Malvern’s Favorite Uncle

You know that great neighbor or uncle you had? The one who was always there when you needed him and never took credit?

Towns have people like that, too. Well, not all towns, but one that I know quite well:  Malvern Borough, PA. 

Established in 1889, Malvern is a small town of about 1.3 square miles and around 3,000 people lying at the end of Philadelphia’s Main Line. It is a blue collar (fast becoming white collar) coda to the train line that first carried Philadelphia’s railroad barons to their summer estates and currently carries their progeny to and from careers in the city.

In 1974, nearly a hundred years later, the IRA started bombing London, the top speed limit across the US was lowered to 55 mph to save gas, and Nixon resigned due to the Watergate scandal. 

Not a great year. 

Except for Malvern. For Malvern it was a great year, because on February 8th of that year Ira Dutter, Jr came to town via St. Petersburg, FL, Wilkes Barre, PA, and Paoli, PA and started working in Malvern’s Public Works Department.  

The Public Works Department of any town maintains sewers, fixes potholes, clears streets of winter snow (no matter how treacherous the weather), maintains parks, and takes care of sudden emergencies. In other words, they keep the town running. 

“Junior”, as Ira Dutter is called by his coworkers, quickly became Malvern’s Public Works Supervisor and held the job for 50 years – through 7 mayors, 5 managers, and who knows how many elected officials. Junior and his  Public Works crew has done it all so smoothly most Malvernites don’t even notice. 

Oh, and in his spare time he became a volunteer firefighter for the Malvern Fire Department, then Chief Engineer, then Chief. Later he became Chief Engineer of Paoli’s Fire Department, then their Chief for 20 years. 

As with your favorite uncle, he is so averse to accolades he wouldn’t be interviewed about his Malvern career for this column. There was even some concern that he may not attend the retirement dinner Malvern threw in his honor (over 100 people attended and lauded and applauded him). 

So I had to go around him and talk to people who worked with him all those years: borough managers and road crew members who know him best. Here’s what they said (anonymously, of course, because, well… accolades):

“Always made sure the job got done…” (Borough Manager)

“A perfectionist. Things had to be exactly right. If you built something and there were two bolts left over that was a problem.” (Road Crew)

“He wowed neighboring towns with his work.”  (Borough Manager)

“Had confidence in you… he showed me the 3-wheel street sweeper, had me hop in with him and drive it about 100 yards – I knew nothing about it. Then he got out and said ‘I’ll see you’ and walked off!” (Road Crew)

“Every time I asked him to do something, his response was always ‘no problem’. Every time!” (Borough Manager)

“Always here…checking street lights, for example, always answers his phone, Never turned people away, did whatever was asked of him.” (Crew member)

“He exceeded expectations. His willingness to take on additional responsibilities is unmatched by anyone.” (Borough Manager)

“His priorities were 1) Sewer, 2) Roads, 3) Parks. Whenever it started snowing, we would be called in and work 8 or 38 hours, whatever was needed.” (Crew member)

“In the middle of the night or whenever, he would be there.” (Crew member)

“The Borough is very fortunate.” (Borough Manager)

Yes, indeed. (Borough Citizen)

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)

February is such a pain!

It comes in like the hottest cheerleader at the prom: vivacious, stunningly beautiful, yet cold, and totally out of reach – a complete tease.

The snow and ice in the first weeks and the crisp but freezing temperatures only occasionally allow a few warmer days. The grey skies, the frigid rain and sleet that follow the soft snow of January, hold the promise of relief from December’s and January’s spirit-breaking cold. Every February, up pop snow drops, delicate little white flowers that promise an early spring. Then, just as I consider putting the shovels back into the far recesses of the garage, February breaks those promises every stinking, bone chilling year, with a snow-storm. 

March is a lot more honest. It starts out cold and wet and then, slowly and unfailingly, introduces longer days and more sun, along with leaf buds and flower buds here and there. But, instead of retreating back into winter cold and darkness, February-like, it adds more sun and more buds until, “Hey, Spring is here!” 

(Of course, March ends with “Hey Mr. Handsome! Oh, sorry! Not you Henry. I was talking to that hunk behind you” moments, too. Why else have April Fool’s Day?).

And then there’s Ground Hog day.  Imagine, the first country to travel to the moon, the country that invented the telephone, Hollywood, and the internet, asking a Ground Hog – who can’t even speak English – how long winter will last. Really?

And don’t get me started on Valentine’s Day. Several hundred years ago, so the story goes, a really nice cleric named Valentine, defied the powers that demanded fealty and fighting from young soldiers and instead encouraged yummy-mummy times between the soldiers and their girl friends. The cleric got sent to purgatory, but that’s nothing compared to today. 

Today’s Valentine’s Day requires, not just the young, but all men, to pony up romantic gifts for their girl friends. And if the gifts don’t meet expectations, no more yummy-mummy times, just sad eyes, followed by couch purgatory. I can’t swear to it, but I’ve heard there’s clear evidence that this is the real cause of lower birth rates in many parts of the world.

February is such a pain in so many ways. What other month has an extra “r” after the “b”, an “r” that is completely superfluous? It’s “Feb-U-ary”, not “Feb-Ru-ary”, for crying out loud. 

All of which is probably why February is the shortest month of the year. This Feb 28th I am going to hoist a few in honor of our forbears and thank them for ending the gloom of winter after 28 days instead of 30 or 31. Attaway, you guys!

Wait! It’s 29 days long this year? What!! Are you kidding!? That stupid ground hog!

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)