by Mark Maroney
Virgil Probasco calls it the “code of the West.”
“You always take care of your own,” said Probasco, a native of Wyoming and a nominee for Williamsport Sun-Gazette Person of the Year for stepping forward two consecutive years to take the chairmanship of the Lycoming County United Way’s annual fundraising campaigns.
“I feel honored,” said Probasco of the newspaper’s recognition for his twice agreeing to chair campaign drives – last year’s netting $1.5 million, the most money ever raised in the 90-year history of the local chapter, according to Scott N. Lowery, agency executive director.
Probasco, who recently retired as executive vice president of Williamsport Wirerope Works Inc., wore a jet-black cowboy hat to the interview and spoke in soft tones about the code he was taught in the communities of Wyoming that also applies to Lycoming County.
“You were exposed to a community that would take care of those in need,” he said.
So this year, it was just natural for Probasco, when his colleague’s wife became fatally ill, to step in and serve as chairman for a second consecutive campaign.
He didn’t hesitate.
Others involved in the charitable organization attested to Probasco’s business sense as well as his demeanor throughout the years, first as campaign vice chairman and then as chairman.
“Virgil is Virgil … he’s never been full of himself … he’s an old cowboy from Wyoming,” Lowery said.
Probasco joined United Way’s volunteer leadership after Lowery and Jim Campbell, former campaign chairman, searched for a vice chairman with leadership skills and business accumen.
“I immediately could tell he was a man of character,” Lowery said after he met Probasco for a burger.
“A lot of people say they’ll be chairman for one year, but Probasco volunteered twice,” said Kate Pacacha, director of resource development and communications for the Lycoming County United Way.
“Virgil always provides the right balance to motivate us, be our cheerleader and help us to work together,” she said.
“He also gets his point across in a manner that is conversational,” Lowery said. “He talks to you in a tone that makes sense.”
Lowery didn’t deny Probasco’s business prowess and leadership qualities can be measured by what he helped to obtain from the generosity of the employees contributing at Williamsport Wire Rope Works. It’s a corporate contribution that has steadily increased over the years, beginning at the $5,000 level to what it is today, $35,000.
“He leads by example,” Lowery said.
Pacacha said it was the kind of leadership Probasco was recognized for by the Marine Corps when he was presented with a commendation for his service in the branch of the military by Gen. James E. Amos, commandant of the Marines.
Probasco’s eyes lit up, but he didn’t say a word when Pacacha brought up the ceremony acknowledged by the United Way.
“He’s being humble,” she said.
Probasco gives credence to the fellow United Way volunteers and the staff.
“When you have a staff and volunteers like this, you have a leg up,” he said. “Scott leads the group naturally and their ability to work with you makes it easy.”
Probasco said it requires some leadership skills to be United Way campaign chairman, but he added if someone is dedicated to the whole concept and gets behind the idea to “help our neighbors,” it “flows in the right direction.”
“United Way works because 97 percent of what is raised through individual and corporate donations stays in the local community,” Probasco said. “An estimated 84 cents on every dollar spent goes directly to the agencies United Way supports.”