By Cindy O. Herman
For The Daily Item
— MILTON – John Bartholomew and the toddlers from the YMCA Daycare create a bit of a parade in the borough.
“When we take the kids for a walk around town, the other businesses come out and talk to the kids and high five and ooh and ahh at how adorable they are,” Bartholomew said, adding that’s what he likes about Milton. “Little things like that. The community really gets involved.”
“Milton has always been a blue-collar town,” said Chris Rantz, of American Heritage Crafters, a division of Kuhns Brothers Log Homes. “I like that about us. We welcome people. We’re a gracious community.”
That graciousness struck Frank Rodriguez, who saw a need for a barbershop that offers more urban hair styles. When he opened Against the Grain, in April, neighboring businesses welcomed him. In fact, Main Street Manager George Venios’s father once owned the place.
“He showed me pictures from the ’30s,” Rodriguez said with a big smile. “It was a restaurant.”
Like Venios, many residents have a family history in Milton.
“My pop (grandfather) started the store in 1940,” said Jodi (Leeser) Doresky of her family’s business, Leeser’s Shoe Store. “It’s just tradition, and we like seeing different generations of children that we have fitted for shoes.”
Across the street from Leeser’s, Cara Cameron Ulrich opened The Downtown Xchange, A “New to You” Clothing Boutique. Ulrich, a Milton High School graduate like Doresky, moved away for several years, then returned to her hometown, drawn by the safety and camaraderie of a small community.
“People here are very friendly,” she said. “All the local businesses are very helpful. If you get involved, there’s a lot to do.”
American Heritage Crafters is practically a mini Milton High reunion.
“All four of the girls who work here, we all graduated from Milton (High School) and live in Milton,” Rantz said, “which I think is kind of cool. We’re homebodies.”
“I’m part of a very multi-generational family,” said Jeff Coup, of the Coup Agency. “My brother and I are the third generation here. And the fourth generation is already working here.”
“It’s not a bedroom community, where people are transient,” said Venios, who has written several books about Milton. “Generations of families have lived here.”
But a proud heritage alone couldn’t save Milton from the trouble facing many small towns, including malls, outsourced jobs, and the economy. Milton is fighting that with its best resource: its people.
“One of the things that I love about Milton is the people,” said Maria Culp, president and CEO of the Central Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce. She listed T.I.M.E. (The Improved Milton Experience), the Milton Industrial Park, civic organizations, and the borough’s new parking lot and renovated library, as well as caring Milton residents like the late Frank Hartzell, Sr., and borough manager Chuck Beck.
“I could name a hundred people that come to mind who are just tireless in helping the town,” she said.
It helps that so many Miltonians love their town.
“It’s got a great history and a lot of great people,” said Deb Owens, a T.I.M.E. board member. “To be able to see the town progressing and improving—” she spread her hands and smiled in satisfaction.
Coup raved about Milton’s “absolutely gorgeous” surroundings, saying, “There are wonderful country roads around here to bicycle on. I can ride for hours on a Sunday afternoon and see as many horse-and-buggies as we do cars.”
Kirby Fedder, owner of Fedder’s Jewelry Store, noted the fishing opportunities in the Susquehanna River, which borders—and sometimes overpowers—the borough.
“I enjoy the river, even though it’s chased me out a few times,” he said with a wry grin. “But I still enjoy the river and everything it offers. When it’s behaving.”
Coup mentioned local volunteers, firefighters, Scouts, and church groups that make Milton a special place to live, and said with a chuckle, “I hope I never get kicked out because this is where I really love coming home to.”
Rantz echoed those feelings.
“I love it. I just love it here,” she said simply. “I’ve traveled a lot and I’ve always appreciated that when I come home, yeah, this is where I want to be.”