By Dana Borick - 10/01/2007
Williamsport Sun-Gazette

As an editor and English teacher, Joan Wheal Blank said she has always admired and enjoyed the work done by authors. As a literary major, she produced several volumes of poetry during her high school and college years. But writing her own book wasn’t something she had considered until she began talking with another local author and historian. “It wasn’t until Robin Van Auken (the author of several historical books about Williamsport and Muncy) suggested that I should submit a book proposal to Arcadia that I ever imagined I would see my name on the cover of a book,” she said. “I had mentioned that I was from Hughesville and that is when she encouraged me to submit a proposal to Arcadia Publishing for a postcard history of the borough.

“Since I had just returned to the area after living in Connecticut for over 20 years, this was a prefect opportunity to give something back to the community in which I was raised.” And last week, “A Postcard History Series: Around Hughesville,” was published — the culmination of only a few months of intense work for Blank, who proposed the book in January and turned in the finished manuscript in April. “When I was in Connecticut working as an editor, it seemed to take months for an author to get final approval after a proposal was submitted,” she said. “In my case, it literally took just a few weeks! Apparently, Arcadia wanted to take advantage of the high level of interest in local history found in this area.”

Blank now is working on a similar postcard history on Montgomery, which she expects to be published in March. And after that, she finally will take a break. “To paraphrase a comment I heard recently on TV, ‘to be a writer is like having homework for the rest of your life,’ ” Blank said. “Luckily, my writing career is secondary. I kept my day job!” Blank is an administrative specialist in the Human Resources and Veterans Affairs Office for Lycoming County and a member of both the East Lycoming and Montgomery historical societies.

“It seems like I have been either working at my county job or working on a book since the beginning of the year,” Blank said. “But when I do have spare time, I enjoy scrapbooking and putting together albums for my family. I also write a blog to stay connected with my friends in Connecticut and my children.” Blank resides in Montgomery with her husband, Steve. She is the mother of three: David, 19, is a sophomore at State University of New York at Oswego; Stacey, 22, works at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, D.C., and Jacquie, 25, is married and working at Camp Berea with her husband, Dan, in Hebron, N.H.

Blank said she found “varying degrees of interest and cooperation” when she began contacting people and organizations to find original postcards and photos (Arcadia would not accept already-scanned images). “Some people were hesitant or not willing to lend out very special and sentimental pictures or collections of postcards,” Blank said, adding that one woman said her extensive postcard collection was her “legacy.” Others, however, were very helpful and grateful.

“I must say that when I mentioned my father’s name and the names of other relatives, it helped to open doors,” she said. “My father was Clarence Wheal, the resident gunsmith in the Hughesville area who was well-known as the man who could ‘fix the unfixable’ when it came to firearms. “My mother’s family had lived in Penn Township near Hughesville for years and both my mother, Clara Wheal, and my grandfather, Torrence Houseknecht, were the township’s tax collectors. Our roots run deep in Green Valley.” Blank also contacted former classmates from Hughesville High School who helped her track down some large collections and rare cards.

Right now, Blank said things are pretty hectic with the upcoming deadline for the Montgomery book and the release of her first book. “In order to meet deadline, I must work on about 10 captions almost every day,” she said. “I have over 225 captions to write that will accompany the images in the book.” “Around Montgomery” is due to be released March 2008. While working on “Around Hughesville,” which features 221 photos and postcards, Blank discovered a collector who had more than 70 good-quality and rare cards who was willing to loan them to her.

“The postcard history books from Arcadia Publishing are all uniform in style and page count,” she said. “I could not fit more than about 225 images into the 128-page book. It was not easy to select the ones I wanted to include. I had to evaluate the importance of a photo or card within the whole story of the Hughesville area during those 50 years between the 1880s and the 1930s.” The paperback is available at local bookstores and at Stained Glass Works and Antiques, 226 N. Main St., Hughesville. It retails for $19.99. Booksignings include 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 5 at Otto Book Store, 107 W. Fourth St., and from 1 to 5 p.m. Oct. 7 at the future home of Bartlett’s Bed and Breakfast, 160 S. Main St., Hughesville.

Blank said the Bartlett house is the historic Townsend home, which appears on page 19. Her favorite chapter is “The Farmers and the Fair” because her family was one of countless farm families who lived in the townships surrounding the borough. “I enjoy the scenes of the horses hitched to hay wagons and the rustic farm houses with the families standing in front, posing for the photographer,” she said, adding that the farmers were the ones who helped promote Hughesville’s claim to fame — the Hughesville Fair. “The image I chose for the cover shows a group of men from the country who are on their way to the fair, with their ox festooned with a couple of fair posters, flags and a tissue-paper bell,” Blank said. “Going to the fair was a celebration and a week-long event that was anticipated every year.”