Category Archives: Reporting

All my reporting, compiled.

Out of the Pond: Researchers warn of grass carp’s potential to disrupt Lake Erie ecosystem

By Luke Furman

The grass carp, one of four Asian carp that pose an ecological threat to Lake Erie, is no stranger to North America. In fact, it’s been used here for more than five decades.

Native to the Yangtze River in China, the grass carp possesses natural benefits that led to the species’ importation to Arkansas in 1963 in order to control riverweeds. By the early 1980s, American pond-owners had been using diploid, or fertile, and triploid, or sterile, grass carp for decades to control weed and algae growth in ponds for a more well-balanced ecosystem and natural appearance. Among the grass carp’s favorite subterranean flora include Chara, Naiads, Hydrilla and Elodea, according to the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. Not to mention, the bony, cigar-shaped fish is widely consumed for its uncharacteristic non-fishy taste.

But if left to its own instinctual devices and voracious appetite, the diploid grass carp poses a great potential threat to the vegetation of the 11th largest lake in the world.

Grass carp that have either escaped from ponds or traveled up the Mississippi River Basin have been found in rivers surrounding Lake Erie since 1980, but the most recent problem has its origins in 2012. It was that year when four one-year-old diploid grass carp were discovered in the Sandusky River by a commercial fisherman, said Duane Chapman, a researcher for the United States Geological Survey and a leading expert on Asian carp.

Chapman said the discovery of grass carp is an indication that bighead and silver carp could also be spawning in the waterway, and the only way to check for the fertility of the fish is through a blood sample, creating an extra level of difficulty in detection.

Many states have placed restrictions on the introduction of diploid grass carp more than other fish because of its dominating tendencies. It’s been legal to stock triploid grass carp — but not diploid — in ponds in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania and New York, Chapman said, while the states of Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi allow the introduction of diploids. Chapman also said that some “nefarious fish dealings” that skirt laws along with loose regulations might lead to unwanted fish getting into rivers and tributaries.

“Grass carp are inconsistent engineers. They have potential to do a lot of damage and also all they do is eat the areas they like,” Chapman said. “Lake Erie is most at risk because it is the warmest (of the Great Lakes) and its vegetation is already at risk.”

Grass carps do not eat other fish but can still kill them indirectly. The species has a unending appetite for certain vegetation and have the capability to reduce the shorelines of Lake Erie while ignoring problematic plants like the American Lotus, Chapman said. The quantity of vegetation the grass carp consumes also poses risks to the spawning ground of Great Lakes fish. Grass carp can grow as long as 40 inches, weigh as much as 90 pounds and eat 20 to 100 percent of its body weight each day, according to Michigan State University Extension.

The Sandusky River spans 133 miles in Ohio and flows into Lake Erie through the now “high risk” Sandusky Bay. It is the third largest tributary to the western basin of Lake Erie. In addition to the initial 2012 findings, further evidence of fertile grass carp in the Sandusky River was discovered in 2015 when Holly Embke, a graduate student from the University of Toledo, found eight grass carp eggs. The USGS, Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Ohio Department of Natural Resources all supported the University of Toledo on the grass carp research effort. The discovery led to more intense research conducted on the Sandusky River and the Maumee River, another tributary of Lake Erie.

The threat of grass carp populations entering the Great Lakes hit a peak in summer of 2017, when more than 7,500 eggs of the fish were found in the Sandusky River, prompting an interagency effort to reduce the risk of introduction of diploid grass carp into Lake Erie. Chapman said that was “a tiny percentage” of the total number of eggs in the river.

In September, the Ohio DNR, the USGS and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission released a joint statement outlining the problem and the steps they are taking to correct it. For the most part, the problem-solving effort remains in the research and preventive stage. Since 2014, the interagency effort had been monitoring the Sandusky

River and only recently increased the state of risk on account of more solid and concerning statistics collected this past summer.

“There’s no way the fish can come from anywhere else but the Sandusky (River),” Chapman said. “It’s a tough thing to control and achieve eradication. We are trying to determine where and where not they can survive. Grass carp have a distinct requirement for their eggs to drift because the young have to find a habitat.”

According to a widely-cited January 2017 study, grass carp have been found in three of the five Great Lakes — Michigan, Ontario and Erie — showing the problem is not isolated to a single lake. The peer-reviewed study, titled “Ecological Risk Assessment for Grass Carp in the Great Lakes Basin,” also lists Lake Erie and Lake Michigan at medium risk and concludes “the invasion process has begun,” but ecological consequences might not appear for 20 to 50 years.

The research and strategy stage involves little direct action to eradicate the fish, but the interagency statement outlines an increased effort in 2018 to target and remove the threat before it becomes more difficult to control.

Great Lakes researchers already have a wide range of problems to control from the algae bloom to sea lampreys. But an outbreak of grass carp is among the most dangerous and pressing problems affecting Lake Erie today and, without intervention, would have major consequences on the future size and ecosystem of the lake.

Photo by Vladimir Wrangel/Shutterstock



Ohio and West Virginia Maple Syrup Producers urged by State Organizations, Researchers to submit Annual Numbers for better estimates

By Luke Furman

Maple syrup researchers in Appalachia find themselves in a sticky situation when it comes to determining accurate figures of each year’s sugary harvest.

As much as 50 percent of Ohio’s maple syrup is produced by the Amish, and they typically do not submit harvest data to the government, said Les Ober, a program director at Ohio State University Extension and maple syrup specialist.

But in addition to the Amish, many of Ohio’s maple syrup producers do not participate in the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s survey every five years, nor any independent or local inquiries. The only state that requires farmers to submit their crop records to NASS is Wisconsin. In 2017, Wisconsin produced 200,000 gallons of maple syrup, according to NASS.

The lack of data from maple syrup producers makes it difficult for states such as Ohio to fully promote the product. That is far different from Quebec, Canada, which produces roughly 70 percent of the world’s maple syrup. The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers keeps much closer tabs on producers during the harvesting season, inquiring and estimating 11,200,000 gallons of maple syrup in 2017.

Sara Bouvin, a spokesperson for the Federation, said the organization sends out a survey every week to producers who have agreed to fill it out and send it back. Then, a survey at the end of the season reaches 1,000 producers, who have also agreed to fill it out. The Federation then makes estimates from the data.

“There’s always some resistance,” Bouvin said. “With the surveys, we try to reach the same producers each week. Everyone is interested in knowing how much maple syrup there will be.”

Coupled with the lack of voluntary survey participation, many maple syrup producers in Ohio produce no other agricultural products, so they might not even be included on the USDA’s mailing list.

“Some producers say they never got the survey in the mail, so there’s blame on both sides,” Ober said.

In the past five years, the uncertainty of how many producers and how many trees they tapped have led to unreliable and inconsistent estimates of how many gallons of syrup are produced each year.

In 2013, the USDA estimated that Ohio produced 155,000 gallons of maple syrup. In 2016, it estimated only 70,000 gallons. However, experts suggest the number of trees being tapped each year in Ohio is fairly constant at 400,000. The USDA estimates might not indicate a drop in production, merely a drop in reporting. But those lower figures can reduce the amount of grant funding allotted to Ohio’s maple syrup industry.

Screen Shot 2017-10-15 at 8.15.58 PM.png

Dan Brown, the president of the Ohio Maple Producer Association, points to unaccounted producers for causing volatility in reported production data as opposed to changes in the climate or any other factor. He said that every two years in a decade, a warm winter such as the 2016-2017 season will occur, but that’s nothing new or troublesome to seasoned producers.

“Since maple syrup depends more on weather patterns than global temperature, climate change has not had an effect on it,” Brown said

The traditional method of collecting sap requires producers to drill a hole into a maple tree and insert a spile, or hollow tube, that redirects the flow of sap out of the tree. With a vacuum tubing system, producers can expedite the process and produce 10 times the amount of syrup per acre, according to the University of Vermont. With the vacuum tubing system, warm winters now pose little threat of crop loss to Ohio producers.

“Many producers now use a vacuum tubing system, which allows them to get a good crop no matter what the temperature,” Brown said.

In Ohio, the “Maple Belt” runs from Ashtabula County in the northeast, passes though the east-central part of the state and ends at the southwestern border with Kentucky. Ober said producers harvested at least two-thirds of their sap this past year and some farmers even collected a full season’s worth of sap. But, without better reporting from producers, Ober and other industry experts are limited in how they can help — or promote — Ohio’s maple syrup industry.

Brown views the mystery surrounding how much maple syrup Ohio produces each year as a “negative.” He said that one focus of the OMPA is to promote maple syrup and educate those interested in tapping trees. But when maple syrup producers do not report their annual yields, it becomes difficult for the OMPA to promote the industry.

“We don’t have a real handle on how big our industry is,” Brown said. “Many producers sell by the jug instead of selling in bulk, which is difficult to track. It’s a person-to-person exchange.”

Gary Graham, a researcher at Ohio State University Extension specializing in maple syrup, said if Ohio implemented mandatory record keeping like Wisconsin, then the gallons of maple syrup recorded would be “astronomical.”

“It’s an estimate right now and to require knowing who is out there would be helpful. With price trends, getting accurate marks on any kind of data is hard,” Graham said. “An unregistered producer might have 500 taps or 10,000 taps. Every state should have (Wisconsin’s law).”

A total of 70 out of 88 counties in Ohio produce maple syrup, Graham said. He speculated that many producers fail to submit their harvest because, “they think the IRS will be knocking at their doors for taxes.” However, in reality, a larger statewide crop would, in turn, lead to more funding from the federal government to the industry.

Ohio’s dilemma does not cease just southeast of the Ohio River.

Although West Virginia only recently reemerged as a maple syrup state, prompted by the closing of coal mines and factories, the mountainous terrain and high altitudes present an attractive opportunity for harvesting and profit. Experts compared West Virginia to the climates of Ohio and New York State with as many maple trees as Vermont, the nation’s leading producer of maple syrup.

During the harvesting season from January to April, the sap in maple trees freezes and thaws about 22 to 25 times in a good year. In West Virginia the cooler temperatures found up in the forested hills provide a perfect chance to collect maple syrup.

Mike Rechlin, a member of West Virginia’s Board of Directors of Maple Syrup and author of Maple Syrup: An Introduction to the Science of a Forest Treasure, said West Virginia has about as much of a handle on crop statistics as Ohio.

However, unlike Ohio, West Virginia’s Department of Agriculture has greatly promoted the intrastate maple syrup industry and has led a large push to promote West Virginia as a syrup-producing state.

“The department of agriculture has promoted maple syrup because they want people to be able to use and earn from the land,” Rechlin said. “What else can you do with mountains?”

Much like Dan Brown in Ohio, Mike Rechlin spends time educating Mountaineers on the practice of harvesting syrup from the plentiful maple trees.

“We specifically registered to be part of the NASS survey because we thought that would support the industry through grants from the state,” Rechlin said. “People in West Virginia are interested. There’s a learning curve and we are trying to bring knowledge to the people. West Virginia is land-rich but often poor. Anything we can do to help maple syrup production is good for the state.”

Regardless of state lines — or rivers — the maple syrup industry in Appalachia faces the obstacle of being unorganized and disordered.

Official records of sugaring in the Midwest date back to the first agricultural survey in 1840, when Ohio ranked as the leading producer of maple syrup in the nation of 26 states, according to the Ohio Maple Producers Association.

And although technological advances have reached the rural extremes of American homesteads, some experts like Gary Graham claim it will be “impossible” to ever record an accurate number of gallons produced in any maple syrup state other than Wisconsin.

But, if any change is to occur, the push for concise statistics will most likely come from organizations like the Ohio Maple Producers Association and the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, who reach producers on a personal level and instill a sense of community and the responsibility of bookkeeping.

Graham concluded it would take significant effort by groups like the OMPA to raise awareness to reach the full span of Appalachian producers, who will continue to sugar on or off the record.

Photo illustration by Luke Furman with the help of Emily Matthews

Not One More holds candlelight vigil in Ambridge in remembrance of those lost to addiction


Photo and story by Luke Furman for The Beaver County Times

AMBRIDGE — Dozens of red, heart-shaped balloons dotted the sky on Wednesday evening in remembrance of friends and relatives who have lost their lives to drug addiction.

More than 100 people gathered in Ambridge’s P.J. Caul Park to not only remember those who have lost their lives, but to also encourage those in recovery.

Laura Probst, the founder and president of Pittsburgh’s Not One More chapter, said she wanted the event to not only reach out to people suffering with addiction themselves, but also people affected by the addiction of a relative or friend.

“We want to reach the people who aren’t (directly) affected because we know they will be in one way or another,” she said.

Probst described Not One More as a community education organization that seeks to engage in a way that is “talking with them rather than talking at them.”

The organization, which relies on donations, also works to bring local law enforcement members to its vigils, including Beaver County Sheriff Tony Guy, who spoke at Wednesday’s event, and Beaver County District Attorney David Lozier.

“Groups like this are the answer,” Lozier said. “Probably 70 percent of the people we prosecute are for drugs. They don’t need jail. They need treatment.”

Probst held the first vigil of the Pittsburgh chapter in Beaver in June 2013. Wednesday marked the second time the group visited Ambridge and the first since 2015.

Throughout the evening, several speakers who had either dealt with drug addiction themselves or witnessed it through a family member shared their stories to those gathered around the stage. Some presenters read poems written about loved ones who died.

“It’s breathtaking,” Renee Rock of Ambridge said. “The fear is there everyday, and I’m so thankful there’s so much awareness. It makes you really think about how precious every single moment of life is.”

The meaning and gravity of the vigil was felt strongly on two attendees who recently suffered the loss of an employee.

Herb and Angel Bailey, who run Uncommon Grounds Café in Aliquippa, said one their employees recently succumbed to an addiction, which Herb said led to second-guessing, grief and wondering how an untimely end could have been avoided. Along with other charitable programs, the café provides candidates recovering from drugs with work.

“We work with people in recovery, and this is the first time that I’ve had someone die like this,” Angel Bailey said at the vigil. “It’s difficult.”

As attendees lit their candles around 8 p.m., two women read the names of people who died from drug overdoses in the local area.

Near 9 p.m., the crowd released dozens of heart-shaped balloons representing their losses into the sunset.

Volunteers in Ambridge assemble bicycles for foster children nearing independence

Photo by Emily Matthews


By Luke Furman for The Beaver County Times

AMBRIDGE — More than a dozen student volunteers grabbed the handlebars Friday morning and worked to assemble 50 bicycles for foster children about to reach self-independence.

The students, who belong to a University of Pittsburgh PittServes program called Jumpstart, broke into small teams at Allison Park Church in Ambridge with a stack of cardboard Huffy boxes scattered throughout the large room.

The nonprofit Together We Rise, which helps to improve the lives of children in foster care, donated the bikes to the church for one of its annual Serve Day outreach programs, but the charity left some manual assembly required.

Bethany Jarmul, who handles public relations for Allison Park Church, said it had never before held a bicycle assembly outreach program.

“Children are the future, and it’s important for us to have programs and give back to our communities,” Jarmul said. “Foster-care children usually can’t afford a car after emancipation and don’t have means of transportation.”

The church takes part in the annual Serve Day, formerly known as Servolution, with hundreds of other congregations nationwide. While talking about the meaning of the outreach project, Thomas Manning, director of Allison Park Church’s Ambridge campus, paraphrased part of Matthew 20:28 that reads, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.”

“In the past, we’ve given backpacks to children, paid for customers’ ice cream at an ice cream shop, brought people groceries and served people breakfast at a bus stop,” Manning said. “We’re happy PittServes students came to partner with us.”

PittServe’s Jumpstart discovered Allison Park Church’s Serve Day project from a grant application by the Network of Hope and decided to take part, said Christine Chua, a student executive of Jumpstart.

Network of Hope functions as a nonprofit connected to Allison Park Church’s main campus, Ambridge campus, Deer Lakes campus and its soon-to-be-opened Butler campus.

Julie Mikus, who serves as director for the decades-old entity, said this year’s Serve Day consists of more than 30 outreach projects, which range from lot beautification in Homewood to working on a garden that feeds local refugees in Troy Hill.

“The vision of Serve Day is to communicate the love of God in a real and tangible way and to reach those who are hurting or lost,” Mikus said.

Mikus estimated that 1,000 volunteers would turn out for the projects over the weekend, and the Pitt students in Jumpstart ranked among the first of them, beginning their work at 9:30 a.m. Friday.

“We usually work with kids in low-income areas,” Chau said. “We can only do service projects on Friday because we work with preschoolers from Monday to Thursday for kindergarten preparedness.”

However, not everyone in Jumpstart volunteers on the basis of being an education major. Several volunteers major in the sciences and other nonpedagogical studies.

“A lot of it is helping people from low-income areas,” said Sid Dash, who studies biology at Pitt.

The project presented many of the student volunteers with their first opportunity to assemble a bike straight from the box. Unlike home assembly, instruction manuals proved a must, at least for the first one.

“It’s my first time assembling a whole bike, but not the first time putting on a wheel,” Pitt student Robert Brown-Gartei said.

“We haven’t really had experience with assembling bikes, but we are happy to learn,” Chau said.

The bicycles came in two styles: a white street bicycle with sea-foam-green accented tires and a black mountain bike with streaks of an intense forest green.

Manning said he expected the bikes to be completed and donated to a local foster home on Saturday.

Open arts studio in Beaver Falls allows children, adults to follow artistic passions

Photo by Emily Matthews


By Luke Furman for The Beaver County Times

BEAVER FALLS — An open arts studio in Beaver Falls allows residents of all ages to express imagination and creativity long after the school dismissal bell rings.

For over a decade, the Center for Creative Arts Expression has provided children and adults of Beaver Falls the opportunity to channel creative energy into artwork.

Geraldine Jackson McCorr, 61, of Beaver Falls, founded the center, or CCAE, in 2006 in addition to her job as an art teacher at Beaver Falls High School.

Now the nonprofit’s executive director, McCorr first encountered the idea of an open arts studio when visiting one in Chicago during her studies for a graduate degree in arts therapy at Seton Hill University in Greensburg.

“I thought, ‘that would be something I would want to do,’” McCorr said. “The goal is to contribute something positive to the community.”

The CCAE operates in a building previously owned by Reeves Bank. McCorr said on opening day of the CCAE, she briefly locked herself in the vault that now serves as a very secure pottery studio.

Along with pottery wheels and a kiln, the CCAE also includes several desks and tables with arts and crafts supplies for open studio time and the many classes and summer camps it offers. Already, the center has held two camps that conclude with a field trip either to The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington or Gateway to the Arts in Pittsburgh. McCorr said these trips act as “a nice bonding experience for families.”

The CCAE also has a music annex two doors down with several keyboards, a piano and a drum set. The annex provides a performance space and the center offers piano lessons there.

“We have different teachers for different things and we create new classes whenever we need,” McCorr said.

Vickie Gant, of Beaver Falls, who volunteers at the center and attended high school with McCorr, expressed her admiration for the center’s contribution to the community.

“I think it’s beautiful,” she said. “There are all different crafts and it gives the kids something to do.”

Betty Kirkland, of Beaver Falls, also volunteers by leading “one or two” arts and craft classes per week, like one that involved transforming soup cans into Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax-themed pencil holders during open studio time from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

McCorr stressed the community aspect of CCAE with most of the work there being undertaken by volunteers. In 2015, WQED awarded McCorr with a Volunteer in the Arts (VITA) award for her work.

The center has only one paid employee, Anita Underwood, who has worked as the center’s receptionist for three years. Underwood said the center “is a wonderful place and everyone should take advantage of it.”

CCAE runs on $15 and $20 membership fees, donations and allotted money from the county. McCorr said she has a core of around 15 frequent visitors, but camps, classes and events like “Art in the Park” draw in around 40 or more participants. Seasonal sports causes enrollment to fluctuate, however.

“We didn’t want cost to be a deterrent, but we need to keep the lights on,” McCorr said.

“There’s part of me that doesn’t want grants. Everybody has a stake in it and you should have to give something so you can appreciate it.”

McCorr grew up in Beaver Falls and her family owned both Jackson’s Barber Shop, founded by her grandfather in 1923, and Jackson Transport.

Her husband, Walter McCorr, died in March. She said he believed in her and helped run the center every step of the way.

“A lot of people helped and supported me and I couldn’t do it without volunteers,” McCorr said. “Everybody pitches in and works to give back to the community.”

Mary Beth Leeman, principal of Beaver Falls High School where McCorr has taught general and fine arts for the last 18 years, said McCorr is a “phenomenal” teacher with “great rapport among students and staff.”

McCorr has scheduled educational field trips for art students, including one to Europe in 2015 and one to China in 2016.

Leeman said some of McCorr’s students volunteer at CCAE, and faculty at Beaver Falls High School have helped the center by donating art supplies.

“Whether it’s pottery or drawing, she gets the kids interested,” Leeman said.

Along with a fluid relationship with the high school, the center has collaborated with nearby Geneva College holding “Crafternoon” events from 2011 to 2015. McCorr said she looks to work with the college again in the future.

She said she plans to make efforts to make more arts and craft supplies available in the community to spark interest in art. Two of her students at Beaver Falls High School will help with the enterprise.

Beaver Falls senior Maddi Frishkorn and junior Ethan Funkhauser will assist McCorr for the rest of the summer as part of a job-training program for non-profit. Their tasks include organizing, helping children make crafts and participating in community outreach programs like the new “Art on the Move,” which looks to bring art supplies to area parks and playgrounds.

“I think it’s nice to see people engaging in the creative aspects of their lives,” Frishkorn said.

In addition to the job-training students, Liz Pagley and her son, Cameron, a sophomore at Beaver Falls, often volunteer their time at the center. Cameron took one of McCorr’s general arts classes at the school and helps at the center during summer and fall.

“(Ms. McCorr) makes sure you’re on task but also lets you go your own direction creatively,” Cameron said.

The center will continues its “Art in the Park” series throughout the summer and continue to incite creativity among the city’s residents.

“Art is for everyone,” McCorr said. “Everyone has some kind of creativity in them. I think that’s what we are about here, creating a safe place for people to express themselves.”

Garrison Day delivers crafty Saturday in the park for Beaver residents, visitors


Photo and story by Luke Furman for The Beaver County Times

BEAVER — Crafters, food vendors, townspeople and visitors filled Beaver’s three central parks Saturday for the 39th annual Garrison Day.

The event, named after Fort McIntosh’s former military garrison, allows artists to display and sell their creations and food vendors to bring regional tastes and smells into the heart of the town.

“It’s refreshing to get so much support for small businesses,” Susan Hart said.

Susan and her husband, Charlie Hart, own Heart’s in the Attic, a Washington County shop that sells “primitive country” wood decor and fabric items. Saturday marked the second time they had exhibited their craftwork at Garrison Day after an 18-year gap.

“In quality of crafters, there’s more variety now and there’s always a great buying crowd,” Hart said.

Many other sellers and attendees commented on the size and scope of the event, as well, saying this year’s event eclipsed former years.

“There’s a lot more people here now. I don’t know if they got the word out more,” said Natalie Herold, owner of Herold’s Original Kettle Corn.

She and her husband, Brian Herold, have sold kettle corn at Garrison Day for the past 10 years.

In addition to kettle corn from Herold’s two booths, Garrison Day attendees could also purchase other festival delicacies such as roasted peanuts, funnel cake, gyros, cheesecake, cupcakes, lemonade and snow cones.

Sisters Kathryn and Elizabeth Sewall of Beaver also attested to the growth of this year’s festivities.

“It’s the biggest and busiest one we’ve ever seen. It’s nice to get to see what everybody has out,” Kathryn said. “People watching is probably the best part.”

“I really like the energy and the community coming together and enjoying it,” Elizabeth said of Saturday’s sunny afternoon.

Quay Square’s diagonal walkway housed several tents selling niche musical apparel and instruments.

Diane Mallow of Kent, Ohio, fashioned studded purses featuring famous musical album covers by the likes of the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac and more. She said she prefers to make purses of albums she likes, but also performs the three-day labor process for popular albums, too.

“I found out about (Garrison Day) because I have friends who have done this show for six or seven years,” Mallow said.

Just a few stands down, Jim Circle of Under the Tree Guitars demonstrated one of his handmade cigar box guitars for a prospective buyer. It would be the fourth one he sold Saturday.

“I saw this video about kids in South Africa making guitars out of only lumber and oil cans and whatever they could find. I bought one and started seeing cigar box guitars. After I built the first kit, I said that I could do this by myself,’” Circle said.

He equated a top-of-the-line guitar costing around $1,000 new to a top-of-the-line cigar box guitar costing around $250, with all the same playing capabilities.

“Me and my friends used to sit around and play guitars, and now we sit around and play cigar box guitars,” Circle said.

For the actual music, Daniel Clark, who has attended the event for the past 25 years, served as deejay from the Irvine Park gazebo. He said the playlist consisted of “oldies, rock ’n’ roll, ’70s music and country,” as Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” played through the speakers.

Several clubs and charitable groups also set up tents, including the Beaver County Humane Society, Beaver Valley Woodcarvers and Ready Yourself Youth Ranch, which brought a pony and a miniature horse near the gazebo for children and animal lovers to pet. The ranch pair rescued animals with youth going through difficulties, Zoe Peffer, a staff member, said.

The humane society also ran a booth in effort to raise money through T-shirt and raffle sales, as well as to advertise its animals to find them a “forever home,” volunteer Lynn Daudet said.

“We’re thankful for the 31 businesses from Aliquippa, Beaver and Chippewa who donated baskets,” Daudet said.

Beaver Valley Woodcarvers displayed carved, burned and turned woodwork, along with a “friendship cane” with a piece made by each member.

Tom McKenzie, president of the group, echoed the sentiment that Garrison Day “gets better and bigger every year.”

Other stands included ones selling dog collars, olive oil, a staggering amount of crafts, plants and wooden furniture.

In his roughly 18th year of working the event, officer Greg Kryder of the Beaver Police Department said the event was “very relaxed” with problems usually being medical but “nothing major.”

Susan McKim of Lawrence County returned to this year’s Garrison Day after a five-year break.

“It’s wonderful,” she said. “It expanded a lot since the last time. We worked our way down one side, and now we’re doing the other.”

Center Twp. dentist hits the links for more than a couple of rounds of charity

Photo by Emily Matthews


By Luke Furman for The Beaver County Times

HOPEWELL TWP. — Rick Gradisek teed off Thursday morning when the birds first started chirping, and he did not plan to pack up his clubs until they stopped.

For 28 years, Gradisek has participated in a charity golf marathon called the Longest Day of Golf, an all-day, 16-hour event that benefits the American Cancer Society through pledged donations.

Gradisek, a dentist from Center Township, and three other golfers started the event in 1990 and played 54 holes, a long shot from the team record set in 2013 of 263 holes, Gradisek said. Each June, Gradisek and a changing group of companions try to break their record by a few holes more.

“Our goal is to play as many rounds of golf as we can,” Gradisek said. “It’s a breeze.”

This year, Gradisek played the course unaccompanied by additional golfers for the first time, beginning at 5:14 a.m. Only his dental partner Dr. George Mistovich, of Center, and friend Cindy Kuton, of Coraopolis, trailed his fast-paced cart, keeping score and delivering refreshments when needed.

Mistovich has golfed in the event four times and played in the original in 1990. Kuton golfed once in the event with a group of four women, who covered 54 holes during the day.

First held at Black Hawk Golf Course in Chippewa Township, the Longest Day of Golf moved in its second year to the Club at Shadow Lakes in Hopewell Township. The club allows Gradisek to start before sunrise and play the course for free throughout the day.

“The generosity of the members is so accommodating,” Kuton said as Gradisek prepared to drive a ball down the 17th hole. “They even provided lunch for him.”

In 2014, Gradisek had to postpone the event to October after undergoing a hip replacement. He played 126 holes that year.

On Thursday, Gradisek broke his solo record of 272 holes in 2016 by playing through 275 by the time he wrapped up at 8:45 p.m.

“(Thursday) had to be as perfect of a day as any,” Gradisek said. “There was a slight breeze, no humidity and none of the predawn fog that sometimes happens. It was as perfect as can be.”

Along with being a longtime golfer and dentist, Gradisek served more than 20 years on the Beaver County board of the American Cancer Society. Kuton held a spot on the board, as well, before it moved to Pittsburgh in 2014 as a consolidation group.

The idea for the event had already existed in the organizations charity canon, but Gradisek championed the idea with his affinity for golf and devotion to the charity.

“I told them I would do (the Longest Day of Golf) as a fundraiser,” Gradisek said. “Cancer affected people who were friends and relatives. Only four years after I become active with the charity, my father died of colon cancer.”

In addition to Gradisek, Kuton and Mistovich have dealt with cancer firsthand, dedicating parts or all of their Thursday to a personal cause.

Gradisek said that friends, family and people subscribed to a mailing list pledge a donation either based on a flat rate or by the amount of holes the group plays. For example, pledging 10 cents per hole with a total of 275 holes would amount to $27.50.

“A few people still pledge a dollar per hole, but most people give a flat rate,” he said. “In 1990, pledging money was en vogue, but now it’s a lot of extra work.”

The event brings in around $5,000 to $10,000 each year, Gradisek said. He said the exact figure of this year’s earnings will not be known until the fundraising portion of the event concludes. He plans to possibly use GoFundMe in the future.

After finishing the 275th hole of the day, Gradisek said he took a shower then enjoyed dinner and a cold beer with his brother and a few friends.