By Emma Brenner
Having grown up and lived in all four corners of Kutztown, Jim Schlegel is well-acquainted with the town and its history. He’s been the borough’s mayor for a year and three months, during which, he’s made it his prerogative to advocate for a safer, healthier and more successful community.
He was recently asked to shed light on the Bieber Bus Tourways’ abrupt closure. “You need to understand how public transportation has worked in Kutztown historically,” he explained.
Bieber Bus Tourways started running regularly scheduled transit from Allentown to Reading via Kutztown sometime between 1977 and 1978. It was run by the Bieber family, and the company
was “ideal for Kutztown,” according to Schlegel.
After Bieber sold its business to its most recent owners, the company changed. Charter bus services all but disappeared, and buses that were once reliable frequently broke down. Schlegel related these negative occurrences to the Tourways’ sudden departure from Kutztown.
“You saw something coming, but you didn’t expect it to happen when it did,” he said. “It just stopped. There was no graceful exit to protect the ridership.”
Clydesdale Lines and Klein Transportation each stepped in to fill Bieber’s absence. While Schlegel admitted he hadn’t had the chance to ride the new services himself, he added, “I have not heard complaints. I have heard that they’ve been building up more passengers. I don’t know if this is going to be a permanent situation or if it’s temporary.”
When Bieber Bus Tourways was active, a significant portion of Kutztown’s community expressed concern over the company’s environmental irresponsibility. Schlegel shared similar disappointment over the bus fumes and idling. Oil leaks and diesel spills also affected Kutztown, specifically Saucony Creek.
“I don’t think they were the best caretakers of what they should have been,” said Schlegel. Though the Environmental Protection Agency held jurisdiction over regulating Bieber’s pollution, the borough disapproved of the company’s harmful practices.
Schlegel addressed multiple environmental concerns, one of them being the lantern fly infestation. According to Kutztown Borough Council’s February meeting minutes, members unanimously voted to enter “an agreement with the PA Department of Agriculture to treat North Park for lantern flies.”
Schlegel supported the action, commenting on the insects’ destruction. “People are scared because of it,” he said. “They can destroy a whole vineyard.”
The mayor additionally mentioned the growing litter problem in Kutztown. “Every Sunday morning, I drive up to Trinity Lutheran Church, and I see all the debris from partying,” he said.
He urged everyone, including KU students, to dispose of waste responsibly, encouraging the use of volunteer clean-up teams. Any groups that wish to pick up trash, especially along Saucony Creek, can contact Brian Bailey, the Superintendent of Public Works, for supplies. “Kutztown was once known as a pristine town,” Schlegel recounted. “You didn’t see trash.”
While he elaborated on the history of Kutztown and the environmental concerns therein, he acknowledged the importance of his role as mayor and the value of service that the borough’s council members and committees provide. These groups of people ultimately make decisions for Kutztown that improve the life quality of its residents.
One aspect Schlegel hopes to improve is business growth. “There was a time when Kutztown had three shoe companies and two printing companies,” he noted. “There has always been business and industry in this little town.”
East Penn Manufacturing Company and RADIUS Toothbrush are just two manufacturing plants currently located in Kutztown. “It’s a major part of our economy,” Schlegel said. “KU is also an important part of Kutztown’s economy.”
Alongside expressing appreciation for the university, he divulged concern over the community’s safety, particularly surrounding the crime on Kutzpatty’s Day. Several police forces from outside of Kutztown participated in the arrests of unlawful individuals.
“My hope for Kutztown is to keep everyone safe,” Schlegel explained, sharing how he meets with Kutztown Police each Monday morning to ensure security. He praised the community organizations KUBoK and Kutztown Strong as well, the second of which educates Kutztown residents and youth on alcohol and drug abuse.
“I want to keep Kutztown vibrant,” he added. “To make it a place for families to want to live alongside non-residents without any worries. I want everybody to get along, to show respect for each other. If you respect yourself and others, you’re doing well in this world.”
Community events are one way to promote this respect and unify both Kutztown residents and KU students. These include the free Block Party and summer events like Kutztown Day, which is a celebratory picnic in Kutztown Park every first Sunday in August. Town and Gown is another unifying event, where leaders of Kutztown and the university meet and discuss concerns in the overarching community.
Schlegel particularly enjoys meeting with KU students. “I love interacting with young people,” he said, supporting this with how he greeted students at fall 2018’s orientation. “I’ve met so many nice students since being mayor.”
Though KU is not technically within Kutztown’s boundary, he noted, “I would love to have the university within the borough limits of Kutztown.” Whether or not such a change eventually occurs, he hopes to cultivate a healthy relationship with KU students.
“There’s so much we can all do together,” he said.