Lancaster Square is one step away from being renamed for Olympic champion Henry Norwood “Barney” Ewell, Tim Stuhldreher reported in the July 14 edition of Sunday LNP. The city’s Public Art Advisory Board voted recently to recommend naming the square Ewell Plaza. “Ewell’s name was proposed by the Ewell Legacy Committee, which has been advocating for it since January. The committee is led by Jeremiah Miller, coordinator of alumni affairs at McCaskey High School; former Mayor Art Morris; former county Commissioner Ron Ford; and philanthropist Ken Stoudt,” Stuhldreher reported. The Public Art Advisory Board’s recommendation now goes to City Council, which is expected to take action in August.
It looks like Ewell Plaza is just about a done deal. And we’re thrilled. We believe this will be a proper honor for the late Ewell, perhaps the greatest athlete Lancaster city has produced.
Ewell’s story is well known. That’s part of why Lancaster loves him.
But we — and many others — also want his story to continue to be well known. Which is why there is so much local passion behind the push for the Ewell Plaza designation.
The extraordinary athletic career of Ewell, who lived from 1918 to 1996, was summed up by LNP’s Mike Gross last year:
“There was a time, 75 to 80 years ago, when the pride of Lancaster and McCaskey High School was simply the World’s Fastest Human. ...
“Ewell held or shared records in the 50-, 60-, and 220-yard dashes and the 100- and 200-meter runs. He ran a 6.1-second indoor 60, a time that is still world-class today, in the Millrose Games in New York City. ...
“He won 12 NCAA titles at Penn State, 16 gold medals in world-class outdoor meets and 11 national AAU titles. Adolf Hitler pre-empted the two Olympic Games (1940, 1944) that should have been held in Ewell’s prime, but he won a gold medal and two silvers in the 1948 Games in London at age 30, when his teammates called him ‘Grandpa.’ ”
Lancaster truly hasn’t seen anyone like Ewell. Honoring his legacy is a perfect fit for the square, which Stuhldreher notes “is being renovated in conjunction with the revitalization projects taking place around its perimeter, which include the Holiday Inn Lancaster’s renovations, the 101NQ building and the [Lancaster Public Library] and garage complex.”
With Ewell Plaza, the city would be weaving past glory into an exciting new chapter for downtown.
Earlier this year, we were reluctant to weigh in on the rechristening of Lancaster Square, only because we first wanted to hear what community members and LNP readers had to say.
In response, the energy and fervor of those advocating for Ewell have been tremendous.
The Barney Ewell Legacy Committee, in its campaign for renaming the square, has earned the support of LancasterHistory, the African American Historical Society of South Central Pennsylvania, the Lancaster County Sports Hall of Fame, Crispus Attucks Community Center, Bright Side Baptist Church, and former Lancaster city Mayors Charlie Smithgall, Janice Stork and Rick Gray.
To name just a few.
Additionally, LNP’s Opinion pages have been filled with eloquent letters in support of the idea of Ewell Plaza. Some excerpts:
— “Barney lived his life with humbleness and positivity and made a legendary impact in putting Lancaster on the map. He was known around the world for his amazing talent, his sportsmanship, his attitude and his huge smile.” (Joe Halstead, Mountville)
— “I gravitated to track when I was a McCaskey student. During my years of running at McCaskey, Ewell personally congratulated me on numerous occasions on my running achievements and always offered words of encouragement. ... Many erroneously assume athletes are just gifted and that’s why they’re great. Ewell had a gift, but as a runner, I know he had to hone that gift through years of committed hard work. He achieved world-class athletic prominence in spite of social injustice and perilous societal circumstances during the height of his athletic career.” (retired Army Col. Kermit C. Jones, Alexandria, Virginia)
— “I need not detail the amazing ability and grace that Ewell displayed as an Olympic athlete, as his reputation goes far and wide in our community. His achievement and his life story are significant parts of our fabric, and I would like to see his accomplishments formally enshrined for future generations. Ewell’s contemporaries, who all sang his praises, are quite aged or deceased by now. It’s time for his story to be shared with today’s youth and tomorrow’s.” (Linda Weidman, Lancaster)
— “Ewell’s inspiring story embodies the very admirable qualities of enormous talent, perseverance and dedication. His story and pursuit of his Olympic dream are now part of Lancaster legend and history. Naming the new plaza for him would offer inspiration for future generations.” (Thomas Cook, Lancaster)
We cheerfully join the overwhelming majority that wants to see Ewell Plaza.
And it looks as if the finish line is in sight.