I was welcomed into the Melberger home in West Pittston by Ruth Melberger’s warm smile and outstretched hand, but before I could take it, the household’s official greeter, a four-legged one, scampered over to my feet and, employing the body language of canines the world over, told me he needed a little “scritching” behind his ears.
“What’s his name?” I asked as I instinctively bent down to accommodate his wish.
“Mickey,” Ruth said, and I immediately thought, “Mickey Melberger named his dog after himself?”
“And here comes his sister, Minnie,” she added as a second little critter joined the scene.
“They were already named when we got them” Ruth said, perhaps reading my mind.
Where they got them, I soon learned, was Florida. Hence the names. They were rescue animals and Ruth and Mickey Melberger couldn’t resist rescuing them. They made arrangements to transport them to Pennsylvania where it’s obvious they’ve fully embraced their new lives as the two luckiest dogs in the world.
This rescue tells you almost all you need to know about the Melbergers, who were honored Wednesday with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Greater Pittston YMCA’s annual dinner, in recognition of their service to the community.
I was at the Melberger home because Ruth and Mickey had afforded me the honor of introducing them at the dinner, and although I’ve known them for several years, I wanted to delve deeper into what makes them tick. Their love of animals was lesson number one. Or perhaps lesson two. I had already known about their kind hearts.
Those who attended the dinner Wednesday at Mohegan Sun Pocono may have heard me tell the above “Mickey and Minnie” story in my introduction. I say “may have” because I am writing this column two days before the event and am still not sure what I am going to say.
I also am considering relating a story Mickey told me about his early swimming lessons at the Pittston YMCA. The kids were being taught stroking technique which they practiced with their feet touching the bottom of the pool. “I thought I was actually swimming,” Mickey said. “So when the instructor asked who could jump into the deep end and swim, I said I could and dove in. They had to fish me out before I drowned. That’s how dumb I was.”
“Actually,” I said to Mickey, “it seems to me you’ve been jumping into the deep end all your life. And it’s worked out pretty well.”
Business wise, the deep end Mickey (known to half of his acquaintances by his actual name, Clifford) jumped into was New York City. More than 35 years ago he set out to convince national and international firms in New York they’d do well to store their paper records here in the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre area. The rest, as the cliche goes, is history.
Diversified Records Services was born but it was not the last deep end that beckoned. The next was the digital revolution, and before long Diversified Records blossomed into Diversified Information Technologies with 600 employees here and hundreds of others across the globe.
Mickey is now “retired” (his quotes, not mine). He knows all too well he’ll never be able to resist an urge to dive in where he sees opportunity, especially for his native Greater Pittston, where he’s maintained his home despite his worldwide interests.
That’s why he intended to use his time at the podium Wednesday night to present an idea he’s fostered the past few years. Mickey believes our area should market itself as a perfect place to live for retired New York City policemen and fireman and other public officials. They can live here for one-half to one-third the cost of living in New York but still be just a couple of hours away from the city should they wish to visit, he says. And they don’t even have to drive there. We run 40 buses a day to New York, Mickey likes to point out. And pension disbursements are not taxed in Pennsylvania. Which is probably one of the reasons Pennsylvania is the fourth most popular state for retirees.
These retirees, Mickey continues, can enjoy all of the amenities of living here, the restaurants, the arts, the Railriders, the Penguins, the warm, welcoming neighbors, and in return our population will grow with salt-of-the-earth individuals who will fill our churches, participate in worthwhile causes and generally enrich our communities.
For a “retired” guy, Mickey Melberger is mighty enthused about all of this.
He sees a healthy Pittston YMCA as a selling point in this endeavor. That’s why he worked hard to make Wednesday night’s dinner a success and encourages local business leaders to support the Y the rear around.
Pittston City, itself, can take the lead, Mickey says, pointing to the progress in the city in recent years.
A compelling case, he argues, can be made for retirees to relocate right here and enjoy a rich quality of life.
It certainly seems to have worked well for little Mickey and Minnie.
Ed Ackerman writes The optimist every week for Greater Pittston Progress. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.