He doesn’t collect cards or signatures or balls. Bill Werner collects memories.

During his 25-year collection process, Werner has developed a special knack for connecting sentimentality to inanimate objects. He has varying amounts of personal affection for the hundreds and hundreds of pieces he’s collected.

But there is one piece currently in Werner’s possession that holds a special place in his heart – kind of his holy grail. You see, Werner is from Lebanon, he’s a huge sports fan and his father once toiled at the Bethlehem Steel Mill.

Werner is the proud owner of a Bethlehem Steel jersey, circa 1918, that may have been worn by the immortal Babe Ruth during his time spent in Lebanon during World War I. Now, it can’t be authenticated or verified that Ruth actually wore this exact jersey, a small detail that Werner really doesn’t seem to care too much about.

Read More: When Babe Ruth played for Lebanon more than 100 years ago

“I can’t say that Babe Ruth wore that uniform,” said Warner, 62. “But it’s from the year he was here. It may have been, but I have no proof. It doesn’t have a number on it. The only one I ever saw before is at the Lebanon Historical Society.

Bill Werner in front of a Bethlehem Steel baseball uniform that dates to 1918, when the immortal Babe Ruth was in Lebanon as an ambassador for the team. Babe’s first and only game for Lebanon was Sept. 27, 1918, at the field formerly at Third and Willow streets. (Jeff Falk)

“That might not be the most valuable piece I own, but it has the most sentimental value,” continued Warner. “Just the aura of Babe Ruth being here in Lebanon. I had it hanging up at the restaurant (Quentin Haus) and the guys who used to work at the Bethlehem Steel would come in to see it. And you should’ve seen their faces light up.”

Once lore itself, Ruth’s short stay in Lebanon has been verified over the years, partly through images taken by a local photographer. It’s that fact that might make Werner’s Bethlehem Steel jersey perhaps the most important piece of memorabilia in all of Lebanon County sports lore.

A photo by the prolific and pioneering Lebanon photographer Luther Harpel showing Babe Ruth during his one-game appearance for the Bethlehem Steel baseball team during World War I. (Jeff Falk)

“Babe Ruth came here during World War I,” said Werner. “It was a way to keep (professional) baseball players out of harm’s way. So, they went to steel mills, and they played. Babe Ruth ended up here in Lebanon. He played in one game at Lebanon, at Third and Green streets, and he hit a home run during his only at-bat. They were ambassadors of the game.

“It would probably rank up there high (with the most coveted sports memorabilia from Lebanon County),” he added. “Most of those jerseys were destroyed by moths. I actually purchased that in an auction in California. I would rather not say (what it’s worth), partly because I can’t say that Babe Ruth wore it. But it’s worth a lot more than I paid for it.”

If the Bethlehem Steel jersey is Werner’s most prized possession, then his collection of Super Bowl tickets and programs is his most valuable one. A die-hard Green Bay Packers and Notre Dame fan, Werner has collected the full – or untorn – ticket and game program from Super Bowls I through L.

Bill Werner in front of his collection of Super Bowl tickets and programs. (Jeff Falk)

It may have been his first purchase of the Super Bowl II ticket between Green Bay and the Oakland Raiders that initially sent Werner down his collecting road.

“I first started out collecting Packer memorabilia,” said Werner. “And that led into collecting Super Bowl tickets. Then I got interested in trying to collect one from every Super Bowl. Being around my parents who bought and sold, they had a big influence on me. But I was more into sports.

“I enjoy it. It’s fun collecting,” he added. “I think it’s a good way to save money. My parents did the same thing to help me out. They had a love for buying and selling, and I think that’s where I got it.”

Many of the rooms in Werner’s home are decorated with the memorabilia he has acquired over the years, and the same can be said for the walls of the Quentin Haus restaurant where he works. With autographed jerseys and photographs, the living room of Werner’s house could serve as a shrine to the Green Bay Packers and the players who made them great.

“I love sports,” said Werner. “I’ve always been a sports fan, growing up playing sports. It just went hand-in-hand with collecting, because I enjoy going to shows and meeting people. I met many of my childhood idols.”

When pressed, Werner had difficulties quantifying the total number of sports items he’s collected and the overall monetary worth of his collection.

“I have an idea,” he said, “but I don’t want to say it. It’s a number that’s quite high.”

Over the past few years, Werner’s collecting has slowed. In fact, he’s even begun to thin his collection for good causes, through donations to charitable organizations.

“I’ve given away quite a lot,” said Werner. “What I do now is a lot of charity events. We put sports memorabilia in auctions, and they make money off the stuff that’s bought.

“I’m always looking,” he continued. “But I haven’t bought anything in a little while. I’m pretty well satisfied. I’ve collected a lot of pieces I set out to.”

Werner’s collecting may have evolved into something more than he originally intended. Because not only did it take on a life of its own, it became a big part of his.

“When I first started out, a friend told me, ‘You’ll get the itch.’ He was right,” said Werner. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed collecting. I’ve done a lot of it with my son. We’ve enjoyed doing it together. It’s fun for me. It’s brought me a lot of happiness.”

Memories that are priceless.

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Jeff Falk is a seasoned journalist based in Lebanon, PA. He's a graduate of Cedar Crest High School, Penn State University, and a lifelong resident of Lebanon, born and raised. Currently, he is a feature writer for Engle Publishing in Lancaster, the editor of LebCoSports.com, sports director at WLBR...


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