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Closing a chapter: Well-known TASD teacher to retire

Forty-four years in teaching will soon come to an end for a well-known Tyrone Area School District teacher — closing one chapter of his story.

“Teaching was not my career choice at first, until I had the opportunity to help with a great summer program here in Tyrone, started by Sue O’Brien and director Mary Beth (Gillam) Banks that provided recreation for special needs children,” explained Steve Stoner, sixth grade teacher.

“A young boy in that program had multiple handicaps, including being blind. How he dealt with life and what many would consider to be overpowering handicaps, inspired me to want to learn as much as I could about blindness and help in some way. That is why I pursued a special education degree in visual impairment.”

Stoner earned a dual major in special education and elementary education from Kutztown University and a master of education in curriculum and supervision from the University of Pittsburgh. Throughout his teaching career, Stoner worked with students from second grade to 12th grade.

“My first job was at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children where I worked with high school students who were having difficulty with academics and social skills and also served as a program supervisor,” he explained. “I returned to central Pennsylvania and worked as a gifted and learning support teacher in Altoona School District, then at Grier School developing and implementing a study skills program, and finally settling back home with a sixth grade position at Warriors Mark Elementary School.”

After the closing of Warriors Mark Elementary School, Stoner transferred to teaching sixth grade at Lincoln School in Tyrone, then to the district’s middle school upon the closure of Lincoln, Adams, and Logan schools.

During his career, Stoner has earned recognitions including: POPS Outstanding Employee; the St. Francis Outstanding Educator Award (as nominated by former superintendent Dr. William Miller); the PSU Walter J. DeLacy Award for Excellence in Instruction; and the Shippensburg University School Study Council’s Outstanding Teacher Award.

Despite such accomplishments, Stoner noted that “in education, your accomplishments are reflected in how you enriched a student’s life in both academic growth and personal development.

“Although we can chart academic growth at the end of a year, it’s the influence you had on the whole person that student eventually becomes may never be known. That doesn’t mean you don’t keep trying with every new group of young people. For me, the greatest accomplishment is keeping that responsibility at the forefront of my teaching and trying to be a better teacher each and every year.”

He has most enjoyed spending time with young people, and witnessing their excitement and willingness to challenge themselves.

“That is also what I will miss the most. Those great moments when all of us in the room are caught up in what we are learning and just having a great time,” he said. “The chance to talk with other adults who enjoy this profession will also be a void.”

Among the most memorable times are activities the students and Stoner were able to share and do together, year after year. He recalled: “reading my favorite novel, ‘A Christmas Carol,’ and producing a play; holding the Medieval Fair after reading Robin Hood; filming historical docudramas; training mice to run mazes and determining a mealworm’s preferred environment; running a school store; creating spirit signs for teams and cards for the school staff; visiting museums and historical places; Edgar Allan Poe parties; breathing life into our Constitution and events in American history; celebrating everyone’s birthday, and so much more.”

Looking back through those 44 years, Stoner said education has seen a lot of changes, but the biggest has been the use of technology. That, to him, has been a positive as well as a negative.

“While technology has so much to offer all of us, it cannot replace the impact face-to-face and personal interactions have on a young person,” he said. “Responding to a computer cannot compare with just sitting and talking together and learning from one another.”

Through those changes, Stoner attributes his success to many people around him.

“Just as on any team, being a successful teacher is dependent on the knowledge and support you receive from the educators around you,” he said. “I have been very fortunate to have worked for and with some amazing teachers and administrators over the last 44 years — so many that I really can’t name them all.

“May they each see the major role they played in helping to shape me into a teacher who really loves this profession and know I am very grateful. Also, a special thank you to Dr. Miller for giving me the chance to work in my home district.”

His greatest influences were his parents, Ren and Pat Stoner of Tyrone. “Growing up in a family-run restaurant and seeing my parents be involved in community activities fostered a work ethic within me that has been a part of my entire life,” he commented.

With his retirement official on June 3, Stoner does not have specific plans for the immediate future. He said it will be a benefit to determine how he spends his time, and having the time to pursue interests like gardening, traveling, and historical research.

“My only bucket list item is to visit each Major League baseball park with my wife and son,” he shared. “I also will stay involved with youth through programs at my church.”

He hopes the next teacher stepping into the role will find “the same excitement, sense of accomplishment, and just plain fun that I have been fortunate to enjoy.”

Antis Twp. discusses pool, trail

Many Bellwood-Antis residents have been wondering if the pool will open this summer. John Frederick, Antis Township recreation and environmental director, said, “We’re fully expecting to open the pool this summer. We are more optimistic about the pool than anything else we are involved in, not only because of our optimism about vaccinations, but also because COVID does not do well in chlorinated environments like pools. That said, we’re still going to have to exercise some caution and follow CDC directives on number of users and such.”

Anyone walking the Bells Gap Trail in recent weeks has probably noticed the piles of cut and pulled trees, shrubs, and plants alongside the trail. This work is a result of Interfaith Power and Light, a non-profit organization dedicated to building faith-based solutions to climate change and other environmental challenges (interfaithpowerandlight.org).

One of the organization’s 38 state chapters is headquartered in Central Pennsylvania and has been active in local initiatives in Blair, Huntingdon and Centre counties. Most recently, they have coordinated volunteers to remove invasive plants and replace them with native trees and shrubs on local parklands.

Specific to the work on the Bells Gap Trail, Frederick reports, “They have embarked upon an initiative to replace non-native invasive plants like privet, multiflora rose, honeysuckle, and the Tree of Heaven with native trees and plants such as red oak, black cherry, red maple, arrowwood, ninebark, and gray dogwood. The non-native plants came from other parts of the world and were either brought here accidentally or on purpose over the last 300 years.

The organization’s environmental initiatives are based on their belief that “people of faith, including Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Ba’hai and people of conscience, have a responsibility to care for God’s creation.”

Non-native invasive plants threaten less established native plants by taking over the main understory of forests, crowding out or shading the wildflowers and the native shrubs and saplings. This also reduces native insect populations and the birds that feed on them, reducing biodiversity in both woodland flora and fauna.

Tubes have been placed on the young trees. The trees and tubes are supplied by The Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The tubes protect young trees from animals.

Frederick is appreciative of the local volunteers who have provided considerable help with the trail as well as the native plant project – Greg Williams, Trevor Curry, Kyle Knepp, and members of Penn State Altoona’s Alpha Phi Delta fraternity.

Says Williams, “The work is fun, great exercise, a way to make a difference in the health of the trails we love, a way to work inter-generationally, and good for our mental health to get out and about in a safer way.”

In other news, Antis Township conducts a limb collection each spring with the following guidelines: 1) Leave the branches as long as possible and no bigger than four inches in diameter. 2) Branches should be piled on the roadside with the trunks facing the road. 3) Residents should transport trimmings from trees cut down, tree stumps, and hedge and shrub clippings to the compost site. The spring collection is intended for limbs that have fallen over the winter months.

Dinner theater makes comeback at local church

The Iron Bridge Dinner Theatre was a popular venue in Tyrone at their location near the Grazierville Bridge on McFarland Road from August 2015 through July 2019. Due to the proposed sale of the building, the theatre found a new temporary home at the Fuoss Mills Alliance Church. However, due to the pandemic, the theatre went on hiatus, as did so many others, and the church terminated their partnership. The theatre has been closed since March 13, 2020.

Now, with restrictions lessening, the Iron Bridge is pleased to present their first performance since the pandemic, “The Ark,” will come to Grace Baptist Church on Adams Ave. in Tyrone from May 21 through May 2. As always, the Iron Bridge performance will include a full-course meal.

Owner and director Drew Baker of Tyrone said, “In 2017, we produced The Ark. It is a beautiful story, aside from being a biblical story. The heart, music, humor and message is amazing. We knew the production was bigger than just a dinner theater experience and Grace Baptist has proven to have a heart for the community. We appreciated that the Grace community has continued to stand firm in keeping their doors open and the gospel accessible for those who seek it during the pandemic. In addition to Grace’s heart for outreach, we knew Grace had precautions in place to keep our actors and patrons the safest.”

The Ark seemed to be the perfect return show, as it follows the life of Noah and his family, during their time of seclusion. Baker said, “Within the last year, we have all felt like Noah and his family must have felt during their time “trapped” on the Ark. Nowhere to go and the same chores to do, the same walls to look at. Tensions had to rise and feuds happened, sounds like some of us this year. But deep within, there is a message of hope, redemption and a challenge to push past all obstacles and to make the most of the situation at hand. The most powerful theme song to me is ‘Hold On,’ which is a beautifully moving duet between Noah and his wife when she is ready to give up. ‘Hold on, the light will come.’ That is a message for us today….”

Noah is portrayed by Don Hart, from the state of Indiana. Tyrone resident Karen Mogle, no stranger to the Iron Bridge state, will portray Noah’s wife, along with what Baker says is “an incredible cast from across the country.”

Since The Ark originally came to the Iron Bridge in 2017, Baker said, “We knew that this production would make a come back. We have big plans for this show even beyond these performance dates. We are discussing a potential tour and furthering of the amazing production that it is.”

Baker said that the local theatre needs the community’s support, especially now. “We are at a critical time in our theater. While other theaters had support throughout COVID, we did not ask, nor were we granted funds to keep us afloat. However, we made it this far and we hope people will see that in order for us to continue with our plans for a return, we need their support. Now more than ever! We need to know people want to see The Iron Bridge continue in this area.”

Council members move forward to sell Logan Ave. lots

Tyrone Borough Council members Monday evening voted in favor of the appraisal, bid, and sale of 1102 and 1004 Logan Ave., the vacant lots right next to the Tyrone Borough Municipal Building.

Last month, Chuck Bickle, owner of Ace Hardware, expressed interest in either one or both lots in order to extend the Ace parking lot, which currently only holds seven vehicles. Bickle said, “It would certainly be a benefit to the store to be able to have that additional parking.”

Council members were split on the vote, with all in favor of the sale, with the exception of Charlie Mills, who was the lone “no” vote. Mills was not pleased with the decision, as one of the lots next to the Municipal Building has been recently used to honor Navy Club Veterans with white crosses at Memorial Day.

Patterson sent a statement regarding the issue. Patterson said that he believes that the soldiers should be honored with their crosses placed at Soldiers Park, with the other soldiers. “The park (Soldiers Park), which has been owned by the borough, has been designated for this purpose. It is located on a main thoroughfare and so would receive proper attention, more so than Logan Avenue. Non resident visitors to the park would never know to go to that location on Logan Ave. Having crosses in two locations causes questions in the viewer’s minds as to why these crosses aren’t with the others.”

Patterson continued and said that the sale of the lots to a local business would help to generate income and benefit the people of Tyrone all year long, rather than just at designated holidays.

Council members also approved the sale of 1107 Bald Eagle Ave. to David Snyder. Snyder, a council member, abstained from the vote. All were in favor with the exception of Mills, who voted “no.”