After the Poetry

In 1953, there was a final move. Gloria lad left Joe, leaving him with an infant. Bob and Lee needed to find a smaller, cheaper place to live with less maintenance required. So, with $100 down, the family moved into Levittown, PA, the newly constructed community a few miles away. Fortunately, no change of school system was required. Since the house came with all the appliances, the move was simple. Soon, everything was in place and the family functioning again, with Lee now living in the world and in the daylight.

She needed work and now had a marketable skill, so she contacted the Levittown Times, the weekly tabloid that was currently serving the new community. The owner and editor, Ira Joachim, hired her and almost immediately, she was writing much of each edition while her boss did the marketing and sales duty. For two years, the paper grew and her journalistic and editing skills matured. But the paper was struggling, largely because of competition from the local daily, the Bristol Courier. Inevitably, the Courier bought out the Times and morphed into its current persona, The Courier-Times. Lee continued her journalistic career with the new publication.

Levittown became her passion. It was a new creature under the sun. Never before had a town been built from scratch, a total turn-key entity, from the shopping center to the landscaping. A vast expanse of farmland had been transformed into a community of homes, streets, parks, schools, swimming pools, recreation venues, and a shopping mall (perhaps the world's first). All of the physical elements were in place; now began the task of adding the human and social aspects... clubs, PTA's, a library, churches and synagogues, service organizations, political parties, theatre and art groups, and events. But there was a major, built-in challenge. When the building was completed, Levittown would comprise the tenth largest population center in Pennsylvania (over 10,000 homes and upwards of 70,000 people). However, Levittown straddled the intersection of four different townships, thereby relegating the homes into different school systems, served by different public services, and subject to different taxation and politics. How could a cohesive community be created in the face of this divisive geography?

Lee was fascinated with the problem and was prepared to use her personal and journalistic skills to try to find the solution. It didn't take long for a group of residents to initiate an effort to incorporate the four parts of Levittown into a city. It seemed a natural evolution given the homogeneity of the new development as compared to the Revolution-era surroundings. But, Falls Township had the new US Steel Plant, which had drawn many of Levittown's residents to the area from the failing mines and industries in Western PA, and which pumped tons of money into the township coffers thereby lowering taxes. The Shopping Center was in Tullytown Township, which had previously had almost nothing to generate revenue. Bristol Township had a declining town (Bristol Borough) and a growing low-income population, so was hungry for new revenue the previously empty land would provide. Finally, Middletown Township was affluent and had the best school systems, making their segment of the Levittown population unlikely to want to be folded in with their poorer cousins. In the ensuing political fight, Lee found herself at the center of the maelstrom, doing interviews and writing stories on all sides of the controversy. Although personally cheering for Incorporation, she was regarded by all as being a fair and objective reporter and gained the trust of everyone involved. Of course, "off the record", she had more information than she put in print. And while she never violated confidences, she was able to help smooth ruffled feathers all around and bring adversaries a little closer together.

Ultimately, the Incorporation attempt failed at the polls as a referendum was defeated. Yet, magically, Levittown as a whole grew its unique identity. Lee helped to found the Levittown Emergency Squad (later merged with a nearby mini-Levittown community to become the Levittown-Fairless Hills Rescue Squad). She also was among the organizers of the Levittown library, helping to find venues and getting book donations from around the country. Lee was also an early member and supporter of the Levittown Players, a community theatre group which thrived for many years.

But her most pivotal role was as a journalist. In 1956, she was given a daily, by-lined column in the Courier-Times called "Seeing Levittown". In the column, she wrote short, humorous, gossipy items that seemed trivial, but were really bits of social glue, the print version of the general store cracker barrel or the neighborhood coffee klatch. As alarming as it seems in today's world, she used real names and addresses! She appealed for the return of lost pets, told of little league heroics, noted birthdays of community notables, and even snuck in a racy tale or two. The column sold newspapers, but it also gave Levittowners in all areas and in all socio-economic strata a sense of being part of the (unincorporated) whole! And Lee was never happier in her life than during those years.