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Curwensville author pens book about woman's survival story

CURWENSVILLE — It was a mission’s trip two years ago that was the catalyst that led to a Curwensville woman’s commitment to record an incredible story of a young African woman and her struggle to survive a series of harrowing experiences.

Rita J. Taylor, author of “A Story of Hope,” gives an account of the woman who was sold into slavery when she was barely older than a toddler, lived in the African wilderness for several years, had her children removed from her custody because her husband thought her not intelligent enough to raise them and her struggles to support herself, both to live and receive an education.

Taylor said she believes she is part of a divine plan for this woman whose life to date has had numerous supernatural interventions.

Taylor said she has wanted to visit Africa since her daughter, son-in-law and their family lived and worked in Swaziland for a year, several years ago.

“An opportunity came up in 2017 for me to go on a missions trip there. I wanted to take my kids back to where they lived and worked. I raised the money to go. I had always had the curiosity to go and see where they lived and see and experience another culture,” she said.

Taylor said one of the ways she came up with the funds was to self-publish a 30-day devotional booklet. “That paid about half the cost of the trip. I was really surprised at how far it went,” she said.

She said the flight to Africa departed from John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, N.Y., and landed in Johannesburg, South Africa. When they departed, Taylor said she had an accident when she picked up her heavy luggage and it twisted, causing her to injure her knee.

Taylor said those making the trip were picked up by an international worker who came with transportation and a trailer to haul their luggage. With the worker was a young woman that Taylor now calls Tammar. Tammar is not her real name and Taylor said if she were to disclose it and persons from her past discovered it Tammar’s life would be in great danger.

During the six-hour ride to the college where the mission’s trip participants where staying, Taylor said she began speaking with the woman and felt herself drawn to her in a way that she had never experienced before.

She said because of her knee injury, she was placed on light duty and stayed back at the college working there. “During that time, Tammar began seeking me out and talking to me.” Their talks were quite emotional and gut-wrenching for Taylor who said at first she wasn’t sure whether to believe the young woman until the missionary confirmed her stories were true.

“We would cry. I would cry. She would start crying because it brought up numerous bad memories for her but as we cried together she poured her heart out,” she said.

The young woman was sold to another family for the purpose of marriage when she was 5. Taylor said Tammar told her her family was large and her parents could not afford to care for all their children so at age 5 she was sold to a man for the purpose of becoming his wife. Taylor said Tammar was severely beaten often by her new mother-in-law and others in the family for failing to perform tasks beyond her years such as returning with an entire herd of cattle after taking them to an unfenced area where they would graze. Tammar escaped them by running into the African forest, thinking the wild animals that inhabited the forest were less dangerous.

During the time she spent in the forest, approximately three years, Tammar lived for a time with a pack of baboons. “Her time in the forest was beyond my imagination. She had to forage for herself while dealing with snakes and insects. She had to sleep on the ground. She had no shelter and during her time there she was growing and her clothes didn’t last. She was never attacked though,” Taylor said. It was during the time she spent with the baboons, that the animals realized she was ailing – perhaps near death, and led her out of the woods where she was found and taken to several hospitals to recover.

While she was recuperating, doctors at the hospital mandated she return to her family and a grandfather was located. Taylor said Tammar stayed with him until he died and then she went back to her parent’s home. “She was a stranger to her brothers and sisters, most of them were very young when she was sold so they didn’t know her,” she noted.

Tammar’s family decided she should go to school. Taylor said African residents do not receive free education and most who do attend school stay until their funds run out. After she left school, Tammar married and had two children. Her husband put her out because he determined she was not intelligent enough to raise their children.

“Tammar found herself in the streets. She had nowhere to go and had to do what she could to survive,” she said.

It was during that time that Tammar had a man come to her and offer her a large amount of money. “He told her to take the money and use the funds to get herself and her two children off the streets,” Taylor said. Through more divine intervention, detailed in her book, the woman attended college and as a pastor is sharing her faith and working to build a church.

It took her approximately 18 months for Taylor to write the book. “There was a lot of back and forth with Tammar as I was writing and sometimes there was a language barrier,” she said.

Taylor said she received copies of the book about three weeks ago and she now knows what the book’s first proceeds are meant for. Tammar was invited to attend a pastor’s conference in Israel where she will receive further training. Taylor said she does not want any accolades for the book, “I am pushing a cause because I am pushing for her. Where she has come from and is going is such a miracle,” she said, adding “I am doing this for her. I have come to love her like a mother would. I am anxious to see where she goes.”

“A Story of Hope is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble’s website or by contacting Taylor. Taylor said she will also be scheduling some local book signings with the details to be announced.

Group gears up for Zombie Infested 5K

FAIRMOUNT CITY — Clarion County Fair organizers are hosting the group’s inaugural Zombie Infested 5K on Nov. 2 at Redbank Valley Municipal Park in Fairmount City, located between Hawthorn and New Bethlehem. Proceeds from the event will benefit the annual county fair.

Jackie Quinn, spokesperson for the fun-run and walking event, said, “We are always looking for something new to offer area residents that has not been done to death.”

“One of our committee members, Angie McCauley, suggested the activity during a meeting and then just ran with it,” Quinn said. “Along with her friend, Pam Steffey, Angie has been the one who got things rolling.”

McCauley and her cohorts expect to kick off the Zombie 5K activities at 3 p.m. on Nov. 2. Before and after the undead make their appearance, family-friendly activities such as children’s barrel train rides, crafts, hayrides, a Chinese auction, a bonfire and food vendors will be offered at the park. There will also be an “inoculation station” for those seeking to avoid the zombie pestilence.

The Zombie 5K itself is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. and will lead participants over a course that will take them through various zones in the park. Each runner and walker will try to maintain possession of at least one of the three flags issued during registration. If zombies manage to remove all three, the participant joins the ranks of the undead.

Along with avoiding flag-stealing zombies, runners will have to negotiate a number of obstacles. Hay bales, benches, trees and other natural hazards will lie in their paths.

The race is expected to end at about 7 p.m.

“As of Oct. 24, we have 38 people preregistered as participants, and we already have more than 50 zombies signed up to man more than eight zones. Everyone is welcome, and we will accept entrants until shortly before the race begins,” Quinn said.

Everyone is welcome, and anybody can participate as a runner or a zombie. Quinn said “zombies” have been recruited from several service and nonprofit groups in the New Bethlehem area.

“We have volunteers from several 4-H groups, members of Redbank Valley High’s robotics club and several sports teams,” she said. “We are still recruiting zombies because we hope to have a total of 11 zones during the event, and we are developing more ideas for props for the zones.”

Participants who preregister before the event will pay a $25 entry fee, but waiting until the day of the 5K will cost them $30.

More information and registration forms are available on the Clarion County Fair’s Facebook page and on the group’s website, www.clarioncountyfair.com.

Eagle Scout restores 55 Civil War veteran headstones at Ridgway cemeteries

RIDGWAY — When Ridgway native Austin Erich looks at a Civil War veteran’s headstone, he sees much more than a slab of cement – he sees a war hero who deserved to be remembered, and a piece of artwork that should shine.

Erich, 17, and a Ridgway Area Middle/High School senior, can remember attending a Boy Scouts of America assembly when he was in kindergarten. His father, Chris Erich, said he also remembers the day his son ran in the house saying, “I want to be an Eagle Scout.”

Erich, now an Eagle Scout with BSA Troop 93 of Ridgway, spearheaded the restoration of 55 Civil War veteran headstones at Pine Grove, Saint Leo’s and Thayer cemeteries in Ridgway.

Some of the headstones needed cleaned and repaired, Erich said. Seventeen of them needed new footers, and 23 new markers were placed. St. Marys Monuments contributed, helping to dig up two headstones by machine. The rest – 11,840 pounds of cement – was mixed, and dug, by hand.

Erich held several fundraisers to collect enough money for this project, including a bake sale, spaghetti dinner and hot dog stand, raising a little more than $7,000. He has dedicated 1,063 hours to the project.

He started the two-year project in March 2017. Erich has also researched 68 local Civil War veterans – 360 hours – and put together a hard-cover before-and-after book documenting his Eagle Scout project.

Right before Memorial Day, the Scouts always place American flags on the graves, Erich said. He remembers being saddened by the conditions of some of the headstones, with some sinking into the ground, and others blurred and dirty.

“I looked at my dad and said, ‘We can’t read these names,’” Erich said.

“He said, ‘This isn’t right for a veteran to lose recognition,’” his dad added.

Chris Erich says growing up, he and his son would watch things like World War II documentaries on the History Channel. Austin Erich aspires to be a history teacher.

“He has a lot of pride for people who have served in the military,” Erich’s dad said. “He would always go up to them and shake their hands.”

Once a Scout reaches the “Life” rank, they can work on becoming an Eagle Scout, the highest achievement possible, Erich said.

Erich’s father is also a troop leader, and has been alongside helping his son throughout the project.

Erich is the 82nd Eagle Scout of Troop 93, a day his father says he has long waited for.

“He really lived up to his dream, and made 12 years of commitment,” Chris Erich said.

Like the Scouts motto, Austin Erich is focused on being a leader and giving back to the community. He also hopes to set an example for the younger Scouts.

He said he is also thankful for all the help of his mentor, Mark Roselli.

A ceremony for Erich and his project, open to the public, will be held at the Ridgway Fire Department on North Broad Street at 1 p.m. Nov. 17. Erich says he will read the Civil War veterans’ names and contributors to the project, and have the hardback book on display.

Skeletal human remains found near Shiloh

SHILOH — A forensic anthropology team spent the weekend at a remote wooded site near the village of Shiloh in Bradford Township, Clearfield County, recovering skeletal remains discovered Friday morning by a hunter.

In the meantime, law enforcement officials are examining missing persons lists in an attempt to link the remains to a missing persons case.

According to Clearfield County District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr., sometime around 9 or 9:30 a.m. on Friday, a hunter discovered what he believed to be human remains in a wooded area near Graham Road near the village of Shiloh. The hunter notified Clearfield-based State Police who responded to the scene.

“Troopers did a survey of the area and observed what they feel are indeed human skeletal remains,” Shaw confirmed in a telephone interview. He added that he was not called to the scene until around 3 p.m. Friday.

Shaw said clothing and other personal items were observed near the remains, and are believed to belong to the deceased.

“There were other items that are personal in nature, like clothing, in the vicinity of the remains who are likely belonging to the person,” Shaw said.

Troopers secured the area conducted a moderate survey of the area, and then notified Dr. Dirkmat, a forensic anthropologist at Mercyhurst University in Erie.

“(Dirkmat) is responding (Saturday) with his students and those folks will do a scene survey to recover all of the remains,” Shaw explained. “It’s anticipated that he will be able to do a forensic analysis and give us an identity and a cause and manner of death.”

Shaw described the situation as “unusual” for the Clearfield County region.

“It’s an unusual circumstance because we don’t normally find skeletal remains in the woods,” Shaw said.

He said Troopers have maintained custody of the scene since Friday and they will be there until Dirkmat finishes his recovery efforts.

“It’s a secured area,” Shaw said.

While the remains are being recovered and examined in an effort to make a positive identification, law enforcement officials are investigating unsolved missing persons cases.

“There area a couple of missing persons that we are looking at,” Shaw said. “We are investigating those reports.”