Essayist profiles York County, Pa., champion for the blind
Russell A. Wentz’s 90-plus years have allowed him to cross paths with many people of importance in York County’s past.
His memories of Henry E. Lanius, longtime state legislator from Spring Grove and champion for the visually impaired, are still sharp. (Search “York County lawmaker fought to aid the blind” in York Town Square archives.)
He wrote about Lanius, who was himself blind, in the Ripplet, newsletter of the Spring Grove Area Historical Preservation Society, in May 2000.
Wentz remembers visiting Lanius, 1882-1943, on the floor of the State Senate in the 1930s. The handshake with this legislative veteran stuck in Wentz’s memory 70 years later… .
Here’s Wentz’s Ripplet essay on Lanius, a worthwhile read to learn more about one of the most influential senators from York County’s past:
There is very little evidence extant that the Spring Grove area has ever had very many idle rich, world-renowned, nor infamous criminals. Most of our citizens have been conservative, hard-working, God-fearing champions of fairness and right. Typical of this class was the blind legislator, Hon. Henry E. Lanius.
There is little information on his early years available, but he was born in York, Feb. 13, 1882, the son of Marcus C. and Margaret Katharine Knodnt. Lanius, grew up there, and it was there also that he lost his sight in an industrial accident in 1903 at age 21. He was a direct descendant of an old Pennsylvania family, having had at least three ancestors serving under Washington in the Revolution
He was educated in the York Public Schools as a normal boy until 1903. From that time until l923 he studied assiduously on his own, but never had the advantage of any formal schooling for the blind. After marrying Cora Elizabeth Nace in 1940, they moved to the home on Stormy Hill, North Codorus Township presently owned and occupied by the Sesenig family who operate the delicatessen at York Road Station near Hanover Brands.
The Laniuses had one child, a son, Marcus an adventurous individual, who was, among other things, an avid motorcycle enthusiast, who later served as his father’s legislative page in Harrisburg.
Beginning in 1903, Mr. Lanius was keenly interested in the welfare of the blind. He studied Braille and received a comprehensive course of lectures in preparation for a public career.
He was elected to the state House of Representatives from his home district in 1912, a set he held until 1920, when a heart attack forced his temporary retirement for two years, after having attained his party’s minority leadership in the House. He reentered the political arena in 1922, and served in the state Senate until 1942.
It was during these latter 20 years that his page, chauffeur, and later Sergeant-at-arms of the Senate, Edward E. Stambaugh, served with him in the legislature. Ed’s widow, Mary, who until her recent passing, lived at Wiota, recalled Henry’s funeral very well, although she was unable to attend because of the birth of their first son, Ed Jr. In a recent interview she stated, “I can’t remember Mr. Lanius using a Seeing Eye dog, although the family did have a pet dog.” She went on to relate how the Senator was very generous in his financial support of students. “All you had to do was ask,” is the way she put it.
In 1919 Mr. Lanius sponsored legislation to provide special education for the handicapped, and was responsible for many of the laws benefiting blind people. He was considered a friend of education, also addressing old-age pensions, workmen’s compensation, and public welfare. His opinion and counsel carried great weight in the inner circle of his own Democratic party, and he was highly regarded for his honesty and integrity by the opposition. He was a member of the Lions Club and it was largely through his efforts that Lions International adopted work-for-the-blind as one of their major projects.
His great-niece, Shirley Loughran, of York, had this to say about her relative, “Uncle Harry was a kind and gentle man who could talk on any subject. People were always coming to see him, and I remember those big cars driving up the hill for visitors to talk to him, while I visited the home for a week in summer. The house was set up for him to walk about with ease, and there was a rear stair-way that was off-limits to other family members.?
This from Velma Rohrbaugh, a former neighbor, “The Lanius farm was on Stormy Hill School Road, and I remember the family’s attending Lischey’s Church, where they always sat near the front on the right side of the center aisle.
I didn’t know Mr. Lanius well, but was impressed with his speaking ability when I was privileged to introduce him as the principal speaker at a banquet held by the Lischey’s Sunday School Winning Others Class, taught by Norman Spangler, held at the West York Inn in the early 30s.
I also vividly remember a visit to the Pennsylvania legislature one evening with a group of classmates while I was a student at Elizabethtown College. I recall observing the deliberations of the Senate from the gallery for a while, and then somehow or other we found our way to the chamber floor where we were welcomed by Ed Stambaugh and got to talk to Mr. Lanius at his desk. This would have been about 1932 and may have been while Ed was Sgt.-at-arms of the body.
On May 1, 1944 a resolution was adopted by the Senate to have six members draft suitable resolutions after the death of Mr. Lanius. Their efforts resulted in a memorial service May 3, 1944 at 2 p.m. when numerous tributes were offered by colleagues.
The Laniuses are buried at Lischey’s Cemetery, where there is a discrepancy in the birth date on the monument, but 1882 is apparently correct.
Also of interest:
Lawmaker fought for aid for the blind