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County already eyes next election

CLARION – With the 2020 election not far removed, Clarion County officials are already starting to look ahead to the 2021 election season.

“We’re getting geared up for another election,” Clarion County Elections director Cindy Callihan told the board of commissioners at its work session Tuesday morning, noting that updated information regarding county and municipal offices up for election in 2021 is now available on the county website and in the Elections office. “We’re going to have a lot of candidates coming in from what I’m being told.”

At the county level, according to Callihan, the offices of sheriff and coroner — currently held by Rex Munsee and Daniel Shingledecker respectively — will be up for election in 2021, both for four-year terms. In addition, the office of treasurer — currently held by Karyn Montana — will be up for election for a two-year term due the resignation of former treasurer Tom McConnell, as well as a six-year term for Magisterial District Judge 18-3-02 — currently held by District Judge Timothy Schill.

“A lot of people will ask me about the 18-3-02 position and then find out that they’re not in that area,” Callihan said, explaining that the office serves Farmington, Highland, Knox, Millcreek, Monroe, Paint and Washington townships, and candidates must live in one of those areas in order to be able to run for that district. “There are specific areas that fall under the category for that 3-02 district.”

As far as the local municipal offices, Callihan said several positions for township supervisors, auditors and constables, and borough council members and mayors are also up for election this year.

“There’s a variety of terms for the local offices she pointed out, noting that several municipal Election Board positions are also up for election, including poll workers, judge of election and inspector of election. “I’ll have a list in the office and online.”

She pointed out, however, that the listings may change depending on new vacancies reported by municipal officials.

“I have letters out to the township and borough secretaries now, and if they fill me in on where the changes have taken place in their area, I’ll update the list,” Callihan said. “But as of now, it’s updated.”

In addition to a listing of available offices and terms, Callihan said information on filing fees, the required number of petition signatures, important dates and more is also available on the website and in the Elections office.

“The first day [a candidate] can get signatures for petitions is Feb. 16,” she said, noting that while petitions cannot be circulated until that date, they can be picked up in the Elections office as early as Feb. 8.

All information is available on the Elections page of the Clarion County website, www.co.clarion.pa.us.

In related election business, at their regular meeting following the work session, Commissioners Ted Tharan, Wayne Brosius and Ed Heasley approved the county’s second grant agreement for the GEMS (Grants for Election Modernization and Security) program fund.

Authorized by the Department of State, Callihan said the county applied for and was awarded an additional program fund in the amount of $7,346.51.

“That amount reflects 60 percent of the total amount of expenses, [which was] $12,244.18,” she said, adding that the money could only be used for costs associated with new election equipment or other allowable expenses — such as outbox storage bins for ballot boxes, memory cards for polling location scanners and racks to store mail-in ballots and applications. “That’s what this grant is for.”

Other Business

• The commissioners also approved a contract with Meley Engineering Corporation, pending legal review, for renovation designs for the main court room that will be placed out for bid.

“That’s something we’ve been working on for years now,” Tharan said of plans to renovate the large court room located on the second floor of the courthouse. “We’re finally going to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

He continued that plans include the installation of new spectator benches, carpeting and television system for testimony, as well as the renovation of the jury box.

“We also have plans to put a railing between the judge and the benches like a lot of the older courthouses have,” Tharan said.

• A contract was also approved with Delta Development for consulting services regarding county grant writing. The agreement is effective Jan. 12 through Jan. 11, 2022 at a total cost of $30,000, which will be paid in equal monthly installments.

• The commissioners authorized a collective bargaining agreement with the United Mine Workers on behalf of the county’s probation officers.

According to officials, the five-year contract covers 11 employees and includes 2.5 percent pay increases in 2021 and 2023, 2.75 percent increases in 2022 and 2024, and a 3 percent increase in 2025. Longevity bonuses and starting salaries were also updated.

• Approval was given to purchase five Xybix Ergonomic workstations for use in the new 911 Center at a total cost of $86,963.50.

Although work on the Sorce building, which will house the new 911 Center is not complete, Tharan said the workstations are being purchased now to avoid a price hike next month.

• Tabby Smith was appointed to fill a vacant director seat on the Conservation District Board for a term set to expire on Dec. 31.

New Heeter family buys landmark businesses

SOUTH BETHLEHEM and SLIGO – While the name is the same, a long-standing local business has begun a new chapter serving the area under new ownership.

Tim and Troy Heeter, co-owners of Heeter Lumber, announced recently that their three area stores have been sold as of Jan. 4. The new owners, Bradley and Jenny Heeter of Knox, said that while there is no relationship between the two families, the new Heeter Lumber Inc. will continue to offer the same products and quality service customers in New Bethlehem, Rimersburg and Sligo are used to.

“Tim and Troy Heeter are staying on to help with the transitions making sure that customer service and product availability remain at the highest level possible,” said Brad and Jenny Heeter of plans for the immediate future.

Plans also include the retention of much of the current staff.

“[The stores] have very knowledgeable, dependable and loyal employees,” Brad and Jenny said. “We are going to keep as many as we can, along with adding a few new ones, ensuring that the new business, Heeter Lumber Inc., continues in a positive direction in the future.”

Brad and Jenny Heeter currently own Heeter Enterprises Inc. — located in Salem Township just outside of Knox — which specializes in concrete construction, excavation and hauling, among other services. The couple said that they hope the new stores will enable them to diversify the business into different areas that complement their existing one.

The new owners pointed out that they wanted to expand because their sons expressed an interest in joining the family business.

“They will be managing the lumber, hardware and redi-mix concrete division of our family business,” Brad and Jenny said. “The opportunity [to buy] came up, and we are going to run with it, full steam ahead.”

Tim and Troy also noted that, while there was no plan to sell the business immediately, they knew it was a real possibility down the road.

“We knew that this day was going to come because there’s no fifth generation,” Tim said. “None of the kids are wanting to continue on, so, [a few] years down the road...we would have been hoping for something like this to happen.”

“We weren’t looking, we never advertised, and it just kind of happened,” Troy concurred of the transaction. “Our kids all moved away and have started their own lives, [and] we didn’t have any of our immediate family left.”

That was when the new owners entered the picture.

“We got the opportunity with this family, which is a wonderful family,” Troy said, noting that the chemistry between the two families made the decision to sell even easier. “They’re so enjoyable to be with and to work with; it’s just been kind of a blessing in disguise. I’m not too sure [things work] out that way all that often.”

Tim agreed with Troy’s assessment of the family and the proposal to sell.

“The night Troy and I called mom, I said, ‘Mom, I think Dad would be happy with these folks because they’re really hard workers,’” Tim recalled, noting that his mother concurred.

Reflecting on the longevity of the business and the four-generation span it has covered in their family, the Heeter brothers said that they were having mixed emotions about the change.

“It is very bittersweet,” said Troy, who manages the Rimersburg and Sligo locations. “We started working when we were 10 years old and worked every break when we were in school, worked after school, and Saturdays all through college.”

Tim also said that the move was bittersweet.

“I’ve been torn the whole time, and probably still am torn because it’s my whole life,” he said, noting that he started working in the New Bethlehem store as soon as he could drive. “Anybody starting the next chapter in life, there’s always that little bit of apprehension there, but I know my dad would be pleased.”

Stepping into a business that has been part of the three communities for more than 100 years in Rimersburg and Sligo, and since 1959 in South Bethlehem, is a huge responsibility, Brad and Jenny said.

“We will be offering the same quality products, [such as] hardware, lumber and redi-mix concrete, that are offered now,” they said. “Delivery and customer satisfaction will be at the top of our priorities.”

The new owners also mentioned plans for the future.

“As we get more familiar with the stores and customers’ needs, we have plans to renovate existing stores, and offer new services and products for our customers,” they said, adding that there are also plans to expand and open more locations down the road. “Adding new inventory and products is something that we will constantly be looking into.”

In addition to the Heeter Lumber franchises, Brad and Jenny also purchased Rhea Building Supplies, a staple business in Knox since 1922. The couple noted that this acquisition, along with the three Heeter stores, gives them a new enterprise with more than 206 years of combined business life.

Tim and Troy said that while they’ll be around helping with the transition for a while, they want to thank residents of all three communities for their support and friendship.

“[We] just want to thank the community for their patronage, and more importantly, their friendship over the years,” Tim said. “Coming to work every day was a lot more joyful knowing that we had such a strong-knit community.”

Writer's love for East Brady area showcased in new book

EAST BRADY – A new anthology of stories being published this week by a Pennsylvania writers’ group will feature a piece written by an East Brady native who describes her work as a “love letter to the Allegheny River.”

“Having grown up in East Brady, my parents instilled in me a love of nature,” Jennifer D. (Wiles) Diamond said. “My first memories are of the river.”

Her story, “My Beloved,” will appear in the new book, “Move on the Edge,” which will be released Jan. 15 as part of the Mindful Writers Retreat Series. The book is edited by Demi Stevens.

A 1991 graduate of East Brady High School, Diamond said the story will be her second published in the series, and one that she, at first, didn’t see herself writing.

“When I was told the theme for this anthology would be love, I rolled my eyes,” she said. “I don’t write love stories.”

But in going through her journals, she said she saw herself writing about her love of the river and the East Brady area.

“It’s an expression of my love growing up in East Brady,” she explained, adding that even though she now lives in Flinton, Cambria County, she regularly meets people who visit or have camps in the East Brady area. “It’s amazing how many people I meet who know that place and know it is special.”

Diamond spent her entire youth in East Brady as the daughter of Dick and Barb Wiles. And it wasn’t just a love of the nearby river that she inherited from her parents.

“I caught the writing bug from them,” she said.

Her mother, who worked as a psychologist for Clarion County Mental Health, dabbled in writing on the side, forming a local writing group that would meet at members’ homes in the area.

“My mom had this dream of writing fiction,” Diamond said, noting that instead, she died suddenly in 2003, just months before her planned retirement. “I was so sad for her that she never made her dream come true. That was the seed for me.”

Her father, Dick Wiles, while known to many for his later work with then-Congressman John Peterson, earlier owned a video production company, writing scripts and other projects. When he passed away in 2005, Diamond said she found boxes and boxes of writings by both her mother and father in their home.

“They were both writers,” she said.

After graduating from East Brady, Diamond went on to Indiana University of Pennsylvania, preparing for a career in speech and language therapy. While working in the early 2000s as a school speech therapist, she said the idea to start writing was born when she began working with an older student with a learning disability who could not read the books that other girls in her grade enjoyed.

“It really broke my heart,” she said of the student who would pretend to read the vampire books that were popular at the time. She said that she tried to find appropriate reading material for the girl, but very little was available then. “That is what inspired me to want to write for young adults.”

The writing plans were put on hold when she began working full-time, but when she was able to leave the position, it gave her time again to pursue more creative endeavors.

“When I am writing, it feels like what I was meant to do,” she said. She jumped into the process by reading many how-to books about writing, and joined a local writing group in May 2018. A year later, she joined PennWriters, which holds an annual writing contest, in which she placed third out of 60 entries in 2019.

She then was pointed toward another group, the Mindful Writers, which she said focuses on mindfulness, meditation, journaling, writing and spending time in nature. She has attended several writer retreats, and published her first story in the group’s last anthology.

But this new story about the Allegheny River literally hit home.

“It’s different than anything I’ve written before,” she said, describing it as super sweet, like an after dinner liquor.

The short piece, only 1,300 words long, talks about the area’s geological features, including the Narrows overlook.

“I end the piece at the Narrows,” she said. “Even if you just pass through [East Brady], you have to stop at the Narrows.”

The new book, with proceeds going toward charity, will be available Friday through Amazon and Barnes and Noble; however, Diamond encourages everyone to seek out a copy through independent book stores.

As for what the future holds, she said she has a short article going in an upcoming magazine published by the Altoona Mirror, and she plans to continue working on a young adult fiction trilogy.

“That’s my goal: making those stories accessible to children,” she said.

Diamond lives in Cambria County with her husband, Bob, who is a public school administrator. Their oldest son, Alex, is a student at West Virginia University, and their youngest son, Colin, attends the University of Pittsburgh.

BC3 campus coming to Ford City

KITTANNING – Call it a late Christmas gift, or a great start to the new year — either way, Armstrong County officials were celebrating news last week that Butler County Community College (BC3) will build a new branch campus in Ford City.

“It’s a pretty exciting moment,” Armstrong County Commissioner Don Myers said as the announcement was made at the commissioners’ Jan. 7 public meeting. “2021 looks like it’s starting off good.”

With state Sen. Joe Pittman (R-Indiana) and state Rep. Jeff Pyle (R-Ford City) on hand, Myers and fellow commissioners Jason Renshaw and Pat Fabian were joined by representatives from BC3, including college president Nicholas Neupauer.

“This is an exciting day for BC3 and Armstrong County,” Neupauer said, noting the school’s three-decade affiliation with smaller locations in Armstrong County, including the present site in Manor Township.

Neupauer said that the new 12,500-square-foot facility that will be constructed on the site of the former Ford City High School will create a true “town and gown” relationship since the site for the new campus is right in the heart of the downtown community. He said that students and staff would likely support local businesses in the area, and some students would even seek out housing in the community.

“We look forward to being here for many years,” he said.

At their meeting last Thursday, the commissioners approved an agreement between the county and college, committing $250,000 from county reserves toward the $4.5 million project.

The college has also been awarded a $1.75 million state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant, which was spearheaded by Pyle, as well as $220,000 in private funding commitments. Of the private funding, $100,000 has been committed by the Snyder Associate Companies of Kittanning, $70,000 from BelleFlex Technologies and PulFlex Technologies of Ford City, and $50,000 from NexTier Bank.

The new facility, officials said, will allow BC3 to increase enrollment in Armstrong County by as much as 426 percent.

“It’s a boost for our economy,” Myers said, pointing out that local residents now won’t have to travel for schooling.

“We’re taking a vacant lot and putting it on the tax rolls,” Pittman noted. “This is as win-win-win as it gets.”

Neupauer said that BC3 hopes to start work soon at the site, with the new facility ready to open in summer or fall 2022.

The commissioners thanked Pyle and Pittman for their work on securing funds for the project, particularly Pyle who has been working with the college for the past four years to make the new campus a reality.

“To bring that money back from Harrisburg was huge in this project,” Fabian said of Pyle’s efforts.

The commissioners said that restaurants, banks, housing and other stores stand to profit from having more people regularly in the area.

“Any time you increase your foot traffic, or traffic into a community, there are going to be dollars spent,” Fabian said. “That’s a good thing for Ford City. That’s a good thing for Armstrong County.”

Pyle said that with the new Armstrong High School nearby, as well as Lenape Technical School, the new college campus will complete the triangle that he sees becoming an incubator for jobs.

Pittman said he expected the partnership of state, county and private entities would spur additional development in the Ford City area.

“And it’s going to give students in Armstrong County a new educational opportunity,” he said.

Officials noted that 80 percent of the college’s Class of 2020 graduated without debt, and that BC3’s salary-to-cost ratio was the highest among more than 40 regional public and private colleges and universities in 2018 and 2019.

Pyle said that BC3 is “super cost-effective in getting people developed for walking into jobs.”

The single-story BC3@Armstrong facility in Ford City will house approximately four classrooms, a multipurpose room, a natural science laboratory, student meeting space and staff and facility offices. The building will be officially owned by the Nonprofit Development Corp. of Butler.

The new campus follows BC3’s establishment of additional locations in Cranberry Township (Butler County) in 1987, New Castle (Lawrence County) in 1989, Hermitage (Mercer County) in 1995 and Brockway (Jefferson County) in 2013.

Enrollment at the current Armstrong site has increased from 23 to as many as 121 students since 2015.

Leisurely Visits

We just started off a new year, but we’re already at the half-way point of January. hard to believe.

That means that Monday, Jan. 18, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday.

Don’t forget that the post office, banks and many government offices will be closed on Monday. Area schools are observing Act 80 days, so students will have the day off.

PennDOT driver’s license centers will also be closed Saturday and Monday for the holiday.

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We’ve known for some time that our area is pretty special, including our wonderful system of trails. They’re received honors in the past, but yet another distinction was recently bestowed on two local trails.

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), the nation’s largest trails organization, recently launched the Top 10 Trails Campaign, a nationwide blog series that will showcase all 50 states, Puerto Rico and DC.

The group has posted its Top 10 Trails in each state, including Pennsylvania in which the list touts the Redbank Valley Trail and the Allegheny River Trail as among the state’s best trails.

The Conservancy notes the following about the Redbank Valley Trail, which runs through New Bethlehem: “The deserving winner of DCNR’s Pennsylvania Trail of the Year award for 2014 — in part for its natural beauty and the dedicated volunteers who’ve made the trail a success — the 51-mile Redbank Valley Rail Trail is an example of local and regional connectivity at its best. The pathway follows a rail corridor developed by the Allegheny Valley Railroad in 1872 to carry passengers, coal and lumber to Pittsburgh and beyond. Ceasing freight service altogether in 2007, the corridor — also a part of the IHTC trail network — now carries trail users along the forested banks of Red Bank Creek for more than 41 miles to the Allegheny River and along a 9-mile perpendicular spur to Sligo. Much of the trail runs along Red Bank Creek and includes many bridges and beautiful stone arches. The trail also connects schools, soccer fields and rural areas to commercial and residential centers.”

The Allegheny River Trail, in Clarion and Venango counties, is described as: “Keep your eyes open for wildlife when you visit the 30-mile Allegheny River Trail in Northwestern Pennsylvania. This segment of the Allegheny River — once a canoe route for Native Americans and French trappers — was designated a national wild and scenic river, and the forests teem with animals, from chipmunks and wild turkeys to deer and even eagles. About 3.2 miles past the junction to the Sandy Creek Trail is Indian God Rock, a large boulder at the water’s edge with numerous inscriptions, including American Indian petroglyphs. At the trail’s end in Foxburg, trail-goers will find pleasant riverfront dining, wine cellars and the historical RiverStone Estate. The trail is also part of the developing 1,500-miles-plus Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition (IHTC) and the 270-mile Erie to Pittsburgh Trail.”

Congratulations to both area trail groups for this honor!

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It’s that time of year again — Girl Scout Cookie time!

The annual cookie sale, led by Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania, kicked off this past week, with a focus on bringing smiles to the faces of cookie-lovers during a challenging time. Girl Scouts are selling in creative, socially distant, and contact-free ways to keep themselves and their customers safe.

The Girl Scout Cookie Program has long taught girls how to run a business via in-person booths, door-to-door activity, and the Digital Cookie platform online. The platform allows girls to personalize their own unique marketing site to share their goals and progress and their plans for proceeds. When customers order through a Girl Scout’s Digital Cookie site, they can have their order shipped to their door or ask their Girl Scout to deliver it later.

The cookie program teaches girls about entrepreneurship as they have fun with friends and practice lifelong, essential skills like marketing, public speaking, and money management. Every purchase stays local to troops and GSWPA to power amazing experiences and leadership opportunities for girls.

Girl Scout Cookies can only be purchased from a registered Girl Scout. To find a Girl Scout selling cookies near you, visit gswpa.org or contact GSWPA at 800-248-3355 or customercare@gswpa.org. Locally, for cookie orders in the Redbank Valley, contact Jodi Renwick at (814) 316-6717. For orders in the Union area, contact Cathy Walzak at (814) 745-3832.

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Be sure to check back with The Leader-Vindicator next week as we present our annual Winter Wonderland special section, featuring a number of reader-submitted photos showing how local folks enjoy the winter snow and activities. Additional photos from L-V readers will run in the regular pages of the L-V as well.