Blair County Chamber to honor Sickler with its Lifetime Achievement Award
By Walt Frank
TYRONE — Perhaps Samuel Hayes Jr. put it best.
“When Webster was trying to define good citizen, he used Harry Sickler as the model. When something good is going on in the community, you can expect Harry Sickler to be there,” said longtime friend Hayes, a former local state representative and state secretary of agriculture.
Harry K. Sickler Jr., a longtime Tyrone businessman and community supporter, will be the 16th recipient of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award for Business Excellence on Monday night at the annual Business Excellence Dinner at The Casino at Lakemont Park.
“It is quite an honor when you look at the list of people before me,” Sickler said. “Most are people I have worked with over the years. I was quite surprised when they called me.”
Sickler is a worthy recipient of the award, chamber president and CEO Joe Hurd said.
“A successful business community can usually point to the people who have grabbed the mantle of responsibility, absorbed the risk and relentlessly moved things ahead. Harry Sickler is one of those people,” Hurd said. “Honoring him with an award for lifetime achievement — at 86 — is not out of the ordinary. Coming to grips with the fact that Harry is still working and still making an impact is a little more difficult to swallow.”
Sickler is well known as founder of his CPA firm — now known as Sickler, Tarpey and Associates — as well as the longtime owner of the Bull Pen Restaurant.
In addition to his business ventures, he is known for his community involvement over the years.
As a member of Team Ten, Sickler was instrumental in the reopening of the Tyrone paper mill as American Eagle Paper Mills in 2003.
“Harry was a financial adviser and investor in Team Ten. He played a major role in stepping forward to put that whole project together,” said Marty Marasco, then-president/CEO of Altoona-Blair County Development Corp.
Sickler grew up on Washington Avenue and still lives there today. He graduated from Tyrone Area High School in 1948 and Notre Dame University in 1953 with a degree in accounting.
After college, he spent 2¢ years in the U.S. Marine Corps before starting his career with Price Waterhouse in Los Angeles in 1955 as a junior accountant.
Sickler enjoyed his work with Price Waterhouse, but with a wife and three young children, he returned to Tyrone in 1958.
“The schools (Los Angeles) were overcrowded, and drugs were already in evidence,” he said. “I got a good education from them (Price Waterhouse), but Los Angeles wasn’t our cup of tea.”
Upon his return home, he went to work with his cousin Oliver Schell, who was also a CPA. After about three years, he went out on his own.
Sickler said at one point his firm had four offices — Tyrone, Altoona, State College and Pittsburgh — but today has just the ones in Tyrone and Altoona.
Sickler remains active in the firm but is in the process of selling it to his partner, Randy Tarpey.
“I’ve had a lot of good partners over the years, (but) he is the best I’ve ever had,” Sickler said. “We have worked together for 12 years. I still have a couple of big accounts that I can’t walk away from yet.”
Sickler was among the founders of the Tyrone Shopping Center Corp. in October 1965.
“We felt the downtown was dying,” he said. “We sold stock to people throughout central Pennsylvania. We had 130 stockholders in the shopping center. There were 13 businesses when it started. Now there are three.”
In 1971, Sickler bought the JoMar Restaurant from Joe Zang and changed the name to the Bull Pen.
Sickler has been involved in numerous business ventures over the years, such as owning a bowling alley in Bellefonte and a mobile home park in Erie.
He owns the building which housed King’s Restaurant in Altoona, which closed March 26.
Sickler may be better known for his contributions to the community.
He was elected to Tyrone Borough Council in 1965 and served six years and then served on the Tyrone Area School Board from 1988-93.
He served on borough council to help get the borough manager-type of government installed. He said he was talked into serving on the school board by then Superintendent Norman Miller.
“There was a faction of school board members who wanted to get rid of the athletic program. Norman talked me into it,” Sickler said.
Athletics has always been important to Sickler, who has a huge display of Notre Dame memorabilia at the Bull Pen. The school district’s athletic park was named after him in 2003.
“I feel athletics is an important part of education. I hate to think what it would be like without athletics. It is part of the educational program as far as I am concerned,” Sickler said.
Sickler has been a member of many local organizations. He was a key fundraiser for Tyrone Hospital and helped save the institution from bankruptcy in the 1960s. He helped found the Tyrone Jaycees in 1959.
He was also a key player with the Tyrone Improvement Corp. and was a co-founder of the Jobs for Joes program, which helped attract new companies to the area.
He was one of the founders of the Sinking Valley Country Club and was founder of the Tyrone Monogram Club.
His list of awards is almost endless. Some of them include: Tyrone Citizen of the Year in 1993, induction into the Tyrone Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2005, the Pennsylvania Institute of CPAs’ Distinguished Public Service Award in 2006; the St. Matthew Schools’ Flame of Faith Award in 2007 and the Prince Gallitzin Cross Award nomination.
He also received the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame Community Service Award in 2004 as well as the Tyrone Distinguished Alumni Award.
‘Enjoyed my profession’
Sickler said he has always loved being a CPA.
“I feel sorry for people who hate to go to work. I work for fun. When you work, you work hard, and when you play, you play hard,” Sickler said.
He gives credit to his Aunt Jane McNelis, who raised him after his mother died when he was 2 years old, for steering him in the right direction.
“Aunt Jane, she was such an influence on me. I never took her for granted. She set goals for me that I had to try and reach,” Sickler said.
Sickler has always been recognized as a leader in the community.
“He has been a very dedicated, community-minded individual for a long time. He cares about Blair County and the Tyrone area,” Marasco said.
Sickler has been known to help others in need.
“He has made a lifetime commitment to helping people in this area and central Pennsylvania. He is humble. He always does what is best for others. He is a giver not a taker. If you have a problem or issue, he will help to seek a resolution to it,” said former Tyrone Area School District Superintendent William Miller.
“He is a community-oriented man. He is always working for the community. He steps in when nobody else will, and does what he needs to do, and does it quietly,” Tarpey said.
Sickler hopes people remember him in a positive way.
“I am a hard person to say no. I have been able to help a lot of unfortunate people. Most never paid me back, and I never asked for it,” he said. “I felt I did my best to be a good person and always tried to take care of the needy.”
The Sickler file
Name: Harry K. Sickler Jr.
Education: 1948 graduate of Tyrone Area High School; 1953 graduate of the University of Notre Dame with a major in accounting
Position: Founder of Sickler, Tarpey and Associates
Family: Wife, Dolores; children: Linda, Colleen, Suzanne, Deborah, Harry K. III (deceased) and Timothy; 13 grandchildren and three great grandchildren
Quote: “I taught my people there was one rule that couldn’t be broken: If you divulge any information about a client you will be dismissed. I only had to lose one employee because they broke that rule.”
Previous winners of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce’s Lifetime Achievement Award are:
Ernie Wissinger (2002), G. William Ward (2003), Stephen Sheetz (2004), Donald Devorris (2005), Willard Campbell (2006), John Wolf (2007), Lee Hite (2008), Donald Detwiler (2009), Michael McLanahan (2010), Barry Smith (2011), Fred Imler (2012), Ben Stapelfeld (2013), William Thompson Jr. (2014), Timothy Sissler (2015) and Martin J. Marasco (2016).