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A FAMILY BLEND: Downtown DuBois winery offers unfiltered flavor

DuBOIS — A local family has “popped the cork” and created the perfect blend of business and partnership in downtown DuBois.

Toni and Mike Kulbacki, along with their sons Aaron and Michael, and Michael’s wife, Meredith, have taken their love for wine to an all new level.

“Two Birch Winery,” located on South Brady Street in downtown DuBois, has been open and serving customers for about a month, but will hold its official grand opening event Wednesday from 1-6 p.m.

The story is pretty simple — the Kulbacki family has a love for wine, and once Toni decided to make it herself, the rest of the family jumped on board.

The business motto “unfiltered for fuller flavor” holds a lot of meaning to the family.

From the beginning, it was important to them to offer unfiltered wine that’s produced in small quantities. After filtering a product once, they discovered it impacted the body and flavor of the wine, making it taste almost watery.

“Through the years, we have learned many things, but the most important is to try and keep it as natural as possible,” they say in their pamphlet.

The experience of opening a family business has been “a lot of fun,” Toni says. Each member of the family has their own role and gives their input on flavors, names and labels.

They sat down after a few bottles of wine one night, with 30 business names to choose from, narrowed it down to two, and picked randomly — Two Birch Winery was the winner.

Anyone who knows the Kulbacki family understands the name “Two Birch” — a hunting stand. It’s especially perfect since they are known as an outdoorsy people who have always had a love for hunting. Toni and Mike give shooting lessons, and are involved with the National Shooting Association.

The family’s love for the outdoors can be sensed throughout the rustic-themed downtown shop, which offers woodwork and an outdoorsy theme.

Toni is already well-known in downtown DuBois, since she has owned and operated the Toni Kulbacki Barber Shop for 34 years. She decided she could do both — cut hair and make wine, with shops right around the corner from one another.

She also enjoys knitting and crocheting, and hopes to host “thread therapy” nights with local women and friends at the winery in the future, as well as other small events.

The family has come up with creative wine names, each with a different meaning behind it, like “Purple Mustache” for a grape-flavored bottle, “Two of a Kind,” “From the Patch” strawberry and “French Diamond.”

They currently offer 19 wines, but will be adding autumn and other seasonal flavors, Toni said. They are still open to taste testers and opinions on the wine and their unfiltered approach.

“We try to get a lot of people’s feelings on the wine,” she said. “You can always count on friends and family for that.”

Maybe one day in the future, they will have their own winery venue, Toni says, but for right now, they are excited to have a retail location.

The wine community has been very welcoming, the Kulbackis said. They plan on participating in downtown DuBois events, too, like the Wine Walk and Creative Crawl.

“We’re involved in our community, and we want people to know this is a family business,” Toni said.

It’s especially important to her to give back to local businesses, Toni said, since DuBois has given her a great location and customer base for so many years.

“Once we decided to do this, there was no other place to open a business but downtown.”

For more information, visit Two Birch Winery on Facebook or call 814-771-3026. The shop’s current hours are Wednesday from 1-6 p.m., Thursday 3-6 p.m., Friday 3-7 p.m. and Saturday from 1-7 p.m. Seasonal hours will be offered on Sundays.

Report: Pennsylvania priests molested more than 1,000 children

HARRISBURG (AP) — Hundreds of Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania molested more than 1,000 children — and possibly many more — since the 1950s, and senior church officials, including a man who is now the archbishop of Washington, D.C., systematically covered up the abuse, according to a grand jury report released Tuesday.

The real number” of abused children might be in the thousands since some secret church records were lost, and victims were afraid to come forward, the grand jury said.

“Church officials routinely and purposefully described the abuse as horseplay and wrestling and inappropriate conduct. It was none of those things. It was child sexual abuse, including rape,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said at a news conference in Harrisburg.

The report put the number of abusive clergy at more than 300. In nearly all of the cases, the statute of limitations has run out, meaning that criminal charges cannot be filed. Many of the priests are dead or retired, while others have been dismissed from the priesthood or put on leave.

“We are sick over all the crimes that will go unpunished and uncompensated,” the grand jury said.

Authorities evaluated each suspect and were able to charge just two, including a priest who has since pleaded guilty. Shapiro said the investigation is ongoing.

The grand jury accused Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who leads the Washington archdiocese, of helping to protect abusive priests when he was Pittsburgh’s bishop. Wuerl, who led the Pittsburgh diocese from 1988 to 2006, disputed the allegations.

“While I understand this report may be critical of some of my actions, I believe the report confirms that I acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse,” he said in a statement. “I sincerely hope that a just assessment of my actions, past and present, and my continuing commitment to the protection of children will dispel any notions otherwise made by this report.”

The grand jury scrutinized abuse allegations in dioceses that minister to more than half the state’s 3.2 million Catholics. Its report echoed the findings of many earlier church investigations around the country in its description of widespread sexual abuse by clergy and church officials’ concealment of it.

Most of the victims were boys, but girls were abused, too, the report said.

The abuse ranged from groping and masturbation to rape. One boy was forced to say confession to the priest who sexually abused him. A 9-year-old boy was forced to perform oral sex and then had his mouth washed out with holy water. Another boy was made to pose naked as if being crucified and then was photographed by a group of priests who Shapiro said produced and shared child pornography on church grounds.

The grand jury concluded that a succession of Catholic bishops and other diocesan leaders tried to shield the church from bad publicity and financial liability. They failed to report accused clergy to police and sent abusive priests to so-called “treatment facilities,” which “laundered” the priests and “permitted hundreds of known offenders to return to ministry,” the report said.

The cover-up extended beyond church grounds. The grand jury said it found cases in which police or prosecutors learned of clergy sex abuse allegations but did not investigate out of deference to church officials.

The grand jury’s report comes at a time of renewed scrutiny and fresh scandal at the highest levels of the U.S. Catholic Church. Pope Francis stripped 88-year-old Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of his title and ordered him to a lifetime of prayer and penance amid allegations that McCarrick had for years sexually abused boys and had sexual misconduct with adult seminarians.

Wuerl has come under harsh criticism over his response to the McCarrick scandal, with some commentators questioning his claims of surprise and ignorance over allegations that McCarrick molested and harassed young seminarians.

Wuerl replaced McCarrick as Washington’s archbishop after McCarrick retired in 2006.

The Pennsylvania grand jury, convened by the state attorney general’s office in 2016, heard from dozens of witnesses and reviewed more than a half-million pages of internal documents from the Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton dioceses.

The Pittsburgh diocese said a few priests are still in ministry because the diocese determined allegations against them were unsubstantiated.

Tim Lennon, the president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, urged Pennsylvania lawmakers to lift civil and criminal statutes of limitations for child sex crimes, and to provide victims who no longer meet the age requirements in state law with a new window to file civil lawsuits.

Some current and former clergy named in the report went to court to prevent its release, arguing it violated their constitutional rights. The state Supreme Court said the public had a right to see it, but ruled the names of priests and others who objected to the findings would be blacked out pending a September hearing on their claims.

Twenty of the grand jurors said Tuesday they objected to “any attempts to censor, alter, redact or amend” the report.

Several dioceses decided to strip the accused of their anonymity and released the names of clergy members who were accused of sexual misconduct.

Sandy Township Municipal Authority
Residents voice opinions on possible sale of Sandy Twp. municipal authority

DuBOIS — Approximately 20 residents voiced their preferences Monday to the Sandy Township supervisors regarding which of two offers city authorities should accept in selling the township’s municipal authority to either the City of DuBois or Aqua Pennsylvania Inc.

While the supervisors had the option to make a decision on the purchase at the special meeting, they adjourned the meeting without doing so. The supervisors could make a decision at their next regular meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 20, at the township building, 1094 Chestnut Ave., DuBois.

Aqua’s proposal involves a cash purchase amount of $12 million for the system. Based on 3,000 gallons of usage per month, the average monthly bill would be $60.25 for water, $73.75 for sewage, and $121.75 for customers who receive both a water and sewer bill.

The City of DuBois offered two proposals.

The acquisition proposal includes a $0.00 cash purchase plus $7 million toward paying off the debt. Based on 3,000 gallons of usage per month, the average monthly bill would be $41.71 for water, $59.41 for sewage, and $88.87 for customers who receive both a water and sewer bill.

The majority of those who spoke before a crowded audience of at least 70 people were in favor of the township selling the system to DuBois. Most of them echoed comments made by David Stern, president and CEO of Paris Companies in DuBois.

Stern, a township resident for more than 40 years, said for 25 years he has lived in a home on South Ninth Street that uses Sandy Township water and sewer service. He said he also has a home in Treasure Lake that uses Aqua water and sewer service. His business uses City of DuBois water and sewer services.

“In fact, I am the largest user of water and sewer services in the area,” said Stern. “Because of this, I feel that I have a real vested interest in the decision the supervisors will ultimately make.”

Stern, who thanked the supervisors for their decision to look at various options to lower the community’s extremely high water and sewer bills, based his opinion on five categories — quality, community, service, time and financial.

Regarding quality, Stern said the water at his Treasure Lake home is hard and many people have water softeners and filters.

“I would not want to have to get a softener or a filter at my home on Ninth Street. Even the taste of the water is different and I would not want to go backwards,” said Stern.

Stern said the city option would mean that all the money paid for services would stay in the DuBois/Sandy Township area.

“The economic impact of this alone is significant. I called the city Friday and asked how much revenue is estimated under their proposal and they estimated it to be $2.9 million. Almost $3 million stays in our community, keeping jobs and creating an economic impact of $20 million,” said Stern.

“The Aqua option would send the money to Bryn Mawr, outside of Philadelphia,” said Stern. “We get our water from reservoirs and wells locally, however, the value, millions of dollars, of the area’s most valuable natural resource, our water, will be sent to the investors of Aqua based out of Philadelphia.”

Stern said when he pays his bill to the city or the township, he talks to someone locally. Or he stops in the office to get an issue resolved.

“When I pay my bill to Aqua, I pay it to a accounts receivable person that I am just a number to. If I have any issue with water or water quality there is a DuBois area face that knows my issue, and if it still can’t get resolved I can call the township or city officials,” said Stern.

If the township chooses the city’s proposal, Stern said it can start immediately.

“The infrastructure is already there. I don’t even know how the Aqua option would work as there weren’t any details outlined in the paper. I can’t even imagine how service would be provided to sections that are presently served in areas like Christ the King Manor or Stoneside Village,” Stern said.

The most compelling reason that Stern said he sees is “the tremendous savings to us, the Sandy Township residents, using the existing water and sewer systems. According to the paper, the township will get the same amount of money, $12 million, if they sell their asset to the city or Aqua, however, the price that is charged to the residents is significantly more with the Aqua option. Accordingly, a home using 3,000 gallons of water a month would pay $15.42 a month more for water and $10.56 a month amount more for sewage. That would cost this customer $312 a year. My personal bill based on my usage would go up annually $1,250.”

Any future price increase by both the city and Aqua would have to be approved by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, said Stern, noting that “Aqua is entitled to a profit they can include their profit and any other costs necessary to justify an increase. Aqua is a $3.5 billion company with a profit margin of 12.7 percent. The City of DuBois would also be regulated but is not for profit and cannot include profit to justify an increase. In addition, the City of DuBois could conceivably apply for grants for various projects including help for low income customers.”

Stern said he hopes the supervisors will consider the “facts when making their decision and not let the bad blood that has permeated our community between the city and the township affect their decision. I am not saying the city has been justified in any of its price negotiations with Sandy in the past as I am only looking to the future and what is best for the township water and sewerage users.”

Larry Salone, of Treasure Lake, asked the supervisors if Aqua has the capability to deliver water to both Treasure Lake and the rest of the township. There’s a new well and two old wells and he said he doesn’t want the old well water. Salone noted that he has a suit against Aqua which alleges poor water quality.

Salone was cut off by speaking by Supervisors’ Chairman Jim Jeffers, who said his comments were “that’s irrelevant.”

Bill Beers, of the West Sandy area, who has been a fire chief in the Sandy Hose Company for the last 21 years, said they’ve been dealing with Aqua over the years and trying to get hydrants in the largest area of the township.

“They never did it,” said Beers. “My concern is they took this over back in 2013. They haven’t updated anything for fire protection.”

Dave Wilson, of Cedarwood Avenue, asked if the rates were “all in rates.”

“Or are there going to be rates that are added on for administration and maintenance and that sort of thing? I mean the savings look great until you add that on,” Wilson said.

Wilson also asked if township residents are going to be forced to take any of the services.

“In my case, I have sewage, but I also have well water. I really don’t want city water. My well water is very good and I don’t want to change.”

Wilson said he does think going with the city is the best option.

Foster Crawford said he did not understand why the supervisors were considering selling the authority. He asked them to hold up on making a decision until they can review it further.

“You say that the township can’t handle it. I don’t know why,” said Crawford. He said the township is buying treated, filtered water from the city and has no liability.

“That’s a pretty good deal it seems to me,” said Crawford.

Crawford said if they are going to sell it, he doesn’t think they are going to get enough money for it.

Jim Dieringer, Walnut Avenue, asked if Aqua would purchase this system and operate from Treasure Lake as they’re based, would they manifold their system into the DuBois system at some point, like at the end of a line out by Treasure Lake, in case there was an emergency, a drought emergency or some other emergency in the system.

“I talked to a representative, a technician from Culligan, and they treat many houses in Treasure Lake and they hardly treat any in DuBois. He said that their percentage per capita is monumentally different between the two entities,” Dieringer said. “And so it’s because of the iron and other metals in the water that comes from that Treasure Lake system. So if that is co-mingled with our system there’s going to have to be a change in the way that the water is treated probably more expensively, and so I’m asking the question if that is a possibility, can you guarantee that they won’t do that? And I don’t think that anybody could make that guarantee with any reasonable certainty.”

Dieringer agreed with Stern that the supervisors should look at the significant local economic development impact by choosing the city’s proposal.

Melissa Keen, who owns Keen Trailer Court, wondered why the township wants to sell an asset.

She also said, “We do have city water and we have septic systems, so if we do sell, whether it be to the city or to Aqua, I personally don’t have an opinion either way on that, will our tenants have to come and put on that sewage? And what kind of fees are they going to have to entail with that?”

Lyle Woodrow, Arminta Street, said DuBois has always taken care of the water.

“My son lives in Treasure Lake. If you go to Treasure Lake, the water up there wasn’t fit to drink,” Woodrow said. “The City of DuBois has put up two one-million gallon tanks. I don’t believe that the Sandy Township people paid anything for the erection of those two tanks. The city of DuBois did that, which has increased the water pressure throughout the system. Now the city of DuBois is pretty close to being finished on the building aspect.”

“So there’s going to be a $44 million new sewage system proposed for the City of DuBois,” Stern said. “Sandy Township doesn’t like to hear that, but somebody’s got to treat the Sandy Township water. And I think that DuBois needs to supply the water, good quality, and take care of the sewage by themselves. Keep the money in the system. Do not send it down to Philadelphia.”

Matt Smith, Atlantic Avenue, who works for the township’s water and sewer department, said if we do sell to Aqua, water will still come from the city which is regulated by the PUC for increases. As far as the control of the sewage, owned by the city, is not a municipal plan and not regulated by the PUC “which is why we’ve had a lot of constant fights with the city over sewage rate increases.”

“That’s really my issue. To me it’s a matter of trust. Yes, with Aqua we would pay more,” Smith said. “Looking at the rates, it’s pretty easy to see that all the city is basically doing is dropping off the I&I (inflow and infiltration) charge. Just a couple years ago they said it’s necessary to operate their system and I haven’t seen anything really be upgraded on the sewage system. If they were planning to use that extra money to do that you would think that project would have already started. But the only real improvement I have seen in the city is with the city park. Now that the park project has been done they are willing to drop the I&I charge which seems pretty fishy to me. When they do build their sewage plant you can imagine the rates will probably go up and be similar to Aqua, probably higher.”

BriFleming90 / Shirley Dahrouge 

Juniata Elementary student Brock Roy threw the first pitch with DuBois Dream Owner Albert Varacallo III at Sunday night's Altoona Curve game.

Local family turns old Falls Creek bank into new business

FALLS CREEK — A local family is bringing an historical Falls Creek building back to life through a new father-daughter business.

The old bank, located on Main Street in Falls Creek, has been home to many enterprises over the years — First National Bank in 1902, First Commonwealth Bank, S&T Bank, an upstairs apartment building and even a fallout shelter during the Cold War.

Most recently, it was Keystone Chiropractic Clinic, and is set to reopen as “Beechwoods Financial Solutions” — a father-daughter firm offering financial advice — this fall.

Lynn Smith moved his 38-year-old financial advising practice back to the area in 2012, when he bought the old family homestead in Beechwoods, where he was born and raised.

His daughter, Abby Gross, who previously lived in Ohio and was a financial commodities trader, has now joined him in business locally. Lynn’s wife, Barb, will be the office manager.

The old bank’s restoration has been a family effort, and something they have all teamed up to tackle together, Abby said.

Her husband, Ken Gross, who has trained in furniture-making and shopfitting, has been the force behind the building’s transformation. The two-year project has resulted in hardwood refinished floors, granite border tiles and exposed brick walls.

The building retains much of its long ago features — a massive vault door, teller windows, a scenic front window and even the “First National Bank” logo on the outside.

With a number of clients in this area, Lynn said, the Main Street location was perfect for the firm. He said they hope to have the project complete by early October.

From the beginning, the family’s plan wasn’t to “rebuild” the location, but to restore it, and bring it back to its former glory. The classic woodwork and exposed brick gives an old-fashioned feel, and they like to think that’s how it would have looked back in 1902, the family says.

“We are trying to restore it, not alter it — everything is as original as we can possibly make it,” Ken said. “We’re trying to keep it a part of the history.”

The building has been more than just a new-business project, the family says. It has been enjoyable to work together and revitalize a historical location. They hope local people who remember the old bank will appreciate what it has become today.

“So many older people remember the bank, and can’t wait to come see it,” Ken said.

They have old pictures from the area in the 1890s that they’ll display throughout the business, too, Lynn said.

“There is nothing like a family business,” Abby said. “We couldn’t be prouder to have our office planted on Main Street in Falls Creek.”