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BREW BANK: Ridgway native brings old Main Street bank back to life

RIDGWAY — Ridgway native Kim Ezell loves taking old things full of history and bringing them back to life.

The Elk County National Bank, which was built in 1889, is on its way to becoming “The Brew Bank Brewing Co.” — an airbnb, restaurant and microbrewery location.

The old bank on the corner in downtown Ridgway has been many things, including a radio station, senior center and more.

Ezell purchased the bank last fall, and is hoping to be open by January of next year, she said. The project has taken longer than expected due to required permitting.

Main Street in her hometown of Ridgway was the perfect, high-traffic location for the business she had in mind, she said.

She remembers the old Victorian building from her childhood, Ezell says, and plans to keep its old characteristics while adding modern-day touches.

“I care about this community,” she said. “This location is an anchor spot when you hit town.”

Ezell lives in Texas, but also owns a home in Ridgway — a old Victorian home she and her husband, Al, also brought back to life, and where they enjoy spending some weeks out of the year.

Her vision is for the business to become a place where travelers and business people can stop and stay, have a nice lunch or a drink in a relaxed environment.

Keeping in mind Ridgway and Elk County’s festivals, such as the Ridgway Rendezvous chainsaw extravaganza and beer and wine festivals throughout the year, Ezell said she thought there needed to be more rooms available for visitors. There also are no breweries in Ridgway, she said.

“In a small community, people are limited to what they have,” she said.

She plans on supporting other local vendors, just as they have supported her throughout this project, Ezell says. “Everyone has been really encouraging.”

The two rooms and two suites upstairs are freshly painted and spacious, offering an above-ground view of Courthouse street and the town.

Her vision includes brew tanks in the front windows downstairs, high bar tables, flatscreen televisions and a “brew master,” Ezell says of the microbrewery.

It has always been a dream of hers to put her passion for Ridgway back into the community, which is why this project was perfect, Ezell says.

She has kept many of the building’s old traits, such as the two bank vaults, woodwork and original marble walls. Ezell has still added modern-day features, she said. Very little has needed to be done structurally, she said.

“New buildings don’t have the appeal that this one does,” she said.

JUST US FOR THE ANIMALS: Volunteers provide 'bridge' to a good home

PUNXSUTAWNEY — A Punxsutawney organization has become a “bridge” between a bad situation and a good home for local cats and dogs.

“Just Us for the Animals,” started in 2013, is a spay and neuter organization operated out of Punxsutawney and New Bethlehem.

Lynn Porada, who is one of the seven fosters for JUFTA, said it started out as an affordable spay and neuter clinic option for pet owners, and became a foster organization when several kittens needed homes.

Throughout the “trap and release” process, the organization would end up with kittens that had nowhere to go, Porada said. Pretty soon, they began taking in and fostering kittens, and there are now 80 JUFTA foster kittens that need a home.

In the beginning, the group was raising money on their own to pay for the spaying and neutering of animals, and even paid for cats to be “fixed” out of their own pockets, Porada said.

Since the group does not have a facility, the best they can do is pay for the cats and dogs to be “fixed,” make sure they’re fully vetted and find someone to give them a good home, she said.

Once a month, they bring a mobile unit to Punxsutawney and New Bethlehem, Porada said. Dr. Becky Morrow, who runs Frankie’s Friends cat rescue in New Kensington, operates the mobile unit, spaying and neutering between 50-60 cats per visit.

Dr. Rapp of the Punxsutawney Animal Hospital also “fixes” dogs for the organization once a month.

“Spaying and neutering saves lives,” she said. “You’re not having unwanted kittens suffering outside. It keeps unwanted pets from being born who have nowhere to go. We promote spaying and neutering because that’s the only way it will help keep overpopulation down.”

Volunteers also just held a clinic at the Punxsutawney Animal Hospital Aug. 24, where 10 dogs and 20 cats were “fixed” at an affordable cost, Porada said.

Hosting these spay and neuter clinics is a way to give pet owners an affordable option, and save future animals from being homeless.

“The bottom line is, there is nowhere for these animals to go,” she said. “If you support people like us who are trying to fix these outside cats and dogs, that’s more room for the ones that are already here.”

People can help by making monetary donations, sponsoring a spay and neuter clinic, donating cat litter or cat food or even just attending a fundraiser, Porada said.

The group’s biggest fundraiser will be Dec. 8 at the Punxsutawney Moose lodge, where almost 300 raffle items will be offered.

For more information, visit the JUFTA Facebook page or email to find out how to help.

Photo by Chris Wechtenhiser 

DuBois' Alexa Alker makes a leaping forehand return on the run in the corner of the court during his No. 3 singles match against Brockway's Lily Henry Thursday. Alker swept Henry, 6-0, 6-0.

Friends of Cook Forest work to revitalize historic park trail

COOKSBURG — Volunteers gathered at Cook Forest State Park Saturday to help “spruce up” features of a historic trail.

Cook Trail takes tourists on a 2-mile hike filled through hemlocks and old-growth timber that was harvested in the mid-1800s. Viewers can see eastern white pines, oaks, black cherry, cucumbertree, and American chestnut snags that have been around since the 1920s.

The “dynamite shack” from the 1930s also is one of Cook Trail’s more popular features.

Cook Forest’s 57 miles of trails have some of the oldest and tallest trees, with 256 acres of old growth, according to the Old Growth Forest Network.

After a storm that came through the park more than a year ago, heavily damaging the trails in the Forest Cathedral Natural Area, initiatives were started to bring volunteers and youth together to help restore them.

Friends of Cook Forest is an organization of volunteers dedicated to rejuvenating the park and its trails.

Aug. 25 was the group’s “Trail Work Day,” during which they hauled gravel, cleared debris and revitalized the signage along Cook Trail, according to a spokesman. Signs that were more than 20 years old from the 1990s were replaced with “modern, durable aluminum signs,” funded by the FOCF. Volunteers dug placement holes and stained and built the signs.

It was decided to make Cook Trail an “interpretive trail” about 25 years ago, said FOCF member Roger Mazarella.

Many of the trail’s signs were “just laminated paper struck to poles,” he said. “Many were in disrepair and unreadable.”

The Friends decided to raise money and donate labor time to replacing those signs with new signs made of a “more durable” material.

The Friends have embarked on several summer projects, including planting milkweed for monarch butterflies, the Garlic Mustard pull and the “Susquehannock Walk” fundraiser in June.

Friends call John McCain hero, maverick at Arizona funeral

PHOENIX (AP) — A former vice president, an NFL star and other friends remembered Sen. John McCain as a “true American hero” — and a terrible driver with a wicked sense of humor and love of a good battle — at a crowded church service Thursday for the maverick politician that ended to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”

Addressing an estimated 3,500 mourners, former Vice President Joe Biden recalled “the sheer joy that crossed his face when he knew he was about to take the stage of the Senate floor and start a fight.”

Biden, a Democrat who was among the fast friends the Republican senator made across the aisle, said he thought of McCain as a brother, “with a lot of family fights.”

The service for the statesman, former prisoner of war and two-time presidential candidate unfolded at North Phoenix Baptist Church after a motorcade bearing McCain’s body made its way from the state Capitol past Arizonans waving American flags and campaign-style McCain signs.

Family members watched in silence as uniformed military members removed the flag-draped casket from a black hearse and carried it into the church. McCain died Saturday of brain cancer at age 81.

McCain’s longtime chief of staff Grant Woods, a former Arizona attorney general, drew laughs with a eulogy in which he talked about McCain’s “terribly bad driving” and his sense of humor, which included calling the Leisure World retirement community “Seizure World.”

Woods also recalled the way McCain would introduce him to new staff members by saying, “You’ll have to fire half of them.”

The church’s senior pastor, Noe Garcia, pronounced McCain “a true American hero.”

The service brought to a close two days of mourning for the six-term senator and 2008 GOP presidential nominee in his home state.

A motorcade then took McCain’s body to the airport, where it was put aboard a military plane that flew to Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, outside Washington ahead of a lying-in-state at the U.S. Capitol on Friday, a service at the Washington National Cathedral on Saturday, and burial at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, on Sunday.

Twenty-four sitting U.S. senators and four former senators attended the church service, according to McCain’s office.

Neither Biden nor other speakers uttered President Donald Trump’s name, but Biden made what some saw as a veiled reference to the president when he talked about McCain’s character and how he parted company with those who “lacked the basic values of decency and respect, knowing this project is bigger than yourself.”

Biden said McCain “could not stand the abuse of power wherever he saw it, in whatever form, in whatever country.”

Dabbing his eyes at times, Biden also referred to his own son’s death from cancer, saying of the disease, “It’s brutal, it’s relentless, it’s unforgiving.” And he spoke directly to McCain’s widow, Cindy McCain, in the front row: “You were his ballast.”

At the end of the nearly 90-minute ceremony, McCain’s casket was wheeled out of the church to “My Way,” in tribute to a politician known for following his own path based on his personal principles.

McCain clashed openly with Trump, who mocked McCain for getting captured during the Vietnam War. Two White House officials said McCain’s family had asked that Trump not attend the funeral services.

Trump, who had been widely criticized for his muted response to McCain’s death, insisted in an interview with Bloomberg News Thursday that he’d honored the senator appropriately.

“I’ve done everything that they requested and no, I don’t think I have at all,” he said in response to a question about whether he’d made a mistake and missed an opportunity to unite the country.

Asked whether McCain would have made a better president than McCain’s 2008 rival, Barack Obama, Trump said: “I don’t want to comment on it. I have a very strong opinion, all right.”

The memorial was laced with humor and featured a racially and ethnically diverse roster of speakers and other participants.

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who is black, talked about his unlikely connection with McCain, a big fan of the state’s sports teams.

“While from very different worlds, we developed a meaningful friendship,” said Fitzgerald, adding that McCain didn’t judge others on their skin color, gender or bank account but on their character.

As the 11-vehicle motorcade with a 17-motorcycle police escort made its way toward the church, people along the 8-mile (13-kilometer) route held signs that read simply “McCain,” and cars on the other side of the highway stopped or slowed to a crawl in apparent tribute.

A few firefighters saluted from atop a fire engine parked on an overpass as the motorcade passed underneath on Interstate 17.

One man shouted, “We love you!”

It came a day after a private service was held at the Arizona Capitol for family and friends and then an estimated 15,000 people filed past the senator’s casket to pay their final respects.

Michael Fellars was among those awaiting the motorcade outside the church Thursday. The Marine veteran said he was also the fourth person in line to attend the viewing at the state Capitol for McCain, a Navy pilot held prisoner by the North Vietnamese for 5½ years after being shot down over Hanoi.

“He was about the only politician that I have ever known who cared for the people in his country, and he tried his level best to make it a better place in which to live,” Fellars said.