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SENIOR DOLPHINS: Swimmers gain deep friendships, exercise through water group

DuBois — The DuBois YMCA recently welcomed a group of swimming, singing and dancing Dolphins back to its newly renovated swimming pool.

The DuBois YMCA “Senior Dolphins” group meets for one-hour exercise and fellowship sessions three days a week.

Dolphin Marianne Webster said the group has about 20-25 members, ranging from age 52-88, but they have had as many as 40 swimmers at a time, and members up to the age of 90.

These aren’t just any dolphins — some have endured open heart surgery, knee and back surgeries, breast cancer and other hardships within the past few years, Webster said. They are so used to seeing each other regularly that they worry if someone doesn’t show up for class.

“We like to know if someone is going on a trip, because we’ll start to worry about them after a couple of days,” Webster says. “If anyone’s missing, we will go and check on them,” Nancy Orner added.

The first half of the class is geared toward water exercises. The rest is about having a good time, Webster says. Anyone who visits the pool on Monday, Wednesday or Friday mornings will hear the Dolphins singing and see them dancing as classic and upbeat tunes play from the loud speakers. They use inflatable noodles to do certain exercises, and laugh as they splash each other and clown around toward the end of each class.

Some Dolphins also meet at a water toning class on Tuesdays and Thursdays and are involved in the Silver Sneakers program upstairs.

Webster just learned how to swim a year ago, when she took Saturday morning swimming lessons, and has since grown to love it, she says. She and her husband, Hank, can also be recognized as “Santa and Mrs. Claus” during the holiday season, when they visit the YMCA and other places for Christmas.

The Dolphins just reconvened at the YMCA again at the end of August. While its pool was being renovated they practiced at the DuBois City Pool during the summer, where they laugh that they enjoyed a good dose of Vitamin D while swimming.

“It was wonderful being outside in the fresh air and the sunshine,” Judy Hand said.

The members meet in the YMCA lobby after their time in the pool, and have morning coffee and discuss everything from recipes and their grandchildren to politics. On some days, they have lunch together.

Their doctors tell them that swimming is not only beneficial for their joints, but so are the friendships that have grown and the socialization they experience.

“Your doctor will tell you it’s important to interact with people as you get older,” one Dolphin said. “The camaraderie is half of it.”

Some of the swimmers worked at Penn State DuBois together or were lifelong friends beforehand, but they’ve gained more valuable friendships through the group. Many volunteer at places like Penn Highlands DuBois, sing in a church choir or contribute to local fundraisers as well.

The group includes three sets of sisters, and two married couples also participate.

Swimmers come from DuBois, Reynoldsville, Brockway, Falls Creek and Benezette, they said.

“I don’t know what we’d do without each other,” swimmer Pat Stewart said.

The water activity is helpful for the aches and pains of arthritis, and it keeps them social and interactive, the group members said. They have grown to know each other’s lifestyles, families and hobbies, and if they have to cancel a practice, they feel “very sad” they missed it.

“We have such a good time,” Webster said. “It’s what keeps us young.”

Blessed Mother statue back where it belongs

DuBOIS — Once again, a part of history — the Blessed Mother statue — is back where it belongs in the neighborhood commonly known as “the flats” of DuBois.

“If anybody in the neighborhood died, you always said, ‘Bring flowers down to the Blessed Mother,’” said Treasure Lake resident Theresa Suplizio, who grew up on Hamor Street in “the flats.”

“They would then bring the flowers down from the funeral home, and put them in front of the Mother,” Suplizio said following Thursday’s statue dedication ceremony. “Graduation pictures, prom pictures, we had them taken right in front of the statue.”

“She was part of us. It is part of the neighborhood,” Suplizio said.

The neighborhood was called “the flats” for good reason, according to Suplizio.

“When the water from the nearby Sandy Lick Creek overflowed its banks, there was no where for it to go. We were accustomed to flooding, but Hurricane Agnes showed no mercy and just kept dumping water into the already swelling creeks and streams,” recalled Suplizio, who was about 14 years old at the time. “Flood control had always been a topic of conversation, but this storm validated the need for it.”

“Our neighborhood was comprised of different ethnic and social backgrounds, but contained a strong Catholic presence,” Suplizio said. “At the time, Father Dan Dymski was instrumental in convincing the people in the area that they deserved federal aid. You have to understand that these were proud, working people who never asked for handouts. They worked for everything they had.”

But Father Dan convinced them that it was aid they deserved, Suplizio said.

“As a token of appreciation, the neighborhood took up a collection for him. He would not accept the money, but instead asked that a statue of the Blessed Mother be put up to remind us of our faith and how blessed we were that no lives were lost,” Suplizio said. “The base of the statue represents how high the water was. I still remember my Dad and Jim Pullman making the form for that base. Once the statue was erected, a blessing and dedication was held.”

Fast forward many years later.

“I can’t remember the exact year, but the original statue was stolen and vandalized. I believe the police did finally find it, but it was smashed,” Suplizio said. “Those left in the neighborhood decided to replace the statue and I contacted Father Dan and he came back to bless this replacement statue. Now again we are having to replace it, which brings us to today.”

The statue represents a part of history, Suplizio said.

“It represents our love and trust in God and the Blessed Mother and how they watched over us during this devastating storm,” Suplizio said. “We lost so much during that flood, but never our faith or determination. Once the water receded, we just picked up and moved on.”

Sam Petrucci, who was 16 years old during the flood and grew up in “the flats,” said “the statue is special to me because it represents the faith and endurance (that enabled) my family and neighbors to come through the floods.”

Jean Bojalad, who still lives in “the flats” today agreed the statue is an important piece of the history of the neighborhood.

“It just quietly resided there all these years,” Bojalad said. “I don’t think a lot of people knew it was there unless they drove past it.”

DEDICATION: Blessed Mother statue commemorates worst flood in DuBois' history

DuBOIS — Commemorating the worst flood in the history of DuBois, the Blessed Mother statue, which was relocated from Hamor Street to DuBois Street, was formally dedicated Thursday by members of the DuBois City Council.

Clearfield County Commissioners were also in attendance, in addition to a small group of past and present neighborhood residents. Msgr. Richard Siefer, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena and St. Michael the Archangel parishes, provided the blessing.

“On June 22, 1972, Hurricane Agnes caused the worst flooding in the history of DuBois,” Councilwoman Diane Bernardo said. “DuBois recorded 8 inches of rain and the Sandy Lick Creek rose to a flood height of almost 1,400 feet at the DuBois Sewage Plant as gauged by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”

Total storm damage reached more than $3 billion; $2 billion alone in Pennsylvania, Bernardo said.

“There were 122 deaths, 55 in Pennsylvania, but by the Grace of God, no lives were lost in DuBois,” Bernardo said.

The Rev. J. Daniel Dymski, now deceased, from St. Michael The Archangel Roman Catholic Church in DuBois, visited the neighborhood of proud first-generation immigrants of Italian, Lebanese, Polish and Syrian descent, to convince them that they were entitled to assistance, said Bernardo.

“The grateful neighborhood collected money to give to Father Dan in appreciation for his assistance,” Bernardo said. “In return Father Dan wanted the money used to erect a statue honoring The Blessed Mother for protecting the lives of those residents whose homes were destroyed by the flood.”

The statue of Mary was erected on a pedestal that marked the height of the water in DuBois on June 22, 1972. This memorial was first erected on Hamor Street. The original statue was vandalized and this statue of Mary is a reproduction, said Bernardo.

The Hurricane Agnes disaster validated the need for a Flood Control Project along Sandy Lick Creek. This project was completed in 1977, Bernardo said.

“We gather here today for this blessing of this image of The Blessed Virgin Mary,” said Siefer before sprinkling the statue with holy water. “This statue reminds us of the close ties of Mary to her son Jesus and our sign of gratitude to her.”

The information Bernardo read at the dedication is also engraved on the statue.

On a personal note, she talked about her recollection of the 1972 flooding.

“I remember going upstairs on the second floor of my mother and father’s home, and watching the railroad cars that were being inundated with the flood waters,” Bernardo said. “It wasn’t a slow flood. It was a fast flood. I’m watching it come closer and closer to our home. It stopped right there at the railroad tracks. As far as the eye could see all you saw was water, and everything was underwater. I also remember having hope, personally, because I looked on DuBois Street and there was somebody in a darn canoe.”

Hurricane Agnes flood of 1972

Editor’s Note: The following information was obtained from the DuBois Area Historical Society and written by Gene Aravich.

DuBOIS — Through the years, DuBois has experienced some very costly floods. For local residents, this was a way of life. The entire area known as Beaver Meadow, the Boulevard, and other low-lying areas of the city were usually under water each spring.

During the days leading up the flood, Hurricane Agnes had crept up the coast, twice being down-graded into a tropical storm and then returning again to hurricane status. On Wednesday, June 22nd, relatively light rain fell on the area.

The next day, Agnes struck. During most of the day, Agnes moved northward along the eastern seaboard, dumping heavy rains over eastern PA. Late Thursday the 23rd, at 9 p.m., the U.S. Weather Bureau Hurricane Center in Boston showed Agnes moving northward on a path that would take it up the Hudson River Valley into New York.

But between 9 and 11 p.m., Agnes turned west and centered itself over DuBois. From then until noon on Friday, Agnes dumped rain on eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia and southwestern New York with an average of 8 ½ inches of rain. Five states, including hardest hit Pennsylvania, were declared federal disaster area. Agnes, which formed in the Gulf of Mexico, became the costliest natural disaster in the U.S. at the time. Pennsylvania was brutalized by the storm, with $2.1 billion in damage and 48 deaths.

Sandy Lick Creek, the area for which DuBois had been trying to get aid for a flood control project, was the culprit responsible for flooding DuBois. Affected were the “flats” behind the current Hoss’s Steak House on Liberty Boulevard and a large part of the West Long Avenue business district. Virtually every home in the flats was extensively damaged by water.

Water spilled over stream banks with little warning and flooded low areas. Residents and merchants had no time to move their belongings and merchandise to higher ground. Along Liberty Boulevard, over four feet of water covered the road from the Meadow, creating a lake that washed through the American Legion, John B. Green Oil Copany, Way Field, the JayCee Pool, A&P Market, Continental Trailways Terminal, DuBrook, the Muter Company, DuBois Tastee Freeze, VFW Teener Field, Rockwell Manufacturing Plant and storage buildings, Pennsylvania Electric Co. offices, DuBois Business College, Foodland Market, Otoscin Motel and others.

The downtown district was under approximately five feet of water, damaging many businesses.

Penn Traffic Riverside reported 300 tons of ruined merchandise. Damage exceeded $1,000,000.

Shankel’s Pharmacy had 33-42 inches of water in the store. 60 percent of inventory was a total loss.

The area where Martin’s Grocery Store stands today was then the site of the annual Gateway Fair. The carnival was under approximately eight feet of water. Concessions and amusement rides were completely submerged.

A Flood Control project was started in the summer of 1972. On June 19th the House Appropriation Committee approved seven hundred thousand dollars for the project. The project took several years and was completed in 1977 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pittsburgh District, under the direction of the U.S. Army Corps of Environmental Resources. The Boulevard and Industrial Park have been raised by several feet of land fill to help prevent future flooding.