A look back at the best of the best …
There’s a quote by Henry Luce that I really like which says, “I became a journalist to come as close as possible to the heart of the world.” That’s the idea I had in mind when I first pitched this feature to Joe just three short months after I began working for the Gazette.
I’ve always had roots in community journalism, starting even before my career did. When my university didn’t offer any classes in print media for my final semester as a senior, I sought out an internship-for-credit with the local newspaper. In 2012, I spent a year freelancing for an online newspaper that happened to cover the exact area in NJ where I had been born and raised.
And then I found myself here. I got to dabble in my hometown a bit for our sister paper, The Home News, and I grew to love putting the Gazette together, specifically when it meant going out and getting to know the members of this unique community.
To me, the heart of the world rests in all the little hard-working hands of a million different communities. There are so many people doing wonderful things to help each other in this area. I’ve been inspired by so many stories. While I will miss working on this piece every month, I still welcome nominations from our readers. If there is someone who deserves to be recognized, by all means, send them our way. In the meantime, read up on these 24 people and organizations who are right in your backyard. The opportunities to donate or lend a hand are endless.
Who: Darin Weidner
What: Volunteer firefighter
Where: Klecknersville Vol. Fire Co. in Bath
When: October 2013
Why: BMB kicked off during National Fire Prevention Month, so we decided to introduce the community to a man who has devoted his entire life to putting himself literally in the line of fire.
On his experience as Pit Fire Supervisor at Pocono Speedway: “You’re right in the middle of it. Guys are throwing wheels over your head. When a car drops down, if you turn your head for a second, there’s a chance of catching a lug nut to the face. It’s the excitement.”—Darin Weidner
Who: Anthony George
What: 15-day summer trip with People-to-People
Where: From Cherryville to Sydney and back
When: November 2013
Why: Anthony’s mother Jeanine contacted us and I thought his story was one other kids might use to become involved with P-to-P themselves.
On making friends in a foreign country: “Kids there are really the same as us, just from a different place with a different accent.”—Anthony George
Who: Jake Marunich
What: A high school student with a championship title in drag racing.
When: December 2013
Why: His sister, impressed with his achievements, reached out on his behalf.
On the advantage of racing at Numidia Dragway: “You meet so many people from all around the country at each race. People will travel the whole weekend just to come to this track, because it’s the nicest location in the area.”—Jake Marunich
Who: Nick Pope
What: A runner tackling monthly races in the name of brain-injured children.
Where: England originally, now Pen Argyl
When: January 2014
Why: Nick’s selfless dedication to running marathons to raise money he’ll never see was truly inspiring.
On how he keeps moving: “It’s willpower; you either have it or you don’t. This was never on my bucket list, it’s not something I dreamt of. But I have to do it. You either want to or you don’t. You’ve got to do it, because if you stop, it’s like anything else—you can’t just not feel like it.”—Nick Pope
Who: Robert Berger and Michelle Raber
What: Northern Lehigh Community Center
When: February 2014
Why: A decades-long project is finally approaching fruition.
On why they’ve been working so hard for so long: “When I came here and saw the kids who don’t play organized sports; they have nothing to do. That drove me to work on this project, to help them.”—Michelle Raber
Who: Ned Richards
What: WALN radio DJ
When: March 2014
Why: Celebrating 45 years in radio broadcasting
On bringing rock-and-roll to radio: “There was a Presbyterian minister who said ‘the devil has arrived in Belfast’ when I started. He complained week after week that I was some long-haired hippie from Woodstock. So three weeks later, I went to his church in a shirt and tie with my short hair and I sat and listened to his service. Afterward, he came up to me and said, ‘young man, this is the first time I’ve seen you here, can I ask you your name?’ And I said, ‘Satan.’ He didn’t know what to say!”—Ned Richards
Who: Roger “Corky” Sell
What: Owner/operator of Slatington Airport
When: April 2014
Why: Corky has an extensive aviation background that started with his first solo flight at age 16.
On owning his own plane: “I can fly whenever I want, that’s what’s nice about it. I’ll take a plane out and fly around for 20-30 minutes over the Poconos. I call them mental health flights, because you come back and life’s great.”—Corky Sell
Who: Scott Ellis
What: Devoted biker aiming to raise $100K for multiple sclerosis
When: May 2014
Why: Scott participates in 4-5 bike rides a year to raise money for MS research.
On continuing to bike even past his dad’s death: “Everybody has their connection to whatever disease and mission in life and MS is just mine. It took my dad at 65. It took him long before that. The first year I don’t do it is gonna feel weird; I’ll feel guilty as hell. That’s the way I am.”—Scott Ellis
Who: Gene Salvatore
What: President of Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 855
When: June 2014
Why: Gene advocates strongly for the EAA Young Eagles program … and has been known to give a Gazette editor a joy ride now and then.
On why small planes and airports still matter: “When you create a mile of roadway, you can go a mile. When you open up a mile of runway, the entire world can come to you. And people don’t realize this, that you still have to learn to fly the little airplanes before you can fly the big airplanes.”—Gene Salvatore
Who: Becky’s Drive-In
What: One of the longest-running and most popular drive-in movie theaters in the Lehigh Valley
When: July 2014
Why: The history of the Beck family and how Becky’s got to be what it is today was a perfect summer story.
On the ever-lasting appeal of a drive-in: “First, we’re cheaper than most indoor houses with reasonable prices both for tickets and food. Then you’re getting two movies for the price of one. And I also think it’s nice that kids can come in their PJs. During the first movie, they might be a little rambunctious, but by the second one, they’re passed out and Mom and Dad can enjoy some quiet time.”—Cindy Beck-Deppe
Who: Slatington Public Library
What: A place for book lovers to meet since 1936
When: August 2014
Why: Slatington’s librarians are always trying to find ways to make ends meet in order to keep books available to the community.
On why libraries are still relevant in the digital age: “I think we’re accessible and user-friendly and free and it’s so varied. That’s what keeps it interesting. On any given day, I could be doing IT or cataloging or checking people out … and I want to find homes for all the books. I just want to get books into hands.”—Louise Bechtel
Who: Martin Guitar
What: The guitar-making legend and pride of Nazareth
Where: Nazareth (and Africa)
When: September 2014
Why: The music mogul partnered with The Nature Conservancy in an admirable attempt to slow the demand for ivory and spread awareness about elephant protection.
On their progress and impact so far: “The key is, we can get all excited in America and we can give all this money, but we can’t legislate what goes on in Africa. What has to happen is, the people in Asia have to realize where the ivory’s coming from. Right now, they’re in denial. It’s a work in progress, but I am hearing that word is getting out in China that you should be embarrassed for using ivory.”—Chris Martin
Who: Fiorella Reginelli-Mirabito
What: Mayor of Bath
When: October 2014
Why: As a breast cancer survivor herself, Fi orchestrated Turn Bath Pink, a month-long volunteer-driven fundraiser.
On her love for her little town: “This is where my parents made their money, this is where I grew up, this is where I became involved with Girl Scouts and the choir. And when you go through something like breast cancer, everything changes, especially what you’re thankful for. I’m thankful for this. I’m thankful for my business, that I’ve raised two sons here. I am eternally forever grateful for this place.”—Fi Mirabito
Who: Humble Hearts of Hope
What: Nonprofit organization that sends monthly care packages to deployed troops
When: November 2014
Why: HHFH is committed to providing soldiers, as well as their families left at home, with the things they need for daily life.
On what they do and how they’re able to do it: “Many of these women don’t want their husbands to worry when they’re away; we helped someone who had lost her job by giving her groceries. When he came home for the weekend, the kitchen was full. We’ve paid rent, utilities, given gift cards for food. We post these stories on Facebook and the community is just so generous.”—Brenda Detweiler
Who: Carbon CART (County Animal Response Team)
What: Carbon chapter of a state-wide emergency animal service
Where: Carbon County
When: December 2014
Why: Many people aren’t aware that there is someone to call if, say, a car accident has both human and animal victims.
On how their situational impact relies on teamwork: “You have to be confident in your group. We’re getting to see our goals of working with different organizations in the county come true, with our fire and police and rescues. It’s just starting to happen for all of us. Part of helping people and their animals is having the confidence of knowing what we’re doing, otherwise it’s just chaos. We work to serve. You have to work with people if you work with animals.”—Michelle Beckett
Who: Blue Mountain’s Best
What: A retrospective round-up of all BMB subjects since its October 2013 inception.
When: January 2015
Why: To showcase how many wonderful newsworthy people and organizations are in our area.
Who: American Heart Association of the Lehigh Valley
What: Local chapter of this non-profit organization in the United States that fosters appropriate cardiac care in an effort to reduce disability and deaths caused by cardiovascular disease and stroke.
When: February 2015
Why: Women should be educated about their heart health and it’s important to know that an informative organization is nearby.
On the importance of acknowledging symptoms: “We find women are more prone to ignore it, because we’re the one who takes care of everybody, the kids, husband, animals, we’re going to work, so we ignore everything. We try to tell people, don’t—because you could die. And there is no prejudice to heart disease; it hits us all.”—Denise Sellers
Who: Habitat for Humanity of the Lehigh Valley
What: Local chapter of this international nonprofit that helps the underprivileged achieve their own homes.
When: March 2015
Why: To spread the word that Habitat doesn’t “give houses away,” but rather works with those in need to build themselves a place to call their own.
On how to help if you’re not that handy: “Some people think you have to know your way around a hammer and nails, but there are other ways to help. Just call us and we’ll help you find the right fit.”—Melissa Siegfried
Who: Brittney Chuyko
What: Humane officer through Sanctuary at Haafsville
Where: Lehigh County
When: April 2015
Why: If you witness an animal in need of assistance, veterinary care, or a new loving home, there’s someone to call in a quick pinch.
On the vicious circle of overpopulation and no-kill shelters: “’No kill’ should mean that you’re euthanizing for medical purposes or aggressive issues, not because you’re running out of space. In my eyes, I can’t risk another life. If you take one shot with an aggressive dog, it may go after another animal or a person. I’d rather not see anyone get hurt and I’d rather not see that animal put in a cage for the rest of its life.”—Brittney Chuyko
Who: Lehigh Gap Nature Center
What: Local nonprofit dedicated to conservation awareness.
When: May 2015
Why: This small nonprofit works hard to ensure the future of our local environment.
On the ripples our choices have on wildlife: “We try to get people to reconsider how they grow their lawn. Turf grass is the largest crop in the country. We have more lawn than corn and it’s not a great habitat. In fact, most of it is toxic from people over-fertilizing. You know, 96% of birds feed bugs to their babies, not seed. If our grass kills the bugs, we’re hurting our bird population. Around here, we think beauty is nature that’s working.”—Dan Kunkle
Who: Lehigh Valley Zoo
What: 29 acres of wildlife open year-round.
When: June 2015
Why: More than 300 miles of over 125 species live right in your neighborhood, plus there are all the educational programs and special events you could want.
On why a winter visit to the zoo is just as important as a summer one: “It costs $1,900 a day to feed and care for all of our animals. We’re open year-round, but not many people visit during the winter. We still need to feed and care for the animals, even when it’s cold. I encourage everyone to visit at least once a season. The animals are so much more playful in the snow! In the fall, the foliage is incredible. No day is the same around here; you get a different experience every time you come.”—Alan Raisman
Who: Turning Point of the Lehigh Valley
What: The Valley’s only nonprofit organization working to eliminate domestic violence through empowerment, education and engagement.
When: July 2015
Why: To let local women in need of a helping hand know that there is a place to go.
On knowing when to speak up: “The most important thing we tell people is that they need to have the courage to help, to be advocates and ambassadors for awareness. Be on the lookout for friends and family members in trouble. We want to get those people into a safe place, so they can be strong and live a healthy life. Turning Point is that place for them.”—Sharon Vidmar McCarthy
Who: Peaceable Kingdom
What: A nonprofit no-kill animal shelter that hosts regular adoption events.
When: August 2015
Why: To highlight the never-ending struggle of animal rescue work.
On remaining positive in the face of obvious cruelty: “I can’t say it’s not stressful, and let me tell you, working in animal rescue, you really see the bad of humanity. I feel like it changes you. But you know what you’re doing. Every time we see a pet go to their forever home, making someone happy, that’s the reward.”—Kathy Tomecek
Who: Blue Mountain Ski Area
What: The Valley’s premier destination for winter fun.
When: September 2015
Why: Blue offers so much more than skiing and tubing and their big plans for future expansion will certainly interest long-time visitors.
On their proposed plans for summer amenities: “It’ll be more relaxing; less concrete and slides, more spa and lazy river. We really want it to have a resort-type feel to it. Less “thrill,” more ‘let’s go play disc golf and then cool off by the pool.’ We really want that woods-y, lodge-y feel to it as opposed to industrial waterpark.”—Tricia Matsko
Who: Town & Country Gazette
What: Local newspaper read by over 11,000 residents in Carbon, Lehigh, and Northampton counties.
When: October 2015
Why: We celebrated our 30th year of serving the community with an open house at our office and a commemorative issue of the paper.
Who: Through These Hands
What: Local nonprofit that collects medical supplies to send to developing countries.
When: November 2015
Why: Hospitals and nursing homes in the area should know that there is a place to send their unwanted or superfluous supplies where they will do some good.
On the unexpected success of how far they can reach: “It’s wild and wonderful. The only continents we’re not in are Australia and Antarctica. It’s not so much the numbers that excite me, but the people we touch. We’ve reached so many people who normally wouldn’t have access to this stuff that they need.”—Dorene Shannon
Who: Blue Mountain’s Best
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about your newsworthy neighbors over the past two years. You can read up on any that you may have missed by clicking the Read More links above.