Their view: Mussari taught us about the good in America

William C. Kashatus - Guest Columnist | November 4th, 2017 1:22 pm

“Few will have the greatness to change history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events by standing up for an ideal, and sending out a tiny ripple of hope,” said Robert F. Kennedy, a U.S. senator who became an icon of modern American liberalism.

Anthony Mussari, of Dallas, who worked for RFK’s 1968 presidential campaign, devoted his life to that belief. He did it as a public servant, author, documentary filmmaker and educator. In the process, Mussari, who died last month at the age of 75, gave those of us who live and work in the Wyoming Valley a brighter hope for the future.

As a young man, Tony hoped to devote his life to public service. While earning his Ph.D. at the University of Iowa, Mussari, inspired by Robert Kennedy’s work on civil rights and his opposition to the Vietnam War, threw himself into the New York senator’s presidential campaign. Devastated by RFK’s assassination, Tony returned to Wilkes-Barre to teach at his alma mater, King’s College.

A failed mayoral bid and an election as president of the Wilkes-Barre Area School Board followed.

But Tony found a better way to advance his ideals. He embarked on a storied media career with his wife, Kitch, a television news veteran.

Together, they produced award-winning documentary films and a television series called “Windsor Park Stories,” which chronicled the lives of ordinary people who did extraordinary things. “Windsor Park Stories” aired from 1997 to 2009, first on WVIA-TV and, later on WBRE-TV. It was a labor of love funded with the couple’s own money.

I met Tony in 2004 when I was hired to teach history at Luzerne County Community College. By that time, Tony had retired from full-time teaching, but he was more active than ever before.

Over the next decade, he would become a valued speaker at our annual Northeastern Pennsylvania History Conference, teaching us about the figures who shaped our region’s – and country’s – history. During those years, I discovered a master educator with a keen intellect and a loyal friend with a huge heart.

Although I simply asked Tony to speak at our history conference, he always volunteered to produce a film about each year’s theme. There were documentaries on President John F. Kennedy, Federal Judge Max Rosenn, U.S. Congressman Dan Flood, as well as Luzerne County natives who fought in the Civil War and others who earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.

I quickly learned to make my request a year in advance because of the huge demands Tony placed on himself, even when he was struggling with illness. His work ethic was extraordinary and his compensation nowhere near the time and effort he devoted to each project.

The film I most enjoyed became a 22-part series called, “The Face of America.”

Inspired by the memories of those who lost their lives in the September 11 terrorist attacks, “Face of America” celebrated our country and its resilience after the devastating tragedy. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of 9-11, Tony and Kitch chose to emphasize the contributions that ordinary Americans make every day to make the United States a better place to live.

They were people like Dr. Stephen Post, who’s conducted groundbreaking research in Compassionate Care and Medical Humanities at Stony Brook Medical College of New York; Erin Donovan, an employee of the Boston Red Sox, who participates in the team’s “Home Base Project,” a partnership with Massachusetts General Hospital in identifying, motivating and treating service members, veterans and their families who’ve been adversely affected by war; Val McClatchey, who snapped the gripping photograph of Flight 93 immediately after it crashed in Shenksville, Pennsylvania; and Second Lt. Emily Perez, a promising young woman with a bright future who was killed in Iraq on Sept. 12, 2006.

What distinguished “The Face of America” series was its powerful appeal to the viewer’s intellect as well as his heart. While the films captured the natural beauty of America at its scenic and human best, viewers were also exposed to some ordinary Americans who made extraordinary contributions to our country. Americans like Tony Mussari.

Rest in peace, dear friend. You will be sorely missed.

William C. Kashatus

Guest Columnist

William Kashatus, Hunlock’s Creek, teaches history at Luzerne County Community College. Email him at [email protected]