ST MARYS — A group of Elk County singers use only their voices to bring the beauty of music to area audiences, celebrating a traditional kind of harmony.
Ridgway native Thom Hoffman is the director of the Allegheny Harmonizers, a chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS) group based in St. Marys.
The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet singing in America was founded in 1938, according to www.barbershop.org.
The Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS) was started by Owen Clifton Cash, with the first major event, “The World’s Champion Barber Shop Quartet,” the first of many conventions, held July 3, 1939, according to history written by a 60-year BHS member. Chapters formed all over the country after that, approaching 80,000 members by 1980.
It all began with a few guys singing in barber shops or on street corners for their own enjoyment in the early 1900s. As it evolved and gained popularity in the World War II era and beyond, some men moved on to Gospel quartets in churches or becoming jazz pioneers.
Barbershop Harmony is a style of music rooted in African-American traditions of the late 1800s. The music is unique and unaccompanied, using a different chord structure and memorized and harmonized written music, differing from other styles, Hoffman says.
When four men started singing in the St. Marys United Methodist Church in 1991, a local BHS chapter was soon born, registering as the Harmony Fare Quartet and singing in the Seneca Land District competition, according to the written history.
The Barbershop chorus has 18-20 active members from several area counties, Hoffman said, whom currently rehearse each week at the St. Marys Auto Body Training Center, a location that may soon change.
Within the chorus is also the Fireside Quartet. Hoffman, who is the baritone, has been the director of the local BHS group since it started, other than when he faced his battle with cancer in 2007.
Hoffman is also director of the church and bell choir at SMUMC, and sang in the Concert Choir of Elk County for years. For him, singing is very therapeutic and relaxing, while also providing camaraderie and lasting friendships.
The St. Marys chapter built a following of more than 15 shows from 1994-2008, according to the history. Years ago, BHS choruses were in most towns across the U.S., but that number has declined, Hoffman said.
“We are keeping tradition and history alive,” he said. “This is one of the music styles indigenous to the U.S.”
Chapters close by, such as Coudersport and New Bethlehem, will often get together for functions, Hoffman said.
There are two conventions in the Seneca Land District each year, Hoffman said, and the group has competed in New York competitions in the past. Although competing makes the chorus better overall, it’s not their main focus — providing a service to the community and promoting this singing hobby is.
The harmonizers sing at local senior centers and nursing homes, something the group enjoys, Hoffman said.
“We don’t do this for our benefit,” he said. “We do this for people to enjoy, as a community outreach.”
The group attends church sing outs and special music programs and functions in the area. They recently sang for more than 500 people at the Royal Inn in Ridgway, and will perform at the Elk County Fair the week of Aug. 6.
The society, which began with all men, now has three female members, Hoffman adds. The group is always open to new members of any age who have a talent and passion for singing.
Fifty years ago Jerry Ricketts, of Utahville, was at home at his apartment in Coalport watching CBS News’ coverage of the historic moon landing on his 20-inch Emerson television set.
The moon landing was a big event for all Americans but especially so for Ricketts. He worked for Erie Technological, of State College, which made electronic components for NASA, some of which were used in the Apollo 11 spacecraft.
The company was proud of its role in the historic program and kept a photograph of the Apollo 11 spacecraft on its bulletin board highlighting the parts it manufactured.
Ricketts was a line supervisor and he was involved in making radiation filters and the two-way radio headsets used by the astronauts.
Walter Cronkite came on the television and suggested viewers wanting to take a picture of the event place their cameras on something flat, like an ironing board. Ricketts said he didn’t have a good camera so he put his Kodak 110 camera loaded with black and white film on his ironing board and snapped two photographs of his television screen.
One picture turned out a little blurry but the other one is very clear.
For the next 31 years Ricketts said he kept the pictures safe. In July of 2000, his niece Karen McDonald, of Osceola Mills, married Neil Armstrong’s son, Rick Armstrong. Ricketts said he had hurt his back so he couldn’t attend the wedding himself but his daughter, Shelli, was going and she was in the wedding, so Ricketts gave her the two pictures and asked her to ask Neil Armstrong to sign them.
Ricketts said Neil Armstrong was a very private person and rarely signed autographs so he wasn’t sure if he would do it.
But his daughter got to dance with the famous astronaut at the wedding.
“How many people get to dance with Neil Armstrong, the man on the moon,” Ricketts said.
And afterwards she asked him if he would sign the photographs and he agreed.
Unfortunately Ricketts said he never got the opportunity to meet Neil Armstrong in person before Armstrong died in 2012.
But Ricketts said he kept the photographs safe and they are still in great condition, but unfortunately he didn’t keep the negatives.
And although he has enjoyed owning and looking at them Ricketts said he is considering donating them to a museum.
“I think its time they move on,”Ricketts said.
NEW BETHLEHEM — The oppressive heat of the last several days didn’t deter the dozens of volunteers and 4-H members from their work in setting up the exhibits, barns and grounds for today’s opening of the Clarion County Fair.
All that work will pay off as the crowds begin to show up for the July 21-27 event at Redbank Valley Municipal Park, located along Route 28 near New Bethlehem. And while last year’s fair celebrated 80 years of the local event, this year’s fair marks the 50th anniversary of the fair being called the Clarion County Fair.
“Prior to that, it was the Farmers and Merchants Picnic,” Clarion County Fair Board president Josh Minich said. He said that one of the events early in the week that harkens back to those pre-fair days is the return of the Farmers and Merchants softball game, which will be held today at noon, along with a picnic catered by Zack’s Restaurant.
Today’s lineup also features a car and motorcycle show from noon to 4 p.m., the pet show at 4:30 p.m. and the traditional Hymn Sing and Devotional Program at 7 p.m. under the grandstand lights.
Minich said that he’s excited for a new event on Monday at the fair as the Cornerstone Church of Clarion has sponsored a concert by the Allan Scott Christian Music Band.
Scott, who found God and turned his life around after a youth filled with addiction and crime, has gone on to find international acclaim as he spreads the message of redemption and God’s love.
“It’s good to show people there’s hope out there,” Minich said.
Tuesday’s featured attraction will be the Keystone Mini V8 Tractor Pull, along with a new first-ever event at the Clarion County Fair.
“We’re trying a new event for all our motorheads and thrill seekers – the Clarion County Truck Tug-Of-War and UTV Pull,” Minich said, noting that the event will be open to local drivers. “Bring out your truck, your side-by-side or your utility vehicle.”
The Derby Dawgs Demolition Derby returns on Wednesday to the fair, along with a preshow performance by Coston Cross. Additional seating has been added in the grandstand area to accommodate the night’s big crowd. Minich said premium pit seating is also available for those thrill seekers “who don’t mind getting hit with a little dirt.”
New this year with the Demolition Derby will be a hobby stock class for trucks.
The Team Storm Tuff Truck Competition returns to the fair for Thursday night’s featured entertainment. Minich said the fair will raffle off two Tuff Trucks that lucky winners can race in the event. The truck give-away is sponsored by P.J. Greco Sons, and other sponsors. The winning raffle tickets will be drawn at Wednesday night’s demo derby.
On Friday evening, two lanes of truck and tractor pulls will be held under the grandstand lights. The evening will also include the annual 4-H Junior Livestock Sale.
“That’s a big day,” Minich said, noting that senior citizens can enter the fairgrounds free of charge before 3 p.m. The day will also include a health fair, luncheon, antique tractor show, Bingo and more.
Fair Week wraps up on Saturday, July 27, with a full day of events, starting in the morning with draft horse and pony pulls. The evening’s entertainment will feature a full eight-event rodeo presented by Rafter Z Rodeo Co.
Minich said this year’s daily shows at the fair will be equally impressive, leading off with the fair’s first-ever appearance by the Axe Women: Loggers of Maine show. The all female timber sports team will showcase log rolling, axe throwing, log cutting and more during three shows a day, and four on the weekend.
The fair will also welcome the Animal Alley Zoo, a live exotic animal show that features 50 species of animals in their daily shows. The fairgrounds will also be filled with a new 70-foot by 180-foot inflatable field with goals as the popular Knocker Ball event returns this year. Another new attraction will be Enlighten, a mobile glass blowing experience. Other daily attractions this year will include the return of hypnotist Richard Barker, appearances on the grounds by Captain America from Wild About Robots, a mechanical bull and an inflatable Velcro wall, and more.
“You can watch professional Axe Women from Maine in a full-blown lumberjack contest, complete with a 6,000-gallon log rolling pool,” Minich said. “Or you can take the calmer approach and watch as you see the beautiful art of glassblowing. Then take a stroll through Animal Alley’s exotic zoo. Now wind it back up with full court Knocker Ball or try your luck on our mechanical bull, or stick yourself to the Velcro wall.
“Need a break yet or a laugh? Head on over to the incredible and mesmerizing hypnotist show,” Minich said. “These are just a few of the exciting things going on during Fair Week.”
Showtimes for the on-grounds acts were recently announced and are as follows: Animal Alley, Monday through Friday, 4:45, 6 and 8:45 p.m., Saturday, 4:45, 6:15 and 8:15 p.m.; Axe Women, Monday through Friday, 5:15, 6:45 and 8:15 p.m., Saturday, 4, 5:30, 7 and 8:45 p.m.; Hypnotist Richard Barker, Monday through Friday, 7:15 and 9:15 p.m., Saturday, 7:30 and 9:15 p.m.
The Mobile Glass Studio will be open 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 2 to 5 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Knocker Ball games will be open daily from 2 to 8 p.m. while the mechanical bull and velcro wall will be open from 4 to 10 p.m. daily.
A full schedule of events can be found on the fair’s website at www.clarioncountyfair.com.