DUBOIS – Leader, poet, writer, radio personality, military veteran and leader – all apply to long-time DuBois resident George Proesl (1897-1971).
Proesl’s background came into focus when his daughter Maude McNaughton of Harrisburg compiled a book of clippings, poems, radio scripts and DuBois American Legion history, all centered on her father. The book was sent to Nancy Shade of DuBois, a great niece of Proesl, who decided the work belonged with the DuBois American Legion or the DuBois Area Historical Society.
A meeting between Shade, Denny Haas of DuBois, current Department Commander of the Pennsylvania American Legion, a post also once held by Proesl, and DuBois Area Historical Society Second Vice President Tom Schott, resulted in the book being added to the society’s genealogical library.
Proesl was born on Feb. 28, 1917, in St. Marys and was a 1913 graduate of St. Marys Parochial High School. Following the start of World War I, he came to DuBois to enlist in the U. S. Army. He entered military service July 31, 1918, and spent time in Camps Forrest, Funston Mills and Humphreys as a member of Co. E, 210th Engineers, 10th Division.
Proesl was stationed at camps in four different states, serving until his discharge on March 28, 1919.
Upon his discharge, Proesl returned to DuBois where he was the yard clerk for the B. R. & P. Railroad until retiring in 1961. He became a frequent contributor to the railroad’s magazine, “Railroad Life,” publishing poetry under the title Uncle Si Sez.
Proesl also became active with American Legion Montgomery Post 17 in DuBois. The American Legion is a congressionally chartered corporation formed in Paris on March 15, 1919, by veterans of the American Expeditionary Forces.
In 1927, Proesl was one of six representatives from DuBois along with Harold Gray, Lorenzo LaVan, David Lewis, J. Andy Weaver and Lloyd Zeigler, who journeyed to Paris, France, for the 10th annual Convention of the American Legion.
By 1929, Mongtomery Post 17 had a huge impact on DuBois history. Proesl recalled it in an article he wrote for the July 1929 American Legion Monthly. Government airmail was new and important to each community where a plane landed.
Proesl wrote, “The Government had established a beacon light at DuBois, but the field on which landings were made was almost continually under water in places and a better site was needed.
“When the new site was selected it was found that a township road bisected it. This road could not be abandoned until a new one was built. The city was without authority to re-locate the road; the township had no money with which to do it. It seemed possible that the Government would abandon DuBois as a stopping point because the plans for a new field would fall through.
“Montgomery Post had been talking about establishing an airport. It volunteered to build the new road – obtain all money necessary and handle all other details. It wasn’t an easy job the post took on. The new road had to be built according to fixed engineering standards.
“It was to be 16 feet wide with sub-drains and grading, and it was to have a 12-inch covering of cinders. For almost a half-mile the new road would run through a second-growth forest – trees that had grown sturdily for 20 years.
“The post first appealed for funds from business men. Contributions were given gladly. Then we asked for volunteer labor to supplement the work of our own members. One of our members, who is assistant city engineer, made the first survey for the road, estimated the material needed and bossed the job generally.
“On our first workday, 60 or 70 men turned out. We began at 8 and by 9 o’clock we had felled all the trees on the path marked out. Then we proceeded to drag out the fallen timber and blow up the stumps of first-growth timber, which were scattered all along the route. A business firm donated the dynamite, fuses and caps for blasting the stumps. Two Legionnaires who had been miners and another who had served with the Engineers in the war directed this work.
“All post members were urged to take part in the work. Those who couldn’t come out personally sent substitutes or paid a day’s wages for a hired worker. Citizens paid for teams that were hired. Lots of eatables were donated and to supplement them the members of Auxiliary unit sent their husbands hot coffee, cake and other good things. The Pennsylvania railroad helped mightily by getting to us our cinder supply. Legionnaire W. W. Atterbury, president of the railroad, saw to that. So we got the job done, and if we do say it, it is a good road.”
On Aug. 22, 1930, Proesl was elected vice-commander of the Pennsylvania American Legion. One year later, Aug. 22, 1931, Proesl became the first DuBois resident to be elected State Commander of the Pennsylvania American Legion, during the state convention in Easton. A second major event for Mongtomery Post 17 came later that year, Oct. 8, when the first formal meeting was held in its new building on Liberty Boulevard.
Proesl was also a radio personality for a number of years with station WCED in DuBois. He had a 15-minute spot called “Proesl Reporting” where he provided historic facts and commentary. The preserved scripts in the book would remind modern listeners of the more recent Paul Harvey radio commentaries.
Proesl married Mae Jones of DuBois. Mae was a popular teacher for many years in the Sandy Township schools. In addition to his work with the American Legion, Proesl was an officer of the Elks Club, an officer with the Eagles Club and headed the American Red Cross blood drives.
He died on July 12, 1971, in Salamanca, NY. He was survived by his daughters, Maude McNaughton of Harrisburg and Mrs. Leroy Schmidt of Erie; and two sisters, Mrs. E. Gausman of Ridgway and Sr. Margaret Aroelia Proesl of Erie.
“We are pleased to have this record of Proesl’s life added to our collection,” said Schott about the book donation. “Through donations such as this, DuBois’ past does not become a forgotten memory, but continues to live on for future generations.”