Centre County 2016: Grange Fair, flood, McQueary made headlines
Editor’s note: This is the second of two parts looking back at some of the Centre County stories that made news in 2016, broken down by the month the stories appeared in the Gazette. Part 1 covered the months of January through June.
The Centre Region got summer under way with several festivals and events, bringing thousands to local communities for fun an entertainment. Nearly every community in the county celebrated in some form — some held carnivals and others parades. The area’s most popular July events included the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, the People’s Choice Festival of Pennsylvania Arts and Crafts and Fourth Fest.
The Jerry Sandusky scandal grabbed headlines in July when two former Penn State football coaches denied allegations they witnessed or were aware of child sexual abuse by Sandusky. Tom Bradley, now UCLA’s defensive coordinator, and Greg Schiano, now Ohio State University’s defensive coordinator, said they never saw or suspected child abuse by Sandusky, disputing former PSU assistant coach Mike McQueary’s allegations that he told Bradley about a 2001 incident and Bradley recounted an incident that was told to him by Schiano.
The Gazette reported in July the 2016 version of the Happy Valley Relay for Life raised $181,000 for cancer research. The event was held at the Grange Fairgrounds in Centre Hall where teams of cancer survivors, families and friends walked laps during the 24-hour event. The theme for the Relay was “Game On, Cancer.”
Also in July, the Gazette reported a former State College High School grad and PSU quarterback was hired into a new position with the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball club. Chris Ganter was hired as manager of youth baseball initiatives — a first for the National League club. Participation numbers in youth baseball have been declining nationwide, and in an effort to curb the slide, MLB initiated the “Play Ball!” program, which prompted the youth baseball initiative position.
Gazette correspondent Sam Stitzer reported one of Centre County’s most beloved landmarks, the former Mount Nittany Inn on Route 144, between Centre Hall and Pleasant Gap, reopened as Above the Valley Event Center. New owners Kit Henshaw and her husband Harrison Schailey — also owners of Harrison’s Wine Grill and Catering in State College — have renovated the building’s interior to serve as a new venue for wedding parties, corporate retreats, holiday parties and birthday parties. The largest of three dining rooms on three floors can seat nearly 200 people.
Awards and recognitions also took some headlines in July, including a sweep of an essay contest by three students from one school district.
A trio of Penns Valley students won top awards in the annual Mark D. Heintzelman Funeral and Cremation Services Essay Contest. The contest was open to students in the State College, Penns Valley and Bellefonte school districts, as well as private school participants, Centre County Christian Academy, St. Joseph’s Academy and Grace Prep. The students were asked to write a 500-word essay on the meaning of Memorial Day. David Krum took first place, followed by Katarina Covalt, second, and Dylan Treaster, third.
Longtime State College Elks Lodge member Don Meyer was recognized for 65 years of service, including a stint as the lodge’s exalted ruler. Meyer received a certificate for his service from past exalted ruler Lisa Schroeder.
August in Centre County means the Grange Encampment and Fair in Centre Hall. More than 200,000 people attended the 142nd annual edition, which included farm exhibits, entertainment, activities and, of course, one of the largest week-long camping events in the country. The fair board owns 1,000 tents and 1,500 spots for RV parking. These spots are “owned” by families who continue to pass their slots down through their families.
Two people were charged in the murder of Penn State professor Ronald Bettig in August. Danelle Rae Geier, of Lemont, and George G. Ishler Jr., of Pennsylvania Furnace, were charged with first- and third-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, aggravated assault and tampering with evidence. Police said the pair believed they were included in Bettig’s recently signed will and would benefit financially from his death. On Aug. 12, authorities said Ishler intentionally pushed Bettig off an 80-foot cliff at a quarry in Potter Township. Both are jailed awaiting trial. Bettig was an associate professor of media studies in Penn State’s College of Communications.
State College Borough Council made a change to an ordinance in August, effectively decriminalizing the use and possession of a small amount of marijuana. The board voted 5-2 in favor of the ordinance, which would treat possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana or 8 grams or less of hashish much like a summary open container violation. Individuals in possession of marijuana or caught smoking marijuana would be issued a non-traffic citation. Possession results in a $250 citation and smoking a $350 fine.
The Gazette reported in August that Livability.com named State College No. 10 on its Best Cities for Entrepreneurs 2016, which analyzed 17 economic indicators for more than 2,200 cities, including the city’s livability measure, such as economic, demographical and infrastructure data. Penn State University, State College Borough and the community partners have ramped up efforts to encourage local entrepreneurship and business development over the past two years.
Also in August, State College Borough announced a 26-year veteran of the State College police force, John Gardner, would take over the reigns as new department chief. His appointment was made effective Sept. 1 and he replaced Tom King, who was chief at the department since 1993.
After a 25-year career as the manager of Ag Progress Days in Rock Springs, Bob Oberheim decided to retire in 2016. In August, he told the Gazette his greatest achievement with the event is the growth in the number of exhibitors from 285 to more than 500 in 2016.
Penn State University student athletes delivered a record-setting performance at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, with eight Nittany Lions earning medals in five competitions to break the school mark set in 1924. Medal winners included Joe Kovacs, silver, track and field; Miles Chamley-Watson, bronze, fencing; Monica Aksamit, bronze, fencing; Christa Harmotto Dietzen and Alisha Glass, bronze, women’s volleyball; and Matt Anderson, Max Holt and Aaron Russell, bronze, men’s volleyball.
The Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General announced there was no evidence the state leaked secret grand jury information during the investigation of Jerry Sandusky, and even if it had, that it would not be grounds for dismissing charges. Sandusky’s attorneys argued the presentment issued by the grand jury in 2011 should be quashed, subsequent charges of sexual abuse of eight victims dismissed and a new trial ordered on the charges of Victim 1 and Victim 2. Prosecutors from the 2012 trial testified at evidentiary hearings for Sandusky in August they were concerned about grand jury information appearing in the press and set up an initial sting to determine if someone in the Office of Attorney General had been responsible. They said they did not catch anyone leaking information.
Also in court, a federal judge dismissed claims against Centre County and county officials in a lawsuit filed by Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller. Parks Miller’s claims of illegal search and seizure by the county, Commissioner Steve Dershem, former commissioner Chris Exarchos, former county solicitor Louis Glantz and former county administrator Tim Boyde were dismissed by U.S. Middle District Court Judge Matthew Brann. Parks Miller filed a 13-count complaint in August 2015 against county officials and others, alleging defamation, malicious prosecution, legal malpractice and other claims against county officials, a county judge, local defense attorneys and a former paralegal.
The second in a series of town hall meetings addressing the heroin and opioid epidemic facing Centre County was held Sept. 13 at Mount Nittany Middle School. In the past two years, 43 people in Centre County had died as a result of a drug overdose. The group Centre County Hope has put together several resources to help educate the public to the dangers of this growing problem, as well as strategies to address it.
Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of Democratic presidential nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the State College Democratic Party headquarters, following Bernie Sander’s rally in April. Hundreds of local community members of all ages showed up to show their support.
Penn State President Eric Barron introduced the “We Are All In” campaign to the university’s board of trustees. The year-long effort will focus on diversity and inclusion at PSU. The campaign will also include a final capstone project, which will constitute a permanent tribute to the university’s commitment.
The Penns Valley Conservation Association hosted its 14th annual Crickfest in Coburn Park. The name of the event, derived from “crick,” a slang term for creek, is appropriate — Elk Creek and Pine Creek both flow into Penns Creek at Coburn. The PVCA fundraiser event celebrates conservation of the environment and watershed and attracts hundreds of citizens of Penns Valley and the surrounding area each year.
Calvary Bible Church, located near the top of Mount Nittany along Route 144 in Potter Township, celebrated its 75th anniversary Sept. 4. The church originated as the Assembly of Believers in Christ on March 29, 1941, meeting in the Spring Mills home of John Wesley Gobble. The church moved into a former school building in Penn Hall in July of 1941. In 1953 the church constructed a building on top of Centre Hall Mountain. The present-day church was constructed on the site in 1969.
Ten inches of rain from Mother Nature poured onto Centre County in just two hours Oct. 20, resulting in heavy flooding and hundreds of residents from their homes. County emergency workers responded quickly to the areas hardest hit in the Bald Eagle Valley, particularly in Milesburg Borough. Area groups and organizations rallied to provide relief for the affected families, while county service agencies scrambled to find additional help and services. President Barack Obama later declared the area a federal disaster area and committed federal funding for cleanup assistance and future prevention of such a disaster.
A state correctional institution officer was sentenced to serve two days in the Centre County Correctional Facility and pay a $300 fine after being found guilty of animal cruelty for an incident that happened in October. Chad Holland, 40, a sergeant at SCI Rockview and a canine handler, was found to be responsible for the death of his 2-year-old Labrador retriever, Totti. Authorities said Holland left Totti in a hot car, without proper ventilation or water, for three hours. Totti died, suffering from a seizure related to hyperthermia-induced brain swelling.
Riots followed Penn State’s football upset over Ohio State. Following the game, thousands of students and others gathered in Beaver Canyon to celebrate the victory. The damage estimate from the incident, which included the destruction of lamp posts and street signs, reached $30,000. Thirteen people were later identified through surveillance video and were charged in connection with the incident.
A 64-year-old College Township man was found guilty by a Centre County jury on charges of first- and third-degree murder, and other counts. The jury needed just two hours to return the guilty verdicts against Vladimir Podnebennyy. The charges stemmed from an October 2015 incident in which he stabbed his wife, Natalya Podnebennaya, twice in the chest.
Ryan Buell, who founded Penn State’s Paranormal Research Society and starred in the reality television series, “Paranormal State,” was arrested in South Carolina after State College police filed felony theft charges against him. Buell, 34, allegedly rented a car in August and never returned it.
Three Philipsburg-based companies landed on Inc. Magazine’s 2016 list of the 5,000 fastest growing private companies in the country. TTMData (ranked 1,775), Advanced Powder Products (3,919) and Diamond Back Truck Covers (4,095) all made the annual list, which is compiled according to the percentage off revenue growth from 2012 to 2015. AE Works, with offices in State College and Pittsburgh, also made the list and ranked 3,985.
Downtown State College welcomed two new businesses to the community in early October with the opening of Target and H&M in the new Fraser Centre in downtown State College. The 28,000-square-foot Target store is considered a “flexible format” store, which is smaller than its big brother counterpart. H&M is a Swedish clothing company and occupies about 19,000 square feet in the building.
Centre County Gazette welcomed Mark Brackenbury as its new editor, replacing longtime editorial leader Chris Morelli. Brackenbury is no stranger to Happy Valley. He graduated from Penn State University in 1982 and his older daughter attended the university in the 1990s. Brackenbury spent the past 30 years at the New Haven Register, including 18 as managing editor and the past two as executive editor of Digital First Media/Connecticut.
In late October, hundreds of stamp enthusiasts from around the country and beyond were in Bellefonte for the grand opening ceremonies of the new American Philatelic Research Library, the world’s largest library devoted to the hobby of stamp collecting. The $4 million, 19,000-square-foot library building is shared with the American Philatelic Society at 100 Match Factory Place, behind Tallyrand Park.
Local incumbents held their offices during the Nov. 8 General ElectionCentre County voters bucked state and nationwide results by backing Hillary Clinton for president of the United States rather than now-president elect Donald Trump. U.S. Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson and state reps. Kerry Benninghoff, Mike Hanna, Rich Irvin and Scott Conklin were all re-elected. In Centre County, Clinton grabbed 36,551 votes to Trump’s 35,099.
In late October a Centre County jury awarded former PSU assistant football coach Mike McQueary a total of $7.3 million in damages after finding in favor of his claims of defamation and misrepresentation against the university. The jury deliberated about four hours following a nine-day trial and awarded McQueary $1.15 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages on his claim that former athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz misrepresented how they would handle his report of seeing Jerry Sandusky in a locker room shower with a boy. He was also awarded $1.5 million in compensatory damages for defamation. McQueary claimed that former Penn State president Graham Spanier’s statement of support for Curley and Schultz, which expressed confidence the charges against them would be found to be “groundless,” implied it was McQueary, not the administrators, who lied to the grand jury. Just a few weeks later, a state judge awarded another nearly $5 million to McQueary for related claims.
A former contracted school bus driver was charged by State College police after allegedly engaging in a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old female State College Area School District student. Matthew Scott Dunlap, 25, of Port Matilda, was arraigned on charges of statutory sexual assault, corruption of minors, unlawful contact with a minor, obscene and other sexual materials and performances and indecent assault. He was jailed in lieu of $200,000 bail and is awaiting trial.
Two separate major drug operations the Centre County district attorney said were responsible for supplying heroin and cocaine in Centre and surrounding counties were stopped in November. District Attorney Stacey Parks Miller said officers and agents from the state Office of Attorney General’s Centre County Drug Task Force conducted a drug arrest operation as a result of a grand jury investigation into two separate organizations. They were identified as the Azim Robinson organization and the Wilber Calliste organization. Six arrests warrants were issued.
The State College Area School District board approved project options for three elementary schools after a seven-month process of reviews of plans. As a result, Lemont Elementary will merge with Houserville Elementary to form a single, K-5 school and the Lemont building will be repurposed. New construction is planned at Houserville, as well as Corl Street, and renovations were announced for both schools and at Radio Park Elementary School.
Tom Elling, the man who many consider to be America’s top writer on the subject of high school and college wrestling, held a book signing for his new “Pennsylvania Wrestling Handbook” at Forefathers Book Shop in Rebersburg. Elling, of Lock Haven, was named the 2015 Dillinger Award winner as American’s top wrestling writer. He has been active in the sport for more than 50 years as a competitor, coach, official, historian and writer.
The month started on a high note when Penn State’s football team defeated Wisconsin, 38-31, in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. The win earned the Nittany Lions a trip to the Rose Bowl.
Penn State filed a countersuit against former president Graham Spanier, claiming he breached his employment contract and fiduciary duties and misled the university about the extent of knowledge about the child sexual abuse investigation of Jerry Sandusky. The university made the filing Dec. 19, along with its response to Spanier’s amended complaint in his own breach of contract suit against Penn State. The university wants back the money and benefits it has paid Spanier since a 2011 separation agreement, as well as legal fees and interest.
A potential source of grant money for the Lemont streetscape and traffic calming project failed to come through in December; however College Township officials hope to get funding from a different source in the spring. The township had applied for a $1.15 million grant from the Commonwealth Finance Authority, but learned the project was not included in this year’s round of funding. The township is now seeking the funds through a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation multimodal grant. The streetscape plan, which concerns some business owners, calls for parallel parking and sidewalks on both sides of Pike Street, crosswalks and tree removal and replacement.
The Centre County commissioners passed the 2017 county budget, which for the fifth year in a row will not include a tax increase. The 2017 budget tops out at $82,833,780, of which $77,333,780 will be used for the operating budget. The other $5.5 million is for capital reserve. The budget highlights include Community Development Block Grant-funded projects; supplemental allocations for organizations such as the Historical Society and Centre County libraries; a 2 percent employee wage increase; capital improvements inside and outside the historic courthouse in Bellefonte; and the addition of nine new county positions.
Centre County also welcomed a new administrator when commissioners introduced Margaret Gray. Gray was chosen from a pool of 30 candidates and brings a wealth of knowledge from her more than 30 years of public administration leadership. She takes over for Dee Elbell, who served as the county’s interim administrator since January 2016.
The State Theatre in downtown State College celebrated its 10th anniversary since it reopened to become a community performing arts center. It marked a decade of providing a rich variety of cultural experiences for audiences of all ages. With more than 200 events each year, the State Theatre has become an economic driver for downtown State College.
A new Domino’s “pizza theater” store opened in Bellefonte in December. The store features a lobby, Wi-Fi, open-area viewing of the food preparation process and the ability to track carryout orders electronically on a lobby screen. The store also has chalkboards, which allow customers to express their creativity or to leave feedback for the store team members.
Peggy Pennepacker, athletic director of State College Area School District, announced her retirement effective at the conclusion of the school year. Pennepacker spent six years with the district. She spent her entire 36-year career in the field of education and has coached nearly every scholastic sport imaginable. She said she would continue to be involved with State College area athletics.