90th Birthday Celebration to begin in 30 minutes

If you live in Berks County and are a fan of John Updike, you might want to head over to The John Updike Childhood Home, 117 Philadelphia Ave., in Shillington, for a 90th Birthday Celebration featuring 90 minutes of excerpts from Updike’s Pennsylvania-related works read by prominent local citizens. Weather permitting, it will be held on the side of the house under the arbor; in case of inclement weather, the audience will be limited to the first 25 who come to the house. If you’re out of the area, check The John Updike Childhood Home Facebook page, because technology permitting, the event will be streamed live.

Posted in Activities & Events | Leave a comment

Weather shutters the Updike house for a day

Because of bad weather, the John Updike Childhood Home will not open today, Saturday, Jan. 29. Stay home and stay safe if you have to go out!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

You’re invited: Updike’s 90th Birthday Celebration

Posted in Activities & Events | Leave a comment

Updike house is now an official PokéStop

Director of Education Maria Lester reports that The John Updike Childhood Home is now an official PokéStop, thanks to docent Maria McDonnell.

What’s that, you ask?

Pokémon (an abbreviation for “Pocket Monsters”) is a media franchise founded by Nintendo, Game Freak, and Creatures. With the concept created by Satoshi Tajiri in 1996, what began as video and trading card games (there currently 901 different Pokémon to collect) quickly expanded into movies, television programming, a theatrical musical, and, in 2016, an augmented reality mobile game.

According to the Pokémon GO Wiki, “PokéStops are one of the most central and recognizable game elements. They can be seen and accessed only in the Map View, as they are real-world landmarks in places such as historical markers, monuments, art installations, churches, etc.”

But be careful, gamers. Internationally, there have been numerous accidents attributed to drivers and pedestrians who were so busy looking for PokéStops that they weren’t attentive to their surroundings.

Posted in Pop Culture | Leave a comment

Updike house ornament contest winners announced

Sometimes John Updike drew a Santa on Christmas cards for people close to him, and Updike, who first aspired to be an artist, often was lauded for his cleverness. So it’s fitting that the docents of The John Updike Childhood Home awarded first place in the inaugural John Updike Childhood Home Ornament Contest to a Berks County student who submitted a Santa design on a paint brush—something that one judge, an artist herself, called a “clever creation.”

Jadelynn LaSalle, a 5th grader from Governor Mifflin School District, was the winner of this year’s contest and $50 prize money.

Honorable Mentions and $25 went to Jimmy McHale, a fourth grader from Wyomissing School District, and to Mercy Drago, a fourth grader from Governor Mifflin School District. McHale went with the rabbit theme (as in the four “Rabbit Angstrom” novels), while Drago created an ornament featuring a church steeple—another prominent image in Updike’s fiction.

Entries came from four different school districts in Berks County, and “a big thank-you to all who made ornaments for the Updike house tree,” said Director of Education Maria Lester, who added that she was pleased the contest generated so much interest. “Next year I imagine we’ll have even more entries,” she said.

2021 Winner—by Jadelynn LaSalle (5th Grade, Gov. Mifflin School District)
2021 Honorable Mention: Jimmy McHale (4th Grade, Wyomissing School District)
2021 Honorable Mention: Mercy Drago (4th Grade, Gov. Mifflin School District)
Posted in Activities & Events | Leave a comment

First open-hours Saturday a success

Twenty locals visited The John Updike Childhood Home on the first Saturday of limited regular hours (12-2pm), Director of Education Maria Lester reported.

With a Christmas tree in the parlor the feeling was festive, and a half dozen children also stopped by to drop off ornaments they made for the First Annual Ornament Competition. Many of the entries will be displayed on the tree and around the house, with the winner receiving $50 and two runners-up receiving $25 each.

The contest is open to all Berks County students in grades K-5, whether public, private, virtual, or home schooled. Children are to create an ornament for the tree by using one or more of these Updike-related symbols/motifs: centaur, rabbit, books, typewriter, art/palette, church steeple, pigeon, or basketball.

The entries will be judged by Lester and the docents who have volunteered to staff the museum on Saturdays. Entries may also be dropped off at the Updike house this coming Saturday, Dec. 11 during open hours.

Questions? Email JohnUpdikeEducation@gmail.com.

Posted in Activities & Events | Leave a comment

John Updike Childhood Home tradition begins

They say good things come in small packages. Surprising things, too. When Updike house Director of Education Maria Lester opened a package recently, she found a smiling John Updike ornament. On the back of the ornament: “Ho Ho Ho! Casting off of J.U.’s gravestone in Plow Church cemetery.”

It was from Michael Updike, a slate sculptor who carved the marker for his father’s Plow Church cemetery gravesite.

“I know the ornament competition is for children but somehow I couldn’t resist,” Michael wrote. “Hope this isn’t too creepy and gives small children nightmares.”

Unless the little ones have been walking through that cemetery in Plowville, all they’ll see is a smiling face on a tree that suggests it really is the most wonderful time of the year. And from now on, this ornament will be a part of the annual tree-trimming tradition at the Updike house.

Posted in Acquisitions | Leave a comment

Updike house sponsors holiday ornament contest

Posted in Activities & Events, Education | Leave a comment

Updike house establishes regular hours

Maria Lester, Director of Education for The John Updike Childhood Home, said that the museum will be open to the public with regular hours on Saturdays from 12-2 p.m., beginning Dec. 4, 2021. The only exceptions will be major holiday weekends, when the museum will be closed. Admission is $5 for age 16 and older.

The Hemingway Birthplace in Oak Park, Ill. has successfully operated with an all-volunteer staff for many years, and Lester said that so far 13 Berks County residents have volunteered to serve as docents. Among them are college professors, artists, high school teachers, and historians. What they have in common is an interest in Updike and local history.

“They’re all excited about the museum and really impressed by the exhibits,” Lester said. “They’re a good group.”

The John Updike Childhood Home is owned and operated by The John Updike Society, a 501c3 nonprofit organization with members in 17 countries and 35 states. The house has been meticulously restored to look as it did during 1932-45, when Pulitzer Prizewinning writer John Updike lived here with his parents and maternal grandparents. The museum features 10 rooms of exhibits that tell the story of Updike’s life and literary legacy and the influence that Berks County had on his writing. Many of the objects on display are one-of-a-kind and have personal connections to Updike.

Updike and first-wife Mary played recorders in a church group, and his are on display here. So is the chair he used for writing until the age of 70, and a maple four-poster rope bed that was painted by a very young Updike and his mother, as well as original notes and drawings in Updike’s hand.

There are also items that will be of interest to lovers of art and folk art, including a coverlet made in Berks County that has been in the Updike family for more than 170 years, a coffee table made from shutters salvaged from the Berks County almshouse before it was demolished, and an original watercolor painting of Shillington High School as it looked when Updike attended junior high and high school there. The frame of that painting was made from the door frame from the home room of Wesley Updike, the author’s father and a beloved junior high school math teacher. Updike’s first art teacher, Clint Shilling, lived across the street, and items from his studio are on display—including a micro-detailed painting of a Civil War battle.

The John Updike Childhood Home is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and has a Pennsylvania Historic Marker.

Posted in House news | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment