Chester County history champion mourned

More than 400 people packed Calvary Chapel in Chadds Ford on Thursday morning to pay tribute to a man who cherished family, friends and history and made a lasting impact on the Chester County Historical Society (CCHS) during his tenure as president.

The cover of the program for the memorial tribute shows Rob Lukens with his beloved family and the caption: Strength & Courage. Photo courtesy of Becky Lukens

The cover of the program for the memorial tribute shows Rob Lukens with his beloved family and the caption: Strength & Courage. Photo courtesy of Becky Lukens

Pastor Stephen Smickley made it clear that tears would be inevitable, but the service aimed to celebrate the life of Rob Lukens, who died on Saturday, Aug. 1, at the age of 42 after a two-year battle with cancer. “It was short life, but a full life that was given to Rob,” he said.

The pastor said the speakers were chosen carefully by Lukens’ family to represent the many different facets of his life. All spoke about Lukens’ myriad passions, his indomitable spirit, and his boundless kindness. All of them struggled to contain their emotions, periodically pausing as the pain of the loss overcame them.

George Zumbano, chairman of the CCHS Board of Trustees, called Lukens “a natural leader” who exuded humility. He said Lukens took the reins as CCHS president in 2011, although his association with the society began in 1993 as a volunteer. As president, Lukens immediately increased the stature and visibility of CCHS, taking history to schools, a radio station, and even local watering holes through the popular “History on Tap” program.

Lukens repeatedly gave credit for the accolades that CCHS earned on his watch to the staff, Zumbano said. Lukens’ most ambitious dream – to revitalize the exhibit space – is well underway. Zumbano said half of the $3.5 million needed for the massive makeover has been raised, and a significant portion of the renovated space will be named in Lukens’ honor.

“Rob’s work at the Chester County Historical Society will continue as his work is our work,” Zumbano said.

Lukens’ aunt, Diane Buckwalter, read a poignant letter that her sister, Lukens’ mother, Nancy, wrote to her son. In it, she fondly recalled her son’s early t-ball and soccer games, and his guitar-playing as a teen. She said her proudest memory occurred in 2010, when “her son, the doctor” received a “hard-earned Ph.d.” from Temple University.

The audience also heard from some of Lukens’ longtime friends – Scott Brown and Sean Farley, who also read a letter from his brother, Kyle Farley. They all agreed that if they could select one person to watch their back in a foxhole, it would be Lukens, and all cited his devotion to his wife, Becky, and their two children, Abbie and Finn.

Brown said Lukens “embodied the highest level of integrity in everything he did, which is what made him such a great family man.” Farley said his friend sought solace in the knowledge that his friends would take care of his family, which they plan to do. Farley suggested that if everyone who loved Lukens would emulate his penchant for being kind, patient, enthusiastic, and hard-working, “his positive impact lives on in perpetuity.”

Kevin Gadsby, Lukens’ brother-in-law, said, “Rob’s passing was one of total peace, surrounded by those he loved. … If there’s a History on Tap in heaven, Rob is there sharing…”

Wil Lukens, Rob’s brother, read a statement from Rob’s wife, who recalled sitting in shock during the first oncology appointment. “We’re too young; we shouldn’t be here,” she remembered feeling.

As the couple waited, they overheard what initially seemed like one woman’s bizarre obsession with underground bees. It wasn’t until the phone conversation progressed that they understood that the woman was planning a gathering with her grandchildren and needed to make sure that a bee colony that had taken up residence underground in her yard wouldn’t sting them.

Becky Lukens said the woman’s fears provided a metaphor: “Cancer was our bees; it came out of nowhere.” She said her husband fought hard to withstand the onslaught, and she expressed gratitude to all the support they received in the process. “Because of all of you, they will sting a little less,” she concluded.

Following the 1½ -hour service, the family attended a private interment before reconvening for a reception at the Chester County Historical Society. Friends and supporters were encouraged to send written remembrances of Lukens to his family.

To view Lukens’ obituary, click here.

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