A bridge between York's history and its community, Georg Sheets dies

Georg Sheets was a natural connector in the York community, with a "vast knowledge" of its people that he loved to share with others, said those who knew him.

"If there was someone in the room of importance, he would pull me to the side," said Robert Lambert, president of York County Libraries, who worked with Sheets when he was the library's planned giving officer.

"I was so enamored by it," he said. "He was always sort of a bridge of connecting people."

Sheets died Monday at age 72, and his legacy in York County will be well remembered.

Georg Sheets, a York County historian, editor and author, was recognized in October 2019 as the Martin Library fall honoree. Sheets also worked at the library as planned giving officer.

Sheets moved to York County with his family in 1955 and graduated from West York Area High School, according to his obituary. He later moved to Harrisburg and Camp Hill.

He lived a storied life, having spent years living and working in Paris, writing multiple books about Pennsylvania history and reporting for The York Dispatch, editing a cultural magazine and working at the Dauphin County Historical Society.

Sheets even had his own role in history, as a descendant of Pennsylvania and Maryland rifle and clock makers, according to his website.

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"He certainly knew the York community and the York community knew him," said Gordon Freireich. "His love of the community was very evident in the history books he wrote."

As a former editor at the York Sunday News who now writes a column for the paper, Freireich often used those books as a reference, and still does.

Sheets wrote books about local history, the civil war, ethnic life of Pennsylvania's 67 counties, and one about an artist who painted 43 murals for the state's Capitol, his website states.

He had a whimsical side, too. His friend Fran Keller said the two used to enjoy ghost tours and fine dining — especially steak. On a recent trip to Atlantic City, she brought him one of his favorite treats: gummy bears.

"That was one of the things we did regularly," she said of the restaurant hopping. "I used to tell Georg that I majored in lunch."

And he was a very supportive friend, said Karen Hostetter, Red Land Community Library's manager, who bonded with Sheets because they both had family in West Virginia.

"When either one of us were traveling to West Virginia we would call each other," and it would be joke between them to say, "Guess where I am?" she said.

Hostetter also wrote for "ShowcaseNow!," a heritage and tourism magazine covering York where Sheets became editor, and he worked closely with her to help her hone her skills.

"I can’t tell you how much that meant to me," she said.

Though he had great success, he also openly shared his rejection letters over the years to encourage others, she said.

Publisher Kelly Summerford called Sheets his best friend and said he might honor his friend by releasing some of his unpublished works one day — novels that showed more of his fun side, which were not so entrenched in history.

More recently, Sheets became the planned giving officer for York County Libraries, sharing his passion for history with others by encouraging them to invest in its records.

In fact, last year Sheets was the fall Martin Library honoree — a surprise to him since he was on the committee that usually chose those individuals.

"He was a York County man through and through, even though he was not originally from York County," said Bob Cox, chairman of the committee.

Among his contributions to the county’s history was his research on William C. Goodridge, which led to the establishment of the William C. Goodridge Freedom Center and Underground Railroad Museum in Goodridge’s former family home, in downtown York City.

"He was so pivotal for me in getting to know William C. Goodridge," said Summerford, a living interpreter who portrays Goodridge and museum manager.

He said Sheets provided invaluable information when he interviewed Goodridge's great-granddaughter years ago.

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And he was "very involved" in the twinning York with cities in Germany and France, Hostetter said.

Despite all these accomplishments, he was humble, too, Keller said — even as a former nominee for a Pulitzer Prize for his book "The Grand Review: The Civil War Continues to Shape America."

"Georg is kind of one of those people that it’s hard to really sum him up in a few words because he was a very complex person, but he was certainly one of those people who you loved having as a friend," she said

A memorial service will be held at the family's convenience at Martin Library, 159 E. Market St., through Heffner Funeral Chapel & Crematory, Inc., with a burial at Maplewood Cemetery, in Kingwood, West Virginia.