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Dresses, Espionage, and History: How Lucas Became Historical Society Director

Monday, September 13, 2021 @ 12:09 AM

Posted by Leon Aristeguieta

IMG_1674 (1)CLARION, Pa. (EYT) – With her roots in the area, it is fitting that Mary Lea Lucas serves as the director of the Clarion County Historical Society.

“I’m seventh generation of family consecutively to live in Clarion County. My ancestors came here in 1803, and they were in Porter Township,” 70-year-old Lucas told

Though she has a long history of involvement with the historical society, being a life member since the 70s, her journey to the director of the organization was not straightforward.

Born in Strattanville, Lucas’ life took her outside the county at an early age.

At the age of nine, she and her family moved to Allegheny County, where she would live until 2001.

Since she was very young when she moved, one of her lasting impressions of it was the change in schools.

“It was such a drastic change,” Lucas said. “When I moved there, there were six or seven classes of first graders. It was totally different. You didn’t get that personalization or that rapport with your teachers.”

However, Lucas’ roots were always in Clarion. No move could stop that, she added.

Both of her parents’ families were from Clarion County, Lucas explained. Even while living in Allegheny County, she would regularly come to visit Clarion during the weekends.

“I was always drawn here,” Lucas said. “It had made such an impact since a young age.”

Her love of Clarion notwithstanding, Lucas’ professional life developed in Allegheny County, specifically in the borough of Oakmont where she owned a couture bridal salon for 26 years.

“All of my gowns were custom designed by me. I had six, full-time dressmakers, and we did just over 500 gowns a year,” said Lucas. “It was huge, a lot of tedious work, but it was fabulous.”

This was not the only business Lucas engaged in.

She was a silent partner in Empire Investigation, a Pittsburgh-based detective agency, founded in 1982.

Lucas helped the owner of Empire, Bob Crescent, as an early investor in the project.

Describing Crescent as “fabulous,” she said, “He was very young at that time, maybe 21 or 22, and he was working as an investigator and wanted his own agency. I had a lot of sales experience and business experience, and that’s how it happened,” Lucas explained.

Although she mostly handled the business end of Empire, Lucas said she helped train operatives, as well as handling public relations for the agency.

“We did a lot of missing children, corporate undercovers, embezzlement, malfeasance. At the time, Pittsburgh had more corporate headquarters than any other city in the country,” she said.

When the 90s came, Lucas took a step back from her business to focus on her family.

Her son, Austin (who is now 30) was born, and she left Empire Investigation to focus on him and her bridal salon.

Later on, in 1996, she sold the bridal salon to one of her employees.

“I was like, ‘Wow, how do you sell a custom dress business? I might never have this opportunity again,'” Lucas said.

A couple of years later, in 2001, Lucas and her husband, David, decided to move to Clarion.

“We decided that we would like to come to Clarion County,” Lucas stated. “He took an early retirement from PPG, and we moved back here.”

When she moved back, Lucas became involved in the Clarion County Historical Society. She became a board member in 2005 and the director in 2006.

mary lucas 2

“I can’t believe it’s been that long since I’ve been here,” Lucas astonishingly said.

She strongly believes in the historical society’s mission to promote knowledge of local history.

One of Lucas’ favorite parts of running the society is teaching younger kids the history of their community.

“They’re not really taught that too much in school,” she said, citing a copy of a study, given to her by a visiting Kent State psychologist, on the effects of teaching local history to children.

“It showed that children who grow up with a knowledge and interest in local and family history have a tendency to be more grounded, in-school, get better grades, and tend to be better citizens because they get involved in volunteer work in their community and in local government. It does make sense,” Lucas said.

For reasons like this, Lucas dedicates most of her days and some of her nights to running the historical society.

“This is all out of a commitment to what the society stands for,” she said. “This is our legacy, this is our history, it’s really important. I’m really committed and passionate about it.”

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