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Protecting & Connecting: Punxsutawney PD stays involved in community

PUNXSTUAWNEY — The Punxsutawney Police Department is focused on not only protecting residents of its community, but on connecting with them.

Chief Matt Conrad said the department has the largest staff in Jefferson County, with about 16 officers total in midsummer this year.

Officers focus on protecting and patrolling, but also on getting to know people and gaining their trust through building strong community relations, Conrad said.

“We try to get out and talk to community members as much as possible,” he said.

Conrad said members of the department aim to act as not only law enforcement, but trustworthy role models for local youth.

One example of that is their hosting “National Night Out” — an anti-drug and crime event that brings emergency personnel, organizations and local people together. It also allows the officers to interact with local children and make them comfortable with police.

Officers also distribute educational pamphlets and materials to area schools.

The PPD considers community interaction to be a crucial part of fighting crime, and welcomes input on how to resolve and identify those problems.

The Punxsutawney area sees its share of drugs and crime, Conrad said, but not significantly more than any other area. Awareness and police presence and involvement are key to keeping it under control, he said.

The department recently was able to purchase a license plate reader with grant money, and a camera system, which not a lot of area departments have, Conrad said.

September will mark Conrad’s second year as chief.

Conrad, a Punxsutawney native, is married and has two children. He said he is grateful to be back where he grew up, working and raising his family there.

Prior to his role as chief, Conrad was on active duty in the U.S. Army, where he was on a Sniper team. He is now in the Army reserves.

Many of the things the Army taught him have helped him as a police officer, he said, such as the leadership and teamwork skills he acquired.

For more information, visit and click “emergency services” or call 814-938-6220.

Brockway woman trains dog to be guardian for veterans

BROCKWAY — Service dogs do not just appear by magic. Someone has to be willing to help a dog on its journey from puppy to companion, and Brockway’s Melissa Hrinya is taking on that responsibility for a veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Hrinya is the incoming president of the American Legion Auxiliary. Every president has a project, and Hrinya wanted to do something more hands-on.

“We seem to raise money and write a check, but I wanted to do something that people can actually see,” Hrinya said. “This all fell into place.”

Hrinya has a friend with a service dog. Her daughter works for foster care and had been talking to a family with a pregnant German Shepherd. That family donated the dog.

“Originally, you could be looking at $30,000 to get the pup and train them,” Hrinya said. “But with the dog being donated and Top Dog in St. Marys training the dog for a lot less that that, everything worked out.”

Step one, of course, was making sure that the family wants a dog the size of a German Shepherd in the house. Once the right person was identified, the process began.

The donated pup was named Tesha. Hrinya said the name means “guardian,” and this dog would be the guardian of a veteran.

“She has to go through obedience school because she’s still a puppy — even though she’s 50 pounds!”

Tesha started school Tuesday. She will receive emotional support training as well as some additional training to make sure she’s perfect for her guardian position before moving in with her family in Potter County.

“I’m going to miss her tremendously,” Hrinya said. Tesha lives with Hrinya and her family during the training period. “I think it was easier in the beginning not to get too attached.”

Hrinya’s Yorkshire Terrier and Tesha became fast friends, and that helped Hrinya accept the bigger dog. However, this is a temporary arrangement. The veteran who will receive the dog friended Hrinya on Facebook so he can see the whole training process. That is a comfort for Hrinya, knowing she can see how Tesha’s doing in the future.

“I’m actually finding it harder and harder now,” Hrinya said. “I have to keep reminding myself what her journey is. Tesha helped me stay calm through my stress, but I have to remember that there’s someone who needs her more than I do.”

BriFleming90 / Andrew Bundy 

Melissa Hrinya

Photo by Chris Wechtenhiser 

Elk-McKean's Ethan Wells delivers a pitch Wednesday evening against St. Marys in the District 10 championship game. Well came on in relief in the top of the second and threw 5 2/3 strong innings as Elk-Mckean scored a 9-1 victory to force an if-necessary title game Friday. He also 2-for-3 with five RBIs at the plate.

SWEET SUPPORT: Reynoldsville businesses join in festival traditions

REYNOLDSVILLE — All year, Reynoldsville enthusiasts anxiously await the second weekend in July, since it’s not only a chance to eat blueberry pie, but an opportunity to support local businesses.

The Fifth annual Red, White and Blueberry Festival is coming up this weekend at Kunselman Park and Dietz Alley, where more than 30 combined activities, vendors and business specials will be offered.

Chairman Sam Bundy said the festival is a great way to bring new people into the town. They kept it holiday-themed, but on a weekend separate from the Brockway Fourth of July Celebration and the Punxsutawney Groundhog Festival, so it would have it’s own identity as an event. It’s also the only blueberry festival in the tri-county area.

“We’re trying to help the downtown Reynoldsville area with business, and attract jobs,” he said. “We want to let people know we’re here.”

Volunteers also are getting cloth bags together, planning to stuff them with coupons, fliers and menus from Reynoldsville businesses, Bundy said. When someone receives a bag, they’ll see what all the area has to offer.

The weekend will offer specials scattered throughout the town, including trolley trips to Blueberry Hill Farm and Maxim Berry Farm of Reynoldsville.

“We wanted to take advantage of the two blueberry farms we have close to Reynoldsville and help our local farmers,” Bundy said.

More than 13 local businesses or organizations, including Sarah’s Soft Serve & Food, Mancuso’s, The Sub Hub, the Reynoldsville Eagles, Our Hometown Restaurant and Reynoldsville One Stop will offer either a discounted item or specialized blueberry treat specifically created for festival goers.

Main Street Pizza and Capt’n Blue Pizza will offer pizza by the slice, and Carriage House Creations will open with a blueberry muffin and sale. Broken Roads will have blueberry salads on Friday.

There will even be sidewalk chalk drawings for children in front of local businesses like Community First Bank on Main Street, said Bundy.

From 8- 11 a.m. On Saturday, the Foundry in Reynoldsville will hold a Blueberry Pancake Breakfast, and from 11 a.m. To 3 .m., the Reynoldsville Elks will have Elk burgers at the football field. From 4-6 p.m. The John Read Masonic Lodge also will offer food.

For a complete listing of daily events, visit

MARKING MILES: Elk County group helps people reach health, fitness goals

ST MARYS — Two college students are making friends while making a difference in the lives of Elk County people wanting to get fit and have fun doing it.

Elk County “Walk Across PA” is a public Facebook group, where participants can walk, run, bike or undertake any other fitness activity and submit their miles in through Facebook or email. Those who log a high number of miles can win prizes from local organizations, businesses and people sponsoring the group’s efforts.

The group was begun by two college students, fitness enthusiasts and lifelong friends — Jake Fritz and Taylor Uberti. Fritz is a senior at Slippery Rock University majoring in health and physical education, and Uberti is a senior at Penn State University. Both work at St. Marys Memorial Park during the summer.

The “Walk Across PA” effort began at the beginning of June, when community nurses came to the park and conducted health screenings for participants.

“This is just a way of trying to bring the community together,” Fritz said. “We wanted this to be a way for people to be physically active again, even if it’s just walking.”

Having support of community members and local businesses can motivate and encourage people to be more active, the two said. Participants can do something as simple as walking their dog and log their miles.

“This is a better way for us to get in contact with each other throughout Elk County, too,” Uberti said. “I like the aspect of getting into the community and getting to talk to people. I’m surprised how many people we can be in touch with, and how many people send their miles in.”

Participants use a virtual map, logging their miles and even establishing goals or complete challenges, like being the first to reach a local landmark. For example, on July 3, the group posted that any participant who reaches the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum by July 13 will be entered into a drawing by the Boys and Girls Club of St. Marys.

It also helps people to see their progress documented or marked, showing them how fair they’ve come, or rewarding them for accomplishing a goal.

“As people reach a mile marker, they get excited about it,” Fritz said.

The mile markers are only about 10 miles apart, Fritz said. They are kept fairly close together so participants don’t get discouraged.

Local businesses like New Horizon Healthy Foods participate in the group, too, by offering different workouts or health tips each week, such as healthy diet and food recommendations.

“There are so many health-focused businesses in this area,” Uberti said. “This is another way to help them get their names out there, and help people know where to go for healthy foods.”

There are about 182 people registered in the group, and people log around 4 or 5 miles each day. Some who are more active even reach 8 to 10 miles. Participants can submit miles by the day or weekly.

Fritz and Uberti are not only passionate about health, but have known each other since middle school and work well together.

Members can also reach out through Facebook or email and learn more about how to reach their personal goals, Uberti said. The group was started not only to motivate and encourage a healthy community, but also to connect people and businesses and create friendships.

Most participants are from Elk County areas like St. Marys, Ridgway and Johnsonburg, but they would like to expand the group to other communities, such as DuBois, Uberti and Fritz said.

For more information, message the Elk County Walk Across PA 2018 Facebook page, or call St. Marys Memorial Park at 814-834-9418.

mguerry / Matthew Guerry  

Dave Wruble prepares a sandwich at the Sub Hub, a restaurant he owns in Reynoldsville. The Sub Hub will participate in the Red, White and Blueberry Festival this weekend by offering food sales or specials, along with other local businesses.