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2017 was a year of change for Centre County

by on December 28, 2017 9:54 AM


Readers of the Gazette started 2017 with some concerning health news. A headline in the Jan. 5 edition proclaimed a rise in the amount of Centre County flu cases.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, only the much larger Allegheny and Berks counties reported more cases of influenza.

Dr. Christopher Heron, a family medicine physician with Penn State Medical Group, said many of the flu cases he saw were “smoldering” — not as obvious as usual.

“It’s not that drenching, sweaty, bone crushing pain, take-your-feet-out-from-under-you misery,” he said.

Mount Nittany Medical Center also reported seeing an increase in flu cases.

The Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology got a shot in the arm in early January when a Multimodal Transportation Fund Program grant in the amount of $910,283 was awarded by the Commonwealth Financing Authority.

The funding will be used to improve roads on the campus and build an access road to the future site of a new health and sciences building.

Local businessman Glenn O. Hawbaker, a longtime supporter of CPI programming, made a 30 percent match ($435,000) for the project.

Also in January, Centre County President Judge Thomas King Kistler announced he would retire from the court of common pleas bench. Kistler has been a judge in Centre County since 1997. He was retained in 2007.

Judge Pamela Ruest will take over Kistler’s duties come Jan. 1. She was the county’s first woman to sit as an acting judge in the Centre County Court of Common Pleas, and will become the first woman to serve as president judge in the county.

The county court system also made news when officials announced it would seek $400,000 in federal funding to help create a drug court.

The drug court is to permit people get the help they need without the harsh criminal penalties associated with the heroin and opioid epidemic. Instead of targeting drug dealers, the idea of the program is to deal with the people who come in contact with the criminal justice system because of their use of illegal substances.

Only adults will be admitted to the program, and only those who violated their probation or parole, or others at high-risk of slipping back into drug use.


The story that grabbed headlines across the country in February of 2017 was the Feb. 2 death of Beta Theta Pi fraternity pledge Timothy Piazza. Piazza was intoxicated when he fell down the stairs at the North Burrowes Street fraternity. He later died from his injuries.

The case grabbed the attention of the nation as the local district attorney’s office filed charges against dozens of members of the fraternity, claiming they were neglectful in the way they handled Piazza’s care that night and next morning. Several faced attempted homicide and other serious charges; however, the magistrate hearing preliminary arguments threw out many of those charges.

Centre County’s lame-duck district attorney, Stacey Parks Miller, later refiled charges against several of the originals charged, as well as a handful more, when new evidence surfaced regarding video footage of what exactly occurred in the basement of the fraternity house that evening.

The case is ongoing as a preliminary hearing for those charged was most recently continued to a date not yet disclosed by the courts.

State College entered the record books in early February 2017 — The Guinness Book of World Records to be exact.

The Light Up State College project more than doubled the efforts of Vuollerim, Sweden, when it came to lighting ice luminaries. The Swedish town held the record of 2,561 until the local efforts saw 5,622 ice luminaries sparkling on Feb. 4.

State College keeps growing up, and in February, the Gazette informed readers of another possible high-rise coming to town.

In the February 9 edition, CCG reported the St. Louis-based Collegiate Development Group had submitted preliminary land development plans for a possible 447,000-square-foot building that would occupy nearly the entire block of West College Avenue and Calder Way between South Burrowes Street and South Atherton Street.

Called The Residences at College and Atherton, the plans call for a 12-story, 155-foot building with 232 residential units totaling 725 bedrooms. The first two floors would house retail, office and amenity space with the remaining 10 floors reserved for apartments.

Speaking of construction, a local developer, in February, cleared a hurdle in an attempt to bring a 100-room hotel to the Mountain View County Club property in Harris Township.

On Feb. 21, the Harris Township Planning Commission voted unanimously to support a waiver request, on behalf of Wyndham Garden Hotel and its developers, to relieve a part of a township ordinance that requires new land developers to install environmentally friendly buffers near the property, where fresh water runs freely.

The waiver cleared the way for developers to move forward on the property. Construction on the hotel is continuing at the site and officials expect a 2018 opening.

Seniors in the Centre Region has a new place to spend some time as the Active Adult Center, formerly known as the Centre Region Senior Center, moved into its new location at the Nittany Mall.

Although the grand opening was held in late January, CCG reported the move in the Feb. 2 edition.

“It’s a very happy day for us,” said Pam Salokangas, Centre Region Parks and Recreation director.

The new space includes multi-purpose rooms, a dance and exercise studio, a reception area, offices and a commercial kitchen.

Penn State’s annual fundraising adventure known as THON wrapped up at the Bryce Jordan Center on Penn State’s campus in mid-February, and after all the dancing shoes stopped moving, a grand total of $10,045,478.44 was raised for the Four Diamonds Fund.

Since 1977, THON, the world’s largest student-run philanthropy, has raised $146 million.

Another local charity funding organization — the Centre County United Way — announced in February it raised $1.9 million.


U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Howard Township, made headlines in early March, not because of his presence in state and national government, but more so because he didn’t attend a town hall meeting called by a Penn State lecturer.

For weeks, residents of the 5th Congressional District had been calling on Thompson to host a town meeting, and when those calls went unanswered, Marc Friedenberg, who is now challenging Thompson for his seat, decided he would organize an event himself.

The congressman was invited but didn’t attend, citing prior commitments.

A packed Forum on the campus of Penn State University served as the host site, and residents asked questions to a life-sized Thompson cardboard cutout. These questions were recorded and sent to Thompson for his review.

A series of town hall meetings was also held in March by Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe, seeking community input on a proposed $5 hike in county vehicle registration fees. The measure was intended to help the county fund structurally deficient bridge projects and other highway improvement projects.

Although the meetings weren’t well attended, letters drafted to the county’s municipalities received a favorable nod. Months later, the commissioners enacted the measure.

The county commissioners also heard a lot of talk about the Pennsylvania State Police barracks in Philipsburg during the month of March. It was then that rumors began pouring through the community that the barracks would close.

Those rumors ended up being true as members of the state police addressed an auditorium full of concerned Philipsburg area residents stating the barracks would in fact close to active troopers.

Police explained the troopers stationed at the Philipsburg barracks would soon become a part of a new barracks, being built in Benner Township. The existing station in Philipsburg would become solely for administrative purposes.

To date, construction continues on the new barracks in Benner Township and troopers continue to operate out of the Philipsburg facility.

Centre County Gazette concluded March and opened April with a series on the heroin and opioid epidemic facing Centre County. Sixty-eight county residents died of opioid overdoses from 2013 to 2016. Last year, a record high 21 people lost their lives to the controlled substances.

The Gazette introduced the series by explaining the rise in heroin and opiates in Centre County and how professionals in the law enforcement community approach the growing problems. There were also articles concerning the medics, who are normally the first responders to an overdosed individual, and the local HOPE initiative, a group of local professionals dedicated on fighting the problem.


Centre County Gazette continued its opioid series in April with articles digging even deeper into the effect the issue is having on the county. Articles detailing the coming drug court and the strains opioid addiction puts on the legal system, starting with the police and continuing through confinement and probation and parole. Parks Miller discussed why “just locking up” heroin and opioid addicts is not the answer to the problem.

The Gazette also provided readers with several resource options for those in the midst of a heroin or opioid addiction.

A local dentist made headlines in April after he was arrested in late March, accused of kidnapping and raping a patient while under the effect of anesthesia.

Dr. Wade I. Newman, 47, who owns and practices at Bellefonte Family Dentistry, was charged with felony counts of rape of an unconscious person, criminal attempt to rape an unconscious person, kidnapping to facilitate a felony and sexual assault.

He is accused of driving the woman to her home after a procedure performed at another dentist’s office where Newman administered the anesthesia, and then raping her. The case is continuing in the Centre County Court of Common Pleas.

The May primary election heated up in April when the Gazette reported incumbent district attorney Parks Miller would seek re-election as the county’s top prosecutor. Her announcement came days after State College attorney Bernie Cantorna would seek the same position.

There is no love lost between the two. Cantorna was a key element in having Parks Miller investigated for alleged unethical acts as it pertains to her position of district attorney. Although Cantorna’s allegations were eventually dismissed, the impact of the banter between the attorneys left an impression on the public.

During the May primary election, Cantorna handily defeated Parks Miller on the Democratic side, and days after the vote, the county learned he also won the Republican write-in nod, effectively giving Centre County a lame duck district attorney until January 2018.


Centre County Gazette opened the first two weeks of May by offering readers a chance to meet candidates for some important positions in the local community.

The May 16 primary election had State College Borough residents looking at four candidates for mayor, as well as eight candidates for three seats on the community’s borough council.

When the dust settled on May 17, State College learned Don Hahn won the Democratic nod for the position. Days later, the county noted that Michael Black, who appeared on the ballot as a Democrat, won enough write-in votes to appear as the Republican mayoral candidate during the November General Election. Black lost to Hahn in that November showdown.

Weather grabbed headlines in early May after reports of a tornado touching down in Rebersburg on May 1 were confirmed.

According to the National Weather Service, a strong storm front brought powerful sustained winds to Centre County, knocking out power to tens of thousands of county residents.

Damage from the tornado in Rebersburg was minimal but one person was hurt — a Rebersburg man whose garage collapsed on top of him due to the high winds.

Henry Margusity, a senior meteorologist with AccuWeather, said the storms may have produced multiple tornados, although only one was reported.

A former State College Area High School standout athlete found himself in trouble with the law in March. Noah R. Woods, then 18, of Lemont, was charged May 11 with felony counts of possession with intent to deliver illegal substances and retaliation against a witness, along with a handful of misdemeanor charges.

Police said the charges came after authorities received a call concerning a man going through mailboxes near Fairchild Lane. That person was spotted carrying a dark duffel bag. Hours later, police were summoned to West Whitehall Road for a report of someone attempting to enter a residence without permission. Responding officers said they discovered Woods, with the black duffel bag containing marijuana and drug paraphernalia. Another State High student made headlines in late May, but for much different reason.

Joseph Feffer was named a 2017 U.S. Presidential Scholar, one of just 161 out of about 4 million high school seniors nationwide to receive the honor. He is attending Harvard, a school he chose over MIT.

About 4,000 seniors were invited to apply to the program based on the top 20 SAT or ACT scores in each state and jurisdiction, as well as from other nominations.


A piece of prime property in the heart of the downtown State College retail district was sold in June.

Downtown businessman Neil Herlocher confirmed in early June that he and his father, Chuck Herlocher, had signed an agreement to purchase 26,804 square feet of property at East College Avenue and South Pugh Street. The real estate listing address of the property was 114 S. Pugh St.

The mixed-used property includes nine commercial spaces, including space that houses Spats and the All-American Rathskeller, and 16 apartments, with frontage on East College Avenue. Later in the year, it was announced that Spats and the ’Skeller would be vacating their spaces to make way for an as-yet unnamed business said to be similar in nature.

Small businesses were the showcase of Centre County Commissioner Mark Higgins’ campaign when he ran for county office. One of his pledges during the campaign was to provide support for small start-up businesses, and in June, he helped deliver on that promise.

The second small business incubator to open through his efforts occurred along South Water Street, in the former Big Trout Inn, in Bellefonte. SpringBoard offers personal and shared work space in the open office, along with internet, a copier and fax machine, kitchenette and conference room.

The incubator is designed to offer a low-cost space to rent that offers amenities needed for operating a business, including advice and guidance from participating trained professionals.

SpringBoard was the second small business incubator to open in the county in 2017. A Philipsburg location also opened on the community’s Front Street.

Foster Joseph Sayers died to save his company. As an infantry fighter in the Company L 357th Infantry, 90th Infantry Division for the U.S. Army during World War II, Sayers exposed himself to two enemy machine guns in France, drawing their attention while his company could better his position.

Sayers died that day because of his wounds. The memory of Sayers and that sacrifice did not.

In June, Centre County Gazette reported about 1,200 square feet of brick pavers were arranged in the shape of a keystone at the monument dedicated in his name at Bald Eagle Area State Park.

Several local dignitaries were in attendance at the event, including the Centre County commissioners and U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson.

A Bellefonte man was charged with murder in June after police said he struck his wife several times with a blunt object, killing her, then tried to cover up the crime by lighting the apartment on fire, while the couple’s young daughter was inside.

Charges were filed against Charles McGhee, 37, after he was apprehended along Interstate 80, near Jersey Shore, after crashing the vehicle in which he was fleeing.

He was charged with first- and third-degree murder, along with other felonies. He was denied bail, and recently withdrew a guilty plea, putting his case back on the trial list.

Former Penn State leaders Graham Spanier, Tim Curley and Gary Shultz were sentenced to jail terms in June in connection with the Jerry Sandusky case. The men were sentenced by specially presiding Judge John Boccabella of the Dauphin County Court.

Spanier was sentenced to two months in county jail. Curley was sentenced to three months in jail followed by four to 20 months of house arrest. Schultz received two months in jail followed by three to 21 months of house arrest.

A major renovation project got started in June in Spring Mills. There, the first shovels of dirt were tossed at Penns Valley High School where, by December 2018, students should see the results of the $15.5 million project.

The project includes an upgraded auditorium, a new band room, changing and storage rooms, new counseling, nurses and principal offices, a secure entryway, a renovated library with small collaboration spaces, new paint, door hardware and lockers throughout the building, renovated cafeteria, building wide air-conditioning and a new, 1,200-seat gymnasium.

Sad news hit the Penn State University campus when it was learned Ray Walker, Penn State’s oldest alumnus, died at age 105 on June 9. He graduated from Penn State in 1935 with a degree in business. His entrepreneurial spirit continued as he grew a successful coal business from the ground up. He received several awards and recognitions throughout his lifetime, and was well known for his philanthropy, especially when it concerned his hometown of Bigler, Clearfield County.

“My advice is … work 48 hours a day, eight days a week,” he said. “That’s what I did.”

Penn State also made news in June when student and Blue Band member Katie Schreckengast was crowned Miss Pennsylvania 2017.

The Palmyra native represented Pennsylvania in the Miss America Pageant in September.


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