May 25, 2011

Hands Across America: 25th Anniversary



 25  years ago—May 26th, 1986  

Ligonier, Pennsylvania

Ligonier will be included in the “Hands Across America” gigantic cross-country linkup planned for May 26, (1986) to raise money for the poor and homeless across the U. S. Organized by USA for Africa, with help from Coca-Cola and Citibank, the idea is that from six to ten million people will pay at least $10 each to “be part of history” on that date and link hands through 16 states and the District of Columbia—from Los Angeles to New York City.*

New Castle, Pennsylvania

     Another community that was included in the Hands Across America linkup was New Castle, Pennsylvania. At the time, my husband Monte was pastor at Emmanual United Methodist Church in Neshannock Township.

     One day Ben came to the church. He was from Ammon, Jordan. His daughter Lena lived on the next street up, and she and I became great friends because of our meeting each other through Ben.

     Ben visited Lena each summer. He had a special talent—piano tuning—and he always brought his instruments. While we lived in that parsonage, our piano was tuned every summer.

     When the Hands Across America event came up, my husband and two children, Sandy and Nolan, participated. Neither can recall if the church youth group was involved, or their friends. Their spot was in Union Township, Rt. 224, in front of Riley’s Fun Spot (probably no longer in existence). Sandy unearthed the following picture:

Nolan, Sandy, Ben

     In one way, Hands Across America was a big disappointment for Monte. There were stretches that had no people. Ben, however, was enthusiastic about the whole idea.

     According to Ken Kragen, Founding Chairman of United Support of Artists for Africa, Hands Across America was clearly built on hope—a hope that the seeds we planted in the fall of 1985 would break through the ground, blossom, and bear fruit in the spring of 1986. The harvest certainly wasn’t an easy one. This book will give you a glimpse of what went on, but the work involved truly defies adequate description. Nothing like Hands Across America had ever been done before. There were many moments when we could have quit, thrown in the towel, but our hope, our belief in what we were doing, kept us going.

Ultimately, of course, Hands Across America was a smashing success. It planted new seeds of hope in millions of Americans, and delivered a message that the first step toward eliminating hunger and homelessness in this country is for each and every one of us to take responsibility.

Bobby Kennedy said it best back in the sixties: “I thought to myself, ‘Somebody should do something about that. Somebody should take some action.’ Then I realized, ‘I’m somebody.”‘

The objective of Hands Across America was to implant iii each of us the idea that “I’m somebody who can take action,” and that a power will be created that nothing can hold down…

Most of all, Hands was defined by the people who took part. There were several marriages in the line, as well as baptisms and a bar mitzvah. There were the very young (a four-month-old baby) and the very old (a 103-year-old woman in Arkansas). There were prison inmates in New York State; there were the physically challenged and the physically gifted. There were people whom the event was designed to help, from the homeless on Skid Row in Los Angeles to Native Americans in the Southwestern desert. There were people of all races, all religions, all political persuasions, all sizes and abilities.

Hands Across America turned out to be a tribute to American ingenuity, a testament to an indomitable national will. In Havre de Grace, Maryland, a bridge over the Susquehanna River was considered unsafe for the line—so boaters, swimmers, and scuba divers connected in the water. The spirit of goodwill and good humor on that day, the overwhelming sense of unity, are something I’ll never forget.***

Leo F. Buscaglia wrote that on May 25 an event of unprecedanted scale took place to which we were all invited to participate. It was called Hands Across America. Millions of Americans from one coast to the other joined hands, an unbroken chain of human beings united in energy and spirit. The event raised money for needy Americans. Although we were not able to solve all prolems, there is little doubt that by joinng millions of others in a united, loving gesture we will have made a difference.*****

      Later, a photograph taken of Hands Across America for the New Castle News took second place in the News Photo category of the Keystone Press Contest sponsored by the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers’ Association. The shot was taken in front of the First Presbyterian Church:


     “Hands Across America” might have ha a few gaps across the nation—and in Ligonier—but the good old American “can do” spirit was there on a gorgeous summer-like Sunday afternoon, and those who participated seemed happy to have taken part. “It was an overwhelming success,” proclaimed Dan Stevens, one of the local coordinators for the event. “We could’t have done it without the people of the Ligonier Valley—the best people anywhere. They opened their hearts and their homes to make it a succes.”****


*Ligonier Echo, March 31, 2011, pp 4

**Undated article in the New Castle News


****25 years ago, May 28, 1986, LOOKING BACK, Ligoier Echo pp. 4

*****One person can make a difference, Undated column (likely published immediately after the event)  by Leo F. Buscaglia, New York Times Syndicate



Ligonier (PA) Valley Library 65th Anniversary Celebration

The Market Street Arts Festival in Brownsville, PA.

Seeking History in Brownsville (Redstone), Pennsylvania

Judgment Day: May 21, 2011

A Beanery Writers Group Story in Photographs

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

What is your opinion?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: