Who was Roy Stauffer?
Today, 45 years after his death, he is remembered, if he is remembered at all, as the Chevrolet dealer who planted Japanese cherry blossom trees on the West Pittston Riverbank, and developed Stauffer Heights, the housing development in Hughestown overlooking Greater Pittston.
He was much more. As president of the Pittston and Scranton Chambers of Commerce and the Lackawanna Industrial Fund, he helped launch over 40 businesses in the Scranton-Pittston-Wilkes-Barre area and created an estimated 15,000 jobs. No wonder he was known as “The Father of Area Industrial Development.”
He also was a philanthropist who raised thousands for charities and at his own expense planted more than 2,000 Japanese cherry blossom trees throughout Great Pittston. He was the honorary chairman of the first Cherry Blossom Festival in 1971 when he was 74.
Stauffer was born in Nuremberg, not Germany, but a small farm town on the Luzerne- Schuylkill County border.
He started his work life as a mechanic for the Lehigh Valley Railroad in the Sayre Shops.
In 1925, he moved to West Pittston and opened his first Chevrolet dealership and mechanical garage on Wyoming Avenue in Wyoming, near Fourth Street. His first customer was Howard Renfer, who bought a Chevy truck for his dairy to replace his horse and wagon.
In 1932, having outgrown the Wyoming business, Stauffer opened a second location in the large former post office building in Pittston, across Water Street from the Lehigh Valley Train Station. He turned the first floor into a large showroom, where he sold not only Chevys, but also Frigidaire appliances and Link-Belt coal stokers.
By 1934, he had 103 employees and his dealership was one of largest in the country. In 1936, he arranged a shipment of 40 freight cars to haul 160 new Chevys from Harrisburg to Pittston and Scranton, where he had opened a new agency at Washington Avenue and Walnut Street.
Also in ’36, he started profit sharing and fully-paid Blue Cross health insurance for his employees. In February 1940, he bought land in West Pittston from Lehigh Valley Coal Company from Boston Avenue to Mercer Street, with 200 feet frontage along Wyoming Avenue and 350 feet depth. Contractor Walter Schmaltz from Hughestown built a stunning, postcard-worthy, state-of-the-art, 68,000 square-foot, glass-walled dealership building, consolidating showrooms, repair service, parts room, painting booth and warehouse. The employee cafeteria was big enough to hold meetings. The new center opened in June of 1940 and closed in 1971. Today it is the site of the Insalaco Shopping Center.
In 1951, Stauffer announced he had sold 71,225 new and used cars and trucks, 52,744 in Wyoming, Pittston and West Pittston and 18,481 in Scranton since 1925. The West Pittston site serviced 135 cars a day, stocked $600,000 in Chevy parts and had a $400,000 payroll. By the 30th anniversary in 1955, sales topped 90,000.
Stauffer had three sons, Carlton, Gail and Glenn, who ran the Scranton dealership. Carlton opened a dealership in Clarks Summit. Carlton died in 2010. He served with the 12th Infantry as a combat rifleman during the invasion of Utah Beach on D-Day and in the liberation of Paris.
In 1957, Roy broke ground for Stauffer Heights on a 800-foot elevation on Hamtown Hill in Hughestown. Roy was connected to Hughestown because he was a member of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. He loved the idea of having a housing development on a high perch. He called his own street where he built a house Grandview Drive. He erected a 30-foot high star which could be seen all over Greater Pittston. In 2011, the star was rescued, refurbished and erected by students on the Pittston Area High School campus.
Stauffer was so beloved in Hughestown when he died in 1975, at age 78, Mayor Leonard Balsavage declared a 30-day mourning period and draped the borough building door in black.
Stauffer was feted several times. In 1956, 450 attended a banquet for him at the Hotel Casey in Scranton, where he was honored as the founder of the Retired Folks Club of Scranton. In October 1975, the Hampton Industrial Park off Keyser Avenue, near the Taylor-Scranton Line, was renamed the Stauffer Industrial Park.
Stauffer’s legacy in West Pittston is a weathered 40-year-old plaque on the river bank and the cherry blossom trees, many of which are in distress. West Pittston Tomorrow is raising money to replenish the trees, a fitting tribute to the man who could well be called “The Father of the Cherry Blossom Festival.”