Maurice Snyder considered town historian

May 31, 2007|by DENNIS SHAW

Editor's note: This is one in an occasional series of profiles of area residents who share the stories of their lives and experiences.

A lifelong resident of Williamsport, Maurice E. Snyder knows his community, knows its history and knows the leather business. In one respect or another, Snyder worked "in leather" for 60 years, nearly two-thirds of his 93 years.

Maurice was born in Williamsport in 1914, the sixth in a family of seven boys, children of Isaac and Maude Snyder. He graduated in 1932 from Williamsport High School and remembers, "there were a lot of honor students coming out in the Depression. The principal told us there was opportunity on each corner. But jobs were hard to come by then."

For a while he sold potato chips door-to-door, for 10 cents a bag or three bags for a quarter, in competition with one of his brothers. Maurice branched out and started selling them to businesses, 13 bags for a dollar. He says his brother could not figure out why he was doing so much better.


Later that year, Maurice took a step that would affect the course of his life. It started small, when he was hired by the W.D. Byron & Sons Tannery as an office boy and started off cleaning offices. Later he became a file clerk, a switchboard operator and a typist, and by 1941 he was assistant payroll manager.

That year, World War II was about to come crashing into everyone's lives. There was talk of a draft, and Maurice, told that Army volunteers would be discharged after a year's service, joined up.

His most distinct memory of that year was of a train ride from Fort Meade, Md., to Fort Sam Houston, Texas. "I was given the job of peeling potatoes, and I peeled them all the way to Texas," he says.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Maurice got the expected notice that he would be disharged. But later that day, Pearl Harbor was attacked and discharges were canceled. Maurice would stay in the Army until 1945, including service with the Army Air Force in Italy.

"I don't regret being in the service," he says. "I don't think I could have stayed home and watched my friends being shipped out. There were around 450 young people from Williamsport who went into the service then, 14 of them women."

After the war, Maurice returned to the tannery, now working in the plant rather than the office. He worked in personnel, production and quality control, and later he became an assistant superintendent, a job that included handling customer complaints. By 1962, he was vice president in charge of sales, a job he kept for 14 years.

He saw a lot of change at the tannery, especially when it was bought by Garden State Tanning.

"Quite a few of the personnel had been laid off by the old owner and then rehired," he says. "I was one of the few who remained.

"The new owners were a bunch of strangers in town. They were changing the entire factory, bringing in modern methods."

He retired at age 67, but he says, "I could have gone for a couple of years more."

A shop of his own

Actually, he did go on. For the next 10 years, some of which he spent in Florida, he worked for the company "from the outside. They were also making rawhide dog bones, and I'd go into pet shops and take surveys for them."

Leather re-entered his life in another way, too. In 1976, he opened "a little leather shop of my own" in Williamsport on Conococheague Street across from Wolfe's.

Maurice bought odd lots of leather and made various leather goods. He was joined by his wife, Edna, who made leather handbags.

They met and married when he was in the Army in North Carolina. The couple raised two boys and a girl - Byron, Jack and Kathy.

Edna died in 1992, and Maurice closed the business the following year.

There has been a lot more to Maurice's life than leather, however. He always has been involved in the Williamsport community.

His activities have included service with the town's water board and fire company, for which he was secretary for 25 years.

He is an 80-year member of Zion Lutheran Church, which he joined in 1927; he has been on the church council and is still active in the men's fellowship group.

He also has been commander of the Potomac Post of the Williamsport American Legion (he's the oldest past commander), where he has been in charge of countless fundraising drives.

Remembering the past

A tireless member of the town museum, Maurice is widely considered Williamsport's historian. His memory of past events is legendary, and when anyone wants information, they go to him.

Some of the most vivid memories are sad ones, some of them of great fires, like when the school on Church Street he was attending in 1923 burned down, and later "when the Ripple Hotel burned, and then when the silk mill burned."

Saddest of all was April 11, 1935, when a bus full of Williamsport science class students on a field trip was hit by a train, killing 14 of the students.

"I was a pallbearer for eight of them," he says. "This town closed down completely on the day of the memorial."

Maurice says he would "like to see more courtesy. I think we've lost a lot of respect ... for our elders, for the community, for the country. How do we get it back? I guess we have to start teaching it to people when they're young."

Maurice's mother, Maude Snyder, lived to be 110, and Maurice's friends and family are hoping he will be with them at least that long.

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