Published on October 23rd, 2019
New Art Installation Represents History, Strength of St. Luke’s Miners Community
St. Luke’s Miners Campus will install a new piece of artwork in its lobby this month – a portrait entitled, “Coal Miner.” The miner in the photo is Joe “Portus” Malusky (1926-1997), who lived and worked in the Schuylkill County community.
The photo will be dedicated to the hospital on October 23rd at 5:00pm.
The photographer behind the “Coal Miner”, Frank Schramm, is an internationally acclaimed photographer whose work has often captured the beauty of people in their everyday work environments. Frank had a special place in his collection for images he captured of workers in the Pennsylvania Coal Region, including “Coal Miner,” a print of which he had gifted to St. Luke’s surgeon, James Balshi, MD.
Dr. Balshi contacted St. Luke’s Miners Campus president, Wendy Lazo, about donating a new, larger print of the portrait (from the original negative) to the lobby of the hospital. “I hoped this image could become a symbol of the hospital’s mission and re-affirm St. Luke’s commitment to the coal community, and the hospital’s historic role in the community,” says Dr. Balshi.
Portus Malusky worked for the Kocher Coal Company in Tower City, Pennsylvania. His daughter-in-law, Helen Droskinis, recalls that he was not only dedicated to his job as a miner, but more importantly, he was dedicated to the mining community.
That dedication was tested in 1977 during the Porter Tunnel Disaster, the worst mining disaster in United States history in which 10 miners were trapped when an adjacent mine broke through into the tunnel, causing the mine to flood. Portus, who was 54 at the time, was a member of the crew who worked tirelessly for five days in the rescue and recovery effort. Helen recalled the nights that she and her husband and mother-in-law would stay awake until Portus’s middle shift was over to hear about the efforts to save the trapped men. “Portus and the other rescuers didn’t give up,” recalls Helen. “That speaks volumes about the strength of the mining community here in the Coaldale area.” Even after the devastating accident which claimed the lives of nine of the 10 miners, Portus continued to work in the mines for several years – a testament to the courage, work ethic and dedication to his fellow miners in the coal community.
That dedication to the mining community is exactly why Dr. Balshi wanted to share the image of Portus with St. Luke’s Miners Campus. The hospital, in its early days, was called “Miners Memorial Hospital” because the coal miners of the area were quite literally invested in the hospital, using their own money to help fund its construction.
Today, St. Luke’s Miners Campus is the region’s leading health care provider, serving Schuylkill, Carbon and Lower Luzerne counties in a modern, state-of-the-art facility. “The Miners Campus represents what is possible when a community has passion, will and commitment to a cause,” says Wendy Lazo, president, St. Luke’s Miners Campus. “The miners, who selflessly gave a day’s wages to establish a local hospital, had the foresight to see how health care could be transformed in this region. We stand strong today, 109 years later, as the highest rated hospital in Schuylkill County to serve and fulfill the mission envisioned by our community – this donation is a great tribute to that history.”