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School security debated

NEW BETHLEHEM – Experience appeared to be the deciding factor Monday night as Redbank Valley School Board members, in a split vote, agreed to rehire a Kittanning firm for school security this year, rather than going with the local New Bethlehem Police Department for the service.

At their Aug. 5 meeting, school directors heard a last-minute proposal from New Bethlehem Borough to provide a School Resource Officer (SRO) for the upcoming school year.

Mayor Tim Murray was on hand to make the presentation to the school board, which had also received a proposal from Armstrong Security & Investigations of Kittanning, the firm which provided resource officers for Redbank this past school year.

Murray said that for $48,000, the borough would supply one full-time officer for the school district throughout the school year, noting that the cost would also include crosswalk duties before and after school, saving the district another $2,600 per year. He also said that the cost would include a police vehicle that could be used between school buildings, and that no mileage would be charged to the district.

“We want to hire more full-time officers,” Murray said of the borough’s plan, which he said also included encouraging officers to stay with the department in order to become familiar with the community and the schools. He said the department is also working to add a K-9 handler and dog, which could be used at the school for unannounced locker checks.

Murray emphasized that the police department would focus on building relationships with students and teachers, and that the officer assigned to the school would benefit from the backup of other officers in the department if needed.

Board member Bill Reddinger questioned if the police department had any experience in a school setting. Murray replied that if hired, the officer that will be assigned to the school would attend specialized School Resource Officer training.

Member Dee Bell also questioned the borough police rates for providing security at after school events, noting that the amount went up significantly from last year.

“That was way out of whack,” he said of the costs.

Murray noted that the borough had to raise rates because it raised the pay for officers in an attempt to keep them from leaving the department to take better paying jobs.

Later in the meeting when the item came up on the agenda, superintendent Dr. John Mastillo recommended sticking with Armstrong Security for the 2019-2020 school year.

“We know where we sit,” he said of the company used last year. Although he commended the borough for putting a proposal together for the services, he said: “Unfortunately, I don’t think they know what they’re walking into.”

Board president Chad Shaffer and member Darren Bain spoke up in favor of the New Bethlehem proposal, noting that it was less costly than Armstrong’s rate of $49,999 for the year.

Bain pointed out that the New Bethlehem rate also included the crosswalk services, and said that he was confident the local police department could handle the job.

Shaffer said that while he thought Armstrong “did an OK job for us” last year, he was in favor of going with New Bethlehem Police because of the cost savings and the opportunities it presented in the community.

In the end, Armstrong Security was hired in a 5-3 vote, with Shaffer, Bain and Reddinger casting the opposition votes.

On Tuesday, Mastillo explained that the security contract is for one officer this year, down from two officers last year. He noted that the district has applied for grants that could help pay for additional officers if the funding is awarded.

Other Business

• Mastillo said that a proposal to form a co-op with Union School District regarding the Redbank wrestling program has been put on hold. He noted that Union didn’t want to consider any monetary compensation for the co-op.

• School board member Darren Bain cast the lone vote against the revised district policy regarding tobacco use by students. He questioned if the rules were “fair and equitable” for athletes and those who take part in extracurricular activities, noting that those students receive an additional punishment that is not applied to students who do not take part in extracurriculars. District solicitor William E. Hager III said he saw no legal issues with the district’s policy.

• Shelby Groff was hired as a confidential secretary to the superintendent at an annual salary of $25,000.

• Stasha Misko and Madison Harmon were hired as highly qualified aides at a rate of $9.71 per hour.

Josh W / By JOSH WALZAK L-V Editor 

ASSISTANT BAND DIRECTOR Rob Heichel (left) works with Union High School Marching Band members on Friday during the final day of the weeklong band camp. The band will debut its halftime show at the Aug. 23 game at Coudersport.

Local heart recipient meets donor's family

NEW BETHLEHEM – Imagine being put on a transplant waitlist because you are in need of a new heart. Imagine being told after months on the list that a donor heart is available. Now imagine two years after a successful transplant, meeting your donor’s family.

This scenario was a real life series of events for one Fairmount City man.

The journey for Gordon Pence began in June 2016 with neck surgery to correct some pain and numbness. While everything with the surgery went well, Pence suffered a massive heart attack less than a week later.

“We had no idea that it had even happened,” said Pence’s daughter, Cherie Schultz, noting that the family believed her father’s symptoms were a result of the surgery. It wasn’t until her father started showing signs of confusion that they suspected something else was wrong. Pence was taken to Armstrong County Memorial Hospital and then flown to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh. “They discovered that two thirds of his heart had been damaged. He had a 100 percent blockage and a blood clot in his heart.”

Due to the damage that had already been done, Schultz said, doctors said they would not be able to remove the blockage, and soon the family was looking at the possibility of a heart transplant.

On June 29, 2016, Pence received an LVAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device) to help his weak heart function until a donor heart was found, and he was officially placed on the transplant list that July.

“The LVAD served as a bridge to the transplant,” Schultz said. “We were told it could be 18 months before a donor could be found.”

Although he was able to keep an active lifestyle outside of the hospital for several months, elevated bloodwork in March 2017 indicated a potential problem with Pence’s LVAD and he was readmitted to Allegheny General Hospital.

“He was admitted on March 30 and told he would be there until he got a heart,” Schultz said, adding that although he was constantly monitored, her father passed the time in the hospital doing laps around his unit. “The nurses always joked that they were going to put him to work.”

On Saturday, April 15, the family was gathered at the hospital celebrating Easter. They returned home late Saturday night, only to receive a call from Pence a few hours later stating that a heart donor had been found.

“We could hardly believe it when he called,” said Pence’s wife, Tanza, explaining that the entire family had a rush of adrenaline as they readied themselves and quickly headed back to the hospital.

When they arrived, Pence was being prepped for surgery, and the whole family was able to wait with him until he was taken to the operating room on Easter morning, April 16, 2017. The family was told surgery would take between eight to 12 hours, but Pence was in the operating room just a little over five hours.

“When the doctor came out and told us everything was done, my initial reaction was fear because I thought it seemed way too soon,” Schultz said, noting, however that the doctor assured them everything went fine.

Following the hospital stay and some in-patient therapy at West Penn, Pence returned home on June 1, 2017.

“I’m as good as new now,” Pence said, explaining that it took him approximately a year to fully recover.

“It’s amazing what they can do,” Tanza Pence added, noting that her husband now walks two miles and bikes four miles each day. “It’s a true miracle how far medicine has come.”

The decision for Pence’s family to meet the donor family was very much a mutual one. In fact, before they were able to complete a letter to the donor’s family, the Pences received a letter from them. The letter from the donor’s family introduced their 22-year-old son, Jacob Ronk, whose heart Pence had received.

“Immediately after we got the letter from Jacob’s family, I started writing a letter to them that we could take to Dad’s one-year appointment,” Schultz said, adding that each member of her family wrote something in the letter explaining what their son’s gift to Pence meant to them. “We felt that they deserved to know where their son’s heart was.”

Since all correspondences had to be relayed through the Center for Organ Recovery and Education (CORE), Schultz said that another year passed without any further contact from the donor’s family. As the two-year anniversary of Pence’s transplant approached, Schultz decided to reach out to CORE to see if there were any updates from the other family.

“I told them our story and explained that the donor’s family expressed to us that they were interested in meeting,” she said, noting that she was surprised to learn that the donor’s family had contacted CORE just weeks before to see if anyone had reached out. “It just seemed like it was meant to be.”

With the help of CORE, Pence and his family traveled to a family house at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, W. Va. on July 13, where they met Ronk’s parents and young son, as well as his sisters, their spouses and children.

“We were feeling so many different emotions,” Tanza Pence said. “We knew it was going to be a bittersweet day.”

“I was so nervous,” Schultz said, adding that she thought about what she was going to say the whole trip down. She said she and her family were worried that seeing Pence would cause additional pain for the donor’s family. “We knew we weren’t going to be able to thank them enough.”

The nervousness was quickly washed away when the Pences entered the house and were greeted by Ronk’s father, who immediately embraced the Pences.

“All I could say was ‘thank you for Jacob’s heart,’” Tanza Pence said, noting that there were no words to describe how thankful her family was for their son’s gift. “I think it brought everything full circle. They made us feel better, and I think it helped with their healing process too.”

The families spent hours swapping stories and getting to know each other. In fact, during this time, the Pences even learned that Ronk not only saved Pence, but helped save the lives of three other people with his liver and kidneys.

“They couldn’t have been a more loving family,” Schultz said. “It seemed like home to us. We all seemed to mesh together.”

In addition to the stories, the Ronk family presented the Pences with a photo album filled with photos of their son and maple syrup from the family farm. They also gifted Pence a bell ornament engraved with the year of the transplant as a nod to Ronk’s favorite Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

From the Pences, the Ronk family was gifted a custom made Build-A-Bear, which included a recording of Ronk’s heart beating inside of Pence’s chest.

“There were a lot of tears,” Tanza Pence said. The meeting was so meaningful, that already the two families are planning to meet again. “We think of them as extended family.”

During the meeting, and even now, both families acknowledged that it was Ronk’s decision to donate his organs that brought them all together. Both the Ronks and the Pences have now made it their mission to spread the word of Ronk’s legacy and to advocate the importance of organ donation.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about organ donation,” Schultz and Tanza Pence said. “We hope by sharing our stories that others will become better informed about organ donation and will consider donating.”

For more information on organ donation, visit

DNA test unites New Bethlehem man with half-brother

NEW BETHLEHEM – When Joe Geer came home from the military, his daughter noticed that Dad had different characteristics than his siblings. With the help of modern DNA technology several years later, he found a half-brother he never knew about.

After years of waiting, he finally made a connection.

Miles away, Jim Wotring and his family of New Bethlehem had always been interested in genealogy. His son, Jim Jr., decided to do an Ancestry DNA test. When the test came back with some surprising results, Jim Sr. took a test as well.

He was shocked when it matched him with a man in Tennessee.

Jim Jr. contacted Thomas Joseph Geer, who was apparently his father’s half-brother.

Geer and the younger Wotring began corresponding online; Jim Sr. and Geer exchanged several long phone calls and decided to meet in person. Geer and his wife made the trip from Tennessee and found they fit in perfectly with a new and unknown family. During a family get-together at EverMoore’s Restaurant in New Bethlehem in July, the two men shared their story.

“I started asking my sister about the family history after she made a casual remark one day,” Geer said. “We had moved to California from Cleveland when I was a boy, but we had lived somewhere else before that.”

The Geer family had been living in a grandmother’s house in Alcola in the early 1950s before packing up their car suddenly one Thanksgiving night and leaving everything behind.

“My parents had six kids, and took nothing with them but their clothes and a complete Thanksgiving dinner in the back of the car,” Geer said. “They left their furniture and everything else behind and moved to Cleveland where my dad had found a job.”

Geer’s mother was pregnant with him, something the other children did not know at the time. Geer and Wotring, who was a young child when this happened, pieced together the story during their online chats and real-life meeting last month.

Geer’s mother had an relationship with Wotring’s father. The two men were members of the Eagles club in New Bethlehem and may have even worked together in area coal mines in the later 1940s and early 1950s, Wotring said.

“We guessed that Mom came home and told Dad that she was pregnant. He still loved her, and we think they decided to leave town before anyone else knew,” Geer said.

Standing side by side, Joe Geer and Jim Wotring certainly look like brothers. Their hair and eye colors are different, but they are similar in size and build, have nearly identical noses and share more than a few mannerisms.

“Joe says he does not resemble the man who he thought was his father,” Wotring said. “He looks an awful lot like the men in my family, and people probably would have guessed the truth.”

Growing up more than 2,000 miles apart, Geer and Wotring led vastly different lives as adults. Geer traveled the world as a career man in the U.S. military, while Wotring stayed close to his roots in Clarion County. Geer is the talker; Wotring is more inclined to listen.

Both men were amazed by making the connection after more than 60 years apart, but seemed very gratified by it.

“I have this whole other family now,” Geer said. “I fit in with them.”

Car Cruise planned this weekend in Rimersburg

RIMERSBURG – One of the most popular events of Rimersburg’s Cookie Daze festival will be held this Sunday despite the cancellation of the overall festival for this year.

The Cookie Daze Car Cruise is set for this Sunday, Aug. 11, from 1 to 4 p.m., rain or shine.

Organizer Scott Campbell said that the car cruise has been a part of the Cookie Daze festivities for years, but also operated mostly on its own. He expects a big turnout if the weather cooperates, even without the full festival being held this year.

“Our cruse has always been a good one,” he said. “As long as we have good weather, I’m anticipating a big turnout.”

Earlier this year, with the pool of volunteers drying up, the Rimersburg Chamber of Commerce decided to put the annual festival on hiatus for 2019, in order to focus on fundraising and volunteer recruitment to bring it back in 2020.

At the same time, car cruise organizers decided to keep on cruising, announcing that the event would be held regardless of the festival’s status.

And even though Cookie Daze is officially on a break, Campbell said there would be plenty of cookies on hand. He said that the local iBake cookie factory has donated enough cookies to give packages to those who enter cars in the cruise.

The owners of the first 250 cars that register will also receive a cruise-in T-shirt, and participants will have a chance to win big in the cash giveaway at the end of the day.

Registration will begin along Main Street in downtown Rimersburg at 9 a.m. on Sunday.

The car cruise won’t be the only thing taking place in Rimersburg this weekend, as a number of non-profit groups will sell a variety of food during the day. The groups include the Rimersburg Hose Co., Southern Clarion County Ambulance Service, Memory Lanes Forget-Me-Nots Walk To End Alzheimer’s group, Union All Sports Boosters Club, Union Music Association, Union Travel Club, Rimersburg Lions Club and the Rimersburg Veterans Memorial Park and Museum.

The day will get underway at 9:30 a.m. with an interdenominational church service outside of Burns Funeral Home along Main Street.

The Eccles-Lesher Memorial Library will also continue to hold its annual Cookie Walk during the car cruise beginning at 10 a.m. and continuing until 6 p.m. or whenever the homemade cookies are all gone. The library fundraiser — priced at $4 per dozen or 50 cents per cookie — benefits the library’s children’s programs throughout the year.

The Friends of the Library will also sell tickets during the event for the upcoming Clarion County Library System Great Cash Raffle, which will be held Nov. 1 at 4:30 p.m. at the Clarion Free Library.

Also during the day, the Rimersburg United Methodist Church will give away 100 free backpacks full of school supplies to the first 100 children who come to the Veterans Park starting at 3 p.m.

For more information and updates, visit “Cookie Daze Car Cruise” on Facebook.

Flood cleanup advances at NB school

NEW BETHLEHEM – It’s been less than three weeks since flash flooding hit the Redbank Valley Primary School in New Bethlehem, but officials remain optimistic that the facility will be ready for the start of the new school year on Aug. 28.

At the regular school board meeting on Aug. 5, elementary principal Cheryl McCauley and others expressed their appreciation for district maintenance crews, staff and outside help in cleaning up the school after 6 to 8 inches of water filled the entire building on the night of the July 19 flooding of nearby Leasure Run.

“I never would have dreamed we would be as far as we are,” McCauley said of the rapid progress made in the weeks after the flooding.

She credited Service Master by Bell for its work, which was contracted by the district, as well as the work by the dedicated maintenance staff at the school district.

Even though muddy water flowed through the school less than three weeks ago, McCauley said the cleanup work had already moved to the next stage of getting the school ready for the new year, and that the hallways were already being waxed.

“It’s been a difficult experience,” she told the school board, but credited Redbank’s superintendent for his efforts. “Dr. [John] Mastillo has been there everyday. It’s nice having a hands-on superintendent.”

McCauley also credited the school’s teachers, noting that they are still in the process of compiling a master list of all the classroom items destroyed by the floodwaters.

District maintenance director Jim Jones also thanked his crew for all the work since the flood.

“They’ve done an excellent job,” he said. “With that team, I think we could get through anything.”

“It doesn’t look like it did two weeks ago,” Jones added, thanking Service Master for its efforts as well.

Mastillo said that while work remains at the elementary, he could deem the situation now as “manageable” and has begun reassigning staff to get the district’s other schools ready in time for the new year.

“We’re hoping by the end of the week things will look normal across all three campuses,” he said.

He added that prices are still being sought for the repair or replacement of the school’s boiler, as well as the ven

In flood-related business, the school board approved several items during their meeting.

The board agreed to pay Service Master by Bell $140,957 for its work at the primary school, and authorized the maintenance supervisor to purchase materials needed to repair the walls in the band/art room, speech room and adjoining office areas not to exceed $1,500.

Directors also voted to move forward with the removal and proper disposal of asbestos floor tiles, along with the carpet, in the principal’s office, secretary’s office, two storage rooms, a small hallway and bathroom at the primary school. The board contracted with Clarion Environmental Services for the work at a cost of $3,500.

Finally, the board unanimously agreed to post information on the district’s website regarding flood remediation donations, and to create a social funding source in the general funds to handle any donations.

Leisurely Visits

If you’re one of those folks who look at summer as being over when Labor Day rolls around, or the new school year starts, then it appears that summer is in the home stretch at this point.

With only three weeks until Redbank, Union and other local schools head back into session, and less than a month until Labor Day, it’s time to take advantage of the last few big weeks of summer vacation.

As you’ll see in today’s paper, the Cookie Daze Car Cruise is one of the events you can enjoy this weekend. While we hope that the full festival can find enough volunteer support to make a return next summer, the car cruise is a major event that traditionally brings in hundreds of classic automobiles, lining Rimersburg’s Main Street and other areas.

In addition to the car cruise, the Dayton Fair gets underway this coming week, with a number of great shows as are detailed in a story in today’s paper.

There’s still plenty of things to do this summer — keep checking The L-V for details.

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One event coming up is the annual Knox Horsethief Days festival, which will run Aug. 10-17.

The schedule this year includes a softball tournament this Saturday and Sunday, as well as tractor pulls on Saturday, an interdenominational church service on Sunday at 11 a.m., and antique tractor pulls later in the day.

Throughout the week, there will be bingo at the Clarion County Rod and Gun Club on Monday at 5 p.m.; a corn hold tournament and chili cook-off on Tuesday starting at 6 p.m., followed by music by Ashleigh Bennet at 7:30 p.m.; and a community picnic at the gun club on Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m., followed by tractor raced at 6 p.m.

On Thursday, Aug. 15, the festival will feature community yard sales throughout the day, a chicken and ribs barbecue at the gun club starting at 3 p.m., the Knox Lions Club Bike Race at 5 p.m. followed by the Power Wheels Derby, music by Tunes in a Bucket from 7:30 to 10 p.m., and the Bed Race and Obstacle Course Challenge at 8 p.m.

The festival continues Friday, Aug. 16 with a car show from 3 to 9 p.m., music by Lonesome Bob from 4 to 6 p.m., the Legion Riders Bike Night at 5 p.m., the Wine Festival at the Knox Fire Hall from 5 to 9 p.m., and music by Billy and the Neptunes from 7 to 10:30 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 17, will feature a wide range of events, including a tractor show, Jeep Invasion, musical performances, and the firemen’s parade at 5:30 p.m.

Check back next week for additional details, or visit

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Despite the cool, rainy start, this summer has really heated up, and The Leader-Vindicator is looking for photos from our readers to show how their favorite pets stay cool in the Dog Days of Summer.

All you need to do is snap a photo of Rover chilling out in the pool, splashing in a stream, enjoying some ice cream or whatever he does to keep cool in the summer heat.

Send your photo, along with the dog’s name, and the the owner’s name, address and phone number, to The deadline is Friday, Aug. 23, so don’t delay!

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Don’t forget to Take The L-V With You on your summertime trips, and to submit your travel photos!

The L-V is once again asking readers to take along a copy of our newspaper on your summertime travels. All you need to do is take a photograph of you and your travel companions with the paper at a memorable stop along your journey, and submit your photo and trip information to us at You can also drop off a photo at our office, send one to us via our Facebook page, or mail a picture to us at The Leader-Vindicator, 435 Broad Street, New Bethlehem, PA 16242.

The photos will be published in our Take The L-V With You pages at the end of summer, but you can submit your pictures at anytime during the summer.

And this year, from all those who submit photos, we will draw a lucky winner who will receive a Family Four Pack of tickets to the Pittsburgh Zoo!

We can’t wait to see where you take The L-V this year!