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Centre Hall Poet Shared Mosaic of Rural Life

by and on January 24, 2017 5:00 AM

CENTRE HALL — There aren’t many people in Centre Hall who remember Harvey Flink, but those who do remember him fondly. He was a published poet whose life spanned just 48 years. He made his home in Centre Hall, and he might be called the poet laureate of the village.

Harvey Wagner Flink was born in 1902, the son of Charles E. Flink, a Swedish immigrant, and Mary Catherine Wagner, who was born in Tusseyville, Potter Township. Mary and several of her relatives moved to Will County, Ill., when she was a child. There, she met and married Charles Flink, a milkman, and their son Harvey was born.

The Flinks moved back to Centre County, where they ran the Wagner farm with little success after the death of Mary’s father in 1910. Harvey helped, but neither father nor son was well suited to farm life.

The Flinks moved to Centre Hall, occupying a house on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Church Street. Charles ran a milk route, then sold Case tractors and other farm equipment before opening a restaurant in the Centre Hall Hotel building to support his family.

After his father died in 1936, Harvey Flink assumed the role of caregiver to his invalid mother until her death.

In a short 1949 autobiography, Flink said his interests were hiking and listening to music, especially opera, having missed very few radio broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera House since their first broadcast in 1931. He amassed a collection of nearly 2,000 records, mainly operatic performances.

Flink also was an avid reader, enjoying poetry, novels, short stories and essays. He claimed to, in his words, “have a weakness for well-written ghost and detective literature.”

He was educated through 11th grade in Centre Hall High School, and finished 12th grade at State College High School, where his teachers inspired in him a deeper interest in music and literature. He went on to earn a teacher’s certificate, working as a substitute teacher, mainly in Potter Township. In all, he taught for seven years, beginning in Snow Shoe, then returning to Potter Township.

Flink worked at several other jobs in the Centre Hall area, including as a member of the office staff of the Grandview Poultry Farm. At the request of Grandview owner William W. Kerlin, Flink searched the files of the Centre Reporter newspaper for items to be included in a booklet of the history of Centre Hall.

Flink included some of his poems in the booklet, including “Granger’s Fair,” about the annual fair and encampment in Centre Hall. “All hail to Granger’s Picnic, the chief of all events! This week the crowded highways lead to the town of tents,” went the first stanza, which still describes the event today.

The pinnacle of Flink’s poetry career came with the publication in 1943 of “A Mellow Horn,” a book featuring 63 of his poems. This came about as a result of Flink winning a poetry contest sponsored by Muse magazine in 1942. His poem, “Old Couple Cutting Off Corn” detailed the unforgiving demands of farm work, and its lack of steady return, which Flink had experienced firsthand.

The publication of “A Mellow Horn” made Flink a well-known figure in Centre County. Some of his poems were also published by various magazines, giving Flink a measure of national recognition and fame. (“A Mellow Horn” was reprinted last year by Tow Hill Press in Port Matilda.)

Most of Flink’s poems revolved around the experiences of himself and others in the rural agricultural areas of Centre Hall and Potter Township. Many are centered on the hard life and great character of farmers, with frequent references to plowing, planting and harvesting crops.

Some poems, written in the early 1940s, refer to the home front experiences World War II. “On Silver Wings” tells of a young boy who hears the drone of military planes flying over his farm on a winter morning. He watches the planes fly away, wishing he could join in the fight, but as the poem says, “He’s still a child, too young to go under fire, but his heart is restless from a tense desire.” As the planes disappear, he reluctantly goes back to the mundane task of cleaning out the cow shed, “But his gallant spirit soars on silver wings, into the holocaust of perilous things.”

Another poem titled “The Village Blackout” refers to the nighttime blackouts imposed in wartime to deter enemy bombings. Flink said the only light seen is that of fireflies and the only sounds are those of crickets, in stark contrast to daylight activity.

Flink’s poems often focused on the simple beauties of nature, such as flowers, leaves and sunsets. One critic wrote, “Harvey Flink rescues an affectionate significance out of a landscape familiar in literature — that of beauty overlooked.” Perhaps Flink typified the modern-day expression of “stopping to smell the flowers.” He smelled them and saw their beauty, but he also saw, heard and recorded in his mind the bits and pieces of the mosaic of rural life. Then he shared them in verse for those well beyond his lifetime.

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

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