DUPONT—What were The Little Rascals characters from the “Our Gang” shorts like in their later years? Did Darla and Alfalfa marry and have children? Did Buckwheat go off to fight in the war? Did any of Spanky’s schemes ever become viable business models?
There’s no way to know because those people are characters — time only happens to characters when looking at them. For people who aren’t characters, time marches on. Dupont had its own group of Little Rascals in the ’40s and ’50s — they even called themselves The Gang. On Oct. 3, The Gang returned to its hometown to memorialize another member lost to time.
“The first person to die in our group was Carl Kishel in 1995,” leader-by-committee of The Gang, David Lello, said. “He died relatively young, so we decided as a group we wanted to remember him in a special way. We started this whole thing with memorials by planting a tree in the park in honor of Carl and we said to each other that as each one of us leaves this world we will gather and memorialize each other in the town in which we grew up and loved.”
Dupont’s Scout Troop 361 played a vital role in the development of the male members of The Gang, so they decided to sponsor an Eagle Scout project in memory of Al Kishel (Carl’s cousin), who passed in 2013. With Troop 361 no longer active, The Gang decided to sponsor the project of a scout in nearby Avoca’s Troop 316. Lello was joined at the Dupont municipal building Oct. 3 by Troop 316 and fellow members of The Gang Joe Bellomo, Rosalie Shambe, Bill Russo, Cel Manganaro, Joseph Shambe and Harry Collier (who is originally from Duryea, not Dupont) for a memorial service.
“One of my scouts were in need of an Eagle Project and it was brought to my attention that The Gang was in need of a memorial project for one of their recently deceased members,” Troop 316 Scoutmaster Matthew Fino said. “I was approached by David Lello to find a project and his cousin Danny Lello pointed out the little league fence was in need of repair. The gang agreed to pay for it and my scout had an Eagle Project.”
Troop 316 member Aidan McGowan procured the materials, organized the manpower and completed the restoration project in the park across the street from the Dupont municipal building. McGowan is a Life Scout, but he has passed his test to become an Eagle Scout.
“We heard stories about Al Kishel from a few members of The Gang,” McGowan said. “They told stories about him and their past experience and I thought it was a good ceremony. I was able to learn more about The Gang and Al.”
Joseph Shambe was the only member of The Gang to reach Eagle Scout in his youth — for his project, he renovated a park in Dupont. Fino said he also presented four Life Rank pins and one Star Rank pin to members of The Gang who earned those commendations during their scouting years. Scouting was a unifying aspect of The Gang’s friendships.A large number of members spent time together during the summer months at Camp Acahela, a Boy Scouts of America camp in Blakeslee. Scouting also gave them further reason to visit what Shambe referred to as the Community House.
If The Gang were Dupont’s Little Rascals, the Community House was their clubhouse. This wasn’t Spanky’s He-Man Woman Haters Club, though; the Community House hosted a number of services for young women and mothers, and The Gang itself was an equal opportunity social circle by way of close proximity and blood relation.
“The Presbyterian Church of Wilkes-Barre established a community center in the town of Dupont in 1923 or ‘24 and that became the epicenter of activity for many families, including young boys and girls,” Shambe said. “It included many things: A mother’s club, a nursery school, a day camp in the summer. In the basement they had workshops; jigsaws, bandsaws. We learned how to become carpenters. There was even a place for amateur shows on stage.”
As The Gang got older, they began to pursue their own interests and make new friends. A fire at their local high school split The Gang between West Pittston and other secondary schools, but according to Lello their friendships didn’t suffer.
“Even though we had gone to different schools the nucleus of our social life was more so with our friends in Dupont,” Lello said. “I had gone to school in Pittston but the focus was my friends in Dupont. I did things with kids in school but that’s not where my heart was. We were permanent friends, all of us.”
Many members of The Gang attended Wilkes University after high school; that’s where they met Harry Collier, who is originally from Duryea, not Dupont (The Gang reminds him of this whenever convenient, and it’s frequently convenient). From there, different members went different directions — Bellomo to Penn State to pursue a degree in electrical engineering, Lello and Shambe into the United States armed forces, Russo into the world of law and other members into their lives. The Gang still convened at life events like weddings and funerals, but Collier, from Duryea not Dupont, saw a need for a proper reunion.
“The Gang started to meet as a reunion in 1987,” Lello said. “If I recall correctly Harry Collier got in touch with me and said, ‘What about a reunion of The Gang?’ That was the spark. The first reunion of The Gang was at Brutico’s Restaurant in Old Forge and then they periodically continued it. It wasn’t ever an annual thing.”
The latest reunion of The Gang occurred during the first weekend in October 2015. Lello said that he will always remember the nights when The Gang walked each other back to their Dupont homes after a get together, and on Oct. 3, The Gang walked Al Kishel and his cousin Carl back to Dupont for the last time.
As pieces of The Gang fall away, surviving members plan to return to Dupont and honor them in the town they grew up. They may not walk each other home anymore, but the word home has two definitions for members of The Gang: the place they lay their heads at night, and Dupont, Pennsylvania.
Reach Gene Axton at 570-991-6121 or on Twitter @TLArts