2017 Featured District Magistrate Race, Our Town

It cannot be an accident that the end of the calendar year falls in winter; both occasions tend to evoke reflection with a hope for the coming of a new start and rebirth. Traditionally, it is the time when we look back on all that was the past year, and all of the accomplishments and challenges, joy and disappointment of 2017.


On the national stage, 2017 in politics has been either exciting or excruciating, depending on your point of view. The inauguration of a new POTUS raised passions, and motivated many across the country to mobilize in defense of policies and freedoms they felt were under attack by the new administration. One of the largest of these mobilizations was the Women’s March on Washington: a call to women to descend on Washington D. C. to voice their anger and frustration with the direction of the new administration. Estimates of those who attended that day hovered around 500,000, with three million in cities across the country and around the world. Many local women attended the Women’s March on Washington, including mountain residents Lisa Naperski and her wife, Michele Kessler.

Napersky and Kessler, among many others, stress that the march was not about losing an election, but rather protecting a deeper love of country and fellow man that is now being threatened. The sheer number of people who attended, and their varied backgrounds speak to that sentiment. Neither Napersky, Kessler, nor the attendee in Harrisburg had ever been to a political rally or protest before. Out of the more than 3 million people who marched around the world the day after Donald Trump took office, not one person was arrested. According to many sources, including Napersky and Kessler, the mood was fearful but hopeful; peaceful but determined; frustrated, but patriotic in the greatest sense.

Another Mountaintop resident who attended a sister march in Harrisburg felt the same type of solidarity, albeit in a smaller setting. Approximately 850 people attended a sister march at the state Capitol to promote women’s rights and progressive ideals, such as a living wage, environmental protection and equal rights for women and other marginalized groups.

Slocum Township

Despite the turmoil on the national level, local governments continued to function as always. The Slocum Township Board of Supervisors reconvened in early 2017 with familiar faces and positions. Charles Herring was again appointed Chairman with Peter Webby as Vice Chairman. Ferris Webby was reappointed solicitor and Susan Lowe reappointed as Secretary.

Throughout the year, the township made several upgrades to their EMS system and municipal assets, including the I Am Responding system and improvements to the park. The supervisors agreed to purchase a response monitoring system early in 2017, which is designed to display an emergency call from the Luzerne County Communications Center throughout the municipal building and assist officers and volunteers in their response. The township also enlisted the support of Congressman Lou Barletta to have lights installed atop the cell tower that stands near a life flight landing zone on the fire grounds.

As the end of the year approached, the most notable change to the 2018 budget for Slocum Township was a thousand dollar increase for park improvements to purchase some new playground equipment and resurface the tennis and basketball courts. Solicitor Ferris Webby has applied for several grants to help supplement the budgeted funds and an engineering firm has already begun work on a set of plans.

District Magistrate Race

Also in local politics was the hotly contested race for District Magistrate, open for the first time in a generation. Five candidates vied for the coveted position left open when Ronald Swank retired. Wright Township Police Officer Brian Macko, White Haven Police Chief, Thomas Szoke, Penn’s Northeast President and CEO, John Augustine, and attorneys Staci Acri and Ferris Webby campaigned for nearly six months to be judge in the district that includes Nuangola Borough, Penn Lake Park, White Haven Borough, and Dennison, Dorrance, Fairview, Rice, Slocum and Wright Townships. Ferris Webby claimed victory in both the Republican and Democratic primary in May and ran uncontested in November to make his new position official.

Church Life

Places of worship on the mountain continued their traditions of faith and service throughout 2017.

Pastor Lou Aita became the 24th pastor to serve Dorrance Emmanuel UCC in its 148-year history in January. Holding a Bachelors degree in Music Education from Misercordia University and having spent three years in the service of the U. S. Army as pianist for the 389th Jazz Band, Aita took on the task of his own church after serving as assistant pastor for 6 years.

The Saint Martin-In-The-Fields Church in Rice Township marked their 90th anniversary at their Easter Sunday service last Spring. Located at the corner of Church and Nuangola Roads, Saint Martin-In-The-Fields church is perhaps one of the most recognized structures in the Mountaintop Area with its Old English Gothic style and belfry that was salvaged from a demolished schoolhouse in Nanticoke. And, after nearly a decade of planning and fundraising, construction began on the new Saint Jude Roman Catholic Church in July, and completed with a mass of dedication in September.

New Entrepreneurs

Several mountain residents expanded or opened new businesses this past year. One of them was Jared Sarna, a 2016 graduate of the Hazleton STEM School, who started BusyPawz; a canine service for Mountaintop and the surrounding area. Sarna provides services on location for all kinds of dogs and of any age from a fifteen-minute walk to multiple visits per day when the dog’s family is on vacation. He also provides a pet taxi service: carting his canine charges to the vet or the groomer.

Gerri Vickers, a licensed nurse practitioner for 30 years, sought to fill a growing need in our area with Independent Life of NEPA: a home health care business that assists people in their homes and with their families during life’s “curveballs”. She has now been doing in home health care for twenty-two years and offers a variety of personal care services that range from temporary, once a week check-in to permanent, 24/7 care for dementia patients. The agency utilizes a software platform that allows family members to monitor who the caregiver is, when they visit their loved one and the kind of care they are providing. Vickers says that there is always a nurse on staff to answer an after hours call incase something unexpected occurs.

Entertainment Mountaintop made their PBS

Debut with the summer premier of Our Town: Mountaintop on WVIA. Our Town, originally released by WVIA’s sister PBS affiliate in State College, has showcased communities from Sunbury to Wellsboro and Jim Thorpe to Hawley and has connected viewers with communities and people on a grass roots level. Mountaintop was identified as a potential feature based on its history and size, and featured community leaders and historians to tell the story of “our town”.

Although 1998 may not see like that long ago, The Brigg’s Blues Festival has been a staple around the mountain for the past 20 years and they celebrated this past July by putting on another great show. The event has grown steadily year after year to accommodate roughly 7000 people from all over the US, Canada and even Europe while maintaining an intimate, family friendly atmosphere; Two thousand of those patrons set up camp for the weekend, drawn to the picturesque farm to soak up some music, enjoy great food and listen to internationally known Blues artists. A Blues festival had always been on Richard Brigg’s mind while working as a producer and editor for WVIA Public Media. He said he wanted to use his technical knowledge and experience to provide a venue for the kind of music he grew up with; acts like Janis Joplin and the Allman Brothers, and felt his fourth generation, 400 acre farm seemed like the perfect place to try it. He says his family was in it “for the long haul” when it started 20 years ago, and he sees the next 20 years as a continuation of the grass roots, family run event it has always been.

As we celebrate all that was 2017, we look forward to life in 2018.