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Joe Zerbey – Moving Force Behind Creation of the Airport in Schuylkill County

Joseph H. Zerbey III (1916 – 1958) was an untiring advocate for aviation in the years following the end of World War II.

Captain Zerbey returned from the war after service as a pilot instructor in the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF). He brought home with him the “We Can Do It” attitude that quickly became recognized as the hallmark of so many members of the Greatest Generation.

In the mid-40s to late 50s, while serving as the general manager and managing editor of the family-owned general circulation newspaper, The Pottsville Republican, Joe was not reluctant to apply the resources available to him to contend with the economic issues of the post-war period in Schuylkill County.

Even a cursory review of period news reports finds the challenge of overcoming high unemployment caused by the collapse of the hard coal extraction industry rising to the top as a major concern for county residents.

Joe led the local business community in efforts to bring about a new era of economic success to Schuylkill County. He dedicated hundreds of hours working with private and public sector leaders to create an airport in Schuylkill County to jumpstart improved economic sustainability.
Joe's aircraft

Left: Joe next to the Aero Commander he flew in 1956; Right: Traded in for this Beech Twin (Model 18) that crashed in 1958.

Joe Zerbey died tragically at the age of 41 as a result of burns suffered after a crash upon takeoff while piloting the newspaper’s Beech Twin on June 9, 1958. This plane had often been placed at the disposal of local mercy flights and offered as no-charge transport for community leaders to attend meetings to promote area business-building efforts.

At the time of his death, Joe had already served as first president of the Greater Pottsville Industrial Development Corporation—now SEDCO*— after becoming one of its founders six years before. He also was serving as the president of the Greater Pottsville Federal Building and Loan Association, was a member of the board of directors of the Pottsville Community Chest; Schuylkill County Chapter of the Foundation for Infantile Paralysis; Cancer Society of Schuylkill County and the Salvation Army.

Shortly after Joe’s sudden death, then Schuylkill County Commissioner Benjamin Boltz released a statement. “As far as Joe Zerbey was concerned there was no man in public or private life in Schuylkill County who did so much for the people and industry of our area and who asked so little in return. I am preparing a resolution… asking that the new Schuylkill County Airport be dedicated as the Joseph H. Zerbey III Memorial Field, or Joe Zerbey airport, or Joe Zerbey Field or perhaps just Zerbey Field. I feel sure my fellow commissioners will concur with this resolution since Joe was the moving force behind the acquisition of the airport and the guiding light as it grew near completion.” (emphasis added)

*SEDCO—Schuyklill Economic Development Corporation

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