Irish History Research Leads to Prestigious Award for Charles McElwee '11

Interests that develop at a young age can turn into a passion, which is exactly why Charles McElwee ’11 travels from his home in Hershey to volunteer on the board of directors at the Greater Hazleton Historical Society in northeastern Pennsylvania.

McElwee recalls spending summers and weekends at his grandparents’ home in Hazleton’s South Side neighborhood. The city, which is part of Luzerne County, has a strong mix of ethnicities, including an Irish population.

“From a very young age, I loved the unique culture of the small city neighborhood,” McElwee said. “My family was very involved in volunteer work and politics in Hazleton, and I inherited their love for the city. It was at my grandmother’s house that I developed an appreciation for ethnic and labor history.” 

In his role at the historical society, McElwee’s work often focuses on the Irish experience in the anthracite coal region, making him a local expert on the topic. He organized a special discussion on "The Irish Experience in Northeastern Pennsylvania” in conjunction with Mark Bulik, a New York Times editor and Breandan Mac Suibhne, an associate professor of history at Centenary College in New Jersey. 

“Historians in the U.S. and Ireland regularly contact me with research questions about Irish history in the region,” McElwee said. “Last year, I provided a tour of Irish Catholic cemeteries to a historian from Co. Cork who was in the region to study these cemeteries' unique tombstones, along with the Molly Maguires, (a secret society active among Irish coal miners). I'm also a member of the Hazleton chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a national Irish Catholic fraternal organization that was founded in Pottsville.”

As word of his work with Irish history spread, McElwee learned that he had been nominated for the Irish Echo newspaper’s annual 40-under-40 Awards, which celebrate the Irish and Irish American workers who have distinguished themselves in their respective fields, before reaching the age of 40. The Irish Echo, America's largest Irish-American newspaper, is printed in the U.S. and Ireland with first-generation Irish immigrants to the U.S. as the majority of its readers.

“People are nominated throughout the United States and Ireland, and the Irish Echo must narrow down the nominations to 40 recipients,” said McElwee, who received his award during an event in February in Manhattan. “It was a tremendous honor to be among those 40.”

On the heels of the 40-under-40 Awards, the City of Hazleton honored McElwee during an award ceremony held by the mayor to recognize his civil work in the community as an Irish American. 

As McElwee reflects on his awards, he is quick to pay thanks to faculty and staff at The Valley who influenced him on his career path. McElwee maintains strong ties with his faculty advisor Dr. John Hinshaw, professor of history, who supported his independent study on the history of Hazleton and its demographic changes.

McElwee combined his love for LVC and passion for history recently, when he participated in a panel with Dr. Hinshaw and Dr. Ivette Guzman-Zavala, associate professor of Spanish, during a meeting of the Pennsylvania Historical Association. 

“I discussed the demographic changes experienced by Hazleton during the past two decades, while they presented on the Latinization of Pennsylvania Dutch Country,” McElwee explained.

In addition to his role with the historical society, McElwee works full-time in government relations, currently managing the political action committee for the Pennsylvania Dental Association in Harrisburg. He will also graduate from the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government with his master’s degree in public administration.

“Students interested in Fels have a love for politics,” McElwee said. “I was attracted to the program's small size and emphasis on the practical tools needed to be an effective leader in the public or private sector. I had the opportunity to nurture a better understanding about infrastructure, land planning, public-private partnerships, lobbying, urban policy issues, and U.S. politics.”