Pat Handwerk says all she wanted to do was prove a point about her town.
Back in May, the owner of Jim Thorpe's Harry Packer Mansion bed and breakfast was wandering through the Internet when she came across a contest sponsored by Rand McNally, looking for the most beautiful small town in America. She saw the towns that were nominated for last year's competition and thought, "Why not Jim Thorpe?"
So Handwerk began a campaign to get Jim Thorpe some recognition.
"I was the one with the foot in people's butts," she admitted -- and now, Jim Thorpe is one of six communities in the running to be named America's most beautiful small town.
The winner will be announced on Tues., July 17, at the Destination Marketing International Convention in Seattle, said Rand McNally's travel editor, Ashley Day, who added this is the second year the contest is being held.
Handwerk said her original goal was modest: "I wanted [Jim Thorpe] to get into the top 10 in Pennsylvania." When that happened, Handwerk said, "things started to snowball." She set her sights on becoming No. 1 in Pennsylvania, "and then I thought, 'Why not number one in the country?' "
When the dust settled and all the votes were counted, Jim Thorpe was a finalist for the most beautiful small town in America -- number four on Rand McNally's list.
Rand McNally sent out a married couple from the Texas Panhandle, Nikki and Dusty Green, to check out the six finalists, and by all accounts -- including the Greens' blog and video -- Jim Thorpe was a big hit.
One of the things that made a big impression on the Greens was coming into Jim Thorpe for the first time. They were told to turn on their in-car camera and record their facial expressions and reactions as Jim Thorpe came into view at the top of the mountain along Route 209.
Judging from the video the Greens posted, they were overwhelmed at what they saw. They also raved about the welcoming parade, the horse-drawn carriage ride, the Victorian architecture, the restaurants and the whitewater rafting.
Handwerk credits Tom Logherty of JTX Tours for making sure the Greens had a good time. "He was the behind-the-scenes genius," she said.
Handwerk said she has kept in touch with the Greens with emails and tweets.
"I don't want to be pushy about them voting for us, so I ask how their trip is going in a casual way," Handwerk confided.
Rand McNally has invited Handwerk and others from Jim Thorpe to Seattle for the announcement of the winner, but Handwerk said the demands of running a bed and breakfast prevent her from making the trip west.
"I'm hoping Nikki or Dusty will call me when the announcement is made," said Handwerk. "At whatever time it is, you'll hear me screaming. I will post it on the Chamber of Commerce Web site, and we can all have a unanimous scream."
Rand McNally's Day said the winning town will be announced at the DMIC convention around noon on Tuesday. She also said the winner will be announced on contest co-sponsor USA Today's Web site, and that the winning town will be written up in USA Today's weekly travel section on Fri., July 20.
Handwerk said a party is being planned in Jim Thorpe as a thank-you to all the people who helped with this project.
"We haven't decided when it's going to be, or how big, but it will be sometime next week in the park in the center of town," she said. "Everybody's invited to join in."
Day said based on what happened to 2011's most beautiful small town winner, Jim Thorpe could be in for a surge in tourism.
"Last year's beautiful winner was Sandpoint, Idaho, and they had sellouts in their hotels and ski lodges," said Day.
Whether or not Jim Thorpe takes the top honor, Handwerk said the town is already a big winner.
"So many people say this is their hometown, and they couldn't be prouder. And that's cool," she said. "Everybody in town saw possibilities. They went out and planted flowers, and not only for now, but to keep it beautiful in the future. The spirit of the town really came out. It was an opportunity for everybody in town to have a singular goal, and to keep it going."
Handwerk and her husband Bob have run the bed and breakfast at the Harry Packer mansion for 28 years, but she still describes herself as "a transplant."
She grew up in Greenwich, Conn., and came to Pennsylvania to study marketing at the University of Pennsylvania. There, she met Bob, and after graduating they settled in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia.