Before she served as a leader in the state Republican Party, Eileen Melvin was an economic-development consultant.
In that capacity, she worked with people of various backgrounds to help bring jobs to the region.
She followed that up with several years among the top GOP leaders across the state.
She worked with numerous campaigns, including those of former Gov. Tom Ridge and Sens. Rick Santorum and Arlen Specter.
For nearly two years, Melvin has been the president and CEO of United Metal Fabricators in Johnstown.
And on Tuesday, the former Republican leader welcomed U.S. Rep. Mark Critz – a Democrat – to her company.
When Critz’s visit was announced, Melvin’s name was on the press release as the primary media contact, along with the statement: “We are very excited to host Congressman Critz.”
Despite the political irony, she said having a relationship with your local representatives – regardless of their party affiliation or your own political history – just makes sense.
“Economic development should not be partisan,” Melvin said from her office at UMF.
Melvin and Critz became acquainted when he was working under the late John Murtha. One of Critz’s roles as Murtha’s district director was bringing together groups and individuals with shared economic-development goals.
“Mark and I have been friends for a long time,” Melvin said.
As state GOP chief in 2005 and 2006, Melvin helped raise money for candidates and also helped those candidates shape their campaign messages. Invariably, the messages involved jobs and the economy.
“I saw that getting good people elected was one of the best ways to strengthen communities,” she said.
Melvin was appointed to the Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Board of Review by two different governors – Mark Schweiker, a Republican, and Ed Rendell, a Democrat.
The former state Republican leader sees a political landscape now rife with partisanship – to the point that little of substance gets accomplished.
“It’s so unfortunate what’s happening in Washington,” she said. “And the good citizens pay the price.”
United Metal Fabricators is located on Eisenhower Boulevard in Richland Township.
The company manufactures examination tables, power chairs, instrument and supply carts and other metal products used in the health-care industry.
UMF has customers across the United States and Canada, and in regions including the Middle East and Latin America.
“This company has a long and rich history,” Melvin said. “It has had many, many challenges in the past 10 to 15 years. But some very exciting things are happening.”
No doubt chief among those exciting developments is having a new CEO who understands the minefield of today’s political landscape and sees value in building relationships – regardless of whether someone’s name is followed by a D or an R.
‘He was really well liked’
Republicans and labor unions typically mix like oil and water.
But Owen “Bud” Wissinger – who died on Aug. 7 at the age of 93 – was a rare breed in politics.
Current GOP state chairman Rob Gleason recalled chilly October mornings in 1980, when Gleason was a candidate for the state Senate and Wissinger was helping him with his campaign.
Before the sun had even risen, they met outside the gates of Johnstown steel mills so Gleason could talk with union workers heading home from the night shift.
Wissinger was a World War II Navy veteran who worked 43 years at Bethlehem Steel and held various elected offices.
“He took me out to the mill gates to meet mill workers,” Gleason said. “That, to me, was a terrific thing and not an easy thing to do.”
Gleason said Wissinger received support throughout his career from local labor groups, despite being a member of the GOP.
“That’s very unusual for a labor guy,” Gleason said.
Archives at The Tribune-Democrat show that Wissinger’s milestones included:
n Elected president of the Good Fellowship Club of Wheel Plant Local 2633, United Steelworkers of America, in 1957.
-- Elected president of the Wheel Plant Local 2633 in 1958.
-- Elected to the Johnstown school board in 1961.
-- Elected school board president in 1969.
-- Elected to Johnstown City Council in 1979, and often served as the lone Republican on council.
He also served on the
Johnstown vo-tech school board, and was active with
the West End Lions Club and various masonic organizations.
“He was really well liked,” Gleason said.
Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5091.
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