By ANDREA WATSON
Recently, an important piece of Cranberry’s past was recovered.
It started with a surprise visit from the daughter of Willard Lee Beck, a member of the first graduating class of Cranberry High School, and ended with some interesting relics that are now showcased in the lobby of the school.
The class of 1933 was the first class to graduate from the original Cranberry Area High School located on Main Street in Seneca. Willard Lee Beck, an Oil City native, attended the school and proceeded to graduate in 1933.
Willa Stewart, his daughter, also graduated from Cranberry in 1968. Stewart was eager to share her father’s experience at Cranberry. She was equally as passionate about sharing Willard’s community involvement, along with the environment in Seneca at the time he was growing up.
Stewart visited Cranberry and spoke to Ritt Smith, the principal of Cranberry High School, who was intrigued by the valuable history that was provided to him by Stewart.
After the initial meeting with Smith, Stewart began writing letters to Cranberry Chronicles, the school’s student newspaper. The letters were revealing of her father’s legacy and experiences.
Beck was a valued athlete at Cranberry, a versatile player on Cranberry’s football team. He was also a contributing member of the community as he attended Good Hope Lutheran Church, serving on the counsel. Beck was also an usher and a backup maintenance man at the church.
Due to his education at Cranberry High School, Beck grew to be an avid reader having subscriptions to National Geographic, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, and Reader’s Digest.
As Stewart recalls, “He collected every issue of Reader’s Digest, starting in 1941 till 1972, his last. The ’72 Anniversary issue still has a Mobil Gas calendar card, marking the last story he (Willard) read.”
The card he used as a place marker in Reader’s Digest was from Butch Fletcher’s Station across from the Log Cabin in Seneca.
Beck was also knowledgeable and passionate about mechanical work, whether it be changing a motor in a car, electrical wiring, plumbing, or running gas lines, he could do it all.
Stewart also shared how her father used to receive flat top haircuts by Russ Watson, who also had a shop beside the Log Cabin.
As he aged, he became heavily involved and increasingly ardent about hunting and remodeling houses.
Sadly, Beck passed in 1973, at the age of 56, from cancer.
Through Stewart’s shared chronicle of her father, students can learn how to cherish the tight-knit community that comes along with being a member of Cranberry High School, whether it be through sports, religious affairs, clubs, or other community events. Willard’s story serves as a reminder that students at Cranberry have endless potential and various possible paths to pursue in life.
This historical account can prompt students to investigate their own family history and share the importance of appreciating family heritage in a small town, such as Cranberry.
Along with offering the story of her father’s legacy, Stewart chose to donate a portrait of her father, along with his class ring from 1933, to Cranberry High School. The donated portrait and ring will reside in the trophy case in the commons area at Cranberry.
Andrea Watson and Darian Senn are students at Cranberry High School and members of Cranberry Chronicles, the school’s journalism/publications group.