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United Way of Lancaster County


Willow Valley donates van to African American Historical Society

Kathleen Anderson speaks to a group of students about her great-great-grandfather, Thaddeus S. Henry, during an African American Historical Society of Central PA walking tour. (Photo: Randolph Harris) Inset: The society’s newly acquired van. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Nelson Polite Jr.

It’s because of days like today — hot and sweltering, with temperatures climbing into the mid-90s — that the African American Historical Society of Central Pennsylvania wanted a van. With air conditioning.

Now it has one, thanks to a donation from Willow Valley Communities.

With it, “we can educate even more schoolchildren and adults about the rich history of the Black community,” said Nelson Polite Jr., the society’s president.

From May through November, the society offers guided walking tours of downtown Lancaster and the city’s southeast, focused on Black history and heritage.

But scorching midsummer weather can put a damper on attendance.
Moreover, a walking tour can be impractical for older patrons or those with disabilities, Polite said.

Last year, Polite met John Swanson, CEO of Willow Valley Development Corp., at the Lancaster City Planning Commission, which Polite chairs. Willow Valley was going through the subdivision and land development approval process for Mosaic, the high-rise it is planning at the corner of South Queen and Vine streets.

Willow Valley has a fleet of vans to serve its residents, and the older vehicles are regularly swapped out. Polite told Swanson his organization would be interested in acquiring one of them.

“He said OK,” Polite said.

In a statement, Craig Thompson, president and chief operating officer of Willow Valley Living, the management company for Willow Valley Communities, said, “We are pleased that we were able to assist the African American Historical Society in this way.”

Besides Swanson, Polite credited Justin Nye, Willow Valley’s safety and security manager, who helped with the details of the transaction and provided detailed lessons on the vehicle’s operation and features.

The handoff was made in April. Willow Valley had its logo removed from the van and the African American Historical Society had its put on. The “maiden voyage” will take place next month, Polite said.

The van is ideal, he said: It has 14 seats and there is space to store walkers and wheelchairs. It can be driven with an ordinary driver’s license.

The society is eager to continue expanding its programs, Polite said. It is looking forward to the expected opening next year of the Thaddeus Stevens & Lydia Hamilton Smith Center and plans to start its downtown tours there.

Besides provding comfort for loal sightseeing, the society plans to use the van for its excursions to places like Gettysburg, the former Hampton Plantation in Maryland and the African American Museum in Philadelphia.

“We’re excited to spread our wings,” Polite said.