Vocational Education was mandated in1913 in the earliest laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania establishing Laurelton.  The employment of inmates in raising stock and cultivation of fruits and vegetables was to be made tributary to the maintenance of the institution.  There was to be established a system of work.  In 1922, a teacher of handicraft was hired and greater emphasis was placed on an industrial education.  Then for eight years in the Biennial Reports of the Board of Managers and the Superintendent, to the State of Pennsylvania, there was no mention of education.    

Before 1930, Hilda Jolly was in charge of the schools.  In 1940, Anna Green and Helen Weist were Home Economics teachers.  1945 - 1953 Jacob E. Winkleblech, BS was the first man listed as Vocational Teacher.  By 1946 - 1950, Mrs. Harriet Faulk, BS was also named as a Vocational Teacher.  

Students spent 1/2 day in the academic classroom and the other half in various activities. 

1950 - 1952 saw (Miss) Marjorie Scharf/Schraf added as a Vocational Teacher and from 1955 - 1960, Sarah (Paxton) "Sally"  Kenamond was a Home Economics/Vocational Teacher.  In the 1970s, Vonnie Stover was the CSIU # 16 (Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit) Client/Student Supervisor in the Workshop.  Harold T. Evansha was employed in the Vocational Rehabilitation Department.

Just as titles and department names changed, so too frequently, training goals changed over the years.  By the 1940s and 1950s, in addition to social adequacy and academic skills, vocational skills were to lead to the students' rehabilitation.

In the Vocational Training Department, the work training area was comprised of 15 regular work areas and 3 summer or temporary work areas.  The training time was a minimum of six weeks and the maximum time was nine months to a year.  After a student was trained in an area, she could remain there as a production worker or proceed to other training areas.  The worker was expected to learn a skill that would carry over and aid upon her return to the community. Later residents went through VAS- Vocational Evaluations and were assigned to programs based upon their needs.

The agricultural activities were divided into five functions: farm, dairy, truck garden, poultry and swine.  Student activities were conducted in the first four.  The agricultural activities played an important part in the set up of the institution.  It was a production area and also a training area. 

From 1921 forward, the inmates provided outdoor labor, interior housework, sewing making clothing and all that was necessary for the institution.  On the farm they milked and pastured the cows and took full charge of the chickens and sheep.  In 1922, a stated goal was to make the institution self- sufficient and self-supporting.  By 1925, the services of many girls had been utilized in domestic work, laundry, serving, and work outside the buildings, always accompanied by an employee.  

The years of 1924 - 1925 produced a champion corn husking team replete with matching costumes.  The Feese Farm house was remodeled and built on to and became the Farm Colony, so that the girls working at the dairy barn and farm would have comfortable quarters much nearer to their work.  Farm Colony girls thought of themselves as "special", although many of them were of the lesser intelligence levels. 

Initially, at the time of the founding of the institution, it was thought that segregation would help alleviate feeble-mindedness.  By 1925, newer methods were being developed.  The educational policy changed to one of colonization and parole.  The policy of making the Village self-sufficient and self-supporting by utilizing the labor of the girls was proving to have satisfactory results.

In addition to the work of the sewing room producing almost all of the clothing worn by the girls, it also carried out a small rug making industry.  It was deemed that the girls who were presumably institutional cases, those for whom life outside was a very slim possibility, owed it to the State to do the industrial type work, while those for whom it was hoped that they might gain outside lives did the more vocational tasks i, e. laundry, housework, cooking, and waitressing.  Candidates for leaving must have had at least two trades, preferably not seasonal ones.   It was then stated that the policy would be to utilize the girls in "advancing" the institution.  When a girl reached the time to move on to a new assignment, she was given a "Certificate of Proficiency".  These certificates of accomplishment were a girl's most cherished possession and a great morale builder.

By 1930, Harry R. Pursley was hired as head farmer and Miss Katherine Lomison was placed in charge of the truck garden.  Mr. James H. Wissinger was employed as Dairyman.  Many activities had to be curtailed during World War II due to the lack of staff and needed materials.  Again, changes in leadership 1946 - 1948 saw J. Frank Snyder become Farm Manager and Bruce S. Folk, Dairyman with Margaret Karstetter as Farm Colony Matron.

In 1943, The Vocational Rehabilitation Act Amendments 78-113 extended services to the mentally handicapped and mentally ill for the first time.

Hospital aide training was added.  But the three main types of training remained kitchen, laundry work and sewing.  A few of the more skilled girls started training in the beauty shop, as painters' assistants, as ushers in the auditoriums during programs, as canteen clerks, and 30 became aides in the hospital.  At the peak of the growing season, 50-60 girls were employed in the cannery and the pea- vinery.  By 1950, the institution produced 50% of its food costs.  Many of the farm departments had an over-abundance of their product with this surplus being sold to other state institutions.  In 1954, the Industrial Census in the Report to the State is very thorough and very interesting. 

In 1965, The Vocational Rehabilitation Amendments 89-333, Federal Funds were authorized for the first time for Rehabilitation Centers and Workshops. Services were extended to reach the severely disabled.  In 1966, PL 89-601 Fair Labor Standards Act was amended to allow state Vocational Rehabilitation Services to issue special certificates for employment of the handicapped in work activity centers at subminimum wages.

In 1972, PA ARC sued the PA Commonwealth for the Right to Education for Students with Intellectual Disabilities.  The resulting Consent Decree laid the foundation for Federal 94-142. Education for all Handicapped Children.

In 1973, The Institutional Peonage Abolishment Act (PA) outlawed "peonage" in state institutions.  Peonage referred to forcing institutionalized people to perform work without pay.  The "WAC" - Work Activity Center was expanded as were other support services.

Also in 1973, during an investigation, Ginny Thornburgh, wife of the Governor, representing PARC - The Pennsylvania Association of Retarded Citizens found:

1.  Vocational Adjustment Services - girls doing color identification work and counting of products.

2. Occupational Therapy and Crafts, rug looms and placemat looms with residents receiving 9% of the price brought for the item. 

3. Laundry  - a few residents  (Later the laundry was hauled to Selinsgrove by truck.)

4. Contract workshop.  Residents could earn between 30 cents and $3.00 daily preparing computer wires etc.

5. A workshop in the community - Sun-Com in Sunbury

1989 - Accreditation Council Certification was applied for and awarded.

In 1997-1998, Extensive Person-Centered Planning (PCP) was used to place people in the community in preparation for the closing of Laurelton Center.   In June of 1998, after 77 years, the last remaining residents were moved to other facilities.  Laurelton Center closed.


Much of the material for this important subsection was contributed by long-time director, Meg Paterson, and the former staff members.

Since the early 1970s, the Workshop at Laurelton was a sheltered part of the Vocational Adjustment Services or Vocational Rehabilitation Department.  It was one of the responsibility areas of the Superintendent for Social and Rehabilitation Services (Robert L. DeVett).  The Workshop was located on the lower floor of Brown Hall or what was earlier named the Laundry Building.

At various times, the following people had leadership roles: Robert L. DeVett., Superintendent for Social and Rehabilitation Services; Margaret (Meg) Paterson, Vocational Services Director 1970 – 1980; Margaret “Penny” (Stover) Greenland, Workshop Supervisor; Norman E. Metzger, Jr., Residential Services; and Nancy A. (McFadden) Holthus, Manager, Director of Rehabilitation Department 1976.

The Workshop had various names at various times – the V. A. S. Workshop in 1995.  Again, different job titles were used: TAA –  VASW/Vocational Adjustment Services Worker; VASS/Vocational Adjustment Services Supervisor - VASM/Vocational Adjustment Services Manager.

Some employees were:

Gina Marie Buttorff – CCA, MRA, RSA

Mary Catherman - Secretary

Robert Lewis DeVett – Manager – 1974 – 1994  d. 1994

Pamela (Camp) Diehl – VASW – Coordinator of Regular Work

Joan Emery – Secretary – VAS

Elida Evans - VAS

Harold Thomas Evansha

Margaret “Penny” (Stover) Greenland -Workshop Supervisor – d. 6?15

Nancy A. (McFadden) Holthus – Manager, Director of Rehabilitation Department 1976 – d., 6/09

Nancy made sure that the workers got paid.

Mary Catherine (Boop) Schnure Kahl – Residential Services Aide – ret. 1989 with 25 Years of Service as Aide

Sharon Kahl - VAS 

Norman E. Metzger, Jr. - Residential Services – with 34 ½ years of service

Margaret “Meg” Paterson – TAW1 – Vocational Adjustment Services Worker 1/VASW1 – VASW2 - 

VAS Supervisor – VAS Manager – 1971 – 1997 – Vocational Services Director

1970 - 1980

Lou Stitely - VASW

Franklin H. Stover – Intern – VAS Worker – VAS Supervisor

(E)Vonnie M. (Bright) Stover – Supervisor of Students – d. 3/09

Darlene Zyry – TAA, VASW

Michael “Mick” Zyry – Maintenance – sometimes built equipment adapted for workers.

The workshop often would have several jobs (contracts) being completed at one time, depending upon availability.  The individual workers were paid based on a piece rate.  The prevailing rates for piece work were calculated on time and wage studies completed by staff from prevailing legal local rates, from 3 similar businesses, for starting workers.  That basic rate was always minimum wage but sometimes could be higher.  The more experienced residents sometimes knew which were the higher paying jobs.  The Workshop and other forms of sub-minimum wages were modified by the Department of Labor.  The Workshop had contracts for bookbinding, making wire harnesses for computer tape drives, and counting and putting plastic utensils in small plastic bags etc.  

Through a HIP Grant, (Hospital Improvement Grant) Ron Madle and Harold Evansha built a work training station.  Harold and Ron devised a method to better twist wires. A worker productivity study was done here also.  Harold Evansha designed and Mike Zyryr (from maintenance) built a “jig” to hold cutlery for counting, sorting and packing.

It was considered a privilege for residents to work in the Workshop to earn their own money. The workers were higher functioning individuals.  Some lesser functioning individuals had to be protected by staff on paydays to ensure they were able to keep and spend their earnings.  Other options for residents included school, unpaid basic work training, paid on the job training at Laurelton or in the community, or alone at a job in the local community with an occasional staff visit.  Initially, VAS clients were all adults, but with the "Right to Education" bill, programs expanded to people under 21 in conjunction with the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit #16.