Community Connection
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By Ginny Tonkin staff blogger
Ginny Tonkin loves traveling off the beaten path, learning about new cultures through food, and everything outdoors. She recently spent eight months teaching English in Vietnam, and loves swapping travel stories.   Read more about this blog.
 Phone: 814-464-5589


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Posted: March 29th, 2012

Photo by Maria Firkaly at Pymatuning State Park.

Drumroll please…introducing’s Facebook Timeline cover photo winner: Maria Firkaly. Check it out on Facebook.

A mom of two boys (and two dogs), Firkaly works at Center for Family Services in Meadville and also runs her own social media marketing business.

We asked: “What does Crawford County mean to you?” Firkaly’s photo of Pymatuning State Park captured what she loves most about Crawford County: its peaceful atmosphere.

“I just had my boys and neighbor with me at the beach that day,” said Firkaly. “It was a really pretty day; I also got some great sunset photos.”

Firkaly loves living in Crawford.

“You don’t have to travel very far to find nature, places to relax, to spend time with your family, to find inexpensive activities.”

Originally a Pittsburgh area native, Firkaly now lives in Epsyville. “It’s peaceful, there’s wildlife, people are friendly.”

GoCrawfordCounty is now excited to launch our Facebook Timeline.  We feel social media can help us better stay connected with you. More importantly, you can stay better connected with us.

A big thanks to all our entries, we loved hearing from you, and receiving your photos.

Now that our Timeline is launched, we’d love to continue hearing from you. Have news? Announcing an event? Submit an article directly online. Submit, even if it’s a ways off.

Have photos to share? Submit to our community photo album. Share your events on our event listings: these become the “Briefs” you see in print.

We love to hear from you: post on our Facebook Timeline, or tweet at us @GoCrawfordCTY. Shoot us an email at Or, you can send us a message directly through Facebook.

Like Firkaly, what do you love about Crawford County?

She says, “I’m very glad I found myself here.”

Posted in: Crawford County
Posted: December 21st, 2011
Retired Pittsburgh police officers Regina and David Allman now run the non-profit Hog Heaven Rescue Farm in Cochranton.

Retired Pittsburgh police officers Regina and David Allman now run the non-profit Hog Heaven Rescue Farm in Cochranton.

Regina Allman has recently received a new four-legged friend. He sleeps inside, is housebroken, but there’s a problem. He’s a pig.

“He doesn’t know he’s a pig,” she said, “but he’s pretty impressive for an indoor pig.” Allman founded and runs the non-profit Hog Heaven Rescue Farm in Cochranton with her husband David.

Hog Heaven is not just for pigs; this farm “rescues, rehabilitates, and fosters” seized or surrendered hoofed animals, like pigs, goats, cows, horses—occasionally even alpacas—eventually sending them to permanent homes.

The title “Hog Heaven” actually reflects three various parts of her life.

First, as a police officer in Pittsburgh, she and the rest of the force were referred to as “pigs.”

“We were told to take it as ‘pride, intelligence, guts.’”

The second “hog” refers to Harleys, “I was the first female rider in Pittsburgh.”

Lastly, “I’m actually blessed and living my dream, I’m in ‘Hog Heaven,’” she said of running the non-profit farm.

“Animals are very forgiving. You can take them from the doorstep of death and teach them kindness and trust.”

She emphasizes the difficulties for unwanted animals that are not cats or dogs. “The pot-bellied pig was the throw away pet of 90’s,” said Allman, who has 47 rescued pigs on her 108 acre farm.

“There are so many shelters for dogs and cats,” said Allman, who says hoofed animals and their needs are often ignored when they need to be properly rescued.

Allman tells a story of a pig brought to a shelter getting dropped into a cage with seven other large dogs.

“Pig are prey animals; being around dogs and cats is very stressful.”

Looking for a unique gift? This year, the farm restarted a sponsorship program; people can gift sponsorships of an animal to friends and family a certain dollar amount per month. Hog Heaven will send a certificate, photograph of the animal, and newsletter to the new sponsor.

Allman says she hears from people all over eastern America wanting her to take their pigs, including Vermont, New Jersey, and Kentucky. “We get most of our calls from Pittsburgh,” she said.

Unable to sponsor or adopt? Hog Heaven is always looking for volunteers.

“We assign chores to people’s ability,” she said.

Assignments can be as varied as scrapbooking, folding newsletters, cleaning out the barn, and feeding the animals.

Interested? Contact Regina Allman at 814-425-1850, or

Find Hog Heaven online at

Submit your news, photos, and events to, and follow us on Twitter: @GoCrawfordCTY.

Find this article in the December 30 print issue of 

Posted in: Crawford County
Posted: December 20th, 2011
Play Santa for friends, family, and the community by supporting local charity.

Play Santa for friends, family, and the community by supporting local charity.

Need an end-of-the-year gift for that hard-to-shop-for, yet delightful aunt, awkward second cousin, business associate, or friendly church acquaintance? Give a unique gift that they’ll appreciate and that will benefit the community: Donate to a local charity in the giftee’s name.

Amy Woods, Executive Director of the United Way of Western Crawford County said gifting donations to local charities in the name of friends and colleagues is one great way to reach the community.

“I like to say, ‘Give the gift that keeps on giving,’” said Woods. “The United Way touches one out of three in the region through our partnerships agencies.”

“Just send us the name, and we’ll take care of the rest,” said Captain Robin Holmes of the Salvation Army of Meadville. The organization will accept donations made in honor or memory of an individual, and send a card to the recipient to let them know of their new gift.

Local charities acknowledge it’s been a tough year for many, and they appreciate any type of contribution.

“I appreciate all the donation and support from the community. This has been a really hard year, and they (the community) have really stepped up,” said Terry Wig of the Titusville Area United Way. “I really applaud any donation whether it’s to the United Way, other local charities, volunteering, donating hats, gloves, coats, or whatever. It’s appreciated.

Wig warns against donation scams that look like the real thing.

“There are a lot of people who raise money for non-charitable purposes (pretending to be otherwise),” said Wig. She says these scams pop up most frequently around the holidays or times of natural disaster when people are feeling inclined to donate.

She suggests calling a local charity directly, and asking them the best (and most secure) way to donate.

You can also check online: Find them on the commonwealth’s Bureau of Charitable Organizations database. Also check out the national equivalent,

“There’s nothing better than an informed donor.”

Woods said that although the holidays are a great time to give to local charities, it’s not the time of year when local organizations are most in need.

“February and March are when area charities struggle the most,” she said, after the spirit of the holidays fade.

Her suggestion? Start a donation drive in your office off-season to drive engagement.

“It’s great to get your own business to mobilize. It’s an easy way to get a lot of people to mobilize,” said Woods.

Submit your own articles here on

Find this article in the December 23 print issue of 

Posted in: Crawford County
Posted: December 12th, 2011

Photoholics Anonymous. Its members are seriously addicted: they can meet anytime, anywhere there’s an internet connection, and post several times a day. Now they’ve taken it to the next level—meeting face to face.

After “meeting” on Facebook since late spring, the Oil City-based group Photoholics Anonymous is now meeting offline. This photography club has begun hosting a six-week long masters class on lighting for those photoholics interested in learning more about their craft. Interested photographers can join the crew every Tuesday night at the Queen City Café and Gallery in Titusville.

On Facebook, the group posts exquisite, thoughtful, and fun photos, often around a theme, like a letter of the alphabet—often several times a day.

Oil City resident, Timothy Rudisille started the Facebook group in May, looking to talk photography—without bugging everyone else on his friends list. Starting from 10 of his local friends, this Facebook group has blossomed into an international community of 144.

“A good portion of the people are local but it has grown nationally because of everyone adding their friends. We even have a guy from France and two from Australia,” said Rudisille. “We’ve bonded into quite the family, a great group of people, and we’re all photoholics.”

“The group actually is more interesting with the diversity, we see things in pictures we might not ever get to see if not for this group,” said Robert Specht, a Photoholics regular who hails from California. Asked to join the group by Timothy, he’s grateful to have joined a supportive group.

Although not all of their international and domestically far-flung members can meet face-to-face, offline the group has started to utilize their community—and their talents—to learn from each other.

“There used to be an active camera club in Oil City, but there’s been a resurgence since digital photography became popular,” said Mike Henderson, a photography vet, who’s teaching the master class on lighting at the “Q.”

An intimate, yet passionate group of ten was at the first master class.

“I think we all learned a lot and had some great discussions! We definitely now have a regular weekly thing going,” said Henderson.

Want to get involved? Search “Photoholics Anonymous” on Facebook, and ask to join the group.

Interested in learning more about the master’s class? Call the Queen City Café at 814-775-0898. Find the “Q” at 106 North Kerr Street, in Titusville.

Want to share your photos with the community? Post your own photos in our community album on; just click on “Submit photos.”

Posted in: Crawford County
Posted: November 30th, 2011

Creative baking remains a hobby of mine; I love seeing people light up when trying new kinds of dishes. But when looking for a dessert to whip up for the holidays, I wasn’t sure if I was disgusted or delighted with a new discovery: the cherpumple.

What is a cherpumple? Stacked three layers high, a cherpumple is a Frankenstein’s monster of a dessert: three kinds of pie are baked into cake layers, staked, and slathered frosting.

The cherpumple first made waves when author/comedian Charles Phoenix debuted the caloric confection for Thanksgiving in 2009. He wanted to satisfy the desires of his family, who’d been slivering off slices of each pie to get a taste of each for dessert.

His dilemma solved? The cherpumple. He took a cherry, apple, and pumpkin pie, baked them in different flavors of cake mixes, and sealed them together with mounds of cream cheese frosting.

Sound good to you? It’s been met with rapture and revulsion, and I’m not sure where I stand on this delightfully decadent issue.

This seems on par with the Krispy Kreme donut burgers sold at state and county fairs—America’s weakness to terrifyingly caloric food. Just because it’s sold as food, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to eat it.

But…if you’re game, need a signature holiday dish, or can’t decide between cherry or pumpkin pie, your dilemma is solved: make a cherpumple.

The Cherpumple “Monster” Pie Cake

Adapted from:

-1 8″ frozen pumpkin pie
- 1 box spice cake mix
- 1 8″ frozen apple pie
- 1 box yellow cake mix
- 1 8″ frozen cherry pie
- 1 box white cake mix
- eggs and oil according to the cake mix
- 3 tall tubs of cream-cheese frosting
- 3 8.5″ round cake pans

Bake pies according to instructions and cool to room temperature overnight. Mix cake batter according to instructions. For each layer pour about 1 1/3 cup of batter in the cake pan. Carefully de-tin the baked pie and place it face up on top of the batter in the cake pan. Push down lightly to release any trapped air. Pour enough batter on top to cover the pie. Bake according to box instructions. Cool and remove from pans then frost it like you mean it.

Have your own holiday traditions and events? Submit your articles on Follow @GoCrawfordCTY on twitter, and join the conversation.


Read this article in the Friday, December 2 issue of

Posted in: Crawford County
Posted: November 14th, 2011

Florence “Shutsy” Reynolds was seven years old when she announced to her skeptical family in 1928 she was going to be a pilot.

“They said, ‘That’s too bad. Women don’t fly planes,’” said Reynolds.

She proved them and societal convention wrong in 1942, by joining the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II.

Today, women veterans are honored at Active Aging’s 12th annual “Through a Veteran’s Eye: A Salute” in Meadville for Veterans Day. Each year, the event selects a unique group of veterans to commemorate. This year, Reynolds, now 90, along with Debbie Ford, 91, a nurse who served in hospitals in North Africa during WWII, will address the event.

“It’s a great honor to be asked to speak,” said Reynolds, who as a WASP flew on the home front to free male pilots for combat missions. She wants the WASP legacy and work of women in the armed services to live on.

“When the war broke out, woman were only 10% of the work force. They could only work as nurses, stenographers, or school teachers. If they were married, they didn’t work,” said Reynolds. “The need was desperate. They needed pilots.”

“Women’s roles have changed so much. Previously, they could only play in the band, work in communications, or in administration,” said Director of Veterans Services, Fred Cunningham. “Today, they’re right in the thick of everything.”

Cunningham emphasizes that women are imperative to the work in Iraq and Afghanistan today, because of the sensitive nature of gender roles in those countries. For Veterans Day, both Reynolds and Ford will be able to share their stories, many of which of gone unheard or unappreciated.

“In December 1944, WASP was disbanded, and buried and classified for thirty years,” said Reynolds. “The male officers were afraid that we proved we did the job.”

Reynolds says that women were treated as second-class citizens. A male officer told her, “WASPs are expendable. If you don’t like it, pack your bags and go back home.”

“We have a unique ability to have the opportunity to do something for someone local,” said Cunningham. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to invite the children, to talk with people of the era.”

“It’s amazing the relationships and connections that are formed,” said Pam Roberts. “We saw a real need for veterans to come together and share stories.”

The opening ceremony starts at 8:30 am.


This article appeared in the November 11, 2011 print issue of

Post your news, events, photos, and more on

Posted in: Crawford County
Posted: November 8th, 2011

What’s special about Tuesday, November 8? It’s Election Day—will you be wearing the sticker, “I Voted Today” next week?

Historically, presidential elections turn out more voters than during non-presidential election years. What makes this year’s Crawford County elections important?

“Municipal elections people just don’t take it seriously enough,” said Director of Elections, Melanie Mushrush. “This is where people actually see their tax dollars being spent everyday.

Several contests, including two open seats for County Commissioner, will be held. Treasurer, School board positions, and many others, will also be held. Find full ballots and information about polling locations on the county website,

“This election is way more important than the presidential one. Who my township supervisors are impact me everyday,” said Mushrush. She also mentioned that for people in boroughs and cities, council members are the equivalent official.

“We’ve all pushed a button of a candidate we didn’t know or what they stood for,” said Reese.

The group not only stresses the importance of getting out to the polls to vote, but also individual responsibility to self educate about candidates.

“Don’t vote because the sign in the road is prettier than the other,” said Mitra Amini Reese, Executive Director of the non-partisan group I Matter I Vote.

I Matter I Vote lists all candidates listed on the ballot on their website,, and offers links to candidate websites under the “ballot” tab on the left-hand side of the screen. They also offer candidate biographies, if submitted by the running official.

Reese emphasizes that regardless of the race, it’s important to know the facts.

“All kinds of avenues for open for people to communicate with the candidates,” said Reese. “It’s important to communicate now, rather than complain later.”

I Matter I Vote offers to take questions from voters via Facebook or email, and then relay those questions to specific candidates.

“All races are important. You really need to educate yourself about a person. Don’t just ask your neighbor, their vales are different from yours,” said Reese.

Want to get informed? Visit a local candidate’s website to find out more information about why they’re running, their background, and what their platform and values are.

Also available and dedicated to helping voters is the county’s voter services page, I Matter I Vote encourages participation on their site and on their Facebook page.


This article appeared in the 11/4 print edition of

Check out photos from around Crawford County on Submit your own articles, events, and photos online.

Posted in: Crawford County
Posted: October 26th, 2011
Wesbury's Black Pearl won the float competition's Best Overall category in 2010. - contributed from Andy Clawson

Wesbury's Black Pearl won the float competition's Best Overall category in 2010. - contributed by Andy Clawson

Have any Halloween weekend plans? Join tens of thousands that gather in downtown Meadville to for the Annual Halloween Parade this Saturday, October 29.

Sponsored by Annual Crawford Area Young Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Meadville Chamber of Commerce, the parade is celebrating its 45th year with the theme “Through the Ages.”

Called the largest nighttime parade in Pennsylvania, this parade attracts about 25,000 spectators, lining the streets of Meadville to sneak a peak at over a hundred entries and floats.

“People come from all over. We get participants and spectators from all over Crawford, Erie, and Ohio. They see our buinesses, what Meadville has to offer,” said Halloween Parade Chair, Meghan Cressman.

Cressman said over 140 entries, from local pageant organizations to motorcycle clubs, have registered so far for the parade. Competition for best float is steep, including youth, for-profit, non-profit, and overall categories.

Last year, Wesbury Retirement Community took home the prize for overall under last year’s “Treasure Island” theme.

“Wesbury’s float was modeled after the Black Pearl pirate ship. It had a cannon that fired off, Captain Jack Sparrow, and other characters from the ‘pirates’ films,” said Andy Clawson, Director of Communications at Wesbury.

Kids rode in tiny pirate ships as part of Wesbury's Black Pearl float in 2010's Meaville Halloween Parade. - contributed by Andy Clawson

Kids rode in tiny pirate ships as part of Wesbury's Black Pearl float in 2010's Meaville Halloween Parade. - contributed by Andy Clawson

“We even had our small ‘train’ we use at our chicken BBQ. It was pulled by a tractor, made into tiny pirate ships, and kids rode in those.”

Unique themes and the possibility of an award each year encourages float builder volunteers to go over the top year after year.

“It just shows a lot of hard work, time and energy pays off, and gives those that volunteer the incentive to go bigger and better the next year.”

“You never know what you’re going to see. The reason we have a theme is to keep it new and fresh each year,” said Cressman.

This year, the CAYCC is establishing a two-block “siren free zone” where families that may be sensitive to loud noises can appreciate the parade without starling siren sounds. Families can sit in between the corner North and Market St. to Market and Walnut St.

The parade goes on regardless of rain; dress for the weather. If rain holds off, Clown City Clowns will circulate the crowds starting at 5 p.m.

Parade line up starts at 4:00 p.m. and needs to be in place by 4:30 p.m. To be considered for float competition judging, floats need to be ready by 5 p.m.

The parade starts promptly at 6:30 p.m. For more information, visit

Posted in: Crawford County
Posted: October 24th, 2011

Want a perfect pumpkin to complement spooky Halloween decorations? From the traditional grinning gourd to the uncouth and unconventional, there are plenty of ways to make this year’s pumpkin stand out.

First things first: Pick the perfect carving pumpkin. Keep the design in mind.

“It’s all in your personal preference,” said John Bartic of Al’s Melons, a farm market and green house in Meadville. “People prefer different looks, size. There’s no wrong or right way.”

Second: Get creative. It helps to look at inspired creations. Surf the net and browse images of “creative pumpkin carving ideas” on Google. also offers great ideas and images of stellar chiseled creations.

Third: Pick your poison. What design will you attempt this year?


Templates help finalize designs before plunging into pumpkins. Sketch ideas on paper, then transfer the chosen design onto a piece of wax paper. Pin the wax paper to the pumpkin, and poke holes through the paper to generate an outline to carve. Pre-made templates also abound online for the artistically challenged.


Who says the stem goes on top? Work with this natural protrusion: turn the pumpkin on its side and use the stem as a nose. Or, cut off the top altogether. Position the gourd upside down and work with its unique curves.


A big trend in extreme pumpkin carving is 3D carving. Instead of that iconic lantern look, 3D carvers use the pale fleshy part of the pumpkin to create creepy and realistic sculptures. While thinner pumpkin walls aid traditional carving, which removes full pieces from the rind, 3D pumpkin carving favors thicker walls, providing more material with which to work. 3D pumpkin carving artist, Scott Cummins recommends on his site buying larger pumpkins for their larger, thicker rinds.


Who says all carvings need to be pumpkins? Gourds come in all shapes and sizes. Try using the multihued varieties found at farmers markets and stands, and play up their unique coloring. Turn a white gourd into a ghoulish ghost. Or, incorporate smaller gourds into larger carvings as appendages, like ears or arms.


Are you utilizing all of your pumpkin? Use the “pumpkin guts,” the stringy insides, to create a spooky look on the outside of your carving. Pull large strands out of a carved mouth or have them spill onto the ground.

Do you have any pumpkin carving photos? We want to see them! Just click on “Submit photos” on! 

Posted in: Crawford County
Posted: October 12th, 2011

The same little blue face. Wearing a bonnet, she is young and has a glow around her. Her appearance isn’t that intrusive, but the staff who now care for the 19th century hotel know her well after seeing her unexpectedly appear in their photographs.

“We’ve had two to three photographs circulating among the staff,” says Riverside Inn co-owner Ken Falkenhagen. “On cell phones or cameras, they’ll be doing a group shot of people going out, and they’ll see her.”

Visitors best know the Riverside Inn for its dinner theatre productions, but this Cambridge Springs icon may be host to another audience: the paranormal.

Teaming with Rogue Paranormal, Riverside Inn holds Ghost Hunter weekends to answer the question: Is the Riverside Inn haunted?

“We invite the public in,” says Falkenhagen. “They have the run of the hotel, have access to some of the places the general public doesn’t.”

Last year, the Sharpsville group headed by Dave Getway contacted Falkenhagen to investigate the inn. While the previous owners declined, Falkenhagen gave the green light.

“We try to find out what’s actually going on before we say it’s paranormal. We’ll go in thinking it’s not paranormal,” said Getway, explaining his team’s operational style. Getway and his wife have explored the paranormal for 15 years—just for fun. Rogue Paranormal doesn’t charge for their services.

“You get a lot of teams that swear up and down everything’s paranormal. Gives us a bad name, and then the public ends up thinking we’re phony.”

“It’s also probably called crazy by other people,” said Maribeth McCarthy, who works at the inn. She says she has a “kooky sixth sense” that allows her to see things others can’t—like the little blue-faced girl, whom she calls “Rebecca.”

“I see her a lot on the third floor, sometimes the second,” she said, “but ghosts will choose who to reveal themselves to.”

For the most part, according to McCarthy, the paranormal don’t want to be bothered—or bother you. She says that only when the ghost is agitated do people experience that cold feeling associated with a paranormal encounter. Otherwise, “you feel like something is pressing behind your shoulders.”

McCarthy often also sees “Greg,” easily identified, she says, by his black handlebar moustache.

“He’ll show up if people are arguing, when things aren’t going well. He probably used to oversee the inn. You can tell he was in a higher position from his dress; he just has that look to him.”

McCarthy, who’s been on ghost hunter weekends, gives the crew thumbs up, although they approach the paranormal differently. “They see things through science; they know what they’re doing.”

After a dinner and get to know you session, which McCarthy likens to a “college orientation,” weekend guests get a seminar on ghost hunting, including how to use equipment. Rogue Paranormal uses sensitive audio and video recording equipment to document paranormal activity. They’ll spend eight to nine hours a night recording, and Getway says it sometimes takes up to three weeks going through material.

Although Rogue Paranormal doesn’t charge for their services, Riverside Inn requires ghost hunters to pay a fee to cover housing and food. Falkenhagen has deemed the weekends wildly successful—all ghost hunter weekends in 2010 and 2011 sold out quickly. He expects to host three to four next year.

So is Riverside Inn haunted?

“Is it real? Are we haunted? I’d leave that up to the individual who’s doing the investigation,” said Falkenhagen, who’s skeptical about calling Riverside “haunted.” “I’ve been here nine years and never seen anything, but there are too many stories to discount.”

Have you seen Rebecca? Do you have any photographic evidence of the paranormal? Tell us about it. Post photos in our community photo album.

Interested in having your own ghost hunter investigation? Find Rogue Paranormal at and the Riverside Inn at

Find this shortened column in print, October 7. 

Posted in: Crawford County

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