As a member of the Board of Directors of the Berks County Historical Society for a number of years, I knew of Dr. Donald A. Shelley’s scholarship on any subject of the Pennsylvania German people. For example, their PA German folk art called “Fraktur,” in which many religious baptism certificates, were hand written in German, including a number of illuminated symbols like unicorns, barn stars, and colorful distelfinks. All are authentic designs recorded in our native folklife.
Dr. Shelley’s book on Fraktur Writings and Manuscripts of the Pennsylvania Germans, printed in 1961 by the Pennsylvania German Folklore Society (in color) is a long standing masterpiece. In addition, being an expert on our culture, I personally counted Dr. Shelley (1911-2006) and his wife, Esther as friends, since they lived just a mile down Covered Bridge Road from our home in the Oley Valley. A senior citizen, like most of my native Pennsylvania Dutch/Germans friends, her wisdom and friendship were constant as she reached 101 years of age.
We had often shared in a number of articles I had written in several newspapers on our native culture in conversation and visit. Having passed away on June 21, 2014 in her home in the Oley Valley, a memorial service was held at St. Gabriel’s Chapel in Douglassville for friends. I do want my readers to know how many resources the Shelleys’ spent preserving our brick and mortar culture, besides additional scholarly publications in the last several years, financed by their Foundation.
Richard Shaner is director of the American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.