Julia Vengien of Plymouth wishes her late husband, John, could join in the celebration brought about by the U.S. Postal Service’s decision to include a coal miner in its issuance of 12 stamps that honor the industries and workers that made America great.
Since 1986, John, who died in 2009, Julia and others have fought for the stamp and, finally, that day has come. The stamp will debut Aug. 8.
“John saw his friend get killed in a mining accident,” Vengien said. “He went to his home to tell his wife, who greeted him at the door with her newborn baby. It was very difficult.”
John quit his job in the mines after five years, but he never quit the fight to honor those who braved terrible conditions, risking their lives every day, to fuel the Industrial Revolution and grow the U.S. economy.
He and Julia and others formed a committee, and they circulated hundreds of petitions with thousands of signatures and sent them to the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee at the U.S. Postal Service. They wrote hundreds of letters pleading for a coal miners’ stamp.
Working on other fronts
State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, and Wayne Namey also have been leading the fight for the stamp. They and a legion of others not just in Pennsylvania, but also in the other 25 states where coal mining operated, have fought the good fight to get the stamp approved.
“We’ve always tried to figure out why they wouldn’t issue a coal miner’s stamp,” Pashinski said. “There are stamps for every bug, flower, tree, leaf, machine, but no coal miner. This is a victory for ‘we.’ So many people have pushed for this and worked so hard.”
Namey would set up a tent with a table at various events and sites to get people to sign petitions. He worked tirelessly, as did many others, to send a message to the Postal Service that a coal miner’s stamp is long overdue.
Namey’s friend, the late Joe Pavlick of Ashley, was a retired steel worker and he painted a portrait of the Huber Breaker. Namey loves the picture and both of his grandfathers worked in the coal mines of Plymouth; one died in a mining accident and the other died of black lung disease.
“For so long, I was told that coal miners were not heroes,” Namey said, “that they only put heroes on stamps. My grandfathers and all coal miners were heroes to me.”
Pashinski said more than 104,000 miners were killed in the coal mines and hundreds of thousands of others died of black lung.
U.S. Postal Service spokesman Ray Daiutolo said thousands of letters are received each year with stamp requests.
“That included ones from coal miner and steelworker organizations and other related industries,” he said. “The ‘Made in America: Building a Nation’ stamp sheet is an ideal way to honor a variety of industries and represent the men and women who helped build our country through their hard work.”
Pashinski said the issuance of the stamp honoring coal miners was especially gratifying to him — his father worked in the mines in Nanticoke.
“We lived in a half of a double block building on West Noble Street,” he recalled. “I could hear the whistle blow at quitting time in the mines. I would run down and meet my dad and carry his lunch pail and walk home with him.”
Pashinski said his father would be covered in black coal dust, too dirty to walk into the house.
“We would go in through the cellar,” he said. “My dad would take off those dirty clothes and wash up and change into clean clothes for supper. That’s who we all were in small towns in Northeastern Pennsylvania. That’s how this area was built.”
Vengien remembered the long hours of getting petitions signed, writing letters and making telephone calls. She said her husband’s father lost an eye working in the mines.
“We went everywhere to get petitions signed,” she said. “Coal miners made this the greatest nation on earth. It’s time to give them a long overdue honor.”
Pashinski said the 12-stamp issuance honors millions of hard working Americans who made the U.S. strong.
“This has been a collective effort,” he said. “Everybody in every state who fought to get this should feel good.”