Women in Timber Luncheon Highlighted by Local Family Histories

Historic researcher, Hilary Jebitsch, was the guest speaker at the 22nd Annual “Women In Timber” luncheon hosted by the Allegheny Hardwood Utilization Group (AHUG).   Jebitsch shared the results of a recently completed Diversity Study, commissioned by the Lumber Heritage Region, which explored the historic role of women and minority populations in the hardwood industry of Northwest and North Central, PA.  Her program featured the stories of two local women, Rose Kocjancic Paar and Mary Bizzak, to the delight of more than 50 attendees on hand for the outdoor event, held at Wildcat Park in Ludlow, PA. 

According to Jebitsch, “The life of Rose (Komidar) Kocjancic Paar (May 15, 1908 – June 28, 1997) unequivocally exemplifies the incredible, challenging and inspiring life of a Pennsylvania lumberwoman.”  Born and raised in the lumber camp where she met her first husband, Rose was married at the age of 17.  She and Joseph Kocjancic started their own camp less than 48 hours after they were wed.  Rose helped to operate the camp, cooked and cared for its woodsmen, and following the untimely death of her husband in 1937, continued to do so while raising their 4 sons on her own.  It is believed that Rose Kocjancic operated the last active lumber camp in Pennsylvania.  Her children all went on to be involved in various aspects of the hardwood trade, and Rose’s unique story of perseverance, strength and love continues to inspire her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. 

Mary (Ulyan) Bizzak was born in an Elk County lumber camp on January 14, 1915.  Her mother gave birth and immediately returned to the lumber camp kitchen to prepare lunch and finish the laundry, setting the tone for Mary’s lifelong work ethic.  Jebitsch commented, “Mary Bizzak represents the epitome of a true lumberwoman”.  One of eleven children, Mary recalled that she and her siblings all helped with chores in the camps, carrying wood and water while learning to cook and sew.   After marrying Joe Bizzak in 1936, Mary operated a boarding house in Westline while Joe hauled wood to the Day Chemical Plant.  When the country entered World War II in 1942, the logging industry lost their male workers, marking the beginning of Mary’s life in the hardwood industry.  Joe had two log trucks but only one driver, so Mary learned to drive truck (loading and unloading by hand) and to skid logs with a tractor.  She also “girdled” trees by manually applying poison to kill the bark, returning a year later to remove the bark from the tree for paper wood.  Mary raised five children, continuing to work alongside Joe until mechanical debarking “eliminated” her job in the late 1960’s.  She then worked an additional 15 years as a cafeteria cook in a local school. 

To read the full report, which is packed with inspiring stories of perseverance, visit lumberheritage.org.

In addition to the presentation by Jebistch, program updates were also provided by Holly Komonczi, Executive Director of the Lumber Heritage Region and by Amy Shields, AHUG Executive Director.  Lunch was provided by Olmstead Manor, courtesy of North Central Regional Planning and Development.