Obituary: Christian M. Snavely Jr. / Helped reforest Haiti
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A man's legacy would be rich if he had done nothing more important than provide a million trees to Haiti. Christian Snavely was 82 when he started the Haiti Timber Reintroduction Project and delivered the first 1,000 saplings.
He lived to see the project grow exponentially. Today, 4,000 Haitians in 59 communities are growing trees for food and erosion control.
A veteran of World War II and the Korean War and longtime chairman of Snavely Forest Products, Mr. Snavely died Wednesday at his home in Whitehall. He was 88.
Mr. Snavely was a native of Lititz, Lancaster County, who enlisted in the Army in 1942 at age 18. He survived the Battle of the Bulge but was captured and held for six months as a prisoner of war. In 1950, he was called to serve in the Korean conflict and was later an Army recruiter in Cortland, N.Y.
He attended Drexel University on the G.I. Bill and upon graduation took a job in sales for Georgia Pacific. The company transferred him to Pittsburgh, where he was recruited to work for a smaller company. He bought that company in 1958, said his son, Steve Snavely of Upper St. Clair, who worked with his father for 40 years.
"He was my boss, my father, my partner and my friend," he said. "He was very inclusive. Whether you were a waiter or the president of a company, he was pretty much the same guy. It was one of his wonderful traits."
His daughter, Susan Fitzsimmons of Mt. Lebanon, also joined the family business. Father, son and daughter have all served as president of the North American Wholesale Lumber Association at various times.
"He wanted the opportunity to be his own boss, to develop his own company and pass the experiences on to his family," Ms. Fitzsimmons said. "His generation reshaped America after World War II. He was the poster child of the 'greatest generation.'
"He always made sure I had as many opportunities as any man would have," she said. But he also taught her to be self-sufficient. Just out of college, she said, she was driving when a tire went flat.
"Dad crossed his arms and watched me change it. I said, 'Dad, come on,' and he said, 'One of these days you're going to be on the road alone.' "
In preparing a eulogy, Dean Genge, a lifelong family friend, characterized the effect Mr. Snavely had on people: "We sipped that sweet spirit of life. We are all so grateful that this humble, happy, heroic, hard-working, handsome and humane man was our grandfather, father, brother, husband and friend."
On his first trip to Haiti, Mr. Snavely was a guest of Lucy Rawson, president of Friends of Hopital Albert Schweitzer there. She spoke days ago from Haiti about him and the legacy he has left.
"Nearly a million trees now," she said. "He visited the hospital at first and told us he didn't know anything about sick people but that he'd been reading about Haiti and saw how it was deforested. " 'I know about trees,' he said. 'If you want to plant trees, I could help you do that.' "
"He said if you started an education program and taught farmers how to plant and grow trees on their own land, they will understand the value and protect them," she said. "He started with 10 villages. Each planted 100 trees. Then farmers' friends took part in the education and in the planting and attended classes. Each farmer helps the others plant. This is a sustainable agri-forest program" of a wide variety of tree species.
When Mr. Snavely started the program, he raised most of the money himself, she said. Now it operates on $250,000 a year on support from numerous foundations, many in Pittsburgh, and Mr. Snavely's friends.
During one trip to Haiti, his daughter said, he was asked to speak to a church congregation about his reforestation project.
"Afterward," she said, "a little girl just walked up to him and took his hand, and my father started to cry."
In a 2006 article in Pittsburgh Quarterly, Mr. Snavely is quoted as saying, "The optimistic thought is that the farmers will propagate their own trees to the point that within 15 years they'd have some real forest down there. The people there are beautiful. And God knows, they deserve more than what they get."
Mr. Genge's sister, Debbie Dick, said Mr. Snavely had "an amazing sense of humor, a twinkle in the eye and a boundless spirit. We kind of thought he would live forever. He was still having lunch at the Duquesne Club until a couple weeks" before he died.
Besides his two children, he is survived by Terri Snavely, his wife of 65 years, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
A funeral Mass will celebrate his life Monday at 9:30 a.m. at Saint Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin, 5302 Greenridge Drive, Whitehall.
First Published October 28, 2012 12:00 am