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STEPS FOR SONIE: Local man walks, fundraises for Alzheimer's awareness each year

DuBOIS — A local man dressed in purple carries a brightly-colored flower as he walks to remember his wife of 50 years at the DuBois City Park.

Big Run resident Tom Berryhill, 82, not only faithfully participates in the Walk to End Alzheimer's year after year, but holds his own fundraising campaign throughout the year.

Berryhill is a retired Pennsylvania State Trooper of 39 years, and also a Marine Corps veteran.

Tom's wife, Sonja “Sonie” Berryhill, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and vascular dementia around the age of 69. The vascular dementia, caused by an impaired blood supply to the brain, caused Sonie to suffer from unpredictable and frequent seizures.

As part of the "Promise Garden" mission, Tom writes Sonja's name on a purple flower — the color that represents a loved one lost to the disease — holding it throughout the walk and then planting it in the grass.

For a while, Tom was Sonie's primary caregiver, until Home Health began to make visits three times a week, he said. When she realized she couldn't recognize how to work the stove or drive a car, she quit doing those things voluntarily and never put up a fight.

“She smiled and she knew me, but she couldn't do anything,” he said.

Although Sonie suffered from a debilitating illness, she was blessed in certain ways, Tom says. She never tried to wander off, and didn't lash out in anger, as many Alzheimer's patients do.

“She would have seizures, and then come back smiling like nothing ever happened,” he said. “She was always smiling.”

Tom is dedicated to carrying on Sonja's smile through helping those just like her. 

He volunteers three days a week, for a few hours a day, at Christ the King Manor of DuBois, where he visits with the Alzheimer's and dementia-diagnosed residents. He helps organize activities, serve lunch and offer them fellowship.

“They love volunteers — it just makes their day when you spend a minute with them,” he said. “Some of them don't get visitors.”

Tom was the Walk's highest fundraiser at the 2017 event, among a dozen or more teams, and was honored on stage, he said. He also surpassed his goal of raising $1,500 for this year's, he said, and has reached $1,600 as of this week.

Many of his donations come through friends, family and strangers, and via Facebook and email, he added.

The dedication Berryhill shows through his community commitment, fundraising and volunteering is all in honor of the woman he loved. He has made many wonderful friends at Christ the King, both patients and employees, following their lives and stories through his daily visits.

“The compassion and love Tom shows while volunteering his time is truly admirable and inspiring,” said Larissa Bernardo, who is a beautician at the senior care home. “He makes the employees and residents feel respected and important. Christ the King is beyond lucky to have Tom around.”

The year his wife passed, Tom raised $3,000, and even attended the Alzheimer's Walk the day after her funeral in October of 2013.

He has many memories with Sonie, and some still bring him to tears. Before she stopped speaking, he remembers the last words she ever said to him — “I love you so much." 

Alzheimer's is an especially tragic disease, since there is still no cure, Tom said. 

All the community can do is support one another, Tom says, raising awareness and funds to combat an illness that impacts many patients, caregivers and family members.

“I don't know if they'll ever find a cure, but we try,” he said.

Teams gear up for 2018 Walk to End Alzheimer's at DuBois City Park

DuBOIS — Community members will gather at the DuBois City Park on Saturday, “never forgetting” to hope for a cure for Alzheimer's.

In 2017, the Walk raised $30,847, and the goal is even higher this year. So far, 24 teams have signed up for the 2018 Walk to End Alzheimer's.

Walk to End Alzheimer's Constituent Events Manager Melanie Phillips said $24,949 has been raised so far, which is 74 percent of the organization's goal — $33,823.

Their progress “looks promising,” Phillips said.

The goal is usually to have at least 20 teams participate, she said, and to see the walk grow each year.

Money raised helps fund research and projects aiming to find a cure for Alzheimer's, and improve the quality of life for patients and caregivers.

Any team, whether it’s a family or business or civic organization, is welcome to join in the fight. People can show their support just by showing up or being part of a team.

The Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event to “raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Each year, more than 500,000 people come together in more than 600 communities to advance against the disease,” according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Every participant who achieves the fundraising minimum of $100 receives a T-shirt.

Online registration and donation input will close at noon on Friday, but people are able to register and donate the day of the event as well. Fundraising can still continue throughout December for the Walk to End Alzheimer's.

The walk will begin at 10 a.m., with registration at 9 a.m., at DuBois Memorial Park. For more information, visit the 2018 Walk to End Alzheimer’s Facebook page or

Patriot's Day Remembrance Service includes blessing for emergency vehicles, first responders

DuBOIS — City of DuBois and Sandy Township police and fire departments, as well as other first responders, brought vehicles to downtown DuBois Tuesday evening for a blessing as part of the Patriot's Day Remembrance Service at the First United Methodist Church.

The service is held annually to remember “all who have served and sacrificed for the safety” of the country, according to the First United Methodist Church website. The Patriot's Day Remembrance Service has been held for the past 17 years since Sept. 11, 2001.

John Emigh, the new pastor of the First United Methodist Church in DuBois, was full of pride for his new home and to be part of the Patriot's Day Remembrance Service in this area.  

"I really haven't lived here too long. I'm so proud of this town for continuing to honor Patriot's Day, and doing it so well and so full-heartedly," Emigh said.

"I can't believe how many trucks are here, the people out watching, and then they'll come to the service tonight, how everybody comes together as a town. We're closing off the street and everything," Emigh said. "I'm just amazed and proud. As a new resident, I'm just overwhelmed."

Blessings were conducted by the Rev. Corben Russell, Pastor Bob Trask, Pastor Paul Morelli, Pastor Sarah Sedgwick and Chaplain Jim Whited.

This is the third year that emergency vehicles and first responders have been invited for a blessing, said Russell, noting he started it along with Lance Tucker, the former pastor of the FUMC in DuBois. 

"We saw that it had been done elsewhere and decided, 'Why not?'" said Russell. "What a wonderful opportunity it is to thank all the people that put their lives on the line. And what a great chance for us to be able to have a presence in the community to show that we are praying for them and care."

They annoited the front of the vehicles with oil and prayed for the protection of the drivers and vehicles as “they were called to serve God and service to the community and the residents within.” After anointing the vehicles, they proceeded to the driver’s side of vehicles and shared a blessing with the those driving and their passengers.

Those watching from the sidewalks could see police officers and firefighters bow their heads as they received the blessings for protection.

DASD reports case of chickenpox

DuBOIS — The DuBois Area School used its website, phone alert system and a letter from the superintendent last week to notify families that a DuBois Area Middle School student has been diagnosed with chickenpox. 

"We notified the entire district in an attempt to inform and protect individuals that may not be vaccinated or those that may be immunocompromised," said Assistant Superintendent Wendy Benton. "Additionally, although it is highly unlikely, an individual that has been vaccinated can still contract chickenpox. Therefore, we want to inform all parents of the signs and symptoms."

The district was informed on Sept. 6 about the child contracting chickenpox (varicella), according to the letter.

"Because the virus that causes chickenpox spreads easily, exposed children who have never had the vaccine or the disease will most likely get the disease," Superintendent Luke Lansberry stated in the letter. "Although chickenpox is not usually a serious illness, it can cause severe complications such as pneumonia and can even result in death. Even a relatively mild illness can result in the loss of a week or more of class time for a child."

Children are considered to be immune to chickenpox if they:

  • Have had two doses of varicella vaccine, with the first dose administered at 12 months or age or older; or 
  • Have laboratory evidence of immunity to varicella; or
  • Have documentation of a history of varicella or herpes zoster disease diagnosed by a physician.

"Although a child's reported history of chickenpox disease from a parent or guardian is acceptable for school entry, when there is even a single chickenpox or shingles case in a school, a parent statement of history of disease is not sufficient," the letter stated.

The letter stated that the Pennsylvania Department of Health recommends children who are not immune to chickenpox and have been exposed, which is defined as four hours in the vicinity of an infected person, be kept out of school beginning on day eight after their first exposure to a case of varicella until day 21 after the onset of the last case in the school.

If a child is vaccinated with the varicella vaccine within five days of their earliest exposure, he or she may return.

"It is important to note that transmission of chickenpox may occur from contact lasting less than four hours," the letter stated. 

"Studies have shown that children who have been exposed to chickenpox and are vaccinated within five days of exposure are less likely to contract the disease," Lansberry said. "Please contact your child's healthcare provider to make arrangements to get your child vaccinated."

The letter stated that if a child develops chickenpox, regardless of whether or not they have received the varicella vaccine, he or she should be kept from attending school five days after onset of rash and/or until the rash has scabbed over, whichever is longer.

"Please help us to protect your child and stop the spread of chickenpox in our school," Lansberry said in the letter. 

More information about chickenpox is available on the district's website. 

Photo by Chris Wechtenhiser 

DuBois Central Catholic's Gabby Sabatose (1) hits a spike past the block attempts of Brockway's Lexi Gorham (7) and a teammate during second-set action Tuesday. Sabatose had four kills in a sweep of the Lady Rovers.

Environmental concerns being addressed in DAHS classrooms

DuBOIS — The DuBois Area School District has recently been taking action over indoor environmental quality concerns identified at the DuBois Area High School.

"The DuBois area, along with most of the eastern seaboard, has been experiencing higher than normal rainfall amounts over the course of the summer," Superintendent Luke Lansberry stated in a letter posted on the district's website. "As a result of the increased amount of rainfall, combined with the higher than normal humidity levels in our area, DuBois Area High School has taken a proactive approach to monitor and measure indoor environmental quality."

During the process, Lansberry said the district has identified three classrooms it believes may have indoor environmental quality concerns. 

"Students and staff within these classrooms have been relocated within the building," he said in the letter. "An indoor environmental quality specialist from Mountain Research, LLC., was contacted for consultation. An inspection and sampling was completed along with a recommendation made by the professional to do full room cleanings in each identified area."

On Monday, the district website provided an update to the situation.

"The three classrooms were professionally cleaned over the weekend and once cleaning was completed, commercial grade dehumidification and Hepa-filtration was initiated after cleaning and continues to occur," according to the website. "This morning (Monday), air samples were collected in the affected rooms by Mountain Research officials, and the results of the air sampling should be available tomorrow afternoon (Tuesday). Assuming the air sampling results indicate no further impact, then the classrooms will be re-opened for normal use following the recommendation of our contracted Indoor Air Quality Specialist from Mountain Research, LLC."

"Since our area has received a significant amount of rain over the past few days, maintenance staff will diligently continue to inspect the schools for evidence of moisture intrusion and any signs of elevated humidity in any of the occupied rooms," the website stated. "If any of our employees observe signs of moisture intrusion, including standing water, they should notify administrative and maintenance staff immediately."

"Our approach is focused on ensuring the best possible learning environment for students and staff," Lansberry said. "The indoor environmental quality specialist that we have contacted will support our efforts in managing temperature, humidity, and overall air quality. In addition, we will complete monitoring in other areas throughout the school."

The district will continue ongoing communication through its website.

"We are taking every precaution necessary," according to the website.