COAL TOWNSHIP — Former Shamokin resident Anne (Neely) Chamberlin, who now lives in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, is no stranger to local history. Her family has many ties to the coal region and its past, including Mount Carmel’s Centennial celebration in 1962.

Two of her family photos in particular, taken at the time of that event, reflect the involvement and attention to detail with which local residents participated in community activities back in the day.

Chamberlin’s two aunts — Virginia (Gillespie) Chesney, formerly of Strong, and Mary (Gillespie) Kleman, formerly of Mount Carmel — were members of the “Sisters of the Swish” and the “Virginia Belles.”

For the Mount Carmel Centennial, the “Sisters of the Swish” and “Virginia Belles” were groups of ladies who dressed up in formal period attire and took part in the town’s festivities.

Chamberlin recounted vivid memories of both her aunts.

“Aunt Virginia was an accomplished seamstress who owned and operated the former Virginia’s Bridal Shops from the early 1960s through 1975, on Oak Street in Mount Carmel and Independence Street in Shamokin,” said Chamberlin.

“Aunt Mary was a homemaker, excellent cook and baker. She married Louis Kleman, who was the head basketball coach at Mount Carmel Township in the late 1940s and freshman basketball coach at Mount Carmel High School in the 1950s and 1960s.”

Following the centennial, Chesney wrote a note, wherein she recounted the photograph taken with Kleman, of the two sisters standing together during the centennial.

“I had been ill at the time and felt awful, but the picture had to be taken that day at the Town Park. My dress was a black brocade and my hat had ostrich plumes — all made by me. The pin at the center of the black velvet neckband I wore belonged to my grandmother, Mary Devers Platt (1848-1932), from Donegal, Ireland,” wrote Chesney.

She continued, “I made mom’s dress and bonnet. The lace was 35 years old. I also made Anna Graff’s dress and bonnet, my dress and Pauline’s (see photo).”

In the group photo, which Chamberlin shares, all of the “Virginia Belles” are pictured together, including her two aunts, along with her grandmother, Anna (Platt) Gillespie and cousin, Virginia “Ginny” (Kleman) Sheppard.

Chamberlin’s photos represent a time when local communities were comprised mainly of small family-owned businesses that came together as one. They reflect an era whose attention to detail and strong work ethic are often lost in today’s cyber culture of global corporations, mega-mergers and lost identities. They represent a simple, yet profound past, the remnants of which speak volumes of a bygone people of character and their determination to succeed.

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