By George Gregory
Special to The CS&T
COATESVILLE – Barbara Travaglini has led an extraordinary life. An author and columnist who has twice been recipient of papal honors, the parishioner of St. Joseph Parish in Downingtown also earned her private pilot’s license more than 30 years ago – when it was uncommon for women to do so.
But none of these activities earned her the Rebecca Lukens award accorded by the Graystone Society of Coatesville March 19. The award, named for iron master Rebecca Lukens who ran Brandywine Iron Works after her husband’s death until her own death in 1854, honors noteworthy business people who have demonstrated leadership and civic engagement qualities.
“Mrs. Travaglini clearly exemplifies the qualifications we put forth in choosing a recipient,” said Eugene D’Orio, president of the society.
Travaglini was born in 1925 in Easton, Pa., the daughter of regional steel magnate Gunard Oscar Carlson and Margaret Berry Carlson. She was 10 years old when the family moved to the village of Thorndale in 1936. Her father started G.O. Carlson Steel Manufacturing Company in a barn near the family home, using the lower floor as a machine shop and the upper floor as an office.
“When we moved here, there were no traffic lights in Thorndale,” she said.
In 1961, the family business was moved to a plant in Coatesville, directly across from the Lukens Steel Mill.
Travaglini attended Bryn Mawr College, Moore College of Art and Immaculata College. She then went on to become vice chairperson of G.O. Carlson, as well as senior vice president. Her husband, Frederick, was the company’s chairman and president.
From 1976 until 1992 Travaglini also wrote a local interest column for the Coatesville Record newspaper. Two years ago, she became an author when her book, “The G.O. Carlson Story,” was published.
The Coatesville site of G.O. Carlson is now closed, but the company still runs its office in Thorndale – where Travaglini resides – and maintains manufacturing facilities in Oil City. Travaglini’s sons, Gunard and Fred, run the company but Travaglini still serves on the board of directors.
Faith is an integral part of Travaglini’s life.
“My faith has always been a key factor in my decisions and still is,” she said. “The tragedies occurring in Coatesville are a clear sign of the need for God’s love in our communities. I pray that the former G.O. Carlson site will become part of Coatesville’s revitalization.”
In addition to serving on her parish decorating committee, Travaglini’s commitment to her faith has been acknowledged by the Holy See.
She received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award in 1982 from the late Pope John Paul II, recognizing her contributions to Church and Pontiff. In 1998, she received a second honor from him: Dame of the Order of St. Gregory the Great award in recognition of her service to the Church, support of the Holy See and the good example she set in her community and country.
And the flying? She pilots a small 4-seater with her husband, also a licensed pilot – and one other occupant.
“Even when flying for recreation,” she said, “God is always my co-pilot.”
George Gregory is a parishioner of St. Cecilia Parish in Coatesville.