Sometimes in life, timing is everything.
On Christmas 2017, Sandra Baronick Pyne, of DuBois, had been gifted an AncestryDNA test kit by her in-laws who were creating a Baronick family tree.
When the results came back in March of 2018 showing that Pyne, who grew up in a Slavic family, was predominantly Italian, she and her family brushed it off thinking there was some kind of “mix-up.”
Fast-forward five months.
Debra Monaco Zaffuto, formerly of Brockway, was anxiously awaiting her AncestryDNA results.
She and her husband, Barry, now living in Ebensburg, enjoy learning about their heritages. They had been to Italy several times to research an Italian village and church records. That quest persuaded Debra to learn more by sending a sample of her DNA to ancestry.com.
They had no idea they would be in for the shock of their lives when the results finally came back on May 14, 2018 – they showed that Debra had a sister she did not know of living in DuBois.
The sister’s name was revealed to be Sandra Baronick Pyne.
Stunned and confused, Debra called her brother, Ron Monaco, of The Villages in Florida, to discuss what she had just learned.
Further research found that Sandra Baronick Pyne was born in the same hospital and on the same day, Sept. 22, 1942, as the sister they grew up with, Sandra Monaco Smith.
The two siblings also discovered Sandra Baronick Pyne’s Facebook profile picture – the striking resemblance to Debra, who was left speechless, could not be denied.
“That looks just like Mom,” Ron Monaco recalled saying.
“If you’re familiar with the AncestryDNA, you can click on her name and then it says, ‘shared matches,’” Debra Zaffuto said. “And that’s how you know what side of the family the person is from, your dad’s side or your mom’s side. But when I clicked on hers, she was related to both sides so she had to be a full sister not a half.”
About a week later after this discovery, Debra finally “got up the nerve” and attempted to contact Sandra Baronick Pyne online but didn’t get an immediate response.
Also, a letter she sent Sandra via email to explain the situation hadn’t been opened yet, either, so Barry Zaffuto called Sandra’s son, Michael Pyne, a DuBois chiropractor, and got him to read the email.
Immediately upon learning the news, Michael then visited his mother at her home to find her, along with his brother, Tom Pyne, reading the email.
“The same day that Barry contacted Mike, I just happened to get on my computer and my other son had come in and I said, ‘Tom, you have to read this. I don’t believe it. It doesn’t make any sense to me,’” Sandra Pyne said.
It took a while for the gravity of this incredible discovery to sink in for all of them.
Sandra Baronick Pyne’s sons eventually had their DNA tested as well by AncestryDNA and confirmed that they were Debra and Ron’s biological nephews.
Ron Monaco’s DNA test also confirmed what they already knew – that Sandra Baronick Pyne and Debra Monaco Zaffuto were his sisters.
DNA tests on Sandra Monaco Smith showed that she was predominantly Eastern European. Those results and those on her family also confirmed that they were not biologically related to the Monaco family but were a match with the Baronick family.
Sandra Monaco Smith was ill with cancer and all families involved chose not to tell her and burden her further with this discovery. Consequently, she was not able to meet her biological family. At the age of 76, Sandra Monaco Smith lost her battle to cancer on Nov. 30, 2018.
After everything that had transpired, both of the families came to the realization that George and Lucy Monaco, of Brockway, and Robert and Josephine Baronick, of DuBois, went home with the wrong child when they left the local hospital in 1942.
There could be no other explanation.
Proud and happy as both parents were that day, they would never know the story that would be revealed 75 years later. George Monaco passed away in 1992 and Lucy Monaco in 2010. Robert Baronick passed away in 1978 while Josephine Baronick died in 1960 when she was just 44.
The truth may never have been known if Sandra Baronick Pyne hadn’t tested her DNA in the first place. The results remained in the ancestry.com database to ultimately be matched with Debra Monaco Zaffuto’s a few months later.
“When I opened it and it said that I was Italian and it had names on it that I didn’t even know, I told my kids, ‘This is a big mistake, I’m Slovak,’” recalled Sandra Pyne. “And I called my sister-in-law and said, ‘They mixed my test up. I’m Slovak. Both of my parents are Slovak. I don’t believe in this DNA.’ And I forgot about it. I never even thought about it again.”
Years earlier, someone did suspect that she was Italian, however.
“My husband’s grandpa. When Jerry took me over and we were going together and he introduced me, he (grandpa) said, ‘You’re Italian?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m Slovak.’ He said, ‘I don’t believe you, you’re Italian. You look like my own daughters. So much like my own daughters. I’m going to change your name to Buronico,’” Sandra said with a laugh.
“Probably the saddest thing of this whole story is that she (Sandra Monaco Smith) was sick and couldn’t be told,” Barry Zaffuto said. “If she had enough time and she wasn’t sick, she would have processed this and said, ‘Ah-ha!’”
“She (Smith) would say, ‘I’m the black sheep of the family. I’m nothing like you and Ron,’” Debra Zaffuto recalled.
Early Monaco family photos show Sandra Monaco Smith as a blond-haired, blue-eyed little girl that grew up in the Monaco’s Italian household. George and Lucy struggled to understand and explain the striking difference that was obvious to all their friends and family. Lucy especially fumed over hurtful comments and jokes made.
Sandra Baronick Pyne admitted that if she dwelled on the fact that she will never know her biological parents, it would make her sad.
“But I’m trying to look at the good side. I have the family I was raised with, and I have this new family,” she said.
The three siblings are thankful they now have the opportunity to make up for lost time.
Debra and Sandra phone or text each other daily, shop together and enjoy lunches and dinners together.
“We may not have been sisters all of our lives, but we will be sisters the rest of our lives,” Sandra Pyne said.
In turn, Debra said Sandra Monaco Smith will always be her “lifelong sister,” but Sandra Monaco Pyne is the “rest-of-my-life” sister.
In addition, Ron has traveled from Florida to be with his sisters in their homes several times. All three have recently spent time together in Estero, Fla., at Debra and Barry’s winter home and in The Villages, with Ron and his wife, Cherre Monaco.
They are finding they have much in common but the one thing that stands out the most is that “our family is important to all of us,” Sandra Pyne said.
“In the end it is all about family,” Michael Pyne said. “I am happy that my mother gets a chance at age 76 to know her biological sister, brother and family. She is a very strong person emotionally. Having more family is definitely keeping her busy.”
Despite knowing in May, it wasn’t until July of 2018 that the families decided to meet face-to-face.
Michael Pyne hosted the Pynes, Monacos, and Zaffutos at his home with children and grandchildren. It was a day spent getting to know each other, sharing pictures and stories of a time lost, laughing, and planning future get-togethers.
“I felt like we really knew each other. There was never any strangeness. We weren’t trying to be different. Everybody felt natural,” Debra Zaffuto said.
“It was very comfortable, being from Brockway and DuBois, it just seemed like we knew a lot of the same people, teachers and schools,” Michael Pyne said. “It was nice to learn that my grandfather, George Monaco, played baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals minor league organization. My grandmother, Lucy Grecco Monaco, I am told always dressed very sharp. She loved to cook, especially Italian meals. I am told my mother is so much like Lucy.”
It turns out the two Sandras knew of each other when they were much younger.
“I knew who she was to see her,” Sandra Pyne said. “Her first husband was a boy I graduated with. I’m sure she knew who I was, but we were not really friends. We never really had any kind of social activities together.”
Sandra also said that her biological father had worked in the office at Brockway Glass.
“I worked there for almost 31 years, and he may have walked through Plant 1 several times,” Sandra Pyne said. Debra added that Plant 1 was very close to the Monacos’ family home.
On a recent doctor’s visit, Sandra told her physician that she learned that her family medical history has changed. After telling the story, the doctor asked her if her family was from the local area.
“I told her that they were originally from here, but now my new sister lives in Ebensburg and my brother lives in Florida at the Villages,” Sandra Pyne said. “Suddenly, the nurse said, ‘Oh my, you’re Lucy Monaco’s daughter!’ And I said, ‘I never mentioned a name. How did you know that?’ And she said, ‘because I’ve been trying to figure out who you remind me of, and you look just like her. I had her as a patient 20 years ago.’ And she said, ‘She was the sweetest lady you’d ever want to meet. You look just like her.’”
And just this week, the family found out that both Sandra Pyne and her biological mother had their hair cut and used the same hairstylist in Brockway at the Rainbowtique.
The two key players in this story were the two girls who were switched at birth. How and why they went home from the hospital with the wrong parents may never be known.
Would their lives have been different had this never occurred?
At this point, the Monacos and Pynes realize they cannot change the mistake that happened more than 75 years ago.
What they do know is that the DNA results do not change the love and affection they have for the family and the extended families in which they were raised.
“Nothing has changed as far as I’m concerned with my uncles, aunts and cousins I grew up with all my life, especially our family in DuBois,” Michael Pyne said. “It’s all we ever knew.”
They all look forward to the future and the families growing larger together as they continue to get to know each other.
“At this time in our lives, this was probably a good time to find out,” Sandra Pyne said. “I think our parents would have been heartbroken.”
They all agreed that everything seems to have fallen into place as if it were meant to be.
“It is such a blessing that we found out about it now,” Debra Zaffuto said. “We could have gone for the rest of our lives without ever knowing.”
CLARION — Exhibitors from several counties showed off their wares during the Pennsylvania Wilds Buyers Market on March 2. The event, held at the Gemmell Student Center on the Clarion University of Pennsylvania campus, featured handcrafted soaps, jewelry, snack items, wooden goods and more.
Sponsored by the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, the trade show connected some of the region’s small creative enterprises with area retailers and residents. The morning session was devoted to business-to-business activity, while the afternoon was open to the public.
The Wilds of Pennsylvania Cooperative vendors came from Jefferson, Elk, McKean, Cameron, Clarion, Clinton and Lycoming counties, all of which are part of the PA Wilds’ 12 1/2-county service area, a full one-quarter of the state’s geographical area. A network of more than 200 small businesses in this region includes crafters, lodging providers, outdoor outfitters, and those offering cultural and culinary experiences.
Lakeisha Knarr, an outreach specialist for the center, said, “We help these small businesses with everything from marketing to directing them to their nearest Small Business Development Center when it is time to write a business plan.”
The center provides guidance in finding financial lenders, technical assistance, other like-minded entrepreneurs, public lands managers, marketers and more.
Ryan and Brandi Magaro, owners of Rich Valley Apiaries in Cameron County, credit the assistance they received from the center and Clarion University’s SBDC for taking their home-based business to a higher level.
“We really appreciated their help in qualifying for the various certifications you need when you are selling a food product to the public,” Ryan said. “The Cameron Chamber of Commerce has been a big help in promoting our products in the region.”
Amanda Lewis of Clarion said she began her cold-porcelain jewelry business, Petal, as a hobby that soon morphed into a home-based business.
“In fact, it is very much a kitchen-based business,” she said. “I make the clay by cooking cornstarch, glue and a few other ingredients on my stove.”
Lewis said that most people are familiar with traditional porcelain created in a ceramics kiln. Her cold porcelain is a polymerization process, closely related to making plastic.
A painter by profession originally, Lewis adapted cold porcelain concepts popular in Russia, Thailand and Japan, developing some new ideas.
“While this hobby is very traditional in those countries, I went one step further and started making my own flower petal templates rather than relying on commercially available ones,” she said. “I go out, pick flowers and make paper templates from their petals.”
Jack Northrop, a woodworker from Kane, said that his business began as a sideline to building a bedroom set 50 years ago.
“I could not find carved bed posts that I liked for a reasonable price,” he said, “so I went out and bought a lathe to turn my own.”
In the following decades, Northrop branched out into making elegant wooden bowls from burls, the knots found on most trees that are of no use to lumbermen.
“Nearly all the wood I use has been salvaged or ‘found’ – stuff that cannot be used as timber,” he said.
Jason Bundt represented the PA Wilds Conservation Shop in the Kinzua Bridge State Park.
“The Buyers Market is a great place to promote the businesses we serve. The goods on this table have all been locally sourced, too,” he said. The goods included travel mugs, apparel and similar trade-show items emblazoned with PA Wilds-related logos.
Many of those items were probably produced by PA Made, a silk-screening business operated by Mickayla Poland, of St. Marys.
“I started out as a painter, and then I suddenly went from zero to sixty as a silkscreen artist,” she laughed. Poland produces everything from patches to logo apparel in addition to promotional goods for various business. All the artwork is of her own creation.
The Center for Entrepreneurship aids businesses such as Poland’s in obtaining licensing for their products, ensuring that their proprietary logos and goods cannot be appropriated by unauthorized users. This one step is crucial in keeping the cash flowing into the business owners’ coffers.
These Buyers Market exhibitors, and many more, are one part of a region-wide initiative dedicated to attracting more out-of-state visitors to the world north of Interstate 80. One of 11 tourism regions in the state, PA Wilds promotes small business that contribute to the $1.7 billion spent by visitors each year.
CLEARFIELD — Cellular Sales, the largest independent Verizon Wireless retailer by volume, opened a new store in Clearfield on Jan. 22 continues to seek new employees, reported store manager Clayte Davis.
Currently the store has 12 employees and eventually wants to have a staff of 20.
This is Cellular Sales 22nd store in Pennsylvania but its first in Clearfield; its next closest store is in St. Marys, Davis said.
The store is located at 145592 Clearfield Shawville Highway, next to Arby’s.
“This is our second store opening in Pennsylvania this year,” Cellular Sales Regional Director George Argeras said in a press release. “We are proud of our expansion in Pennsylvania and look forward to its community here in Clearfield.”
Davis said they are happy to be a part of the community and are proud to hire local talent to its team.
The store sells Verizon Wireless cell phones and internet plans as well as phones and tablets from all the major manufacturers including Apple, Samsung, LG, and Motorolla, Davis said.
The store hours are Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
According to the company, Cellular Sales has been named to Inc. Magazine’s 5000 list of the fastest growing companies nine times, achieving Hall of Fame status and the company credits its growth on its superior level of customer service.
The company seeks to equip each team member with the best possible tools for success before selling on their own and team members are encouraged to view themselves as entrepreneurs with the support of an established, successful company backing them up, according to the news release.
The release went on to say that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects demand for retail sales jobs to grow over the next decade and sales experience will be valuable.
“Customer service is our greatest pride here at Cellular Sales,” Cellular Sales Regional Director Nick Naveroski said. “We understand that building a great team, which we have been able to do across Pennsylvania, will help us continue our legacy of great service.”
Those interested in applying for jobs at this location may contact Cellular Sales Recruiter Kyle Unverdorben at (353) 220-4907 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cellular Sales, which was founded in 1993, is headquartered in Knoxville, Tenn. The company currently employs 7,200 people and operates more than 700 stores nationwide across 41 states, according to the press release.