Rider Park a surprise gift to community

PHOTO PROVIDED A painting depicts the late Thomas J. Rider, an active member of the Williamsport and surrounding community who founded Rider Park and willed it to the people of Lycoming County.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Today the Sun-Gazette offers the next installment in a weekly history series that tells the stories of those who came before us.)

Rider Park is home to many wild reptiles, mammals and a variety of birds. It also once was home-away-from-home for the man who gifted it to the residents of Lycoming County.

Thomas J. Rider, who died on Jan. 14, 1988, spent many years of his life collecting land throughout Gamble and Eldred townships.

His goal was to gift the land he amassed, buying pieces lot by lot, as a park to the community.

Rider was a World War I veteran whose first civilian job was with the Williamsport Planing Mill. Rider

also played a key role in creating the Industrial Properties Corp., joined Lou Wetzel in forming the insurance and real estate operation Wetzel-Rider Co., and pursued many other successful ventures, his nephew Joseph Rider said.

“He was a very distinguished and influential businessman,” said Bonnie Mahoney, who manages Rider Park for the First Community Foundation.

That foundation grew from the Lycoming Foundation, which Thomas Rider helped form and over which he presided for several years.

The successful businessman had a fondness for the wilds of Warrensville, which led him to start collecting lots.

“If he saw something he liked, he’d buy it. He considered it as a puzzle,” Thomas’s nephew Joseph Rider said. “He was fitting the puzzle pieces together to form enough land that he would consider a suitable park for the people of Lycoming County.”

Over his years of collecting, he never told anyone his plans, Joseph Rider said.

“He wasn’t interested in having any acknowledgment from the public, which is why he waited to give until after his death,” he said. “It was his will that gave this gift to the people of Lycoming County.”

Thomas Rider never had children of his own. In his will, he provided his siblings with a trust that was passed down to his nieces and nephews. His property went to the public, aside from a cabin he owned on the east side of Katy Jane Mountain, which Joseph Rider had bought and subsequently transferred to his son.

According to the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania’s website: “Mr. Rider included a special request that the Sisters of Christian Charity and Divine Providence Hospital, now part of Susquehanna Health System (UPMC Susquehanna), use the area for employee recreation and patient rehabilitation. He also provided funds for the maintenance of the park.”

The foundation, which now owns the Rider Park property, keeps Rider’s will alive by maintaining that the park is free and open to the community year-round.

The funds Rider willed for park maintenance — about $200,000 — may also be used for adding to the property, his nephew said.

The foundation’s website says that the park “has over 867 acres of woodlands and meadows and is a tribute to a man whose life embodied a healthy balance of work, volunteerism and the enjoyment of recreation.”