Robert Handwerk, who, along with his wife, Patricia, renovated the historic Harry Packer Mansion in Jim Thorpe and helped turn it into the popular lodging destination it is today, died last week.
In addition to spearheading the mansion’s restoration, Handwerk, 69, was well-known for his volunteer efforts maintaining and beautifying Jim Thorpe’s Kemmerer Park.
“Both the mansion and the park meant a lot to him,” said John Drury, president of the Mauch Chunk Museum and Cultural Center, who worked closely with Handwerk over the years. “He was a casual guy and pretty much kept to himself. He was not a blowhard. Bob didn’t promote himself or anything like that. He chose to operate far below the radar.”
Built in 1874, the Harry Packer Mansion was a wedding gift from railroad magnate Asa Packer to his son. While it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, the residence was falling into disrepair when the Handwerks purchased it in 1983. There was no plumbing or heat, according to newspaper archives, and the roof was showing major signs of leaking.
“Bob helped what can only be described as a marvelous transition there at the mansion,” Drury said. “He and Pat ran it personally, and their murder mystery weekends became one of the most popular things going.”
After the renovations, the Handwerks ran the mansion as a bed-and-breakfast. They hosted murder mystery weekends based on actual Packer-family stories with Bob playing the same character, Inspector Bob, each time.
Bob and Pat went on to own the mansion for 38 years before selling it to Catherine Jaindl-Leuthe and Tom Romanchik last year.
During his time in Jim Thorpe, he was the president of the Kemmerer Park Board Association, Rotary Club member, Shade Tree commission member and honored by the Mauch Chunk Historical Society.
“When I was trying to save the Kemmerer Park Carriage House and get it back functioning again, which we eventually did, Bob was right there giving me information and advice on what to do,” Drury said.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Pennsylvania State University, Handwerk became a landscape architect. In the early 1970s, he spent time traveling through Europe and teaching architecture with the Peace Corps in Iran.
“He really did a lot of work at Kemmerer Park and I think really regarded it as his own and wanted to keep it beautiful,” Drury said. “What really fascinated me about him was his degree in landscape architecture. He could do so many beautiful things with plans and flowers and so forth. Jim Thorpe is really going to miss him.”