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FLYING HIGH: East End Playground projects keep Josh Smith's memory alive

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Ongoing fundraisers in memory of a Punxsutawney teenager have helped to build a popular playground in the east end of town.

East End Playground, constructed in the summer of 2017, is located beside Thomas L. Barletta Skate Park and Rails to Trails.

Josh was 18 years old when he died suddenly in Ocean City, Maryland, in 2016.

Linda Smith, Josh’s mother, said their family has lived in Punxsutawney for 21 years.

Through various donations, fundraisers and community support, equipment like climbing features, adaptive swing and merry-go-round were installed in May of 2017, Smith said. The next summer, an “inclusive spinner” was added. The playground’s large welcome stone reads “Fly High Josh” at the top.

Last summer, two Eagle Scout projects benefited the park. Alex Depp installed four benches, and Hayden Johnson built a butterfly garden.

“We have raised enough to purchase and install a pavilion this spring,” she said.

They also hope to add a second pavilion for the skate park area next to playground, she said.

The Smith family is currently hosting a joint fundraiser with Laska’s Pizza, raising funds for the playground’s next project — a “ride-on/climber” attraction resembling a jeep, she said.

This new item for the playground is connected to two things her son loved, Smith said — his red jeep and Laska’s Pizza.

“It will also fit well with the nature theme of the playground,” Smith said. “It will be a nice addition for younger children.”

Laska’s Pizza coupons are available, benefiting East End Playground, for $6 each. Owner Katie Laska was like a second mother to Josh, Smith said, and was glad to help.

“Josh loved Laska’s pizza since he was very young,” Smith said. “He was so excited when he got a job working there when he was 16.”

A variety of fundraisers, including a golf tournament, spaghetti dinner, dances, bingo, candy sales and movie nights have been held for EEP, Smith said.

“This park has become a favorite location in our community for so many people to enjoy,” she said.

The park offers a variety of activities for all ages, Smith said, including people who walk or bike Rails to Trails, teenagers riding skateboards, people playing roller hockey or skating and young children learning how to ride their bikes. Soon, people will also be able to play on a tennis court — one with a special meaning behind it.

“Kally’s Kourt,” an ongoing fundraiser hosted by the Graham family in memory of Kally Graham, is also in the process of raising funds to build a tennis court at the same Punxsutawney park. Josh and Kally were good friends, Smith said.

“Nothing can take away the pain of losing a child,” she said. “Working on this playground after we lost Josh gave us some sense of direction — planning it with all of the things we knew he would’ve loved.”

Being outdoors, at first, was difficult for the family, Smith said, but they tried to keep all the good times with Josh in mind.

“Building something in his memory and having the support of so many people meant the world to us,” she said. “When I see the playground now, I still miss him, of course, but it helps to know how much he was loved and how supportive our family, friends and community are.”

Laska’s Pizza coupons can be purchased from the Smith family and friends, who can be reached through the Josh Smith Memorial Playground Facebook page. Online donations can be made to the JSMP during the “Week of Giving” on March 18-22 at www.bbcfgives.org. Smith can also be reached at 814-591-5934.


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Reynoldsville Rollerdrome filled with decades of history, childhood memories

REYNOLDSVILLE — A quote on the wall says it all — “Memories are made here.”

The Reynoldsville Rollerdrome on Mabel Street is home of the town’s best-kept activities and community history, according to owners Dave and Jennifer Schuckers.

And, it’s even the place where their love story began. Dave was working at the roller rink on a New Year’s Eve in 1987 when Jennifer came in to skate.

The couple has owned the rollerdrome for the past six years. Although it’s more than 70 years old, people still mistakenly think it has closed down, or forget it’s there, Jennifer says.

Besides open skate, the rink offers game nights in October, and family nights on Sundays. Youth hockey takes place on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, too. The facility can be rented out regularly for birthday parties or occasions. “Pick-up” hockey sessions are held on Friday and Saturday nights, following open skate.

Game nights have been a popular hit with skaters, Jennifer says, bringing back the memories of classics like limbo and four corners. “Glow skating” night incorporates glow-in-the-dark skates and lights.

“I like it because I liked it back in the day,” Jennifer says. “The kids just love it, and people come who have never skated before.”

The facility serves as a place for local teams to practice, such as the Rebel Rollers, a roller derby team of women from areas like Reynoldsville, DuBois, Clarion and Punxsutawney. They practice there every Thursday night, preparing for upcoming competitions. A hockey league also rents the RRD for its practices.

History

Former owner Darrell “Doc” Snyder and his wife, Grace, owned the roller rink for 38 years. Snyder also coached the “Reynoldsville Rollerdrome Lazers” roller hockey team, winning several state, regional and national championships. He died at the age of 77 in 2016.

When someone walks through the door on Friday night, there will be 80-100 children skating, Jennifer said. The rink is a place where people feel safe leaving their children for a couple hours, knowing they’ll be watched, Dave adds.

“People here know us,” he said. “They could always rely on Doc and Grace, and they rely on us like they did on them.”

Jennifer was a nurse for 23 years, she said, and taking over the rink was even something she envisioned in her younger days.

“I remember skating here as a teenager, and thinking, ‘What about owning this place some day?’” she said.

Dave worked for Snyder for 15-20 years, and can recall many memories there, he said. He now does carpentry work. His time spent at the rink in the evenings is what he considers “retirement,” because it feels a little bit like home.

Dave can even build skates himself, something he learned working at the rink when he was younger.

Its floor is the original one people have skated on for decades, the Schuckers said. Future updates include painting the ceilings and putting a new counter on the snack bar. Each food item served is also meant to make people “reminisce,” including soft pretzels, corndogs and pickles people ate there as a child.

The family-owned and operated facility is always an “ongoing” project, Dave says. In the past six years, they have “spruced up” a bit, painting and redoing the floors, carpeting, adding a new roof, sidewalk and benches inside, as well as new skate rentals. The couple tries to take on a project each year.

They agree they are always looking to restore the building, not rebuild it.

“I don’t want to take the prestige away,” Dave said.

Town memories

Skating is something different for families to do, especially in the winter when it’s cold out, Jennifer says. Parents and grandparents who skated there when they were younger now bring their grandchildren to do the same.

It’s a form of exercise, too — adults around 70 or 80 years old will strap on skates regularly to stay active, Dave said. Athletes will also do it as a form of conditioning.

“You’re never too old to skate if you keep up with it,” he said.

The Schuckers also do their part in giving back, donating the rink for tournament fundraisers for a good cause.

The rink opened in 1947, and can be considered a “landmark” in Reynoldsville, the Schuckers say. They’ve received many “thank you’s” from community members who are happy to see it still going.

“People are glad we took it over and brought it back to what it is,” Jennifer said. “It’s a part of the town, and it’s a part of us.”

For more information, visit www.reynoldsvillerollerdrome.com or the RRD Facebook page.


Photo by Chris Wechtenhiser 

Elk County Catholic's taylor Newton (11) pulls down an offensive rebound in front of DuBois' Saige Weible (22) during second-half action Thursday night. Newton scored a game-high 15 points and pulled down 12 rebounds to help ECC rally past the Lady Beavers 47-44.


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Opera singer with local ties wins Grammy Award

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Pamela Parks-Westberg, a former Punxsutawney resident, excitedly watched online Sunday as her son, Edward Parks, earned the Grammy for Best Opera Recording at the 61st annual awards presentation in Los Angeles.

The album from “Bates: The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs” is credited to the opera conductor, Michael Christie; performers Sasha Cooke, Jessica E. Jones, Parks, Garrett Sorenson and Wei Wu; and producer Elizabeth Ostrow.

Edward Parks, an Indiana, Pennsylvania native, who has been hailed by Opera News for his “warm, velvety baritone,” performed the title role in the world premiere of the Santa Fe Opera Production of “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs (Bates).”

“I was at my oldest son’s home in Indiana watching on Grammy.com, the livestream of the premiere show, which aired earlier in the day,” said Westberg, who is the daughter of the late Jesse DeChurch, formerly of Sykesville. “We were just extremely surprised and excited when he won. I was very happy for him.”

Being nominated for the Grammy a couple of months ago was an honor in itself, Westberg said.

“I didn’t go anywhere else with it. He’s been in so many competitions and events over the years, I try not to get myself all stressed out about it,” said Westberg.

But upon seeing that her son won the award, Westberg immediately texted her son, “Edward I’m so PROUD of YOU and so HAPPY for YOU!! I love you!️”

He’s also been getting texts and Facebook messages from all of his friends and family.

“So thrilled” is how Parks described singing the title role on a Grammy-winning record.

“I’m just excited to have been a part of this amazing project,” Parks said.

Winning a Grammy was something he had always hoped for, but it was never something he focused on, he said.

The role was an interesting part to portray, Parks said.

“It’s not every day that you have the chance to portray an iconic figure like Steve Jobs,” Parks said. “The music, though beautiful, is challenging. It was fun to be a part of this group of people. We came out of the production knowing we just did something special and that is what you strive for as an artist.”

Parks, 35, said he’s been lucky to have many great moments and memories both personally and professionally — “whether it was winning a big competition or jumping in last minute and singing Figaro at the Met. I’m not sure how they compare but it is something I won’t soon forget.”

“He was always singing as a child,” recalled his mother. “At a very young age, he enjoyed listening to Luciano Pavarotti. Then at the age of 12, he went to see the Metropolitan Opera and basically said he was going to be on that stage some day.”

After graduating in 2002 from the Indiana Area Senior High School, some of Parks’ opera achievements include being awarded third prize in Placido Domingo’s 2015 Operalia Competition in London and was presented in the organization’s “The Voices of 2015” concert in Hungary. He had a debut with the Metropolitan Opera as Fiorello in the Barber of Seville.

Now living in the Chicago area, Parks said western Pennsylvania will always have a piece of his heart.

“I was lucky to have had the parents and family that I did,” Parks said. “They really fostered my talent. I was blessed to have the voice teacher Leonard DeFabo who guided me at a young age (8) and trained me classically. He could have very easily pushed me too hard and ruined my instrument. After high school I went to Oberlin Conservatory for my bachelor’s and after that I went to Yale on a full scholarship for my master’s.”

When asked what his expectations are for his future now that he has won a Grammy, Parks said he doesn’t hold many expectations.

“I find it’s better living life that way,” Parks said.

Next, Parks said he is off to Japan to sing Escamillo in Bizet’s “Carmen,” March 15 through 24 at Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival, which will be his second appearance in Japan.

He’s holding hope for recognition from the Recording Academy in 2020.

“Of course, I would love to have as many Grammys as they want to give me!”

More information about Parks can be seen on his website at located at https://edwardparksbaritone.com.