The National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum
Mary Sullivan — 2007

1st Rebecca Lukens Award Recipient

Mary R. Sullivan was the inaugural recipient of The Rebecca Lukens Award. Like Rebecca, Mary Sullivan ventured beyond the traditional roles of women during the mid 20th century, and sought a higher level of achievement and involvement in society. 

Born in Upper Darby during the early 1920’s, she moved to Havertown shortly thereafter. Her family left Havertown to move to Malvern in 1934, where Mary attended Villa Maria Academy from whence she graduated in 1938. “It was the end of the depression and the only jobs available for females were secretarial, teachers or nurses,” remembers Mary, pondering her career beyond high school’s gates.

After graduation, Mary went to work in West Chester at the Homeopathic Hospital. It would be the first of many “Gal Friday” jobs for her. As is usual with most office managrial jobs, it was a “catch-all” phrase to say that these people “ran the company”. World War II was winding down but in her spare time Mary still saw the need to sell war bonds and volunteer at The Red Cross. It would be the beginning of a lifelong commitment to volunteerism.

When she married Jack Sullivan in 1949, Mary’s life began to change. They eventually moved to the city of Coatesville in 1953. The 1950’s proved to be a catalyst for Mary and Jack. It was during that time period that she had her five children - four daughters and one son. But Johnny (the middle child), ended up changing all of their lives when he was stricken at an early age with a devastating cancer. Johnny was bed-ridden for a long time before he finally succumbed to the awful disease at age eight. 

It was at that time that, upon the suggestion of a friend, she became deeply involved with The Girl Scouts of America. With The Girl Scouts, Mary held the positions of Leader, Troop Consultant, Troop Organizer, and Service Unit Director. She would eventually receive the “Thanks Badge” from The Freedom Valley Girl Scout Council, the highest award given in Girl Scouting. At the same time, Mary also got involved with St. Cecilia’s Parish (both with the elementary school and the church). Whether she was serving on the Home & School Association or as a Eucharistic Minister at Church, Mary gave it her all. 

In the 1980’s Mary went back to work full-time and took a job with The Coatesville Senior Center. “Back then, the director of the senior center liked us to get involved with the community. So she sent me to most of the community meetings,” says Mary. “That’s how I got involved with the Tri-centennial Committee in 1983.”

At that time, Graystone Mansion was The City Hall of Coatesville and the City Manager had a true love of history. Since he was on the Tricentennial Committee with Mary, he felt the group had such synchronicity that it needed to continue. Thus, the Graystone Society was born in 1984.

Within six months, Terracina (the home of Rebecca Lukens’ daughter, Isabella) became available for purchase.  The Graystone Society jumped at the opportunity, and for the purchase price of $1, it secured one of the most pivotal buildings in The Lukens National Historic District. It took 18 years to renovate, a job that was over-seen by Mary, Graystone Executive Director, Eugene DiOrio, and President Scott G.Huston. They ended up buying Graystone Mansion (the original home of Rebecca’s grandson, A.F. Huston and the building where it all began) from the city in 1995.

“The Graystone Society came to be known as the historical arm of the city of Coatesville and Lukens Steel,” says Mary. With a glint in her eye, Mary interjects, “What Rebecca Lukens was in 1825 was really the CEO of a company when other women of her day were struggling just to keep their families healthy. She was a woman ahead of her time. In the future, I’d like to see the complete restoration of Rebecca’s home (Brandywine Mansion) and the building of The National Iron and Steel Heritage Museum, because both stories need to be told. Rebecca Lukens was a great woman. I didn’t know much about her when I moved to Coatesville, but over the years I’ve come to respect and admire her.” Rebecca Lukens is certainly in good company. 

Mary, a charter member of The Graystone Society where she served as secretary for 22 years, died on September 4, 2014.