LUZERNE – Call it a town’s time capsule.
Crews from WVIA-TV descended upon Luzerne Saturday to tape their program “Our Town,” the 17th show in the popular series that’s been airing for four seasons. Luzerne is the first town selected in Luzerne County.
Producer Lisa Mazzarella said the essence of the documentary is very grassroots.
“It’s very, very basic,” she said. “It’s to have the people of the community, more or less, choose what they feel best epitomizes their town.”
She said a series of town meetings was held and residents gave input on which topics should be discussed. The people were divided into small groups and each topic is covered.
“With exception of the one-on-one interviews we’re going to do, all of the photos and videos will be from the people of Luzerne,” she said.
An array of Luzerne residents were set to be interviewed Saturday at Luzerne United Methodist Church on Bennett Street, including 96-year-old Henry C. Johnson, who’s family has lived in Luzerne for several generations.
His great-great grandfather Hiram Johnson married the daughter of notable land owner James Hughes. Hughes built the first large mill in Luzerne. It still stands near the Cross-Valley Expressway. His family also owned Johnson’s Hardware Store on the corner of Main and Bennett streets.
But Johnson’s passion was the organ. He was a student of the pipe organ for over 40 years and eventually became an organ consultant for numerous area churches.
He told the story of the Luzerne United Methodist Church’s pipe organ. His father was on the new organ committee. A parishioner had agreed to donate $2,500 for a new organ, but church elders said a bigger, costlier organ was needed for the size of the church. Parishioners raised an additional $2,500 and the current massive pipe organ was purchased for $5,000 in 1925.
“I was never the best player,” he said. “But I always loved the sound.”
Mayor James Keller said it was an honor to have the WVIA crew documenting the town.
“The town is psyched up about it, they’re very happy about it,” Keller said. “There’s a lot of buzz going around.”
Other residents interviewed included Marcella Kester of Luzerne Lumber and the food pantry, Charles Barber about the Luzerne Foundation; Mayor James Keller about downtown revitalization, Mark Albrecht about Rails to Trails, Fred Parry of Parry’s 91-year-old car dealership and Mark Santayana about boxer Rocky Castellani.
The air date on WVIA is set for 8 p.m. May 28. A premier party and screening will be held for the participating Luzerne residents at the station. Mazzarella said the next Our Town to air will be Sunbury on April 24. And the station’s next project will take them to Montoursville, with a June air date.
Johnson said Luzerne’s future is bright as ever.
“I’m very happy to see Luzerne has been revived,” he said. “When you looked at it 50 or 60 years ago, it was looking pretty shabby. There were a lot of vacant stores and buildings.”
But things changed.
“Fortunately there were some enterprising people that came into the town and the business district looks better now than it ever did. I’m so proud.”