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Remembering Thomas Gingell

A Tribute to Thomas Gingell (1918-1999)

On a cold Christmas Eve in the early 1970's my new neighbor, Tom Bollinger (the son of "old Tom," on Frailey Road), invited me to visit his relatives, apparently an annual event. One stop was at Uncle Tom Gingell's house on West Main Street, whom I had never met. I was amazed at the size of the kitchen and the number of clocks. But I soon was distracted by the stories being told of old Emmitsburg. I started laughing.

He told of a relative who on a Friday afternoon had come off his farm into town to go to the local bank. As he walked in the manager yelled at him for tracking dirt in on his boots. So this farmer left and went back to his farm and rode his horse back into town and then up the steps of the bank and through the door. As he straightened up in his saddle once in the bank, he called to the shocked manager: "Well are you happy, my dirty boots aren't on your @#%& floor."

Tom Gingell made a lot of us laugh over the years. When he died recently the picture in the obit showed Tom laughing. The memories came back. The funny stories came first, but then the qualities of the man were recalled too.

In the mid 1980's, while I was mayor, a Town commissioner election was approaching, but there was no one seemingly interested in running. So I thought if Emmitsburg was about to see a lot of changes in the coming years (Main Street, growth, etc.) it would be great if we could have a rock tied to Old Emmitsburg on the Council. That way as Emmitsburg changed, it would remain rooted in its magnificent past. I asked Tom if he would be interested in running. He used some words that newspapers usually print as "#%!&" and then agreed. And so too did the people of Emmitsburg. So Tom Gingell became a Town Commissioner.

He brought wit and wisdom to the Council. First of all the wit.

Tom Gingell was a realist. He saw some of us as dreamers (we thought visionary sounded better). When we jumped up and down with glee because we had been awarded a $7M federal and state grant, he would note that he hadn't seen the first dollar. As we sharpened the scissors getting ready for the ribbon cutting of a new development that had just been negotiated, he observed that he had not heard the first nail driven. Of course Tom was right, there were miles to travel before changes would in fact happen. He would bring us all back down to earth, where further work needed to be done.

But eventually things began to happen. As one development started he didn't like the method of construction that the developer was using. So he stormed up Main Street and out Frailey Road and started yelling at me as soon as his foot hit our porch. It was supper time. I came to the door and said I would go to the site right after supper: "But not now, because we had just put the bacon and eggs on." He seemed satisfied. But as he started to leave, he came storming back to our screen door and yelled in: "What the #@% are you having bacon and eggs for supper for?"

As the Main Street renovation was progressing up West Main Street, he told the Council later (he had a sense of humor about himself too), one day it was announced that the water would be turned off beginning at 10am for a extended period of time so new connections could be made. Tom wanted to be prepared. So about 7am he got two buckets and started filling them up with water from an old pump he had out near his garage and hauled them, slopping some, through the kitchen and up the stairs to the bathtub in the upstairs bathroom. Tom was going to be prepared for the water cut off. His wife, Jane, watched him make several trips and then suggested to him that maybe it would easier if he just turned the water on in the tub, since they had not turned the water off yet.

There never was an issue the Town faced in the late eighties and early nineties of which Tom didn't know the background. With all the Main Street construction and the housing developments, he was a font of knowledge (he would have hated that phrase). Because he had worked a quarry, because he had worked construction, because he had worked for State Highway, he knew how things should be. Some of us were greenhorns. He was the one that made sure that nobody messed with Emmitsburg. Get it right, buddy, or get out. If some proposal was being presented to the Council with charts and graphs and two inches of documentation, Tom would sit down at the end of the Council table and if he said "humph," the proposal was revised before further consideration.

But it wasn't just know-how. It was also integrity that Tom Gingell brought to the table. He was one of the most honest, straight forward persons with whom I ever worked. He was intolerant of shoddiness, dishonesty, the waste of tax payers' money and foolishness. He kept you laughing, but he also kept you thinking.

Thanks, Tom, for all you did for old Emmitsburg, and for the new Emmitsburg, and for our funny bones.

Bob Preston

Former Mayor, Town of Emmitsburg

Read other articles by Bob Preston

Do you know of an individual who helped shape Emmitsburg?
If so, send their story to us at: history@emmitsburg.net

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