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From a Mountain Vista, a View of the Fathers That Led Us Here

by on June 20, 2017 5:00 AM

As I write this column it is early Sunday evening -- Father’s Day in Happy Valley – and I witnessed several clues during the day that verified the presence of this mid-June holiday:

  • The local Waffle Shops were packed by 9 a.m.

  • I’ve not heard or seen a single lawnmower all day.

  • Every major roadway seems to have at least one repair project underway.

  • The outdoor Natatorium was a sea of pop-up tents for a weekend swim meet.

  • The Hills Plaza parking lot was crowded in the morning with a busload of kids leaving for Assateague Island with their church youth group.

The last of these clues meant our own offspring left my wife and I here in Happy Valley to fend for ourselves. So, we did what we always do when it’s a special day, we have free time, and the kids aren’t around – we hiked one of the local mountains.

We climbed Musser Gap using the Mountain Mist Trail up the south side of the ridge to what’s known as the Lion’s Valley Vista. It was warm, but with the shade it wasn’t oppressive, and when we came out onto the vista with the valley below and a beautiful view of campus and downtown, there was a cool breeze rustling through the trees. It was one of those moments where you just let life flow over you.

While life was flowing over me I leaned against a tree stump and gazed over the scenic landscape spreading out before me. My first thought was how odd that less than an hour before we parked the car in the lot at the trailhead way down below, and now, under our own power, we were standing way up here with a bird’s-eye view of the valley. Normally you have to buy a plane ticket or get Kevin Witt to take you up in a hot-air balloon to get this vantage point.

My next thought was how very wonderful it is that a state agency – the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) which manages 96,250 acres of Rothrock State Forest among its vast portfolio – keeps the trails on these mountains accessible so that my wife and I and all the others we saw hiking are able to enjoy nature without everyone blazing their own trail through the woods. For all the qualms I regularly have about the state legislature, I have to give props where props are due. Good job DCNR.

My third thought was that even with all the construction around Happy Valley, and there certainly seems to be more than the normal amount of summer building going on this year, there are still plenty of wide-open spaces. When you are walking and driving at ground level in the valley it may be difficult to see the proverbial forest for the trees, but from above it’s clear that even for all the “something” that’s here now and the “more something” that’s being built, there is still a whole lot of “nothing.” Land spreading out so far and wide as they say.

Lastly, I had a melancholy Father’s Day moment while perched on top of that Tussey Mountain ridge. How my wife and I, the parents of two wonderful young adults, had come to be here. How perfect it was that our own fathers, their fathers, and their father’s fathers had settled in the commonwealth and allowed history to unfold as it has.

My father’s grandfather was born in 1858 and emigrated from Ukraine in 1897, settling in the mining community of Mount Carmel. His only son, my grandfather, was born an American in 1902. They lived in a house that was passed down from father to son after the father’s death in 1932, a year before my dad was born. I always found it interesting that many of the homes in Mount Carmel were built in the row-house style reminiscent of urban areas. I wondered why, with all the space around, they didn’t move the homes 10 feet apart and build separate houses. Who knew they were just decades ahead of the townhome/condominium trend.

My father’s father, my grandfather, died in a boating accident in 1948 when my dad was only 15 years old. After high school my dad joined the Air Force for four years, got married, had kids and settled down. He did a fine job navigating his way through life which unfolded in a way that brought me to Penn State.

My wife’s forefathers arrived from Ireland in 1795 and settled in the valley on the south side of Seven Mountains, establishing a town in their own name that still stands today. Her dad lost a sister to disease in childhood, but went over the mountain to State for his college education (the second generation to do so), became a pilot in the Air Force, married a Tri-Delt from William and Mary, came back to central Pennsylvania and settled into a career at Penn State, also navigating his way through a story that unfolded with my wife going to Penn State.

And here in Happy Valley we met 35 years ago, and here we have returned all these years later. Living in and enjoying the area – and the scenery. And for that we have our fathers, and their fathers, and their father’s fathers to thank. (And mothers of course, but that’s a separate holiday!) Because of them we can also think about our own children and the decisions we’ve made that affect them, and how their lives, and their children’s lives, and their children’s children’s lives will unfold.  

It made for another fulfilling Father’s day. I hope yours was as well!


John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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