Cory Vaillancourt is not the person you would expect to write a history of one of the most prominent figures of Erie’s history. Not only was he born and raised outside of the city and state, but he gives off a vibe that is more VICE than History Channel.
Vaillancourt seems like he should be off writing the next Great American Novel while on the back roads of Colorado, but instead, he’s living in Erie, PA after graduating from University of Chicago where he studied history with a focus on the Soviet Union. His past experiences include work on political campaigns across the nation as well as writing for the Erie Reader. Yet, that same eclectic dichotomy that makes up Vaillancourt’s life experiences is exactly what makes his biography of Lou Tullio, the 44th mayor of Erie, a masterful combination of thorough research and meticulously crafted storytelling.
Vaillancourt was approached by the Jefferson Education Society in September 2014 to pen the book on Erie’s most prominent mayor, who served from the late 1960’s through the 1980’s. The Jefferson Education Society, a non-profit organization focused on civic enlightenment and historical ventures, published the book. Ben Speggen, a Gannon alumnus and former editor-in-chief of The Gannon Knight, edited the book for Vaillancourt with help from Alex Bieler, another Gannon alumnus, who worked with WERG during his time at the University and acted as the main proofreader and copy editor for Vaillancourt’s book.
Tullio himself has deep roots to Gannon University. Not only was he the football coach from 1949 to 1951, but was also the athletic director and later became the basketball coach for the University from 1951-1956. Later in 1966, he became Mayor of Erie and served for over 20 years.
Vaillancourt believes that now is an appropriate time to look back on the legacy of the former mayor who died in 1990. In the forward of the book, Vaillancourt writes:
“Lou Tullio: A Real Erie Guy incorporates more than 500 citations, including hundreds of print sources, and utilizes 40-odd hours of audio interview with more than a dozen of Tullio’s contemporaries that resulted in a master transcript exceeding 65,000 words; pairing all that down to just 40,000 words covering several centuries of Erie’s political geography took eight months and another three months to edit.”
For many students and lovers of history alike, this book offers more than just a view of an old Erie figure. It expands upon a story that is all too familiar, yet refreshingly optimistic. Tullio, as Vaillancourt describes, was a man who fought for the City of Erie despite personal obstacles including illness and political opponents. The cover of the book, designed by Todd Scalise and Kayla Nesselhauf of Higherglyphics L.L.C., reads “A revealing look at the life and times of one of the most significant and heavily mythologized politician in the history of Erie, Pennsylvania.”
The subtitle, “A Real Erie Guy”, as Vaillancourt explained, came directly from the eulogy of Tullio, which was delivered by Dr. William P. Garvey, the President of the Jefferson Educational Society, who had met Tullio while studying at Gannon. In the eulogy given on April 20, 1990, Garvey describes what it means to be “a real Erie guy,” and how Tullio embodied that ideal:
“You don’t have to be ethnic, but it helps. You have a sense of the place and its nuances and its Midwestern warmth and friendliness toward strangers. You have a special feeling for the bay and Presque Isle. You brag about Erie sunsets and complain about Erie weather. You shake your head at the heated politics that seem to continually grip the city, but are quick to voice your own opinion and put forth your own ideas when you don’t agree. You attend countless dinners, testimonials, and celebrations in the clubs and bars that abound everywhere. You deplore the city’s small-town mentality, but love the fact that you can be anywhere in 20 minutes without the traffic jams of the ‘big city.’ You wonder about the city’s future but admit it’s a great place to raise a family. You laugh at Erie jokes but resent them for secretly, deep down, ‘Erie guys’ really love their city, although some consider it bad form to show it. Real Erie guys are all too few – and now, one, fewer.”
Vaillancourt believes that there won’t be another figure like Lou Tullio in Erie because of the political climate, and how the city now functions within the political geography of the day. Even from a logistical standpoint, no one will outmatch the six terms Tullio served in office because of the new three-term limit for the Mayor.
Even so, Vaillancourt remains optimistic about the future of the City, giving advice to students: “If you want to do something – do it. The great thing about Erie is it doesn’t matter where you came from, you can accomplish great things.”
In the forward, Vaillancourt emphasizes his hopes for the book with the finesse of a master wordsmith:
“Accordingly, my greatest hope for this work is not that it inform those who live it; my greatest hope is not that it educate those who lead us; my greatest hope is not that it illuminate those dark corners of the sausage factory where the gears of government grind. Those are indeed hopes – but my greatest hope is that this thing that I’ve built in conjunction with the architect and the excavator and the steelworker will one day spur further construction.”
“Few men are fortunate enough to be given the opportunity by their fellow citizens to preside over the rebuilding of the city they love. I’ve been given that opportunity – and I’ll always be grateful to the voters of Erie.” – Lou Tullio
You don’t have to be a history buff, political science junkie or Erieite to enjoy this book. Do yourself a favor, and look to the past to understand the future.