John Updike Childhood Home director moves on

Alvernia University professor Sue Guay, who has served as director of The John Updike Childhood Home since October 2017, has stepped down from that post to concentrate on sweeping changes in the communications program at Alvernia. Under new president John R. Loyack, Alvernia has created a second campus in downtown Reading and a brand new communications building with all sorts of amenities. The move from Alvernia’s current campus to the new building and all of the other adjustments proved to be all-consuming.

“Sue stepped up and agreed to serve in the volunteer position of director when we needed her to, and for that I will always be grateful,” said James Plath, president of the John Updike Society, which owns the childhood home.

“Sue did all sorts of things as director—everything from ordering blinds for all the windows and meeting repair people at the house, to going through exhibit materials with me and responding to security alarms,” Plath said. “Volunteer work of this nature is what keeps a project like this moving forward.”

Guay, who has taught communications at Alvernia for 20+ years, was the impetus behind Alvernia University reaching out to the society shortly after it was formed. At Guay’s suggestion, Alvernia offered to host the first John Updike Society Biennial Conference and was instrumental in the running of that first successful conference in October 2010. Later, when the society returned to Reading and Shillington for their third conference, Guay served as site director. More recently, she served as director of the 6th Biennial John Updike Society Conference. The society honored her with plaques for her work on both of those successful conferences.

Moving forward, Education Director Maria Lester will take on the additional responsibility of scheduling and supervising volunteers for tours so that the museum, which had its grand opening on October 2, can establish regular hours on Saturdays. Lester teaches at Reading High School and Albright College.

John Trimble will continue as Property Manager, and Dave Ruoff, who rents office space for his business in the single-story annex of the Updike house, will continue as Docent also in charge of receiving.

Plath remains the contact person for general questions about the house or society.

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Updike Society partners with Governor Mifflin School District

Updike’s Shillington Jr. High and High School, now renamed, are “all in” for the grand opening of The John Updike Childhood Home. Governor Mifflin School District donated items pertaining to their most famous alum—John Updike—that will be on display as people tour the house for the first time on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. GMSD will also provide meeting space for the morning academic sessions and afternoon panel for the 6th Biennial John Updike Society Conference on Saturday.

For their part, The John Updike Society, which owns and operates the house-museum, opened up the family panel to include Governor Mifflin alums returning for homecoming, and the plan moving forward is to make the house a resource for faculty and students.

It’s the kind of partnership that would have pleased Updike, because students will be involved as volunteers, and students who aspire to write will get the chance to interact with some of the society members who have published books. In the future, both GMSD Superintendent Bill McKay, now a member of the advisory board of The John Updike Childhood Home, and society president James Plath see the partnership extending well into the future. Teachers can use the house for classes, tours, events, and projects yet to be imagined. It’s a win-win situation for Updike’s beloved Shillington.

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Pennsylvania Historic Marker dedication set for October 2

After a year of postponement due to COVID-19, the Pennsylvania Historic Marker Dedication Ceremony and Grand Opening of The John Updike Childhood Home, 117 Philadelphia Ave., in Shillington, Pa., will take place at 1 p.m. on Saturday, October 2, 2021. The event is free and open to the public on a space-available, first-come-first-served basis. Masks will be required for both the outdoor ceremony and in-house tours, in accordance with current CDC recommendations.

The John Updike Childhood Home is owned by The John Updike Society, a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to awakening and sustaining reader interest in the literature and life of John Updike—and, through The John Updike Childhood Home, preserving the history and telling the story of John Updike’s relationship with Shillington, as well as the influence that Berks County had on his literary works.

The dedication and opening have been scheduled to coincide with the 6th Biennial John Updike Society Conference, hosted by Alvernia University. Conference registrants and honored guests will have reserved seating, but there will also be seating available to the public, as well as standing room.

Following the marker dedication and unveiling, the National Registry of Historic Places plaque will be uncovered and the house will be opened for free tours between 1:30-3:00 p.m.

The opening has been a long time coming. The society purchased the house in August 2012 with plans to turn it into a museum and literary site that would appeal to Updike fans and also local residents who wish to know more about one of Berks County’s most famous people. The purchase was made possible by a generous donation from The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation.

In 2015, the society hired R.J. Doerr Co. of Easton, Pa. to restore the home back to the way it looked during Updike’s years in the house—1932-45—and the meticulous restoration, based on architectural “footprints,” Updike’s writings, interviews with family and friends, and comparisons to similar houses in the area, was completed in 2019.

The John Updike Childhood Home features exhibits that tell the story of Updike’s early years in Berks County, as well as the important influence that Pennsylvania had on his fiction and poetry.

Membership in The John Updike Society is open to anyone with an interest in Updike. Members come from 17 different countries and more than 30 states. Although many are university professors or high school teachers, just as many are people who appreciate Updike’s writings. See The John Updike Society for more details.

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Plaque dedication postponed indefinitely

The John Updike Society has been advised by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission that because of Covid 19 we need to postpone the October 3 unveiling of an Official State Historical Marker and plaque celebrating the John Updike Childhood Home’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. When it appears safe again to do so, the event will be rescheduled and announced to the public.

The National Register plaque will be affixed to the side of the house; the historic marker, a sign that will be staked in the front yard near the corner, will read:

JOHN UPDIKE
(1932-2009)

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and one of
America’s most noted authors, Updike lived
here until age thirteen. He was inspired
by his mother, an amateur writer, and his
childhood surroundings, which he included
in many works over his 50-year career.
Best known for his “Rabbit” quartet of
novels, Updike was also acclaimed for his
short stories and essays. He was honored
by two US presidents for his contributions
to American literature and culture.

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Updike house plaque to be unveiled on October 3, 2020

To be unveiled on an exterior wall on October 3, 2020, along with a Pennsylvania Historical Marker:

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PECO Foundation continues John Updike Childhood Home support

The New York City-based PECO Foundation has continued their multi-year support of The John Updike Society’s efforts to preserve The John Updike Childhood Home and turn it into a museum. This year’s donation was $5000.

PECO Foundation’s principals, Constance and H. Roemer McPhee, were honored in 2017 with The John Updike Society Distinguished Service Award at the society’s meeting in Boston at the American Literature Association Conference.

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Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation continues Updike Society support

The Robert & Adele Schiff Family Foundation, which gave The John Updike Society the money to initially purchase the house at 117 Philadelphia Ave. in Shillington where the writer said his “artistic eggs were hatched,” has extended its support. The foundation’s donation of $170,000 will enable the society to purchase additional land for parking and to finish the task of turning the house into a museum.

“We appreciate the fine work you do, and we are proud to support your organization,” the donation letter said.

The grape arbor that was attached to the side of the house when Updike lived there has already been restored, and a privet hedge that once fenced the property will be recreated in the spring once the ground thaws. During the spring and summer, exhibits will be constructed so that people who visit the house not only get an accurate impression of where and how young John Updike and his family lived, but through those exhibits begin to understand how much Berks County meant to his work and why Updike remains one of America’s most important 20th-century writers.

Besides supporting work at The John Updike Childhood Home, the Robert & Adele Schiff Family Foundation donation provides funding for travel grants to attend the 6th Biennial John Updike Society Conference hosted by Alvernia University from Sept. 30-Oct. 4. A Call for Papers is still open, and all those interested in Updike are encouraged to attend, whether you’re presenting or not. The John Updike Childhood Home, which was approved last year for a Pennsylvania Historical Marker and inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, will be dedicated on Saturday, Oct. 3, as part of the conference activities. Writer Lorrie Moore will deliver the keynote address that evening.

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John and Gaye Patton Charitable Foundation renews support of Updike childhood home

A John and Gaye Patton Charitable Foundation 2019 Grant of $2000 has been awarded to The John Updike Society in support of the society’s efforts to restore The John Updike Childhood Home and turn it into a museum.

“We are pleased to continue our support of the Updike Society because John Updike was and continues to be such an inspiration to us, and his works represent a significant physical presence in our literary collections,” wrote John M. Patton, M.D.

The Pattons said that they hope to be able to attend the 2020 Updike conference in Shillington to visit with society members and see the progress of the house at 117 Philadelphia Ave.  The John and Gaye Patton Charitable Foundation is based in Santa Rosa Beach, Fl.

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John Updike Childhood Home receives American Family Insurance award

Because of their work preserving The John Updike Childhood Home and turning it into a museum, The John Updike Society was chosen as one of 100 nonprofit organizations to receive a $2500 donation from American Family Insurance and the American Family Insurance Dreams Foundation.

“We selected 100 organizations across the country in support of causes important to those who matter most to us—our customers,” the American Family Insurance Dreams Foundation website stated.

Nearly 10,000 nonprofit organizations were nominated by American Family Insurance customers, and the Updike Society’s work with the Childhood Home stood out as a project worthy of support. The John Updike Society was nominated by a customer of American Family insurance agent John Blumenshine. American Family Insurance is based in Madison, Wisconsin.

Here is a list of the 100 recipients for 2019.

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JU Childhood Home approved for National Register listing

The John Updike Society today received notice that The John Updike Childhood Home was formally approved for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The other Pennsylvania property approved this round on April 22, 2019 was Oaks Cloister in Philadelphia.

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