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Doctor recommends precautions with viruses spreading

With the rise of viruses like RSV, flu and COVID-19 in recent weeks, when planning the family gathering or gathering in large groups, it’s best to take precautions to ensure the health and safety of everyone.

John Pagnotto, the director of the Geisinger Health System’s hospitalist program in the Western and Northcentral regions, said that COVID cases are still every day occurrences, but it’s a bit different than what he’s seen in previous years.

“Unfortunately, we are still seeing COVID cases at a fairly stable rate,” he said. “Compared to last year, the cases are fewer, and the patients are not as ill from COVID. They’re usually presenting with other healthcare issues and are incidentally testing positive for COVID.”

With flu cases and RSV cases the highest they’ve been in recent years across the country, this region is no exception, said Pagnotto.

“We are seeing more cases of RSV and influenza as compared to the last two years,” he said. “Patients with chronic illness such as heart disease and COPD are more at risk for being admitted when any of these viruses are contracted.”

Those seeking emergency care at area facilities may have to wait longer for care.

This has caused high census numbers in the hospital and long ER wait times,” said Pagnotto.

He discussed some ways to remain safe this holiday season while gathering for events and with family and friends.

“Of course, the best first step is to get vaccinated against COVID and influenza,” he said. “Secondly, if you are experiencing upper respiratory symptoms, it is best to stay home and self-isolate rather than expose family members or others at large gatherings, such as church, for example.”

While contracting COVID, RSV or the flu may not be as big of a deal for some, it can be severe, or even deadly, to others, so it’s imperative to take all precautions, like getting vaccines when applicable.

“It is still worthwhile to get the vaccines and the booster,” said Pagnotto. “The literature has shown that those that have gotten the COVID vaccine and boosters are less likely to be admitted to the hospital and develop a serious illness if they do contract COVID. We still highly recommend the influenza vaccine. Of course, no vaccine is 100% effective but it can reduce symptoms and reduce the chance of hospital admission for those with chronic illness.”

Other precautions could also mean making up at significant events for extra safety and washing hands frequently to prevent the spread of viruses as much as possible.

Anderson Hiles, right, played the part of 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon and read the famous 1897 letter sent to the publication New York Sun, while Tracy Cornelius, playing the part of veteran newsman Francis Church, read one of the most printed editorials of all time at the 20th Christmas in Our Hometown celebration and tree-lighting in Orbisonia Nov. 26.

Local insurance agent retires

After 40 years of offering State Farm services to the Huntingdon area, Rod Secrest embarked on a new journey — retirement — Nov. 28.

“I’ll miss the people and satisfying the needs of customers, (especially) in times of crisis,” Secrest said.

Following a two-year training period that included learning all about auto and fire insurances, sales techniques and people skills, Secrest started his company in Mount Union, then moved to Huntingdon in 1987. His wife, Candace, is also a State Farm agent, based in Bedford, and has been nearly as long as he has. Since starting in the industry, Secrest has offered State Farm auto, home, business, life and health insurance options.

In the 1990s, he added financial products to the list. Though Secrest hopes more people will choose State Farm for their insurance and financial needs long after he retires, to date, the majority of his clientele are those with a long-standing history with the company.

“They’ve aged with me,” Secrest said. “The friendships (and) loyalty are the most rewarding, by far.”

Over the years, Secrest said he’s seen a lot of changes; one significant change has been transitioning from paper to microfiche to digital files, plus how systematization has impacted positions like field adjusters and underwriters.

“The increase in technology has eliminated a lot of jobs,” he said.

One of the biggest challenges Secrest has faced during his tenure has been competing in a saturated market.

“You can’t go three minutes without seeing(an insurance) commercial,” Secrest said. “Now everyone wants a piece of the pie.”

Another challenge has been dealing with the struggles associated with not covering aspects of certain claims. All of that, and his commute, Secrest said he won’t miss.

At age 16, Secrest’s ties with State Farm started as a customer. After finishing college and working as a design engineer, he was recruited by Bob Knable.

“He said ‘there’s a bright future in owning your own business,’” Secrest said.

He recalled some memorable customer experiences over the last 40 years, including insuring someone’s 1922 Ford. On on occasion, a customer, who was hesitant to have insurance for a long time, was remodeling the second floor of his home and decided to increase the replacement cost coverage for the entire dwelling. Within five years, Secrest recalled the house completely burned down.

“Thankfully, he had full coverage,” Secrest said. “He’s no longer anti-insurance.”

Despite the bittersweet memories, industry challenges and various changes, Secrest’s State Farm location has established deep roots and a loyal customer base in the community, which will abide after his retirement.

“This location (and) my staff will remain intact,” Secrest said.

Beth Port and Jenna Passalacqua will continue working on the corner of Fourth and Washington streets, under Amanda Jenkins. A State Farm agent in Orbisonia, Jenkins will temporarily take over the office Dec. 1. Though she’s bringing some of her assisting staff with her, Jenkins is excited to work with Secrest’s staff.

“Rod leaves big shoes to fill,” Jenkins said. “We plan to continue offering great service and being visible in the community.”

Port is also looking forward to working with Jenkins, but said she’s really going to miss Secrest.

“He’s been one of the best bosses I’ve ever had,” Port said. “I can’t imagine the office without him.”

Concert to benefit former music educator

A local choral group is dedicating an evening of song in support of a Huntingdon area music teacher following a liver transplant this summer.

Take Note’s Christmas concert scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2, at St. James Lutheran Church in Huntingdon, aims to raise funds for Mark Morningstar to help cover the cost of anti-rejection medications.

Morningstar is the former persuasion instructor for the Huntingdon Area High School Marching Cats,

The concert also honors Morningstar’s former student and Marching Cat, Shawn Campopiano, who stepped up to save his mentor’s life as a live liver donor.

Deb Hickes, founder and member of Take Note, said she was instantly drawn to Morningstar’s plight and the story of how one of his students came to his aid.

“I’ve worked in music in this area my whole life so, because they were music people, that piqued my interest,” she said.

She also had a connection to Campopiano that goes way back to before he was ever a Marching Cat.

“Because Shawn was a student of mine at Two By Two pre-school many years ago, when I saw he was involved I became really interested,” Hickes said. “It’s such an amazing, selfless gift. But that’s who Shawn is. Even in pre-school that’s who he was, always helping others.”

Morningstar was diagnosed with liver cancer in December 2021. On his birthday in June, Morningstar learned that Campopiano, who also chose a career in music education, was a match and that transplant surgery was scheduled for July.

Hickes followed the story and when she learned that anti-rejection medications are a lifetime commitment and not always fully covered by insurance, she enlisted her fellow Take Note singers to help.

The concert will feature a blend of sacred and traditional Christmas music, plus a few numbers to bring out of the lighter, fun side of the holiday.

Under the direction of William Lamberson, Take Note will put the audience into the Christmas Spirit with “When I Hear the Sounds of Christmas,” “We Need a Little Christmas,” “Sing Joy: A Medley of Carols,” “Candy Cane Lane,” “Baby Born in Bethlehem” and “Peace, Peace.”

In addition, Hickes said the concert will feature special guests Shawn Campopiano and Richard Kane and a featured solo by Take Note member Debbie Higgins.

Hickes estimated the concert will run approximately one hour.

Hickes said she and the rest of Take Note hope the Huntingdon area community, and beyond, will spend the evening enjoying music for a good cause.

“It’s an opportunity for people to give back to a man who had supported and blessed the children of our community with his work,” Hickes said. “And on top of that, it will be fun. This is music that will make people smile.”

Take Note formed in October 2013, at first as the Raystown Women’s Choral Association, and has been sharing a love of music with Huntingdon County ever since.

News from 1922

Nov. 29, 1922

It’s the day before Thanksgiving and the front page of The Daily News features a poem and illustration on “Cause for Thankfulness.” The paper ran a story on a former legislator from California, Cornelius Cole, who’d recently celebrated his one hundredth birthday and who shared his own causes for thankfulness with Daily News readers. Cole represented California in the lower house of Congress for 1863 to 1865 and in the Senate from 1867 to 1873. He was also a law associate of William H. Seward, President Lincoln’s secretary of state, and a close friend of Lincoln himself. Cole states.

Struck By Automobile — Rex Richardson of Standing Stone Avenue was struck by a Ford truck while crossing at Fifth and Washington streets Wednesday at noon. He was taken to Dr. Reiners’ office where it was found that the boy was not injured save several bruises.

Program feeds military families

For November and December, military families will have even more to fill their refrigerators and cupboards via the Huntingdon County MilitaryShare Program.

Monday, the program included extra food items in its monthly pre-packaged boxes. In addition to various non-perishable foods and drinks, bread, milk, eggs and frozen meat they receive each month, nearly 150 families received two frozen roasting chickens, an extra pack of rolls, a five-pound bag of potatoes and two bags of almonds.

“They’ll have plenty of leftovers and food for a couple of meals,” local program coordinator Reeder Swartz said.

Swartz reported the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank of Harrisburg sends a list every month from which the organization can choose what foods it will distribute. Most of the items are free, but some come at a minimal cost. For November, the list included several items at no extra cost.

Approximately 20 volunteers, including corrections officers and members of area VFWs and American Legions, helped to hand out food to the military families registered for the November distribution. Swartz explained the food boxes are only given to military families. Every program participant needs to provide a copy of a DD-214 or a VA medical card. Military families that live at or below the poverty level solely qualify for the program.

“They’re very appreciative,” Swartz said. “They thank us all the time.”

Next month, Monday, Dec. 22, the distribution will include a 15- to 20-pound turkey per registered family, thanks to community donations and funds raised at a chili cookoff in October.

“We’ll (also) have all the trimmings that go with a turkey dinner,” Swartz said.

For dessert, each family will receive a dozen homemade cookies, courtesy of Cassville Lutheran Church, Beech Run Church of the Brethren and Cromwell United Bible Church.

“(Veterans) do so much for our country,” said Carolyn Rowe of Beech Run church. “In comparison, (donating cookies) is such a small thing for us to do.”

In addition to an assortment of cookies, families will receive homemade candies and mini loaves of banana nut bread.

“It makes you feel so good to be able to help people who need it,” Rowe said.

Last year, Rowe recalled three cars waiting in line after receiving their food boxes to express their thanks for the cookies.

“It does my soul good that they’re so appreciative,” Rowe said. “They deserve it.”

According to, there are currently 28 MilitaryShare distribution sites in central Pennsylvania, serving more than 45,000 individuals through the program. The Huntingdon County program started in 2017, with an initial goal of feeding 100 families. That goal was met within three months and, to date, they average 150 families each month.

Those who want to donate towards the MilitaryShare distribution program can send contributions via checks, made payable to the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, directly to 3908 Corey Road, Harrisburg, PA 17109.