SMETHPORT — Zach Pearson, McKean County Director of Veterans’ Affairs, was the guest speaker Thursday at the Smethport Area Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Dinner and Awards Banquet at the Smethport American Legion.
Pearson, an Army veteran and county VA director for almost three years, opened his informal remarks with a tribute to the late McKean County Commissioner Al Pingie, a former Marine of the Vietnam Era, retired Bradford City fireman and a former Bradford Township Supervisor. “We lost a great veteran who also left a lifetime of public service,” Pearson said.
According to Pearson, Pennsylvania is home to 930,000 veterans, the nation’s fourth highest total, ranking behind California, Texas and Florida, all of which have larger populations. Of those, about 5,000 reside in McKean County. “Working to serve them is a big job, but there is community cooperation,” said Pearson.
Pearson said that the Veterans Administration is coping with the serious suicide rate among veterans, which he said is “becoming an epidemic.” Pearson noted, “Providers are asking themselves, ‘What did we do wrong?’ While there is no easy answer, there are resources available, such as the DuBois Vets Center, which offers readjustment counseling for combat veterans.”
Pearson urged the audience not to believe national reports that veterans are experiencing long waiting times for appointments at VA facilities. “You can’t use such blanket statements; these were isolated incidents.”
The DuBois Veterans Center offers readjustment counseling services for combat veterans Tuesday and Thursday in Smethport.
Then switching topics, Pearson noted how impressed he has been with the courthouse display on Memorial Day, adding, “Patriotism is very much alive in McKean County.”
Heidi Scrivo-Passmore, chamber secretary, opened the award presentations to those individuals and organization and a business, whose contributions have improved the community’s quality of life.
She spoke for Dorothy Dart, who is recognized as Volunteer of the Year. Regardless of the weather, Dart has conducted Bible study classes for Sena Kean Manor residents. “Dorothy puts her heart and soul into the sessions as she plays the piano and leads the singing.” According to Scrivo-Passmore, “You’d never know if she has a bad day.”
After receiving her plaque, Dart said, “On behalf of all the community volunteers, I accept this award.”
The Legion Riders were honored with the Community Service Award. Members volunteer at Sena Kean Manor with Bingo, hot dog roasts, Christmas gifts for veterans and the Dream Come True project that is guided by the motto, “I wish I could do that one more time.”
Legion Riders also volunteer at Lakeview Senior Care and Living Center. Gerry Ford and Cheryl Razey accepted the award.
Chamber Vice-President Les Jordan introduced McKean County President Judge John Pavlock, who initiated the Good Growing Gardens, the 2019 Outstanding Service to the Community Award.
The 3G began in 2011. Since then, defendants and juveniles who have been sentenced to perform community service hours and volunteers have been working in the fields of the former county Poor Farm on Route 6, east of Smethport, to grow food for the county jail and other appropriate organizations.
The historic barn that dates back to 1888 is used as a work center.
Besides growing vegetables, the GGG also is widely known for its flower gardens, which have won several prestigious awards.
“This program isn’t for everybody,” Pavlock said. It’s inmates convicted of misdemeanors and not dangerous crimes, according to Pavlock. He also remarked about the 3Gs savings to the county, saying, “It costs us about $65 a day for an inmate to sit in jail, and we also have to pay when we send them away. Working in the gardens allows the inmates to demonstrate the ‘show me’ attitude rather than the ‘all take and no action’ course.”
Mike Barnard, community service coordinator and 33G manager, extended an invitation to the public to visit the site “and see we’re more than just gardens.”
Sena Kean Manor was selected as the Business of the Year.
In his introductory remarks, Jordan recalled his recent stay there for treatment following back surgery, saying, “The facility was very clean, While the staff was very busy, they were courteous and always willing to help. I was treated well. It was a good experience.”
Sena Kean Manor Administrator Phil Sell and a resident, a Vietnam veteran, accepted the award. Sell thanked the chamber for all that it does for Smethport.
Wayne Pearson introduced Linda Lake, who won the chamber’s newest honor, the Lifetime Achievement Award. He mentioned her volunteer contributions to the chamber, Lutheran Church and Hamlin Memorial Library.
As she accepted her plaque, she commented, “I am humbled to be with the other award winners.” With one of her daughters and son-in-law seated at her table, Lake recalled the pride she feels with their military service.
Chamber President Megan Simms introduced the organization’s officers, including Jordan, Scrivo-Passmore and treasurer Diana Covert.
Simms announced that the chamber’s next event is the street dance West Main Street on June 22. Hamlin Station will be the band.
Jean Morley, student success specialist for McKean and Potter counties, for the Northern Pennsylvania Regional College, spoke briefly about this new institution that is partnered with Gannon University and offers technical degree programs. Now two years old, the college is working toward accreditation.