Local ‘father of archaeology’ fondly remembered

People recall Jim Bressler as someone who liked to get his hands dirty digging up stones.

Bressler, who died earlier this month at age 99, loved the great outdoors, embracing hunting, fishing and calling to wild turkeys.

An educator and a man of many interests and pursuits, Bressler had a rich life that he shared with others.

He died July 8 at the age of 99, but his legacy lives on.

Robert Rinn, 90, formerly of Muncy, has many fond memories of Bressler.

“I shared many, many campfires with Jim,” he said. “We camped together. We hunted together. We fished together.”

Rinn still marvels at Bressler’s knowledge of local archaeology.

The two of them would be in the outdoors, and ultimately, Bressler would be poking at the earth, dredging up rocks.

“He was passionate about archaeology and geology,” Rinn said.

It was Bressler who led the way to forming the Society of Pennsylvania Archaeology, North Central Chapter 8, more than 50 years ago.

“Jim was the father of archaeology here,” said North Central Chapter President Thomas “Tank” Baird. “I was very impressed with his knowledge.”

Baird said he often consults Bressler’s books on archaeology.

Many of Bressler’s finds are housed in the Thomas T. Taber Museum of the Lycoming County Historical Society where they will remain for future generations.

“He’s laid a foundation for West Branch archaeology,” Baird said. “He lived here. He put it down on paper and it’s been invaluable – for archaeology and the public.”

During a 2011 interview with the Sun-Gazette, Bressler was asked what it was about archaeology that so interested him.

“I can’t stand the unknown,” he said. “You try to make sense of it.”

That same year, the North Central Chapter 8 bestowed upon Bressler a lifetime achievement award. He was a member of a number of other archeological and historical organizations during his life.

It was perhaps only fitting that Bressler, a man curious and knowledgeable about various subjects, had a long career as an educator.

A native of Hegins, Schuylkill County, and a graduate of Penn State University, he took a job as teacher at the Williamsport Technical Institute, which later became Williamsport Area Community College, then Pennsylvania College of Technology.

While there, he became head of the English Department and later served as the school’s dean of Applied Arts and Sciences and director of Vocational Education.

“He was interested in a lot of things,” Rinn said. “He kept up to date. You couldn’t talk about anything that he didn’t know a lot about it.”

Bressler’s nephew, Paul Allvord of South Williamsport, said his uncle loved to share his knowledge with others.

He fondly recalled campfires in Cascade Township where Bressler had some property. There, the family would gather to hear Bressler regale and educate everyone with his stories.

“He was a very, very generous man,” he said “He loved teaching. He just always wanted to share his knowledge.”

Rinn said Bressler had a true understanding of the outdoors.

“He knew about flora and fauna. He could recite Latin names of rocks,” he said. “He would tell me about pieces of stone I’d found.”

He called Bressler just a great guy to be with.

Rinn recalled Bressler’s expertise at turkey calling.

“He’d talk to the turkeys while we were walking through the woods, and they would answer him,” he said.

In his later years, Bressler was unable to enjoy the outdoors he so loved. He suffered a stroke in 2006.

“I think it saddened him in later years he couldn’t get out,” Allvord said.

He took part in a number of excavations of local archeological sites, including at Canfield Island in Loyalsock Township.

Fittingly, a 90th birthday party was thrown for him there, according to Allvord.

The James P. Bressler Heritage Trail on Canfield Island and the James P. Bressler American Indian Gallery at Thomas T. Taber Museum are named in his honor.

“They thought very highly of him at the Taber Museum,” Baird said. “We all share in his legacy. He left an indelible mark.”

Rinn said Bressler never wanted any praise for his accomplishments.

“He was just a great, great person,” Rinn said.

Bressler, whose funeral is at 3 p.m. today at Faith Alliance Church on Bottle Run Road, would have turned 100 on Aug. 13.