REYNOLDSVILLE — Pennsylvania Lt. Governor John Fetterman visited the Foundry in Reynoldsville on Saturday as part of his statewide listening tour to gauge the views of Pennsylvanians on the legalization of recreational marijuana.
Fetterman thanked residents for taking time out of their day to participate in the event to share their views.
“It’s my job to be here and find out exactly where the people of Jefferson County’s views are on this incredibly important issue. It’s not your job, though. You could be out cutting the lawn or watching Netflix. You chose to come here and talk about this issue. I am grateful for that,” Fetterman said.
Fetterman said this was the 37th county stop and at every stop civility had been readily given. He stressed that the event was a secure environment to share opposing views on the issue.
“There is no right or wrong answer. This is a true listening tour,” Fetterman said.
Jefferson County Commissioner Herb Bullers Jr. said he was at the event to listen to what the residents of Jefferson County had to say on the issue. He said he would take the views of the people back to the Jefferson County Commissioners for discussion and asked the residents to carefully weigh the pros and cons of the issue.
“We want to hear from as many of you as possible,” Bullers said.
Fetterman gave state Rep. Cris Dush (R-Brookville) an opportunity to make a statement before turning the floor over to the residents. Dush said he wanted to make the distinction that the discussion is on recreational use of marijuana rather than its medicinal use. He said based on his experience in the Department of Corrections individuals are not incarcerated solely for marijuana usage.
“There is always something else that is attached to that. I have read the pre-sentence investigation on thousands of inmates and was very aware on why they were locked up. There are things we can do within the court systems such as community service and treatment that can be beneficial. That also is not part of this. This is about going ‘full blown Colorado’ recreational use, as the term was used. I am looking forward hearing from you on this issue,” Dush said.
Jefferson County residents expressed diverse views on the issue. Fetterman asked speakers limit their comments to approximately 90 seconds. A resident of Brookville named Joyce said her experience as a chemistry professor has led her to strongly support the legalization of recreational marijuana. She said many individuals who suffer from opioid addictions turned to opioids as a source of pain relief. She said the science on whether the legalization of recreational would help the opioid crisis is unclear but felt it would do more help than harm.
“I can’t see that it can hurt at this point. Our crisis is so bad, we need to do something. My personal feeling is that I am strongly in favor of legalization,” Joyce said.
A Brookville resident named Tonya said her time in the department of corrections led her to be strongly opposed to legalization as she felt it was a gateway drug to stronger substances and said she has seen marijuana ruin lives. She said parents are using marijuana and giving the opportunity for their children to use it, both accidentally and deliberately.
“After over 20 years in corrections and interviewing thousands of inmates, every one of them that started in drugs started in marijuana. Just because we legalized alcohol doesn’t mean we should legalize something else. I am very much not in favor of it. I have seen lives ruined. I have had foster kids whose lives have been turned upside down. I have adopted a child who has no mother and father because of drugs and alcohol. We need none of that,” she said.
A medical marijuana patient named Becky said she was in favor of legalization as she claimed marijuana saved her life and believes all marijuana use is medicinal.
“It saved my life literally. It got me off almost half of my medications and gave the first normal pulmonary function test in years. I am very in favor of legalization as all use is medicinal use, whether a user realizes it or not,” Becky said.
An individual named Diana said her two nieces both died prematurely because of marijuana use. She said one of her nieces began to use “angel dust” (PCP) because of her marijuana use. She said the “angel dust” severely affected her niece’s brain and when she stopped using the prescription her doctor gave her, her niece took her own life. She said her other niece became addicted to marijuana and alcohol and lost custody of both of her children.
An individual from Brookville named Joe said while he is for legalization, it would not be an easy problem to fix. He said Pennsylvania should learn from other states that have legalized marijuana.
“I am for it. I don’t want other people to tell me what I can’t have. I think we need to do it in a safe way and I don’t think anyone in this room can disagree with that,” Joe said.
An individual named Milton said he was strongly opposed to legalization after spending six years with the Clearfield and Jefferson County Drug and Alcohol Commission. He said he had a family member who has been incarcerated both in Jefferson County and Pittsburgh for drug related charges and who graduated from marijuana use to opioids. He said he spent time in Canada and had seen hospitalizations and homelessness increase.
After the public discussion, Fetterman spoke to the press about the listening tour.
“The critical juncture now is what your views are and that is what we are here to find out,” Fetterman said.
He said a tabulation of constituent views gained from the tour and other sources is already being formed and transparency is the goal of the final report.
“People are weighing in online, submitting comment cards and they are speaking. I am reading comment cards from individuals and I am considering everything. The final report will be distributed to the governor and statewide. Everyone will know what Jefferson County thought back in April,” Fetterman said.
Fetterman said the meeting in Jefferson County was unique among those held in the other 37 counties in that most of the audience was opposed to legalization of recreational marijuana.
ST. MARYS — The St. Marys Municipal Airport kicked off the year with new staff members and high-in-the-sky goals for the community.
Joe Kerchinski, who took over as airport manager March 18, has been a private pilot for 20 years. Born in St. Marys, Kerchinski joined the United States Army at 17, then moved to California.
Secretary Mary Lou Geyer also just joined the team in April.
In 2017, Kerchinski returned to Elk County where his daughter and grandchildren live, and built a house a mile away from Airport Road.
The SMMA is about 70 years old. It started when the Kiwanis Club met in 1944 and decided the area needed an aiport, toward the end of World War II, said Faisal El-Awar, certified flight instructor and member of the SMMA authority.
The 4300-by-75-foot runway the SMMA has today was completed in 1950.
There are about 180 airports in Pennsylvania, El-Awar said. The PennDOT Bureau of Aviation, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and local organizations have been essential in receiving airport grants. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf also gave a $75,000 donation for equipment last year.
“We have been lucky to be able to get funding for various improvements,” El-Awar said.
The airport authority consists of seven members, who meet on the second Monday of each month.
It has 15 fixed-wing aircrafts and one rotary plane, says Kerchinski, and 23 lots for sale.
The airport has a large economic impact on the area as a whole, El-Awar said, generating income for local people. Corporate companies fly in to do business in the area, as well as general aviation.
The SMMA also has its “instrument approach,” which guides planes into the airport electronically, hospital transportation, power-line tree trimming and a “KOZ,” Keystone Opportunity Zone, which businesses can use or buy to get tax relief.
The SMMA hosts the “Elk Flyers” group and Civil Air Patrol Cadet Program (CAP), an auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, which focuses on aerospace education and community activities for youth.
Kerchinski has worked as an industrial contractor and has a maintenance background, which comes in handy, since the manager does all the facilities’ duties — fixing things, mowing and plowing, unloading fuel, licensing and grants and others.
He plans to be out and about in the community, Kerchinski said, hosting more fundraisers and making connections.
“We’ve been fortunate to always have good managers,” El-Awar said. “We chose a manager who we think will be helpful in continuing the airport’s strong existence.”
Kerchinski is in the process of developing a business plan, he says. The SMMA needs funding from cooperate businesses and those willing to help improve maintenance facilities, equipment, resurfacing of the runway and more.
“The airport is an important asset to any community,” El-Awar said. “Many people benefit from this airport.”
Denny Caruso, an expert of plan repair, operates a big maintenance facility there as well. People fly their planes in from all over to have them fixed by Caruso. He is currently working on a stearman biplane from World War II.
Four of the authority members are Crystal Fire Department volunteer firefighters as well. El-Awar is retired and has lived in St. Marys for 20 years.
“We have invested interest in making sure the airport continues to thrive and succeed,” he said.
The SMMA’s first drag race will be held June 16 — Father’s Day — then July 28, and the Aviation Festival and car show Aug. 18. The final drag race, a new addition this year, will be Sept. 22.
STATE COLLEGE — When people visited Beaver Stadium, home of Penn State Nittany Lion football, Saturday for the annual Blue and White game they likely didn’t know that there’s a little piece of Clearfield County at its heart.
The stadium’s facility coordinator is a native of Clearfield County. Brad Caldwell grew up in Curwensville, attended Curwensville Area High School where he graduated in 1982 and still comes back home on occasion to visit family that lives in the county.
Caldwell said it was his eighth grade science teacher who inspired his career.
“(Mike) Keely is the one that started me on this path,” Caldwell said. Fascinated with space exploration as a youth, he said he aspired to work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in missions control. Caldwell, who has scoliosis, said he knew he did not have physical capability to be an astronaut but that did not lessen his captivation with outer space. “I have Mr. Keely to thank for really getting me involved with astronomy.”
Caldwell said during summer vacation, following the completion of his eighth grade year, he got a call from Keely, who was Curwensville’s junior high football coach, asking whether he was interested in serving as the team’s manager. “He told me I think you’d be a good fit. I was hesitant but I talked with my friend who was a member of the football team and he encouraged me to do it.”
Caldwell said he served as the junior high football team manager for one week when he received the offer of a promotion from varsity Coach Lyle Domico. “They saw me and I was told later that the coaches were concerned because they kept loosing managers every year to graduation. They were looking for someone they could train early who would stay with the team for several years.”
Caldwell said he told Keely who urged him to take the position advancement. “He said, It would be a great opportunity for you.”
During his school career, Caldwell went on to serve as team manager for a number of varsity sports naming football, wrestling and baseball. When he was a high school senior, he received special recognition for his work. “I got a special award – a watch engraved with ‘outstanding contribution to athletics.’”
When it was presented Keely jokingly told Caldwell not to forget who started him out as manager. “He also turned and pointed to his wife, who was pregnant at the time, and said I hope that kid turns out to be half the kid you are.” In a strange turn of events, Caldwell said Keely’s son Joshua Keely works for NASA in missions control.
Caldwell graduated from Curwensville and began attending Penn State University, DuBois campus, studying aerospace engineering. While at the DuBois campus, in 1983 he learned of an position as a student manager at the school’s University Park campus in State College. He said Domico had recommended him.
He quickly transferred to University Park, although he had to change his major because of the time commitment.
He graduated in 1986 with a degree in recreation and park management – a year Caldwell remembers fondly because he was the head student manager the year the Nittany Lions won the national football championship beating the Miami Hurricanes.
In 1987, Caldwell was hired as the assistant equipment manager and in 1999 advanced to head equipment manager where he remained until June 2014 when he retired from the position and moved to Vermont, with his wife, ready to enjoy life at a slower pace.
“I retired with mixed emotions. The best part of the job was all the great people I met and worked with over the years, also the traveling and seeing different parts of the country. I loved going to the away games and the 23 bowl games that I was fortunate enough to be a part of,” he said.
After a health scare and a nagging feeling that he couldn’t seem to shake about his decision, Caldwell quickly realized he had not been ready to leave the Penn State fold. At the end of 2014, a job opened up as Beaver Stadium’s facility coordinator and Caldwell applied and got the job.
As facility coordinator, he takes care of special events at the stadium – making the arrangements for weddings, meetings and banquets. “I am like a social coordinator. I make the arrangements. I work with the caterers and set up for events. I oversee the maintenance. My work is mainly in the south end of the stadium where the suites and offices are,” he explained.
Caldwell also gives tours and coordinates club seats sales. “I still pinch myself when I drive by the stadium and know that I have the keys to it. I am amazed that I have had with bowl games. It’s so amazing and I feel so fortunate.”
He also reserves a soft spot for his hometown. “I love Curwensville and all that it has given me. It gave me a great start. It really did make an impact.”
NEW BETHLEHEM — If you need an excuse – besides the obvious ones – for taking part in New Bethlehem’s first-ever Nutty Wine, Shine & Brew Fest in a couple of weeks, just tell yourself that doing so is all about being patriotic.
“This new event is being used to fund our Independence Day fireworks,” organizer Dianna Brothers, a board member with the Redbank Valley Chamber of Commerce, said recently as tickets are being sold for the May 4 event.
Brothers said the chamber previously paid for the popular Independence Day fireworks show with a golf outing; but after seeing interest in that event decline over the past several years, chamber officials knew they had to act fast to find a way to continue the fireworks tradition.
“We decided to move the Wine Walk away from the Peanut Butter Festival and turn it into a festival of its own,” she said, noting that the fireworks will be held this year on July 3.
For a number of years, the Wine Walk was held on the opening night of the chamber’s signature Peanut Butter Festival each September.
This year, instead of participants walking around town to visit the wineries in downtown businesses, Brothers said the chamber decided to concentrate on transforming the walk into more of a one-stop festival, with wineries, distilleries and breweries all setting up along Water Street, near Gumtown Park and Red Bank Creek.
More than 15 wineries, breweries and distilleries will be on hand from 3 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 4, for the Cinco de Mayo-themed festival. Brothers said additional wineries, breweries and distilleries can still be added, and anyone interested can contact the chamber of commerce at (814) 275-3929.
As an added enticement, Brothers said that ticket-buyers will be entered into a grand prize drawing to win their choice of a week’s lodging in Aruba or $1,000 cash.
“The key now is getting all the tickets sold,” Brothers told fellow chamber members this week at their monthly meeting. The tickets are $25 each, and will only be sold pre-sale. Participants must be at least 21 years old.
Tickets can be purchased at the Jewelry Shop, Zack’s, A-Plus Mini Mart, Joe’s Pizza, S&T Bank, First United National Bank, Northwest Savings Bank and Clarion County Community Bank, all in New Bethlehem, as well as from any chamber board member.
Brothers said that in order to make it more of a festival atmosphere, the event will also include food vendors and artisans, as well as live music on the Gumtown Park stage by the band, Against the Grain.
“We’re really excited about this event and hope people come out to support it,” she said. “This is going to help the chamber pay for the fireworks, so we’re asking everyone who is free that day to come join in the fun.”
Some of the wineries, breweries and distilleries include: Twisted Vine Winery of Kane, The Winery at Wilcox, Country Winery & Vineyards of Blairsville, Deer Creek Winery of Shippenville, Bee Kind Winery of Clearfield, Porchvue Winery of New Bethlehem, DR Distillery of Slippery Rock, Woody Lodge Winery of Ashville, Star Hill Vinyard & Winery of Curwensville, Chicken Hill Distillery of Knox, Bear Creek Wine of Knox, Wapiti Ridge Wine Cellars of DuBois, Triple Nickel Distillery of Weedville, and more.
For more information about the event or for tickets, call (814) 275-3929 or visit redbankchamber.com/wine-shine-brew-fest/.