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Talking Business with Tony Iannelli: Persistence and positive attitude help Lehigh Valley residents succeed

This aerial view shows the blast furnaces once used by the Bethlehem Steel Company once the Lehigh Valley's largest single employer. As the manufacturing sector changed or left Lehigh Valley residents found the persistance and patience to keep the local economy alive and growing, the author asserts. Photo taken on Wednesday, May 11, 2016. (Harry Fisher/첥Ƶ)
(HARRY FISHER / 첥Ƶ)
This aerial view shows the blast furnaces once used by the Bethlehem Steel Company once the Lehigh Valley’s largest single employer. As the manufacturing sector changed or left Lehigh Valley residents found the persistance and patience to keep the local economy alive and growing, the author asserts. Photo taken on Wednesday, May 11, 2016. (Harry Fisher/첥Ƶ)
Tony Iannelli
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These last two weeks were very special to me. My daughter Alex delivered my fourth grandchild and my very first grandson. I’m not gonna lie, I was a basket case until she finally delivered one week past her due date.

No matter how old your children are they’re still your kids and you’re protective of them. My dad pounded in my brain that real men love and work hard to support their families, and I never forgot it. Oh, I know for sure women do, but don’t forget that this was in the ’50s and ’60s when there was an emphasis on men being strong and showing no fear.

Also, last week I had my 72nd birthday. When I was a kid any age over 50 seemed ancient. Neither of my grandparents got close to see that age. Thankfully today with a good amount of self care and a heck of a lot of luck, 70s can still seem reasonably young. OK, young may be pushing it, but thankfully so far I feel great.

For some reason at this stage you tend to look back but, not always at the big things. I mean we’ve seen marriage, divorce, birth of children and work milestones, but it seems the little stuff has an equally great impact. I literally feel my heart smile when I stop and take in the “smaller things” memories. I’m thinking It’s gotta be good for you physically, but I know for sure, it’s great medicine emotionally.

My granddaughter asked me last week “Papa T did you chew gum when you were little like me.” I shifted into old guy story telling. Did I chew gum? You want to talk about a small memory that makes my heart smile, it was opening a pack of “put you in a trance” smelling Topps bubble gum. Not to take anything away from Beemans, Wrigleys Juicy Fruit or Beech-Nut Fruit Stripe gum, my other favorites.

Inside those neatly wrapped packages was gum heaven. A beautiful flat great tasting treasure showered with powdered sugar. Best of all underneath this piece of chewable utopia was one of the greatest inventions of all time, baseball cards. It’s difficult to describe what baseball cards meant to me at that stage in life.

It was cardboard magic with pictures of people who were larger than life. Back then without cell phones we just seem to have time on our hands. As a child I can remember sitting at the practice field for hours reading everything about each player. I’d study the picture of these heroes and learn where their career began, what their batting average was, and where they were born. Boy did their rugged, confident smiling faces impress me.

While we’re talking about spring memories, one I for sure recall is the amount of sugar I consumed at Easter. As a kid I never met an Easter candy I didn’t like. You name it, hollow eggs, peanut butter eggs, coconut eggs and somewhere around 10 million consumed jellybeans. To this day, I have zero interest in jellybeans, I guess you could call it youthful jellybean overdose.

The other thing I remember about Easter was having to get dressed up to serve Easter duty. By my memory, if you didn’t go to church on Easter you were off the team. No more Catholic Church for you. My mom would gather at least five of her seven children in the car. There we were, packed in the seatbeltless backseat and off to the gorgeous Saint Catherine’s Cathedral. You see back in the 1950’s seatbelts weren’t very prevalent and neither were super safe cars for that matter.

So back to where we started. I’ve decided when I reflect and look at my daughters and grandchildren, the biggest gift you can give is happiness and confidence. I get that discipline and encouraging education is important for future success. I also think people who grow up with good measure of happiness and confidence, having been exhorted by their parents, tend to succeed.

So I’m gonna spend my time telling my grandkids how smart they are, how talented they are and how wonderful they are. I’ll leave the disciplining up to my daughters. After all, at my age, I’ve earned the right to be Mr. Positivity.

The more I thought of it, maybe that translates to the entire Lehigh Valley. Let’s face it in this crazy fast pace world it’s hard to maintain any great measure of self-esteem. Everyone seems to have an opinion, and most of them not very uplifting.

So don’t buy it Lehigh Valley, you know from where we’ve come. You know what we’ve been through. You know where we are today and it took time and it didn’t come easy.

You did it with relentless tenacity and when the industrial revolution came to a grinding halt we were on our knees. But we got up and revived our cities, diversified our economy, loved our neighbor and came back strong.

I plan on being with you every step of the way to continue this charge back. I may take a little more time to stop and smell the roses but I plan on working hand-in-hand with our young community leaders. I’m hoping these future community builders will have the same tenacity and guts that their past generations showed. It’s with pun intended that I say, they were made of steel.

Tony Iannelli is the president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at tonyi@lehighvalleychamber.org.

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