April 4, 1960: Strong Winds Destroy Home, Spur Community Generosity


By Margaret Leidy Harner from her book One Day at a Time: A Social History of Boyertown, PA.

April 4, 1960: High winds have blown away the front half of the pre-Revolutionary War stone farm house of William and Annie Reitnauer near Bechtelsville that had been held together for 200 years with clay. The couple is now living in the kitchen.

Willie is 76 years old, and Annie is 78 and they have survived for many years without plumbing electricity and only a wood-burning cook stove for heat, on $15 a month and vegetables from their garden. Annie wears the same clothes every day, explaining “me and Willie don’t need no new ones.” She also maintains that they do not need any more furniture—one chair and a bed is enough. They have never seen a television show, but Annie remembers once having seen a movie.

A member of St. John’s United Church of Christ, Annie walks the three miles to services whenever she is able. A front -page story about the plight of the couple in the Pottstown Mercury was picked up by newspapers all over the country for its “human interest.” As a result, many gifts of food and supplies are pouring in, and neighbors are building a three-room bungalow for them, next to the ruins of their colonial dwelling. Annie is quoted as saying, “We have such a lot of good people in this part of the country.”

While waiting for their new home to be finished, Annie was taken to the Pottstown Hospital suffering from a heart condition and pneumonia. A day before she was scheduled to be released, Willie was rushed to the same hospital with a massive heart attack, where he died. Annie now faces being discharged to an empty new house, with none of the love, laughter, and joy they had shared together.

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