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Great day for county tourism

It was a red-letter day for the historic East Broad Top Railroad and all of Huntingdon County Friday morning as steam railroad fans and partners gathered in front of Orbisonia Station in Rockhill to learn about the EBT’s return to service.

The weather was cold, but spirits were high as officials of the newly formed EBT Foundation Inc. announced the acquisition of the narrow gauge railroad from longtime owner, the Joseph Kovalchick family of Indiana, Pennsylvania, with plans to restore and return to service the popular coal-hauling-turned-tourist train.

The EBT is scheduled to offer limited tourist operation this year with plans to “run steam” in 2020, noted Henry Posner III, chairman of the foundation’s board of directors who served as master of ceremonies for the 30-minute press conference Friday morning.

Joining Posner were numerous other board members along with Joseph Kovalchick, his wife Judy and son Nathan; as well as noted EBT historian and activist in the Friends of the EBT, Dr. Lee Rainey.

In the audience were a number of municipal representatives from southern Huntingdon County, several historical societies and heritage groups from throughout Huntingdon County and others who praised the Kovalchick family for saving and preserving the EBT since 1956 while saluting the new foundation for its vision for the railroad’s future.

Area leaders see the EBT’s return to service as “a great day for Huntingdon County” while helping to preserve the railroad’s place in local, state and national history. On hand for the event were Huntingdon County Commissioner Scott Walls and Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau executive director Matt Price who envisioned “a new day” for the county and the 33-mile EBT corridor between Mount Union and the Broad Top.

“It’s a great day for Huntingdon County and tourism,” proclaimed Walls, who pledged both the county commissioners’ and the Huntingdon County Rail Authority’s support for the multi-purpose EBT restoration project. “We are appreciative of the Kovalchick family’s longtime involvement in the EBT and we look forward to working with the new owners in future restoration endeavors.”

Price called the EBT’s return to service as a new chapter in travel promotion in the county and the entire Raystown Lake Region, saying that the EBT’s reopening “is the biggest thing to happen in Huntingdon County since the introduction of the Allegrippis Trails system at Raystown Lake in 2009.”

“The loss of this great historical asset over the past nine years really hurt tourism in the area and we are glad to see the return of the EBT,” said Price, adding, “The visitors bureau is anxious to work with the foundation in promoting the railroad.”

State Rep. Rich Irvin told The Daily News Friday morning that the EBT’s return will not only showcase southern Huntingdon County and the Broad Top’s rich industrial and transportation heritage but will also help spark the local economy. “The EBT’s return to service is great news for the county and my office looks forward to helping out whatever way we can,” remarked Irvin.

Also on hand for Friday morning’s gala event which included hundreds of EBT fans and representatives of the Friends of the East Broad Top and the Rockhill Trolley Museum, were Jane Sheffield, executive director of the Allegheny Ridge Corp.(ARC) and ARC board president Astride McLanahan, who recognized the Kovalchick family for its efforts in preserving the EBT. The ARC representatives pledged the corporation’s continued promotion and involvement in the EBT partnership. ARC heads up the Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg Main Line Canal Greenway which passes through Huntingdon County.

In response to the railroad’s reopening, Sheffield, who also serves on the EBT Foundation Inc. board, told The Daily News, “We’re just getting started, this is a great day for the EBT, ARC and all of Huntingdon County.”

Longtime Friends of the EBT (FEBT) activist and board president Andy Van Scyoc was equally pleased with Friday morning’s announcement and recognized the Kovalchick family and the FEBT members/volunteers for their longtime involvement in preserving the historic railroad.

“The ‘Friends’ are anxious to work with all the partners from the Broad Top to Mount Union and across the county in restoring and preserving the railroad,” observed Van Scyoc. “The EBT has a great story to tell and we are proud to be a part of it.”

Highlighting Friday’s celebration was a look back at the development of the EBT and a remembrance of all those who helped shape the railroad and the iron and coal mining industries.

“We pause to remember all the people who made the EBT possible,” concluded Kovalchick in a moment of silence.

Ron can be reached at dnews@huntingdondailynews.com.

Cardiologist talks stress, heart health at 13th Wear Red Luncheon

Emphasizing the importance of heart health, especially for women, Valentine’s Day was the perfect day to hold the 13th annual Wear Red Luncheon Friday at the Ellis Ballroom at Juniata College.

Sponsored by the Penn Highlands Huntingdon Auxiliary, the event talked about how stress impacts heart health and what can be done to help alleviate stressors to improve heart health.

Dr. Michelle Stoudt, cardiologist with Cardiology Associates of Altoona and the Penn Highlands Huntingdon Cardiac Care Center, was the guest speaker for the event. She started out by explaining what stress is and the biggest causes of stress.

“Stress is a mental and emotional strain caused by adverse circumstances,” she said. “Some of those adverse circumstances can include death, divorce, imprisonment, personal injury or illness, dismissal from work and marriage.”

Some of the most stressful jobs include vocations like being in the military, surgeon, physician, mental health counselor, law enforcement and paramedics.

Stoudt also discussed how stress directly impacts the heart.

“It’s through adrenaline, which is a cascade of chemicals that lead to stress,” she said. “It creates that fight or flight response, which can be good for some situations, but these surges create catechlamine surges, which have a direct effect on the blood vessels, which change the plaque formation in the vessels.”

She noted there are two types of stress, chronic and acute, but chronic stress is more likely to contribute to heart disease.

Type A personalities, which are known to be more competitive, goal driven and have more of a temper, are also more likely to have stress contribute to heart disease than Type B personalities, which are less impacted by stress.

Though other factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and lack of a good diet and exercise plan are big contributors to heart disease, Stoudt noted that when someone has a heart attack, a patient is likely to say that stress was the biggest cause.

She also noted there’s evidence that acute stress can also lead to incidents of heart attacks, and cited studies that show correlations between a higher number of heart attacks and stressful situations.

“In 1991, when they were launching missles over Tel Aviv, they expected around 93 deaths due to heart attacks, but there were really 149 actual deaths,” said Stoudt. “Also, during Hurricane Sandy and Katrina, there was a 22% increase in the number of heart attacks that occurred compared to the same week in other years, and there was also an 8% increase in the number of strokes.”

Stoudt also discussed Takosubo Stress Cardiomyopathy, otherwise known as Broken Heart Syndrome.

“This can happen during times of extreme emotional stress, like a death of a family member or loved one, at a funeral, after a car accident, or even good events like a surprise party,” she said. “This happens more often in women, particularly postmenopausal women.

“The stress impacts the heart muscle, and it’s almost like a heart attack,” Stoudt added. “It’s been shown that the LAD (left anterior descending artery), or the widowmaker artery stops working when this occurs and causes the syndrome. When it stops working, this needs to be treated with heart medication just like any other kind of heart condition. This condition is the cause of 2% of heart attacks.”

Stoudt noted that stress is often the least discussed issue surrounding heart conditions among cardiologists, but she believes it should be factored in, just as other factors like high blood pressure, cholesterol, diet, exercise and smoking are discussed when talking about things that may cause heart disease.

When it comes to controlling stress, Stoudt said it’s important to “control what you can control and fix what you can fix.”

“You can do that by controlling your blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking cessation and treating anxiety and depression,” she said. “Also, you can do coping mechanisms to alleviate stress by spending time in nature, meditate, ready/study in the sunshine, make a bucket list, and if you need to be treated with medication for anxiety and depression, do that as well.”

Stoudt ended by noting that one out of every three women die of cardiovascular disease each year, and women often experience symptoms that are atypical, causing people to dismiss their concerns.

“Just because a person doesn’t fit the norm, doesn’t mean they don’t have it,” she said. “But, (women) are the ones who are more likely to die from it. Symptoms are atypical for women.”

Psychic seeks families for filming

Psychic medium and paranormal researcher Ryan Michaels is looking for families in central Pennsylvania that are experiencing paranormal disturbances who are willing to be filmed for his latest project.

“Every house has its demons,” he said.

Among the many hats he wears, Michaels is a paranormal theorist.

“I think the belief that negative entities are present in the home in most cases is energy created by the lifestyle in which the family is living,” he said.

Originally from Beaverdale, Cambria County, Michaels has had experiences in the paranormal since he was 10 years old, keeping them to himself until as a teenager he was introduced to a community of spiritualists at Lily Dale Assembly in New York. Soon after, he began his career in media, featuring on the A&E show, Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal, where he worked with the FBI and local police in New York on a missing persons case.

Since then, he has consulted professionally as a psychic and medium, and has shared his experiences and expertise with thousands of clients and individuals over the past seven years.

A year-and-a-half ago he was contacted again by A&E for the reboot of Psychic Kids, this time acting as one of four mentors to the children with psychic abilities and appearing on six of the eight episodes of the new season.

Since then, Michaels has graduated from Penn Highlands Community College (PHCC) with an associate degree in liberal arts and sciences. He decided he wanted to leave a legacy.

“I wanted to leave Penn Highlands with a memory, with a little about who I was...I came up with the idea, for the first time ever, to do a paranormal and psychological film. Nothing like that has aired, as of yet.”

He pitched the idea of Dr. Richard Bukoski, professor of media and communication at PHCC, and the professor agreed to assist in the project.

“He’s allowing the students to decide if they want to do this for their senior project. A lot of the students are coming forward who are interested in helping. The psychology department is working on the case work and the media department will work on the editing and be the actual film crew,” said Michaels, who is the executive producer of the show as well as its host.

Ultimately, he wants to help struggling individuals.

“I’m doing this because we all experience hard times, we all experience struggles, and I’m here to tell everybody if you’re unhappy with the life you’re living no one is responsible for that life but the person living it,” Michaels said.

He thinks paranormal activity can be traced to a person’s personal history.

“I have a theory that one’s personal demons, such as drug or alcohol abuse, depression, anxiety, stress, anger, as well traumatic events from verbal or physical abuse or something as common as losing somebody and not being able to cope or going through a divorce, can be projected into reality and therefore be created into an entity that is able to manifest itself and cause paranormal experiences,” he said. “And I’m the first one to attempt to prove that.

“If anyone sees a correlation between the struggles in your life and paranormal phenomenon, please reach out...Not everybody in the home has to believe in the spirit world, not everybody has to believe in what I do, and not everybody has to be experiencing the paranormal phenomenon, they all just have to agree to film,” said Michaels.

Michaels can be reached at his website: psychicryanmichaels.com, and through his Facebook page by searching Ryan Michaels.

Nathan can be reached at nwoods@huntingdondailynews.com.

State rep. will run for reelection

State Rep. Rich Irvin has announced he’s running to seek the nomination as the incumbent Republican for the 81st Legislative District.

Irvin is seeking his third term as state representative, and he thanks his constituents for their continued support since he took office in 2015.

“I am honored to serve our great district and its citizens,” said Irvin. “I thank the voters for putting their confidence in me in past elections. And, I am again asking for their support for reelection as your representative for the 81st Legislative District. In keeping steadfast with the principles of our communities, I have continued to earn the trust of the voters so they can be assured in electing me as their representative in Harrisburg.

“It would be a privilege to continue serving the residents of the 81st District that includes all of Huntingdon County and parts of Centre and Mifflin counties,” Irvin added.

Irvin promises to hold the same conservative values and vote, support and introduce legislation that he believes will best serve the 81st Legislative District as state representative.

“On a national level, an increasingly liberal agenda is appealing to many of our youth with the ideals of free college, free healthcare and other government benefits,” he said. “This is without the understanding there is nothing truly free. Much of the cost burden will be on our middle income families. We are fighting this same battle in Harrisburg, and I will continue to bring proven conservative leadership to the taxpayers of the 81st district by fighting the governor’s liberal tax and spend agenda.”

He touts his voting record in Harrisburg with supporting conservative causes, like pro-life, Second Amendment rights and agriculture, among other things.

“I have a proven voting record of fighting to protect our unborn children and standing strong on our Second Amendment rights,” said Irvin. “I am passionate on protecting our agriculture industry and driving economic growth to provide family-sustaining jobs for our local residents.”

During his time in office, Irvin has established relationships with many local business and political officials, ones he will continue to cultivate if reelected.

It is important to have a great working relationship with our local leaders and I have spent years developing those relationships,” said Irvin. “I have laid the groundwork to make this less about government and more about you the people it serves.”

As there are a wide variety of issues that face those living in the 81st Legislative District, Irvin has a good understanding of what people want and he can best represent them in Harrisburg, and he keeps that in mind while supporting, writing and voting on legislation.

“I cannot list or even profess to know all the concerns, hardships and issues of our district, but I have listened and learned much from the constituents, and I have a very good pulse on what our local residents feel when making decisions in Harrisburg,” said Irvin. “With a younger family myself, ranging from just graduating from college to first grade, I know how important education is to the success of our youth and families. All people are affected by the decisions made at the state level, as is my own family. We all have a vested interest in making Pennsylvania better while keeping the taxpayer in mind.”

Two issues he does know that directly impact those in the 81st Legislative District are the issues surrounding the local fire and EMS companies, as well as broadband internet.

“Moving forward, I will continue to make our local EMS and fire companies a top priority to keep our residents safe,” said Irvin. “I will also use my position as broadband caucus co-chair to be rural Pennsylvania’s voice to push high-speed internet into our homes.”

He also welcomes opposition, as Irvin believes no candidate for office should be complacent.

“Opposition is good for any candidate so they don’t become complacent. It is a good representation of democracy,” he said.

Americans to mark Presidents Day holiday

Although commonly referred to as Presidents Day in many states, the official federal holiday continues to be called “Washington’s Birthday,” in honor of the country’s first president, George Washington’s birthday.

“Presidents Day is an interesting federal holiday in that you have some states that call it Washington’s Birthday, but that a number of states designate it as Presidents Day, including Pennsylvania,” said Dr. James Tuten, professor of history at Juniata College. “As far as I know, this is the only holiday like that.”

George Washington was born Feb. 22, 1973, but since the Uniform Federal Holidays Act of 1971, which stipulates federal holidays must fall on Mondays, the day is celebrated between Feb. 15-21, depending on the year.

“Famously, King George made comments to the effect that this whole little experiment in Republican government could work, but only if they have somebody like Washington, but that once he’s gone there’s no way it can last,” said Tuten. “It points to how Washington and founding fathers were viewed. The founding fathers were bold people, and even among them they tended to look to Washington as this really exceptional person.”

Washington’s birthday began to be celebrated soon after he left office, said Tuten, and it was only after the death of President Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday was Feb. 12, 1809, that the holiday as we know it began to form.

“Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays fall so close in time. Part of the thinking was honoring them together, but it also meant the whole level up above that in honoring the idea of the presidency itself,” said Tuten.

He also noted that not all states jumped on board to honor Lincoln right away.

“Alabama in particular celebrated Washington and (Thomas) Jefferson. It was primarily on the Union side where the states chose to honor Lincoln more quickly and more fully than southern states,” he said.

In the politically polarizing environment of the past decade, the office of the president has come to lose much of its former respect. That said, it’s not as bad as it could be.

“It’s been a genuine challenge, but it’s been worse,” said Tuten. “Keep in mind that in Lincoln’s own era a whole host of states seceded because he was merely elected, that is, before he was even inaugurated. You’d have to say that that was the lowest level of honoring the presidency.”

Lincoln’s obviously divisive start to the presidency aside, the majority of past presidents weren’t under the constant scrutiny of the media, which was likely in their best interest, as well as the nation’s.

“I think a good question is, in the era of 24-hour news, do we now experience the presidency too much? Is it harder to honor the office when you know so much about a president? It’s probably better we didn’t see Washington’s wooden teeth, and that hardly anyone had to see Lincoln on a regular basis, who by most accounts was considered ungainly, not the most homely, and who had a not so great speaking voice. I don’t think Lincoln would have had the right characteristics to get elected in the age of television,” said Tuten.

Nathan can be reached at nwoods@huntingdondailynews.com.