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Mushroom logs offer a unique fundraiser for area church

NEW BETHLEHEM — The Leatherwood Church table at the Gumtown Community Market along Water Street in New Bethlehem is offering something different to local shoppers this year. While most vendors were selling ready-grown early-season vegetables on Friday, June 7, the church’s mission organization displayed do-it-yourself mushroom-growing logs.

Tracy Calhoun, spokesperson for the church’s Romanian mission-fund trip table at the market, described the process for growing shiitake mushrooms using one of the logs.

“It is pretty simple. The logs have holes drilled in them which are then seeded with mushroom spores. The holes are plugged with a bit of cheese wax to protect the logs from insects, and are ready to take home and stand outside for a few months,” she said.

While standing outside leaning against a building or tree, natural precipitation keeps the logs well-dampened, encouraging the growth of the fungus. Calhoun said that it takes four to six months for the mushroom logs to begin producing a crop. Hobbyists can expect to harvest shiitakes for four or five years.

“Some people are in a hurry,” Calhoun said, “and shock the logs into earlier production by pre-soaking the log in a tub of water for a few hours.”

For those not familiar with shiitake mushrooms, she said they are chewier in texture when compared to the familiar button mushrooms sold in most supermarkets. They do not have quite the same meaty qualities as portabella mushrooms but still give a robust touch to dishes containing them.

Shiitakes originated in East Asia and are used in the cuisine of many countries. Cultivated for centuries for their medicinal qualities, they have gained a devoted following among Western cooks in the past 30 or 40 years.

Fortunately for Western Pennsylvania residents, shiitakes like the region’s growing conditions. Mushrooms grow best when temperatures are between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, making them a good spring crop. If a rare drought occurs, misting the spore-laden logs by hand will meet their moisture requirements.

Calhoun said that the Leatherwood Church’s mission group will continue selling them at the farmers market throughout the summer months. The price per log is $20, with price breaks for buying several of them. Those new to growing shiitakes also receive an informative pamphlet outlining cultivation requirements.

The mushroom logs are one of several fundraising projects carried on to fund the church’s mission work in Romania.

The Gumtown Farmers’ Market is in operation every Friday from May through October between 12:30 and 5 p.m.

Philipsburg BMX pump track now paved

PHILIPSBURG — Back in 2015, a dirt BMX pump track was constructed at the 13th Street/Slabtown playground with the help of some local residents and the company Dirtsculpt. Four years later, Dirtsculpt returned to Philipsburg to pave the track.

Philipsburg Borough Manager Joel Watson said the company started work on the track on June 5 and finished up things on Tuesday. Watson said resident Tracy Potter – who contacted Dirtsculpt originally in 2015 – has children that race BMX and they were familiar with how certain bicycle parks are throughout the country.

“They had originally planned on, at some point, paving at least the corners because they required maintenance to keep them safe,” Watson said.

However, Watson said Dirtsculpt, led by Dave King, gave a better deal to the municipality because of it being a permanent structure and it would be beneficial to those in the community using it. So the decision to pave the entire thing was made. Dirtsculpt had a three-man crew that prepped the track for paving, in which New Enterprise and HRI, Inc. helped with the project. The project itself did not cost anything to the borough, as support for it will be supplied through the Centre Foundation.

King said the paved pump track is the second of its kind in the state, with the other public one located at Buhl Park in Hermitage. It took his crew three days of actual paving.

“It’s a great thing to have in the community,” King said. “It also helps kids stay active.”

While the pump track – in which a bicyclist can make it around a lap without actually having to pedal – is technically built for bicycles, King said scooter riders and skateboarders could use the track now since it’s paved.

Watson said when the track was dirt, it took quite a bit of maintenance to keep it in top shape. With the paved track, that will change.

“It’s almost zero maintenance now as far as the track surface is concerned,” Watson said.

The wear of the pavement also will not age as rapidly as what a normal road does.

“It’s not like a driveway or highway where it gets salt applied to it,” Watson said. “So it should be really long lasting compared to a road surface.”

Another perk of the pavement King said is that it will extend the riding season.

People of all ages can ride on the track from dusk to dawn each day, with Watson saying that helmets are required and that the policy is strictly enforced.

There were plenty of children trying out the new paved track the day after it was finished. Jay Potter, 11, and his brother, Corban, 9, of Philipsburg, and Ayden Socie, 12, of Smoke Run, were a few of the first youths to give it a try. All three said they regularly rode the track when it was dirt and said the paved track made it much smoother.

“I like it better when it’s paved,” Socie said.

Watson said having something like this in the community is a big benefit.

“Not every kid is into stick and ball sports,” Watson said. “The kids that are out at the track, it’s keeping them outdoors and (staying active). You can come here and do the real thing instead of on a video game.”

Persian Gulf-era veterans honored with monument

CLARION — On Flag Day, June 14, Clarion County Commissioners Ted Tharan, Wayne Brosius and Ed Heasley, along with assorted dignitaries including state Senator Scott Hutchinson and state Representative Donna Oberlander, gathered in Clarion County Memorial Park to dedicate a recently installed monument honoring Persian Gulf-era veterans. The monument, a scale replica of a blast barrier common to the Middle East known as a Bremer T-Wall, sits along West Main Street in the shade of a maple tree across from the county’s courthouse.

In a letter from U.S. Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson, read by his representative Deborah Pontzer, he wrote, “As you stroll around the park, there is a monument for every major war our country has fought in except for one. Today the park is complete with the installment of the Persian Gulf War Memorial monument.”

Tharan conceived the idea for the monument approximately a year-and-a-half ago, with plans for its installation on Memorial Day shifting into high gear during this past January.

“It’s important that we have this monument so the soldiers that were involved in these conflicts and wars at least have a monument before they die that they can go and see,” Tharan said prior to the event, noting that many of the county’s World War II veterans did not live until 2008 when a monument dedicated to their service was placed in the park.

With the idea in mind, he approached Steve Aaron, owner of Clarion Monuments, Inc., about making it a reality. Aaron, whose family has a history of military service and is himself a member of the Civil Air Patrol, embraced the project.

“Anything that we (Clarion Monuments) can do to support the people that have sacrificed so much for our freedoms. I like to say to people (that) the memorial is there for those who served in the military, but even their families, they sacrifice so much,” Aaron said in an earlier interview.

Made of gray granite from a quarry in Barre, Vermont, the six foot by seven foot monument features etchings of five service emblems (Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard) and a mural of imagery associated with Persian Gulf-era operations and conflicts.

“We kind of started with a concept that we liked and then knew that we wanted to do the mural concept of various aspects of things that you would see if you were a Persian Gulf veteran,” Aaron said. “So basically we just started pulling imagery, as many as we thought looked meaningful. So basically I pulled 50 or 60 different images specific to the era.”

With such a wide assortment of images, Aaron turned to his company’s engraver/sandblaster, Jim “J.J.” Karg, for assistance in narrowing down the choices of what would be etched on the monument. Karg, an Army veteran, spent two tours of duty in Iraq as a cavalry scout, serving in 2003 and from 2007-2008.

Discussing the selection process alongside Aaron, Karg said, “Together we talked about what was relevant to that theater of operations and that time frame. And I kind of ... there were certain images that stood out to me as things that were ... that you saw almost day-to-day and were very common or were very relevant to that time period.”

“This monument is unique with the pictured scenes of combat that will help generations to come visualize the activities of war,” Thompson wrote in his letter.

In addition to helping select the images that were etched on the monument, Karg also engraved the lettering on its base. What began as a routine work assignment for Karg eventually became much more.

“Honestly, when we first found out about the possibility of doing the project it was just another project to me at first. But then when we started doing the drafting work and it came time to do the engraving it started to almost build where it was more and more meaningful,” Karg said.

“I didn’t expect it honestly, I thought it would just be another stone that I was engraving. But it did ... it kind of hit home a little bit. I was making it to honor my brothers. And when it came time to the day we set it, I was moved. I’ll admit it, I was moved. It was very emotional. I was very proud to do it and I was glad I could be a part of it.”

An invited speaker at the dedication, Karg noted that working on the monument was “an honor of a lifetime” during an emotion-laden speech delivered as he walked amongst those gathered.

Reaction to the monument has been positive. “Beautiful. There’s nothing else to describe it. Everybody has said it’s just gorgeous,” Tharan said.

Area veterans Luke Obenrader and Toby Karg say they are appreciative of the county’s support and decision to purchase and place the monument.

Obrander, from Lucinda, was deployed to Afghanistan as a member of the Army in 2005 and 2011-2012. “I would say that I’m humbled by it. It’s great how patriotic America has become post 9/11 and it seems like citizens haven’t forgotten about that,” Obenrader said.

Toby Karg, who’s brother J.J. did the monument’s engraving, was in Afghanistan from 2011-2012, earning a Purple Heart. The Army veteran from Tylersburg said, “I’m just grateful. It’s nice to see a little bit of appreciation you know. Something for our generation.”

According to Judy Zerbe, Clarion County Veteran Affairs director, approximately 226,461 Pennsylvanians served in the military during the period covered by the monument, which encompasses Operations Desert Shield (1990-1991), Desert Storm (1991), Enduring Freedom (2001-2015), Iraqi Freedom (2003-2011), New Dawn (2010-2011), Inherent Resolve (2014 to present), and Freedom’s Sentinel (2015 to present).

As part of the dedication ceremony, flags honoring ET3 Wayne Richard Weaver II, Spc. Frank Walls, Medal of Honor recipient Spc. Ross McGinnis, and Sgt. Joseph Garrison, Clarion County servicemen who died in the line of duty during the era, were placed at the base of the monument as a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.”

Joy Norwood 

Ford Model T vehicles drive across the bridge at Foxburg, Clarion County, as they arrive and depart the quaint town along the Allegheny River.

Christian Food Bank lends helping hand to St. Marys community for 36 years

ST MARYS — Every week, several volunteers gather at Christian Food Bank on South Michael Road to pack more than 100 boxes of food for local families and individuals in need.

CFB is a charitable, nonprofit corporation serving the St. Marys Area School District. It has more than 150 dedicated volunteers and 16 board members.

In 2017-2018, CFB served 323 households and distributed 6,354 boxes of food, according to statistics.

Volunteers pack the boxes on Wednesday and Thursday mornings, distributing them Thursday afternoons. By the time the doors open, a line of people has already been there for hours.

CFB has received an enormous amount of help from the Elk County community, said Director Georgia Wagner, including regular food donations from Walmart, Save-A-Lot and Sheetz.

Wagner, a former St. Marys Area School District educator, has been with the food bank for almost four decades. It was founded by Billie Diehl in 1983, when St. Marys was experiencing a downturn. She gathered 12 women, distributing eight brown paper bags of food to people in need.

The food bank has received many of its essential items through grants and donations, Wagner said, such as the freezer and trailer used to pick up food from Walmart, which was obtained through Seneca Resources. The shed for items like potatoes and produce from the “Women Who Care” project through the Elk County Community Foundation.

Around two years ago, CFB couldn’t provide things like fresh fruit and yogurt, Wagner said. Thanks to Walmart State Foundation Giving Program grants, volunteers are now able to store fresh, healthy food in the cooler. Farmers and gardeners also donate local produce in the summertime.

Former director Larry Johnson has been with the food bank for 13 years. Some of CFB’s volunteers are actually recipients, he said, and choose to help as their way of saying “thank you.” Special needs individuals also enjoy volunteering there.

CFB is considered a distributor of Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest Pennsylvania in Erie, Wagner said. In 2017-2018, it received 72,376 pounds of food from SHFB, according to statistics.

CFB serves about 130 families each week, Wagner said. Boxes go by individual, two-and-three, four-and-five or six-and-seven-person households. People can also choose from left-over Walmart items before they leave.

The food bank sees turnover, too, Wagner said. People will need help during a particular hard time in their lives, such as having a chronic health issue, losing their job or experiencing a house fire.

“People come when they’re down, until they get back on their feet,” she said.

CFB used to depend on state and federal funding, but now, 80 percent of funds are locally-acquired, Wagner said.

“The support we get is unbelievable,” she adds. “This is a very giving town.”

Local school, churches, organizations, social clubs and businesses contribute, Wagner said. Sometimes, people will just walk in and hand them money. Scout troops will tour the facility and bring donations, and an annual postal drive collected more than 4,000 pounds of food in May of this year.

Each year, CFB re-interviews its clients, ensuring they still meet the federal income guideline requirements, Wagner said.

Wagner considers herself to be lucky to do what she is doing now, and to see the generosity of the community in full force.

“I personally have been very blessed,” she said. “This is my way of giving back.”