Jack Brubaker

Q: What would this column be worth if readers did not pose questions and then respond to the answers?

A: About as much as a curbside seat for this year’s Ephrata Fair parade.

For example, Steven Jones comments on the Aug. 2 column concerning atrocities at Pennhurst, the infamous hospital for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Chester County.

The column was based on a new book, “Pennhurst and the Struggle for Disability Rights.”

Jones, of Lancaster, worked for 25 years at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Veterans Center, which was built on part of the Pennhurst campus after it closed in 1987.

Some of Jones’ fellow employees previously had worked at Pennhurst. He says they offered a different, and perhaps defensive, perspective on its operations.

“They said the vast majority of the employees genuinely cared for the residents and did their best to care for them with limited resources and staffing,” Jones writes.

These former employees told Jones that Pennhurst closed without a structured plan for placing residents. “Not all of them went into group homes,” Jones relates. “Some just ended up wandering in the streets and some died homeless.”

Leroy Hopkins, retired Millersville University professor and historian of Black Lancaster, says the Pennhurst column reminded him of a newspaper story about the old County Home, on the site of the current Conestoga View nursing home.

William Butler was a patient in the hospital’s Black department in 1886. He told a local reporter that “stories of worms in the soup are correct.” The beds had no sheets and a doctor never visited the department, Butler said, adding, “It was dirty and there were bed bugs.”

Several readers have commented on the Aug. 9 column concerning Elizabethtown’s status as a “sundown town” (no Blacks could remain in town after dark) in the middle decades of the 20th century.

That column mentioned Gerald E. Wilson Sr., the Mount Joy High School basketball star who was popular among his white classmates but was escorted on and off the Elizabethtown High School basketball court by police because he was Black.

Wilson graduated from Mount Joy in the spring of 1952 and attended Elizabethtown College in the fall. So did Bob Sherk, who is white and has lived in Mount Joy most of his 86 years. They drove together from Mount Joy to the college to attend classes.

Wilson went to Elizabethtown on a basketball scholarship, Sherk says, but he sat on the bench his freshman year. He was so disgusted that he could not play ball that he dropped out of college and joined the Army.

“I was good enough to play on the varsity,” he told Sherk. “Why wouldn’t they even play me on the junior varsity?”

Gerald Wilson Jr., of Manheim Township, thinks he knows what happened to his father.

“I believe the town put pressure on the coach not to play him,” he says. “When he got there, they screwed with him. That had to be distressing. How did that affect his later life?”

Two years after Wilson left Elizabethtown and joined the Army, a transport plane crashed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Thrown from the plane, Wilson ran into the flaming wreckage and saved several passengers.

He came home and worked as a serviceman and dispatcher for UGI. He was active in the community as a softball umpire, Boy Scout leader, and with the Elks and his church.

Jack Brubaker, retired from the LNP staff, writes "The Scribbler'' column every Sunday. He welcomes comments and contributions at

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