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Liverpool Bicentennial Preview

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The borough of Liverpool will be celebrating its 200th birthday with a wide variety of historical events that will put its residents in touch with its rich past. The event, which will be held on May 16, 17, and 18, was planned by residents who came together to form the Liverpool bicentennial committee. According to Brad Lowe, owner of Lowe’s restaurant and a member of the committee, plans for the celebration have been in the works for the past two years.
The town was established in 1808, when John Staily sold the land that is now Liverpool to his daughter and son-in-law. His son-in-law, John Huggins  laid out the town. As a special treat, Stailey’s descendant Brandon Benner, will read the pledge of allegiance during the opening ceremony.
According to Lowe, the events will kick off on Friday with a walking tour of the Liverpool Union Cemetery. During the tour, Lowe will give a brief history of funeral customs in the Victorian era, which included many rituals that may seem odd to modern sensibilities. These rituals often included carrying the body out feet first, sitting up with the dead before burial, and wearing black for a designated length of time. According to committee member Pat Campbell, that length of time was determined by the person’s relation to the deceased. Widows often had to wear black for at least a year. Çhurch bells also played an important part in funerals, and, according to Campbell, sometimes residents could tell who died by the particular ringing of the bells.  The funerals were usually solemn occasions, with the exception of one incident during an Irish funeral, in which some members became intoxicated and lost the body halfway to the cemetery.
Lowe will also talk about notable people who are buried in the cemetery, including Dr. Amos Caunkle
“He delivered half of Liverpool,” Campbell said.
Also on Friday, Doug Allen of Channel 8 will give a weather report from Liverpool. Local residents are encouraged to dress up to fully capture the flavor of the event. Typical nineteenth century attire includes long dresses with empire waists for women, and black suits for men.
On Saturday, May 17, and opening ceremony will be held in the square, where a plaque presentation will be held, followed by the mayor’s proclamation. The ceremony will be followed by living history demonstrations, given by Civil War reenactors on the square. Demonstrations will include lye soap, broommaking, and blacksmiths, as well as a reenactment of the Susquehannock tribe who had lived in the area. Pickle Herring, a colonial reenactor, is slated to entertain the children. Arts, crafts, and antique vendors will be available on the ballfield, and food will be provided by the Liverpool fire company. For more information about vendor spaces, contact Neil Wingenroth at 570-374-4635. Later in the day, a bicentennial parade will be held, which will feature floats, antique cars and tractors. Longtime Liverpool resident Martha Minihan will be the grand marshal. Buggy rides will also be offered during the day, and a cake walk will be held.
Cake walks are a forerunner to the  modern day cake wheels held at carnivals. They were a very popular form of entertainment at the turn of century, as much for the live music as the cake. According to Lowe, townspeople have given different versions of how the cake walk is performed. In one version, couples walk in a circle while music is played. Someone puts a broom out, and when the music stops, the couple closest to the broom wins the cake. In another version, the couple walk in a circle, and a lady is walking inside the circle, holding a cake. When the music stop, the couple standing closest to the woman wins the cake. Lowe wants to make sure that the cake walks captures the high emphasis on music.
“It was more entertainment with  music,” he said.
Also during the day, a concert in the square will be given by the 46th Regiment band, a group of Civil War reenactors. A time capsule will be buried in the square, and Liverpool residents are encouraged to bring pictures and other memorabilia to be placed in the capsule. The evening will end with a fireworks display.
A church service will be held on Sunday, followed by an “old-time” family picnic. After the picnic, the group “Fab Five,” which includes Pete Best, the first drummer for the Beatles, will perform at the Facktory.
Throughout the weekend, residents will have an opportunity to purchase a book compiled by Lowe and Campbell, entitled “Reflections of Liverpool.” The book encompasses the 125 years of Liverpool
“It’s stories that we’ve found that tell of our past,” Lowe said.
According to Lowe, much of Liverpool history comes from a select group of people, whose stories, pictures, and poems were published in the former Liverpool Sun. Much can be learned about Liverpool from the sketches of Dr. James H. Case, which he drew for the Liverpool Sun. Isaac Meck, an old stagecoach driver also told stories of the town in its former day through interviews with the Sun. G. Cary Tharp was the town’s poet, Lowe said, and he wrote many poems about events that occurred in Liverpool. His poems are interspersed through “Reflections of Liverpool.”
One of the major events detailed in the book was the day President Herbert Hoover came to town on June 1, 1930. According to Lowe, Hoover was on a fishing trip to Williamsport when he stopped in Liverpool and asked for the location of the newest church. Reverend Charrett, who was the pastor of the Methodist church at the time, was wondering why so few people were attending church that day, when Hoover walked, followed by the majority of the town’s residents. Liverpool resident Martha Minihan recalled women coming from their kitchens to the church with spoons in hand to catch a glimpse of the president.
Many stories such as this can be found in “Reflections of Liverpool,” which will be available for purchase all weekend. For more information about the book or the bicentennial, residents can contact Lowe at 444-3723 or Campbell at 444-3630. The committee expresses its gratitude to the borough and the businesses that assisted them in making the bicentennial a reality.

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Written by mariay99

March 31, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Posted in Feature

A Tale of Two Liverpools…or Three, or Four

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What do England, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nova Scotia, Australia, Texas and Illinois have in common? A town by the name of Liverpool, and a man who has fulfilled a mission to visit them all.
Pennsylvania’s tiny town of Liverpool welcomed its own special ambassador from its namesake–Phil Bimpson, of Liverpool, England, during its bicentennital celebration. Bimpson was a guest of honor in the bicentennial parade held on Saturday, May 17.
Bimpson is hardly a stranger to the local Liverpool and has developed friendships with residents Brad Lowe, Mayor John Mark and the owners of the Facktory, as this is his third visit to the town.
Bimpson made his first journey to Liverpool, PA in 2006, as part of a journey in which his goal was to visit all of the Liverpools in the United States.
Bringing his signature red “Liverpool” hat and his usual upbeat demeanor, Bimpson was invited to take part in Liverpool’s bicentennial festivities.
Bimpson, a mechanic who is married with six children, confessed that his voyage to American Liverpools began as a bet in a bar with a friend. According to Bimpson,a buddy asked Bimpson if he ever won the lottery, where in the world would he choose to go. Bimpson replied, “Liverpool”
“He said, ‘You must be crazy.  We live here!’” Bimpson said.
Bimpson replied that he wanted to visit Liverpool, Australia, the only other Liverpool he knew of.
However, Bimpson was soon to discover that the world was populated with far more Liverpools than he had imagined, especially in America. Thus began an adventure in which he would visit several towns named after his native home.
“I just had to come and see them all,” he said.
During his journey, Bimpson has visited the towns, learned pertinent facts about them and their people, met the mayors to have his photo taken with them and give them souvenir Liverpool, England hats.
To date, he has visited Liverpools including Ohio, New York, Texas, Illinois and Nova Scotia.
For more information about Bimpson’s travels,  check out his website at http://myliverpools.piczo.com

Written by mariay99

March 31, 2011 at 8:16 pm

Posted in Feature

My River Sojourn

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By Maria Yohn
The Juniata Clean Water Partnership recently held its 2010 Juniata River Sojourn, but this year they had an extra addition–yours truly. I was invited to join the trip to experience the splendor of the Juniata River and its abundant scenery via canoe, and needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity.
Because I was a novice paddler (I only paddled a canoe once, and let’s just say it was a “memorable” experience.), the organizers of the sojourn generously allowed me to ride along in a canoe with an expert paddler who, thankfully, was also a safety guide and registered nurse. As such, he was equipped to handle most of the disastrous scenarios I could conjure up in my mind. My editor and I had already (jokingly) agreed that although attempting to paddle a kayak or canoe for the first time while photographing the scenery around me could lead to an interesting front page story, my physical safety was much more important. So armed with an abundance of sunblock, water bottles and the necessary life jacket, I took my spot in the canoe and joined the more experienced sojourners in their kayaks to enjoy a beautiful day on the Juniata River.
However, before taking to the waters, I wanted to learn a little more about the sojourn, the purpose of the Juniata Clean Water Partnership [JCWP], and the Juniata River itself. According to Johanna Mutti, education and outreach coordinator, a total of 105 people registered for the sojourn, some joining for a few days here and there while others traveled the entire length of the journey, which began in Huntingdon, below the Raystown Dam, and ended at Howe Township Park, below Newport. The group began their sojourn on June 12 and spent the first several days kayaking down the river by McVeytown, Lewistown, through “th Narrows,” and ending at Mifflin. On Friday, June 18, or day six of the sojourn, I joined the travelers at the Central Juniata Park swimming pool in Mifflin, where the group had camped the previous night. Prior to my arrival, the group had stuck to a basic schedule of waking around 6:00 a.m., having breakfast, shuttling their vehicles to the next location around 8:00 a.m., and beginning their voyage on the river around 9:00 a.m. From there, they’d spent a few hours traveling down the river, only stopping for lunch and a possible rest break. After arriving at their destination, usually in the late afternoon or early evening, they would be treated to entertainment or various speakers.
According to Mutti, there were ten safety boaters joining the kayakers for the sojourn, and they were expected to be strong paddlers and know some basic first aid. The JWCP has been holding this event since the late ’90s, along with two other Juniata River trips, Mutti said.
JCWP executive director Michael Makufka explained that JCWP is a non-profit regional advocacy organization for the Juniata River, and the sojourn is just one of the many educational activities they hold for the public. The coalition is compromised of organizations, county planners, community groups and watershed groups, as well as local citizens interested in maintaining the beauty of the river.
According to Makufka, the group uses political and educational means to enhance and protect the natural resources along the Juniata watershed. Makufka explained that a watershed encompasses the area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off it goes into a particular body of water, in this case–the Juniata River. The Juniata watershed is made up of 3,400 square miles that encompass 12 counties in Central Pennsylvania, including Huntington, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry and Snyder counties. The Juniata River itself is approximately 100 miles long and is the second largest tributary to the Susquehanna River. The main stem enters the Susquehanna River near Duncannon and is formed by three major tributaries: the Raystown branch, the Frankstown branch and the Little Juniata River.
My knowledge of the the Juniata River was limited to driving by it every day, but this day I was going to experience it first-hand. I was introduced to my canoe “chauffeur” for the day–safety guide Paul Houck, and off we went into the Juniata River. Our group was one of diverse ages–encompassing younger kids with their parents to senior citizens. The entire trip was 18 miles, and included a stop at the Mexico Access for lunch, catered by Spruce Hill Lunch. After a short break, we went back into the river, heading toward Millerstown, with a stop at the Thompsontown Access to stretch our legs and avail ourselves of the port-a-potties. Throughout the trip, the group had a blast squirting each other with water, and enjoying the variety of land and sea creatures around us. At one point we saw a bald eagle fly overhead, along with other, less mature eagles. We observed fishermen on the river as well as an Amish couple with their two young children out for the day on their boat, a truly unique sight of which central Pennsyvlania can boast.
By the time we reached the Millerstown river bridge, the sojourners became visibly more tired, but mustered the strength to kayak the last few miles into the Pittman’s Campground, between Millerstown and Newport. It was an achievement to be proud of, as it was the hottest and longest day of the trip thus far. Upon arriving at the campground, were provided a catered dinner by the Espresso Yourself Cafe in Newport and listened to a presentation given by Stephanie Eisenbise of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, who spoke about various issues affecting the bay. The group planned to camp that evening, and depart for Newport the next day for the final leg of their trip. For me, the day was officially over, and I returned home to all the creature comforts my house afforded. However, I left the sojourn having experienced the anxiety and subsequent achievement that comes with breaking out of one’s comfort zone, and with the gratitude of having experienced the breathtaking beauty of  Juniata and Perry counties from a whole new perspective.

Written by mariay99

March 31, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Posted in Feature

Hearing Held For Woman Accused Of Murdering Son-In-Law

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By Maria Yohn
A pre-trial hearing was held to determine if the trial for a woman accused of murdering her son-in-law will be moved out of the county or if a jury will be brought in. However, no decision was made during the Tuesday, January 12 session.
Senior judge Keith Quigley presided over the hearing for Brenda Smith of Globe Arizona.
Smith allegedly shot and killed her son-in-law, Michael Hockenberry at his residence in Mifflintown on the evening of September 15, 2010.
Her attorney, Kenneth Wise, requested a change of venue or venir, arguing that Smith would not receive a fair trial in Juniata County due to ongoing media coverage that he felt portrayed Smith in an unfavorable light.
Prior to the hearing, Wise filed motions with the court addressing suppression of evidence and discovery materials from the prosecution.
Juniata County District Attorney Cory Snook told the judge that all of the documents were given to Wise and that fingerprints and other forensic evidence have not been made available from the Pennsylvania State Police Crime Lab.
Wise also argued that Smith’s rights were violated because the police used “coercive and threatening means” and failed go give her Miranda warnings in a timely fashion.
According to court records, Smith went to the State Police barracks on the evening of the incident and told police that Hockenberry hit her with a TV tray following an argument. In her original statement, Smith told police that she left the residence with her daughter and three grandchildren after the assault. She told police that she heard a gunshot from inside the home after she left the house.
Documents indicate that Smith had a swollen and bruised right arm.
Police went to the residence and found Hockenberry, who was sitting in a chair with a gunshot wound to his head. Documents indicate there was a green bath towel across his lap and over his right hand. A .380 caliber pistol was on top of the towel and was pointed toward him. Several rounds of ammunition were found at the scene.
Police said they interviewed Smith the next morning, and she told them that she had noticed her pistol was missing that night and she confronted Hockenberry about it. Smith said that she had brought the pistol for protection against Hockeberry, and said that Hockenberry struck her in the head with a TV tray, pulled out the gun and fired a round into the floor. She went on to say that she told her daughter and grandchildren to leave the residence. Smith said that she accidentally shot Hockenberry after the two of them struggled for the gun.
Documents indicate that Smith said she laid the green towel on his lap and used it to wipe her fingerprints from the weapon.
Police then indicated that her story didn’t make sense because Smith claimed the gun went off when they were facing each other. However, Hockenberry sustained bullet wounds to the sides of his head.
Smith told them that after Hockenberry struck her, she planned to leave, but walked into her bedroom, took the pistol and placed a towel over it to disguise it from Hockenberry. She said that she walked up to him and shot him at close range on the side of his head. She then shot a round into the floor and wiped her fingerprints from the weapon before placing it on Hockenberry’s lap, police documents indicate.
Smith said she left the residence, and her daughter wondered what had caused the noise she heard from the house. Smith said it it was a gunshot, and her daughter argued that they didn’t own any weapons, so it must have been something else.
According to Smith’s statement, she told her daughter it was her gun, and they did not discuss it anymore.
State Police Trooper Prestyn Showers was the first trooper to testify. Showers said that he had been in charge of taking care of the victim’s children that night and received a call from his supervisor requesting that he ask Smith if she would be willing to come back to the State Police barracks for questioning.
Smith agreed, and Showers testified that they did not speak during the ride back to the station. Showers went on to testify that he was only aware of Hockenberry’s death and did not know of Smith’s alleged involvement.
Trooper Blaine Henderson followed Showers to the stand and testified that Smith was not suspected of committing a crime when he requested that she come in for an interview. Henderson said he wanted to speak to her because she was one of the last people to see Hockenberry alive.
Wise asked Henderson if he saw the scene of the incident and the trooper said that he did. However, he testified that he only knew about the alleged attack on Smith from information he received at the barracks.
Henderson emphasized that he would have left Smith leave the station at the beginning of the interview because he did not suspect her of a crime.
However, during the course of the hour and a half interview Henderson began to change his mind.
According to Henderson, Smith originally said the she left the residence and heard gunshots. Then she told him that the gun went off by accident, but when he asked her to show him how it happened, she changed her story and said she walked up to Hockenberry when he was sitting in a chair and shot him.
“I wasn’t expecting she would say that,” Henderson said.
After this statement, Henderson testified that he left the room to talk to another trooper. He brought police communications operator Cynthia Foltz back into the room with him to witness the trooper giving Smith her Miranda rights and arrest her for criminal homicide.
According to Henderson, Smith signed a document that explained her Miranda rights and she chose to waive them.
Henderson said that Smith never requested to end the interview or asked for an attorney.
Wise asked Henderson if Smith could see the weapon in his holster during the interview and Henderson said he wasn’t sure, but she probably could.
After the hearing, Quigley said he would review the suppression motion and other transcripts before issuing a ruling. He also requested to see copies of newspaper articles written about the incident and the circulation numbers for the newspaper[s] before he addresses the change of venue or venir motion.

Written by mariay99

March 31, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Posted in Crime

School District Faces Dire Financial Situation

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Taxpayers of Juniata county are now faced with a tough yet crucial decision with long-term ramifications: whether to vote for a 25 percent tax increase in the spring primary or face a multitude of program cuts including the complete elimination of kindergarten in their school district.
During the Thursday, March 17 school board meeting, acting superintendent Dr. Kay Shehan Hughes led a budget presentation in which she told a packed room that if Governor Tom Corbett’s proposed budget does not change, students and employees in the school district could face a grim reality. The school district is now facing a $3.5 million deficit for the 2011-2012 school year, and the budget cuts were even greater than the board had anticipated.
Taxpayers will have the option during the May 17 primary election to vote “yes”  or “no” in favor of a tax increase via a voter referendum. If they vote “yes,” they will face a 14 mill tax increase which will constitute an average of $235.10 per home. If they vote “no”, the following programs will be eliminated: kindergarten, vocational agriculture, building trades, industrial arts, business education, family and consumer sciences, secondary music and art, all extra-curricular activities, 2.5 secondary secretaries and two secondary guidance counselors.
Hughes said that, in determining which programs would be cut, the district had to keep all programs mandated by the state.  These programs include special education, the gifted program, library and foreign languages. Programs which were not mandated  and lost funding were eliminated.
Acting assistant superintendent Dr. Elise Hazel said that half-day kindergarten was originally a line item in the budget, but when the school district switched to full-day kindergarten several years ago, the program was funded through three state grants. Those grants have been revoked under the governor’s proposed budget, Hughes said.
“It has been a terrible, arduous situation,” Hughes said of the budget process.
“Kindergarten is definitely not something we want to see go,” she said.
Hazel said that the district is currently using $700,000 in grant money for kindergarten.
One member of the public asked if the district could return to half-day kindergarten instead of cutting the program in its entirety.
“There is no money for kindergarten in the budget, full-day or half-day,” Hughes replied.
Another member of the public asked if the voters could vote on individual items in the referendum. Hughes said that the referendum is an “all or nothing” decision for the proposed cuts and that the administrators wanted to allow that option but could not legally do so.
Residents also asked about salary freezes for staff in the district. Chris Heidenreich, president of the Juniata County Educators Association, said that the teachers will be holding a meeting and so far many teachers have been supportive of a salary freeze.
However, board director Gary Zeiders emphasized that the salary freeze will not save the district as much money as many believe. According to the administration, the salary freeze for teachers would save the district between $400,000 and $500,000.  This does not include the entire staff, Hughes said, as an overall estimate has not been totaled. Administrators will not be receiving a raise this year, Hughes said.
Board director Dan Clark said that he felt the public would be more approving if the staff had to make sacrifices as well as the taxpayers.
Other ideas that were discussed included cutting school counselors, closing Susquehanna Elementary school and implementing distance learning. Hughes said that these options have all been considered, however,  the number of school counselors has already been reduced to what is legally allowed, and distance learning would not save enough money in the long-run. Hughes said that the board is looking into closing Susquehanna but that will not help the district’s current predicament, as they would have to pay to maintain the school until it would be sold.
Hughes said that the district has already made numerous cuts including administration, LPNs, aides and custodial positions, as well as maintenance work.
Board director William Book expressed concern about postponing maintenance work, but acknowledged that “there was nothing to do.’
Hughes told everyone that the state budget has not been settled and changes may be made to the final school district budget. Board director Dan Clark asked if the district could provide information via the local media on a weekly basis, but Hughes said that the flow of information is too sporadic to provide a weekly update. However, she said the district will keep the public informed of new developments. Local residents are asked to call Hughes and Hazel with questions or email them to jcsd@tiu11.org. A question and answer board has been placed on the district’s website for residents to ask questions about the budget and receive replies from administrators. The website is 222.jcsdk12.org. The budget presentation will also be available on the website.
Hughes emphasized that the funding issue can only be resolved on the state government level and encouraged the public to contact their local legislators about the issue.
Business manager Ken Eyler reminded residents that the voter referendum can only be utilized every other year because of the election cycle. The decision the taxpayers choose to make could affect students for the next two years, depending on the future state budgets.
The primary election is on May 17 and the deadline for voter registration is April 18. According to voter registrar Eva Stong, the county is required to provide a ballot with only the referendum question for independent and minority party voters.
Also during the meeting, the school board unanimously voted to postpone discussion on all proposed building projects until a date to be determined by the administration. The $200,000 allotted for the project will be taken out of the deficit, Eyler said.
In other business, the board:
Approved the retirement of Juniata high school librarian Nancy H. Chrismer, effective at the conclusion of the 2010-2011 school year.
Accepted the resignation of Alan Woodling as Juniata high school boys’ basketball coach.
Approved East Juniata high school’s move from the All-American League to the Tri-Valley League for football. A change in the bylaws of the Tri-Valley League mandates that member schools be in the league for all sports.

Written by mariay99

March 31, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Posted in Education

A Moment of ‘Justice’

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Tracy Reesman has two lofty goals for her dog Justice: to be a champion at dog shows as well as a champion for abused children.
Reesman, who lives outside of Lewistown, became the proud owner of a Shiloh shepherd in August 2009 when he was seven weeks old. As such, she is the only owner of this rare breed of dog in Mifflin county.
Shiloh shepherds, Reesman said, were first bred in the 1980s. The individual who started the breed wanted a dog that was larger, calmer and had better hips that most dogs.  They were meant to retain the good qualities of a German shepherd dog, and they make good companion dogs, she said. The breed was recognized by the FIC in 1990 and by the ARBA in 1991. According to Reesman, they are good with children and the elderly, come in a variety of colors, and have a plush or smooth coat. Justice and her newest Shiloh shepherd, Jasper, have a plush coat. They usually weigh between 120-140 pounds and usually 30 inches in height or more. Their lineage can be traced to Rin Tin Tin, Reesman said.
Out of curiosity, Reesman decided to enter Justice in a dog show that was held in Reading on March 18, 19 and 20. According to Reesman, the expo is the largest competition on the east coast for rare breeds.
She originally decided to enter him in the novice category, but changed her mind as she wanted to see how he would fare in the open category.
“To our surprise, he won first place,” she said.
Justice continued on to win another first place award, becoming the grand reserve champion.
After Justice’s stunning success, Reesman is pondering over the possibility of more competitions in his future, and so far she is not sure if she will breed him. There are stringent requirements to breed Shiloh shepherds, she said.
However, Justice’s owner wants him to serve a much higher purpose.
Reesman has worked with therapeutic foster care for several years and has been personally affected by court cases where sexually abused children have had to testify on the witness stand. She was particularly inspired after watching a case where the children’s fear on the witness stand negatively affected the outcome of the case. Too often, children are intimidated by their abusers, who are often related to the them, she said. Sometimes the jury may misinterpret their lack of eye contact and uncertainty as lying. In worst case scenarios, the children may not even be willing to take the stand, and without their testimony, the prosecution may not be able to present a valid case.
Determined to make a difference,she read about a court in New York that uses dogs to help these children testify. According to Reesman, the children are given the opportunity to meet the dogs and get to know them during their sessions with a victim/witness coordinator.
The dogs then accompany the children when they are testifying on the witness stand. The children may pet them and they can tell their story to the dog, instead of a group of intimidating adults, she said.
Shiloh shepherds are a common therapy dog, but other dogs can be used as well. All dogs must learn sign language, as their handlers cannot give them verbal commands in court.
So far, Justice has passed a temperament test, has taken obedience training, earned a good citizenship certificate, and a course in police school. He must be at least 95 percent consistent in his training to be used as a therapy dog, she said. Unfortunately, there is no set standard for training dogs to be used in the courtroom as the idea is so new, and she is currently seeking to find more information about training. Reesman hopes to have him fully trained by the age of three and then she will begin to talk to local court representatives about the possible use of her dog. Any help she would provide would be on a volunteer basis, Reesman emphasized.
“I hope that they’ll have an open mind,” she said.
She has discussed the possibility with an area victim/witness coordinator, who said that lawyers might not like any potential disruptions. However, she said that use of the dogs is catching on, and several are being used in Pennsylvania, including one in the State College area.
If accepted, Reesman hopes to register her dog under the name “a moment of Justice,” because she’ll never forget the feeling of sitting in a trial and watching abused children robbed of their moment of justice. With the help of Justice, she hopes to give that moment back.

Written by mariay99

March 31, 2011 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Feature

Area Missionaries Recount Haiti Earthquake Experience

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Phil Varner described January 12 as a beautiful, calm day in Haiti, until the leaves began to shake without explanation.
“Then it hit,” Varner said.
The 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti caught six Juniata county residents, who were serving on a missions trip there, by complete surprise.
“I thought we were getting bombed,” Lonnie Snyder said.
George Losch described the feeling of “standing on ocean waves,” as the earth moved up and down and side to side beneath him. Some of the men estimate that the ground rose and fell by as much as 18-20 inches.
Other men described the sounds as “a rumble of thunder” and “stones being rubbed together.”
Gary Fronk said the quake threw the men’s equilibrium out of balance for a while. Although he experienced blurred vision immediately after the quake, he could sense the disaster as he heard the Haitians screaming. When he saw the earth crack around him, he knew it was an earthquake. Losch also observed the earth crack and remembers fissures of water springing up around him.
“The earthquake lasted 14 seconds or so but it felt longer,” Losch said. However, the men were too caught up in the unusual events to fully appreciate their precarious situation.
“You didn’t have time to be scared,” Losch said.
The men, who attend Cedar Grove Brethren in Christ church and traveled to Haiti via the New Missions organizatio on January 2, decided to stay behind when the rest of the group left on January 9.
“We couldn’t finish everything in one week,” Varner said.
Now the men faced responsibilities far beyond the scope of their imaginations. Losch described the aftermath as fairly calm, as they located everyone and found that all 44 people in their compound were uninjured. Then they “loaded up” and went to the high school, which was 80 feet higher in location, because there were rumors of a tsunami that may hit.
According to the men, all of the buildings in their compound stood, but they need to be replaced because everything was cracked. However, nearby Leogane, where they had performed mission work, did not fare so well. Ninety percent of the buildings were gone.
Later that night, the men experienced one of the most poignant moments of their trip, when they listened to the sounds of the Haitians singing in the adjacent village of Bordmer. As they walked around, the air was filled with Haitians singing praises to Jesus.
“They said they were praying for you,” Varner said.
“I thought, ‘you’re praying for us and we should be praying for you,” he said.
The men described Haitian nights as pitch black, particularly so after the disaster, but the music served as a beautiful echo that wafted through the earthquake-ravaged area, and lasted throughout the night. The Haitians continued to sing even as the first aftershock ripped through the area.
“They didn’t miss a beat,” Fronk said.
However, the singing was frequently interwoven with the wailing of Haitians who had lost everything.
“That was hard to hear,” Losch said.
The men wondered about the fates of people they had ministered to as recently as a few days before the quake, and they still don’t know if all of them survived.
They had little time to contemplate this, however, as they were immediately faced with a dire water situation. The artesian well that provided water to the compound and Bordmer had been damaged, and clean drinking water was hard to find. The situation became so desperate that at one point, they considered obtaining water from the backs of toilets and from water heaters. They immediately went to work fixing pipes, with the help of Snyder who is a plumber in Juniata county. They managed to provide water to two buildings, but the well remained a challenge. When they finally obtained water from it, it was black. The men prayed over the well, and one to two hours later they began to feel pressure from it.
“That’s God at work,” Fronk said.
During this time, the New Missions organization informed their families in Juniata county that they were uninjured, and plans were in the works to bring them home.  The men were there for a total of 14 days when they were transported by plane to the Dominican Republic.
“A lot of people were praying for us when we were down there,” Varner said.
They described their departure as a combined government and private effort, and believe that someone who traveled with an Orlando team to the New Mission compound had connections that allowed them to leave so quickly. The men saw a Homeland security plane as well as private helicopters, and said the area had to be secured before take-off. They were not allowed to use cell phones, the men said, for fear that nearby Haitians would overhear and try to leave with them. According to the missions group, they were on a plane headed for the Dominican in less than five minutes.
As they left Haiti, they flew over Port-Au-Prince, where they said whole pockets of the city, greater than the town of Mifflintown, were completely destroyed.
“It’s going to be a long-term problem for them, “ Losch said.
After arriving in the Dominican Republic, they were flown to Orlando, and they finally arrived at the Reagan National Airport on Saturday, January 16.
However, the group’s story in Haiti is far from over, because five of the six men are planning to return there on January 31. Snyder could not make the trip because of other commitments, and Juniata county resident Steve Leach will go in his place.
The men plan to work on pipes, construction and do whatever else is needed.
“The hardest part was leaving and not being able to say goodbye to the people,” Losch said.
“That’s okay, because we’re going to see them again soon.”
Anyone who would like to donate to New Missions may do so by visiting newmissons.org or sending a donation to Cedar Grove Brethren in Christ church, marked “Haiti relief.”

Written by mariay99

March 31, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Posted in Feature