York Town Square

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Scores in York mourn death of former Cat chief

Elliott Breese, former York Caterpillar Plant general manager and Crispus Attucks Community Association campaign chairman, addressed a gathering at the new 605 S. Duke Street Center. The center’s cornerstone is dated 1973. Breese, who died this week, is feted for heading fund-raising that made the center possible. Incidentally, noted York City Schools Supt. Frederick D. Holliday is pictured at far left. Background link: York’s Crispus Attucks Center had intriguing start.

“In my mind, the biggest single factor in the success of the Crispus Attucks Building Fund drive was your acceptance as general chairman,” William Wolf of Wolf Supply wrote.
His letter was directed to Elliott Breese, York Caterpillar Plant manager, who headed fund-raising for a new center that provided services primarily to the black community.
Breese died this week at the age of 91… .

He left York in the mid-1970s but is still remembered.
Bobby Simpson worked for Breese at Caterpillar before taking over the helm at Crispus Attucks in 1979.
When asked about his role models and mentors, Simpson stated in 2006:

It depends on what part of my life you are talking about. At this point in my life, there are too many to list. As a kid, I didn’t have any. As I got older, it was a guy by the name of Freddy Sexton who ran a pool hall. I was in junior high and had won a wrestling trophy and I took it by to show it to him. He was so proud that he gave me a job in his pool hall making $5 a week. Boy, that was a lot of money then.
There were a couple of teachers in school I really liked, and some people in the business world — Caterpillar plant managers Don Helfer and Elliott Breese. And Dan Elby. He’s a younger dude, but I respect him because he’s been through some hardships but has been very successful… .

Simpson, who has built Crispus Attucks into a major and effective community center, had more to say about Elliott Breese’s contributions in a York Daily Record/Sunday News story (12/1/07):

Elliott Breese made many positive changes during the 12 years he spent in York. The former Caterpillar plant manager was active in organizations including Crispus Attucks Association, the Rotary Club and the York YMCA.
On Nov. 23, Breese died at the age of 91 at his home in Chillicothe, Ill. Today, friends and former co-workers mourn the loss of a man they describe as a one-of-a-kind, wonderful man.
Crispus Attucks Executive Director Robert Simpson worked for Breese at the former Caterpillar plant in Springettsbury Township during the late 1960s and part of the 1970s. Breese was generous, knowledgeable and “the kindest person in the world,” Simpson said.
Breese was a hands-on plant manager and made time to get to know the employees, Simpson said. He was also instrumental in changing how supervisors were selected at CAT, Simpson said.
Breese held a series of meetings and sensitivity training for workers and foremen, Simpson said.
“Attitudes began to change. People began to understand more,” he said.
The talks about racial equality were eye-opening for Breese, too, Simpson said.
“(Breese) just said flatly, ‘This is a new day at Caterpillar,’ ” Simpson said. “He said anyone in Caterpillar that wants to become a foreman can nominate themselves. ”
Simpson said that, when Breese moved to Peoria in the mid-1970s, it was a sad day for the York Caterpillar plant.
He said that, about 10 years ago, Breese visited York and invited nearly 50 former Caterpillar employees to dinner.
“I was honored to be one of those that he chose,” Simpson said.
Breese and Simpson remained close friends.
“He and I kept in touch the whole time. We never lost contact. … I just talked to him two weeks ago,” Simpson said.
At that time, Breese made it clear that he didn’t expect to live much longer, Simpson said. “He said to me he had lived a good life.
“I was very sad and emotional about it,” he said of learning that Breese’s life was about to end. “He was just a kind-hearted human being, very understanding of people, very, very giving.”
Springettsbury Township resident Francis Gordon Lee, 88, was also saddened by Breese’s death. Lee worked for Breese at the Caterpillar plants in Peoria and in York County.
“He was about as good as you could ever find,” Lee said of Breese. “I don’t think there was a soul … at Caterpillar that didn’t like him. He was just a real unusual guy. … I just thought he was a wonderful person.”

Also of interest:
Check out this series of stories on Crispus Attucks Community Association.