Schuylkill River Heritage Center to honor community members who gave back to preserve culture of Phoenixville

Photo courtesy of Schuylkill River Heritage Center
Former Marine Colonel Tom McCabe stands with his Jeep. McCabe is coordinating a military vehicles display at the Schuylkill River Heritage Awards night on Thursday. The theme is "A Night at the USO."
Photo courtesy of Schuylkill River Heritage Center Former Marine Colonel Tom McCabe stands with his Jeep. McCabe is coordinating a military vehicles display at the Schuylkill River Heritage Awards night on Thursday. The theme is "A Night at the USO."

PHOENIXVILLE — Throughout the years, residents have contributed to making Phoenixville what it is by giving back to the community.

The Schuylkill River Heritage Center is honoring a current resident and a late resident that worked to preserve the Colonial Theatre and the Foundry.

SRHC will host its third annual awards ceremony from 6 to 8 p.m. on Oct. 4 at the Foundry building where it will honor Emmett Gruici and the late George Hinkle.

The awards recognize “somebody who has contributed to the conservation and celebration of regional community resources, most especially heritage resources,” said SHRC President Barbara Cohen.


In 1995, the Colonial Theatre was struggling and the owner was about to sell it. Cohen said Gruici and Hinkle talked to the owner, hosted a successful event at the theatre and later talked the owner into selling the theatre to the Phoenixville Area Economic Development Corporation with the idea of turning it into a nonprofit. The Association for the Colonial Theatre later became the owner.

Cohen said if Hinkle and Gruici had not spoken to the owner about selling the theatre, it would have been a drapery warehouse.

Gruici helped establish a peace garden at Freedoms Foundation and initiated the Kiwanis Club of Phoenixville’s Flag Day or patriotic celebration in Reeves Park.

Hinkle also took some homeless men “under his wing” having them do chores at the foundry such as pulling weeds or identifying historical artifacts, Cohen said.

Cohen said Gruici and Hinkle deserve to receive the award because they contributed in the reuse of the Foundry and Colonial Theatre.

“Emmett made use of Freedoms Foundation in a positive way,” she said.

Cohen said the men “personified” the giving spirit of Phoenixville.

“Phoenixville has an extremely cultural identity and it stands out,” Cohen said. “There are communities like Norristown and Coatesville that are struggling with challenges. “Phoenixville has a particular character that is wonderful.”

She said community members support various activities such as spaghetti dinners or other fundraisers groups host.

“Maybe (this attitude) is what was nurtured at the steel company,” Cohen said. “No matter where you came from, no matter who you were you could get a job at the mill. That has built something in the community. The idea of giving back is part of the DNA of Phoenixville.”

Hinkle’s daughter, Deborah Kurynny, will be attending the event and is happy that her father is getting recognized posthumously.

“I feel it is absolutely wonderful that my father continues to be recognized for his community service efforts,” Kurynny said. “He deserved all the awards of recognition he received while he was living and still deserves them posthumously. My father did all the things he did from the heart. He was never looking for the recognition. That just happened and continues to do so.”

“I’m so very proud of my dad and I’m sure he’s smiling,” she added. “It’s an honor for me and my family to be a part of this awe-inspiring occasion.”

Cohen said throughout this year Kurynny has cleaned up Renaissance Park, following in the example her father made.

Gruici said he is honored as well to be chosen an award recipient.

“At 87, I’m not real active anymore,” he said. “I’m getting recognized for things I have done in the past. I feel great that it’s not all forgotten. It’s recognition for things I started in the past that are still happening today.”

The Kiwanis Club’s patriotic celebration involving Phoenixville students has been held for more than 20 years.

“We’ve had the effort to invited veterans and members of the Armed Forces to the event,” Gruici said. “I do say bad things about war, but we need our Armed Forces to protect our country.”

He still participates in the peace vigils held on Fridays at Main and Bridge streets.

Gruici said he was maintaining gardens at Freedoms Foundation when he asked the administration if he could start a peace garden. The peace garden was started in memory of his daughter, Nancy, who passed away from a rare form of breast cancer 10 years ago.

“She was an advocate for peace,” he said.

Gruici is working on restoring his train garden that was damaged several years ago from a fallen pine tree. He said in the past, he invited the Children’s Learning Center to come visit the train garden a few times a year.

He said the revitalization in Phoenixville didn’t happen started 20 years ago.

Gruici recalls talking to the former Colonial owner Sam LaRosa who told him that if was going to sell it, he would let Gruici know first.

The theme for the awards event will be “A Night at the USO” and will feature 1940s music and dinner, according to a press release from SRHC. SRHC member and former Marine Colonel Tom McCabe will display of 1940s military vehicles.

In addition, McCabe and SRHC member Galloway Morris are bringing other 1940s items for a display.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the restoration of the 1895 Phoenix Wheel.

Sponsors of the wheel initiative and the awards night include Allan A Myers, Inc., Hankin Phoenixville Foundry Partners, LP, Robert Ryan Catering, Phoenixville Federal Bank & Trust, Aqua Pennsylvania, Inc., Environmental Standards, BPG Properties, LTD, Phoenixville Hospital, Butera, Beausang, Cohen, Brennan, Attorneys-at-Law, PECO, Saul Ewing, LLP, Sly Fox Brewing Company, O’Donnell, Weiss & Mattei, PC and Maille, Falconeiro & Co., LLP.

For more information, or to purchase tickets, 610-783-0645 or the SRHC at 610-935-2181. Those interested in attending can also email