City Council, notes that it is in he and his wife’s nature to help others. Our passion has always been to try and be an advocate for those who can’t speak for themselves.”
Roger Ruggles, a professor of civil engineering at Lafayette College, is also on City Council, and chairs the planning committee. He and his wife Sue Ruggles, a minister at St. John’s Lutheran Church downtown, have also gone on many missions trips to New Orleans and Haiti, in addition to all the community programs they involve themselves in. Sue chairs the anti-violence task force for Mayor Sal Panto and teaches classes at both the Northampton County Prison and the Juvenile Detention Center.
Easton’s youth appears to be a major priority for this proactive group. Merrill and Penelope Fenell, who hail from Bethlehem but prefer to spend their time in Easton, revived the NAACP youth program in 2002 to keep kids active in the community, whether it be volunteering at Safe Harbor or cleaning up parks.
Tomias Hinchcliff and wife Stephani Murdoch, owners of Genesis Bicycles, an Easton Institution for 37 years, are also true believers in teaching the future generation that “you get back what you put in.” From day one, as parents and business owners, (Stephanie has also been a practicing Trager and CranioSacral therapist for 27 years), they have been committed to giving back to their community, not just through their interactions with the public, but through community building events like their ice cream bicycle rides and contributions to different charities.
Ken Brown concurs with the belief that the youngest Eastonians should “understand it’s better to give than to get, no one makes it in this life without a little bit of help.”
Terrance Hand, a firefighter and former union president who acts on the Board at the Children’s Home of Easton, rallies to inspire the same kind of ideals in his daughter Alex with his wife Lisa Hand, a program director at Northampton County Children and Youth. “Whenever there’s something that needs to be done, we try to show our daughter that it’s possible to be a leader on so many different levels.” Terrance says.
Patricia and Robin Porter, the former owners of Connexions, have affected Easton through their own stakes in the art community, but their legacy is carried on by their six children, who own Porter’s Pub, Easton Yoga, and have quite a few real estate holdings across town.
“Now our children are our power,” Pat explains. “They could do what they do anywhere in the world, but they decided to do it here.”
One of their children, Alicia Rambo Wozniak, who along with her husband Rob Wozniak, owns the beloved Easton hub of Easton Yoga. People take classes, meet, grow, make friends, and even move to Easton based on their experiences at Easton Yoga. Rob, also the owner of the Easton based Preservation Works Ltd, specializing in historic masonry restoration, notes that “Easton is a town where people can pitch in for a common goal and feel that they have an impact. In a larger city, like New York, that’s not as easy.”
Merrill Fenell, however, still senses there are gaps in the Easton community. “There is a void in the young adult age range—something is missing—these kids may grow up here, but they still leave for the big cities when the time comes for them to find work and be young. We’re not giving them everything they need.”
This is one topic all of the couples seem to agree upon—we need some urban revitalization.
“People living downtown, working downtown—it would be nice if this was a more central area for the population,” says Jeff Gilbert.
Ed Shaughnessy, a local attorney, and his wife Ellen Shaughnessy, a realtor for the Easton area, noted that more urban revitalization would be their main priority as well.
“My main contribution to Easton is to the bars and restaurants of the area,” Ed laughs, “we love them.” Ed and Ellen, who actually met at Pearly Baker’s, are very active in promoting the festivals and the Farmer’s Market held in downtown Easton, which give our little city just the kind of foot traffic these couples want to see downtown on a day-to-day basis.
“If Main Street keeps up their activity we’re eventually going to have an interesting new problem of streets being so congested with traffic—cars and people,” notes Jeff Gilbert. “Just the Farmer’s Market alone brings in fabulous amounts of foot traffic.”
Ken and Monica feel Easton could become such a hub of activity with a little unification.
“Our dream is to see these different areas [of Easton—the West Ward, Southside, College Hill, and our Historic Downtown—] come together more, not be so isolated,” Monica explains.
“We have so many diverse communities within our own city,” says Ken. “And once we manage to come together, I think we could take it a step further—I would like to see us do more with Phillipsburg. Together we could be a tremendous force against drugs, gang violence . . . . right now, it still seems we have big city problems in a little town.” Ken has brought the Hope VI project to Southside Easton by going to Washington D.C. and showing Congress what needed to change in the Delaware Terrace housing projects. Now, Ken is proposing housing conversions in the West Ward, where double family homes will be converted back to single family homes. “We’re trying to break the stigma of these areas,” Ken explains. “You don’t know you’re neighbors anymore, and we want to bring unity back to the projects. We’re not there to take over—we’re there to integrate and help everyone become a part of the neighborhood.”
While it is important to work toward this goal of unifying our city, we should remember how far we have come from the Easton of years past when 12,000 people were evicted from their homes to prepare the city for demolition.
“You can’t rip out the heart and soul of a city like that and expect it to heal over night,” Tim Hare explains. “It was going to take time to rebuild Easton, and it was going to require a little outside help.”
“When we first moved to Easton, we were it,” Jeff Gilbert remembers. “The buildings around us were either vacant or occupied by street people. It was very bleak . . . . [and] in a relatively short amount of time . . . . our little neighborhood has filled itself with interesting people—we have such a sense of community now. We have block parties, we have movie nights, we play bingo—we are just growing so rapidly.”
“There are wonderful improvements for us ahead,” agrees Ollie Andes. “Just based on what’s happened in the last ten or fifteen years—the people who have moved into town—young people, old people—they love Easton,” he notes. “It’s not white bread.”
“For the first time in a long time, Easton has turned a corner,” agrees Ken Brown. “We can see light now. Ten years ago, if you looked at Easton you blight, you saw empty buildings that had been sitting there for thirty years . . . . The restaurant industry brought back our pulse, and now people are asking about us. Now we’re coming out.”
All of our go-getter couples agreed that Easton was the place to be, though they often had a hard time defining exactly why that was so.
“People don’t really get why they should come to Easton,” says Merrill Fenell. “You have to tell them to drop by and try it. And once they drink the water, they’re hooked!”
Tim Hare finds himself constantly having to defend his attraction to Easton. “I have tons of people say to me, ‘God, you’ve lived everywhere—Australia, Wales, New England—why would you choose Easton?’ And they just really don’t get it. And they don’t need to. If too many people get it, Earl and I’ll crowd ourselves out!”
Each and every one of our couples seems to share a common respect for people that inspires them to take the time and change what they are sure could be better.
“We are all human beings,” says Ken Brown. “We all deserve respect, not judgment.”
“Each of us has something within our reach that can help somebody else,” agrees Monica. “If we could all just do a little bit, so many people would be better off.”
Ellen Shaughnessy notes that Easton is filled with these types: “So many people are so willing to try anything to make the community better and pitch in.”
“We have a good group of people around here,” Lisa Hand agrees. “And if we hear something we don’t think is right, we just kind of jump in and try to fix it.”
Tomias Hinchcliff concurs, “There are just so many people who really care about Easton. Easton is home to people, there is a really great energy here.”
And every one of these dynamic pairs is a new kind of “power couple,” one who has the utmost confidence that our little city will grow to be a hub of activity.
“Easton is coming back,” promises Merrill Fenell. “I encourage people to be a part of it . . . . Don’t run! Don’t leave! You’re part of the rebirth!”
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