Thursday, January 28, 2010

RIP Lamar Mervine

Sometime mayor of Centralia

David DeKok writes:
Lamar Mervine, who achieved fame late in life as the media-friendly mayor of Centralia, died on New Year’s Day. He is believed to have resided in a nursing home for at least the past year. His wife, Lanna, died in 2008.

Mervine was appointed mayor around 1993 to replace Mayor Anne Marie Devine, who had accepted relocation and moved with her family to Elysburg. He stayed in the post until around 2007, always residing in the house at 411 Troutwine Street where he was born in 1916. He and about a dozen other diehards were the only inhabitants of the town from about 1995 onward. They firmly believe – and Mervine would tell you – that the mine fire was no threat to anybody. Families who once lived above the fire and eagerly accepted relocation to save themselves and their children from the deadly mine-fire gases disagree.

He was quoted in many news stories about the Centralia mine fire in the print and broadcast media over the years. In 2001, he appeared as himself in a Jon Stewart/“Daily Show” piece on Centralia that captured the essential absurdity of living in a town above a mine fire. Mervine was the same crotchety old man to everyone who interviewed him, but rarely told any reporter to get off his lawn.

With his death, it appears likely his longtime home will be demolished. Ten persons remain in Centralia. Their homes are owned by the state, which took them under eminent domain in 1992. But the former owners were allowed to continue living in them tax and rent free until 2009, when the Rendell Administration changed the policy. Now, if Columbia County Court of Common Pleas has made a final ruling on what the state will pay for the property, the owners are required to leave.

John Lokitis, Jr., and John Comarnitsky found new homes outside of Centralia last summer as a result of the new policy. Lokitis’ home was demolished last month.

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