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Why Konkrete Kids?

During a recent meeting of Northampton Borough Council, members of a Lafayette College group presented findings from a survey taken by community members regarding their views on the area and recommendations for possible change.

One of the suggestions made by the group was to consider changing the Konkrete Kids name. The reason cited was that someone unfamiliar with the area might think that the name has something to do with the Ku Klux Klan.

It does not.

The largest number of early settlers that came to Pennsylvania arrived from Germany as the result of political and religious upheaval at home. William Penn offered these settlers religious freedom that many could not find at home. These early arrivals moved in great numbers to the Lehigh Valley and took up farming to practice a life that was unavailable to them back home.

By the 1880s, the descendants of these settlers and more found themselves sitting on very fertile soil that also had huge layers of some of the greatest limestone deposits the world has ever seen - rock that was perfect for making cement.

This resulted in an explosion of cement plants, 61 in all, that in these early stages worked with limited technology and depended on manual labor. A labor shortage sent most of these plants to Eastern Europe in order to meet the labor needs of the plants.

When these workers arrived, they found a large portion of the citizens here spoke a form of German called, by us, Pennsylvania Dutch. In fact, a major factor in the creation of the Free Public-School Act in Pennsylvania was an effort to teach English to the families of German extraction.

High schools in our area actually sprang up during the same time as our cement plants. As these high schools began to identify with school mascots or identifying labels, Northampton chose the name Konkrete Kids.

The name has stuck for more than 100 years. It was based on the feeling that cement being produced here was used to make buildings and bridges and more - wherever strength in building materials was required. The cement became concrete, but the Pennsylvania German that was still spoken here into the late 20th century, along with the many Eastern European workers who could speak German, applied their spelling, so it became Konkrete. It just helped that they could match it with Kids.

The Atlas Cement Company Memorial Museum has laid out this story for our students, who enjoy multiple educational programs throughout their school experience. In fact, our middle school is organized and operated in a format that teaches the importance of our heritage and their claim as Konkrete Kids.

If someone who is not familiar with the area and its heritage thinks that the three Ks have a different message, the solution is to ask, Why do you spell it that way?

The answer is it’s our heritage - in short, where we came from and how we got here.

(Editor’s note: Oberly is secretary and member of the Atlas Cement Company Memorial Museum Trust.)