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2021 Year in Review

Our second year of the COVID crisis saw many changes and challenges even as many of us remained sequestered at home waiting for the worst to pass. Here are some of the events we reported on.


•The COVID-19 vaccine rollout begins in earnest and despite widespread misinformation. State Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine says healthcare professionals are a priority and patient recovery rates are improving, but hospitals are deeply challenged. LVHN expands availability to first responders.

•BASD approved Teamsters deal to retain and support bus drivers with regular pay, despite hour cuts because of various mitigation efforts, while schools are set to reopen for the spring semester.

•A proposed municipal garage in the middle of Hellertown is opposed by neighbors. The Public Works building is okayed the next month, to be erected on the site of the former Reinhard ES.


•Former city employee Dana Grubb announces his bid for mayor, facing J. William Reynolds in the Democratic primary. Reynolds eventually wins the general election.

•Bethlehem’s first female police chief, Michelle Kott, lays out her plans and expectations for law enforcement and police involvement in the community while stressing the challenges officers are facing as first responders in the time of COVID.

•Alkiohn Dunkins becomes the third and final suspect charged in the murder and burning of 18-year-old Tyrell Michael Holmes in a Dumpster in 2018.

•Fountain Hill Council votes to re-open the borough park in March.

•Chimney Swifts are named the official bird of the city of Bethlehem.


•Bethlehem native Merv Shiner, first to record “Here Comes Peter Cottontail,” celebrates 100th birthday.

•Developer Abe Atiyeh proposed grocery store in Dewberry Avenue neighborhood food desert. The closing of Aharts Market on Montclair Avenue on the Southside stokes similar fears for the pedestrian-heavy neighborhood, but the location is eventually purchased by another vendor.

•As COVID-19 cases decline, Governor Tom Wolf announced light easing of mask and social distancing restrictions.

•Annual Polar Plunge replacement Polar Pop raises thousands of dollars for Special Olympics.

•Westgate Mall enters the third of five phases in a modernization and improvement plan.

•Bethlehem Food Co-Op signs lease, announces future store location on East Broad Street.

•Southside music mainstay Godfrey Daniels marks 45 years.


•Clearview ES teacher Lindsey Hunsicker reads bedtme stories to students on social media live to promote reading at an early age.

•As local pharmacies close nationwide, we investigate pharmacy benefit managers – healthcare administrators – and their influence on the pharmaceutical market.

•Lehigh Valley staple Trans-Bridge Lines busing marks 80 years of business.

•Downtown Southside sees two new public murals unveiled on First Friday.

•The public returns to in-person BASD meetings.


•Coinciding with a long-planned restoration project and fresh spring planting, the Bethlehem Rose Garden celebrates its 90th anniversary.

•Representatives of the former Martin Tower property ask for a number of zoning changes to allow for its project proposals, which feature 300 apartment units, a 130-room hotel, two medical offices, a restaurant, gas station, grocery store, retail and parking. The 53-acre plot is the only location in the city bearing the Office/Mixed Use designation, and as of December 2021 the issue is still unresolved.

•State education officials join local administrators such as BASD Superintendent Dr. Joseph Roy and others at Marvine ES in pleading for education funding reform.

•The first of several proposals for new eight or nine-story highrises on the Southside finds opponents on the historic commissions.


•Allen Frank becomes the fifth director of Liberty HS’s famous Grenadier Band since its creation in 1936. He was assistant director for eight years and replaces Kevin Long.

•The Memorial Pool on Illick’s Mill Road reopens June 11 after being closed for renovations since 2017. The pool first opened in 1956.

•The Rose Garden monument to Christopher Columbus, whose long-overlooked history has been exposed to more public scrutiny in recent years, was moved by city council to the Holy Savior Cemetery on Linden Street under lease to the Catholic Diocese of Allentown.

•U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh visits, touring the Lehigh Valley, SteelStacks and the Hoover-Mason Trestle. He says such sites are an inspiration to other regions across the country yet to recover from the massive industrial shifts of the 90s.


•Liberty HS celebrates its 100th anniversary.

•The downtown Gemeinhaus, built during the city’s founding in 1741, receives replacement window shutters that replicate the originals to maintain the building and museum’s historic look and status.

•More than a year into the COVID crisis, with 800,000 Americans dead, government, doctors, and concerned citizens and parents cannot agree on the best treatment and whether children should get vaccinated. The national debate over mandatory vaccinations is nearly identical to a similar legal crisis in 1905.

•Fountain Hill’s first in-person meeting in a long while debates the opening of Gametime Sports Bar and Grille, which some believe will cause late-night trouble in the residential neighborhood, though council considered the discussion closed and the opening inevitable.


•Despite COVID, the 38th annual Musikfest proceeds without much of a hitch.

•To celebrate five years, the National Museum of Industrial History on Third Street opens Foundry Park, a 17,000-square-foot permanent exhibit featuring the historic hydraulic press and Bethlehem Steel locomotive.

•Edgeboro neighborhood residents declare to city council that road repaving plans must not inhibit or destroy their massive century-old linden trees.

•In anticipation of growing need when current crises end, the developers break ground on the Polk Street garage. The 731-space, six-story car park is expected to cost $22 million.


•Local Billy Sugra recalls his father, Bill Sr., on the anniversary of his death while working in the Twin Towers on 9-11. It is the last year for the annual fundraising golf tournament in Boll’s honor, but the Memorial Fund will continue.

•After nearly 15 years, the Via thrift store in Fountain Hill closes. Shopping is now all online.

•Hotel Bethlehem is named #1 historic hotel nationwide by USAToday, up from #3 in 2019.

•Locals rally at Payrow Plaza in a demonstration for climate awareness.


•The Southside Chilifest and Celtic Classic return after a yearlong COVID hiatus.

•Media Literacy Week – studies find majority of adults get their news from social media despite the fountain of paid content and easily disproven political bias.

•BASD institutes rules for sports team coaches and athletes going into the winter season, requesting everyone get vaccinated and requiring the unvaccinated to wear masks and get tested regularly at the district’s expense.


•Lehigh County Executive Phillips Armstrong addresses, in a lengthy letter, allegations of misconduct regarding a number of calls to the 911 center. The allegations were part of a federal lawsuit by former 911 employees who had been fired.

•Boy Scout Troop 302 member Neil Rana engages with his fellow members and the community to maintain mental health, especially of teens, during the prolonged periods of social loneliness and stress caused by COVID.

•Lehigh Valley Gold Star Mothers, “continuing the service our children were not able to complete,” prepare and send care packages to servicemembers overseas.

•Bethlehem hosts its 100th annual Halloween Parade.


•Live tree lighting in Payrow Plaza and New Year Peepsfest celebration return after a year off for COVID concerns.

•The grassroots-led Lehigh River pedestrian bridge, long planned to run parallel with the Fahy Bridge, builds support throughout the city.

•Liberty HS class of 1945 holds its delayed 75th anniversary reunion.

•Hellertown’s year apart from festivities is forgotten in a huge holiday bash with numerous guests and performances, from music to dancing to karate.

1 PRESS PHOTO BY ED COURRIER Only the section sporting its cupola, of what was once an historic building, remains standing as of Dec. 24. By Dec. 28, it too, was fully erased from history. The Allentown State Hospital was built in 1912 and closed in 2010. Although abandoned, the buildings were still intact in March 2019 when preservation activists sought to persuade the state to repurpose the historic structures.
2 PRESS PHOTO BY LANI GOINS Due to COVID-19 concerns, ArtsQuest hosted a Jan. 3 drive-thru Dia de Los Reyes, also known as Three Kings Day. The weather, as so often happened this season, was fickle. The morning brought unexpected snow. Thankfully, the air warmed in the afternoon, and the sky cleared for the event.
3 PRESS PHOTO BY TAMI QUIGLEY Jennie Gilrain, member of the Lehigh Valley Audubon Society (LVAS), points to the now separated chimney of the Masonic Temple, South Bethlehem, on a Jan. 11 visit to the site. The chimney is the urban roost of thousands of chimney swifts during their fall migration. Developer and property owner John Noble is committed to saving the birds. The chimney swift was named the official Bethlehem bird later that year.
4 Press photo by douglas graves Local government leaders came out forcefully on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in support of Dr. King's legacy and unfinished goals. “The community has continued to lack economic security for Black and Brown citizens,” said Bethlehem NAACP President Esther Lee. “We need to address the equal pay issue. We need to ensure students are trained for employment. We support and try to assist in accomplishing these goals which would help achieve racial harmony.”
Bob Ford, photo editor of the Lehigh Valley Press and Times News, died Jan. 23 of complications from COVID-19. Bob was a fixture on the sidelines of local and state sporting events. His jovial newsroom nature is sadly missed.
J. Michael Schweder was many things to many people: Friend, coach, leader, patron. But above all he was a son of Bethlehem. The beloved former state representative and city council president died Jan. 15 at the age of 71.
William Schachter was a gifted song writer and performer, who, his son says, loved music and loved performing it. An important cog in the Godfrey Daniels creative community for years, Schachter passed away Jan. 17 after a 10-year battle with cancer. Godfrey Daniels celebrated its 45th anniversary in March. Gifted writer and retired Lehigh University professor Carole Gorney wrote the Schachter article, her last for the Bethlehem Press. Carole passed away in mid-year and is greatly missed by family and colleagues.
The Bethlehem Food Co-Op has signed a lease on a property in the north Bethlehem downtown neighborhood for its proposed full-service, community owned grocery store. The store is projected to open in 2022 and will be open to all shoppers. Ahart's Market closed at the end of April. For approximately 20 years, Ahart's Market has been a vital source of high-quality and affordable food in South Bethlehem.
With the arrival and approval of vaccines, hopes were high that the end of COVID was truly in sight. That has not proved to be he case.
12 The Board of Directors of Community Action Lehigh Valley announced the appointment of Dawn Godshall as the organization's executive director. She succeeded Alan Jennings, who is retired at the end of May after more than 40 years with the agency. Godshall had been with the agency since March 2014.
13 1606 Enrique Rosario and Olga Negrón grasp a shovel to symbolize the ground breaking for the planned Greenway memorial to the 65th Infantry Regiment or the “Boriqueneers.” Bethlehem City Councilwoman Olga Negrón had the idea for a memorial commemorating the Borinqueneers. Negrón officiated at the groundbreaking ceremony for the proposed memorial which will use a domino playing table as a motif, a nod to the popularity of playing dominos among Puerto Ricans.
Bethlehem Press photographer and former city employee Dana Grubb ran for the office of mayor. His opponent was Democratic party backed J. William Reynolds. Grubb lost to Reynolds in the primary but got more votes than predicted by party leaders. Reynolds defeated Republican John Kachmar in the general election.
19 PRESS PHOTO BY DOUGLAS GRAVES President Joe Biden spoke at Mack Truck in Macungie where he touted the resilience and productivity of the American worker. “If you give American companies and communities the chance, there's nothing they can't build,” Biden said.
Press photo by Dana Grubb After being forced to ‘fest' virtually online in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, there was an extra celebratory feeling as the public was invited to congregate and enjoy everything Musikfest offers the region and the thousands of visitors to the area attending. Musikfest enjoyed its 38th year with over 320 performers, 17 stages, 30 food and drink vendors, crafters and several fun activities. Other events, like Chilifest, the Celtic Classic, the Bethlehem Christmas tree lighting and Christkindlmarkt returned as in-person events.
21 PRESS PHOTO BY MARK KIRLIN Bethlehem's National Museum of Industrial History celebrated its five-year anniversary along with a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Foundry Park space. Many local dignitaries were on hand to speak during the event. Foundry Park is a 17,000 square foot space just outside the museum.