The National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum
Tamara Cansler — 2012

6th Rebecca Lukens Award Recipient

Tammy Cansler started her career as a high school and elementary school teacher in South Carolina. Her focus was English and History.  She will tell you that teaching, in all of its forms, is something that she loves doing the most. In 1972, she married Dale Cansler, and they decided to move north so that he could accept a job at Lukens Steel, Tammy felt that the time was right for her to try a more diversified career role and was thinking about management. 

She found such a position at Merck Pharmaceuticals in West Point, PA. She was trained as an Industrial Engineer. It was quite a change from teaching sonnets to sixth graders. “Merck had an unusual business philosophy,” says Tammy. “If you were willing and knowledgeable enough to do the work, they were willing to provide on-the-job training.” While there, she became the first female production supervisor in Merck history.

Soon she found herself ready to make the next leap; she wanted to run her own company. She knew she had a passion for real estate, yet not as a broker or agent. Instead, she followed the path of a developer and started Cansler Investment Group.  She started small at first, with apartments. She also focused on an area of the market that held particular interest to her, “Affordable Housing” in the City of Coatesville. To Tammy, creating clean and safe living environments for underprivileged adults was a challenge worth meeting head-on.

“You can take a great house and put it in a bad neighborhood, but it doesn’t bring the neighborhood up,” says Tammy. “It will only serve to bring the housing down. Once you establish an economy of scale (saving costs by increasing the amount of units—think of it as buying in bulk), the neighborhood will begin to balance out.” That’s exactly what she did with the North Second Avenue Redevelopment Project in Coatesville, when her firm created 62 beautiful housing units for senior citizens in 1997.

From there, Tammy’s company built two more very successful complexes (among others): Penn’s Crossing Townhomes and the Brandywine Health Center. Brandywine Health Center’s, President and CEO, Frances Sheehan, cannot sing the praises of Tammy Cansler enough. “It is not an understatement to say that the Brandywine Center would not exist if it were not for Tammy Cansler’s leadership in developing the concept of a health and housing center, pulling together a top notch design and construction team, securing all the properties needed to create the building site, marketing the project to elected officials and funders, and communicating effectively with foundation staff and board members whose involvement and approval was needed to move forward.  She knows her business and cares about Coatesville – perfect reasons to honor her with this year’s Rebecca Lukens’ Award.” 

It is what she is doing for the seniors of Coatesville, where she is making the greatest strides in her professional life, and certainly in theirs. Seniors, who previously worried about the safety of going out of their front doors at night, and the cleanliness of their environments, no longer have to carry that burden. To her credit, Tammy is far more than “just a developer.” She has created a whole community for these economically- challenged adults.

Tammy is also quick to talk about how the new Brandywine Health Center has literally changed the neighborhood. “Previously, when people in Coatesville were sick, they were going directly to the ER. There was no such thing as preventative care. Now, Coatesville residents who previously were underserved, have a place that offers them quality medical, dental and mental health options, right here in the center of town.”

The Graystone Society’s Executive Director, James D. Ziegler applauds this year’s choice for the 6th Rebecca Lukens’ Award. “Tammy has an indomitable spirit. She is a person who sees a need and does whatever it takes to fill that need. Like Rebecca before her, her community and the people within it are all important to her. She has literally changed the landscape here in Coatesville during the 21st century, just like her predecessor did during the 18th century.”