Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cop may not appear at hearing, but somebody must

Reading Police Chief Bill Heim says it's perfectly legal for a person to be found guilty even if a cop doesn't show up for a parking ticket hearing.
He cites Title 4, Section 454, subsection B as proof.
That section says:
(B) If the defendant pleads guilty, the issuing authority shall impose sentence. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the issuing authority shall try the case in the same manner as trials in criminal cases are conducted in the courts of common pleas when jury trial has been waived; however, in all summary cases arising under the Vehicle Code or local traffic ordinances, the law enforcement officer observing the defendant’s alleged offense may, but shall not be required to, appear and testify against the defendant. In no event shall the failure of the law enforcement officer to appear, by itself, be a basis for dismissal of the charges against the defendant.

However, the chief fails to mention subsection C, which states:
(C) The attorney for the Commonwealth may appear and assume charge of the prosecution. When the violation of an ordinance of a municipality is charged, an attorney representing that municipality, with the consent of the attorney for the Commonwealth, may appear and assume charge of the prosecution. When no attorney appears on behalf of the Commonwealth, the affiant may be permitted to ask questions of any witness who testifies.

It's clear to me that though an officer is not required to show up at a parking ticket hearing, someone else must appear in his stead. It can be an assistant district attorney, or if it's a city ticket, it can be the city solicitor or his deputy. But clearly somebody has to appear.
The law was written this way because traditionally cops were paid a lot less than ADAs or city attorneys.

Nowadays, with the average cop making about $90,000 in salary and benefits and getting overtime for court appearances on top of that, it's a closer call as to which is cheaper.
Heim said he'd like to do what the parking authority does, which is to send one representative of the authority to answer for all tickets issued by the cold-blooded, heartless meter maids.
However, the chief said the move to spread parking tickets among four magistrates instead of one, would make his plan to send one police representative to handle all parking tickets unworkable.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Scrooge parking cop can't crush Judge's Christmas spirit

Reading Magisterial District Judge Wally Scott said a Reading Parking Authority meter maid cited him for parking overtime at a meter as he was setting up for the tree-lighting ceremony for the Childrens Tree of Christmas earllier today.
Scott, who is spearheading the Childrens Tree program with the city school district, said he was parked at a meter near the corner of Ninth and Washington streets about 10 a.m. today when a meter maid approached his SUV on a bicycle and began to write a ticket.
"I went over and told her that when I put a quarter in the meter it said it was out of order," Scott said.
He said the meter maid, whose name he did not get, told him the city's parking ordinance prohibits people from parking in spaces with faulty meters.
"She told me the ordinance says anyone who parks in a parking authority space has to pay," Scott said. "I told her again that I did put a quarter in the meter, it just didn't register, but I had paid."
Scott said the meter maid, who knew him to be a city judge, told him to move his car or she would give him a ticket.
"I said go ahead and give me a ticket because it's not my meter that is broken," Scott said.
Scott said he was ticketed and plans to fight the citation in court.
The further irony in this case is that Scott had just arranged with Muhlenberg Township Parks and Rec to receive a donation of mulch to surround and add to the magic of the Childrens Tree of Reading.
The concept is a gift to the beleagured citizens of Reading from the children who live and go to school there.
Scott, like Reading Schools Superintendent Tom Chapman, is a big fan of Christmas and the whole Childrens Tree project is largely their doing. Scott helps decorate the whole 900 block of Washington Street every year. Chapman has a Christmas Tree in his office year round.
They're big Yuletide fans, but they have had help.
Already installed on the vacant lot across from Scott's district court office at Ninth and Washington streets, is an 18-foot Douglas fir donated by Mar-Jo Tree Nursery of Boyertown, white picket fencing and light poles donated by Amity Fence Co., old-fashioned lights donated by WalMart.
Sam's Club also has donated 1,500 cups of hot cocoa to be used for chilly nights of caroling to come.
"And our latest donation is a citation from the Reading Parking Authority," Scott said.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

South Korean mom claims long lost son

“Mother Alive!!!”
Vernon Newman said he almost fell on the floor when he opened an e-mail and saw this message.
A schoolteacher turned computer programmer, the 49-year-old Exe-ter Township resident said he had been told about a year ago that his mother probably was dead.
Happily adopted by an American family more than 40 years ago, Newman said he started thinking a few years ago about his village in South Korea and the mother who gave him up for adoption so he could have a better life in America.
Newman said he first became homesick in 1999 during a sermon about adoption at his church, the Reading-Kenhorst Boulevard Sev-enth-day Adventist Church.
“It sort of stirred something inside me,” Newman said. “I started to wonder about my mother.
“The feeling grew and eventually I began to feel I had to get back and at least touch the soil that had given me birth.”
Newman said he discussed his longings with his American family, and they agreed he should go back to South Korea.
So, in September 2000, Newman flew to South Korea to search for his mother and the village where he was born.
Despite the help of a South Korean friend he had met on the Inter-net, Kim Kyung Sook, Newman could not find his village or any sign of his mother.
He did, however, learn his birth name was Yun Yun Bong.
Over the years, he said, he had forgotten his native language, his for-mer address and even his mother’s name.
The search continued, and on Dec. 22 he was told his mother was alive and she had never moved, hoping her son would someday find his way home.
“She thinks one day you will hunt for her,” Sook wrote in broken English.
“That’s why she never moved (from) that house,” Sook wrote. “She has been living (in) that house since you left Korea.”
  
The voice of Yun Yun Bong’s teacher droned as the 8-year-old’s mind drifted through an open classroom window into the sunny countryside.
From his desk he could see the mountain that guarded and fed water to the rice patties of his village, Kosan-ri, on the outskirts of Uijongbu, South Korea.
In his daydream, America lay somewhere beyond the mountain — a gentle breeze away.
The recurring dream — a wish really — abruptly ended when some-one rapped on the schoolhouse window.
“Hey, do you want to go to America?" asked his friend, Oh Dae Il, try-ing frantically to get his attention.
Ohdale, as Yun Bong calls him, was 11 and determined to go to Amer-ica.
Sons of American GIs and South Korean mothers, the two boys were among a growing number of Amerasian children in postwar Korea who were neglected, abused and even murdered in Uijongbu.
“We both had always considered America our real home,” Yun Bong said.
Yun Bong stood up and immediately attracted his teacher’s attention.
“What is it, Yun Bong?” the teacher asked.
“I am going to America,” Yun Bong replied.
The teacher called Yun Bong to the front of the room and told the children in the class to congratulate him and wish him well on his trip.
There was no further inquiry by school officials, Yun Bong said.
Yun Bong, who had been staying with friends because his mother of-ten had to go out of town to find work, said he grabbed the few belong-ings he had.
“I left with Ohdale and we went on the bus to the orphanage in Seoul to be adopted by Americans,” Yun Bong recalled.
  
Newman said he first began looking for his mother by searching for his village on the Internet. He said he had no solid clues.
“My mother had come to see me at the orphanage to make sure I was OK, and the day before I left for America she gave me a picture of her and put her name and address on the back of it,” Newman said.
However, before the boys were loaded on the plane to America they were given new clothing and their first pair of leather shoes.
“I had slipped her picture into the pocket of my old overalls, and it was gone,” Newman said. “Eventually I forgot her name, my address, everything.”
While searching the Internet, Newman said he met Sook, who offered to help.
When Newman went to South Korea in 2000, she was his guide, but they failed to find the village or his mother.
“I remembered the mountain and the farms all around,” Newman said. “The mountain appeared larger to me, but the fields were all gone. The whole area was developed.”
Unable to find any landmarks, Newman said his only victory came on his last day in South Korea when he found his name and his mother’s name — Yun Soon Ja — on records at the orphanage.
“I thought, at least I found her name,” Newman said.
  
After Newman left South Korea, Sook continued searching the vil-lages around Uijongbu and eventually contacted an old friend who worked in a municipal office.
They located a village and a woman they thought could be Newman’s mother. They visited the woman and learned she was his mother.
Sook immediately rushed home and e-mailed Newman.
Newman said he continued to correspond with Sook, learning more about his mother and his village.
Sook eventually took her cellular phone to Soon Ja’s house, and the mother and son spoke to each other for the first time in more than 40 years.
“My mother was doing a lot of crying,” Newman recalled.
He said they discussed plans for him to visit his mother by himself at first, then make a return trip with his family.
“I told my mother that I loved her very much and that I missed her,” Newman said.
“She told me that she is 69, and that my birthday is on Jan. 24,” New-man said. “She said her name is Yun Soon Ja.
“And in our village she is known as Yun Bong’s mother.”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Only the good die young, my brother was one

They say you can't pick your family. My late brother-in-law David had a great personality.
He was just incapable of conformity.
As a result, light switches he has installed all go down for "on" and up for "off." Most of our faucets go left for "cold," right for "hot."
He was also not a big fan of preventive maintenance. As a result, going out on his boat was always an adventure.
David, rest his soul, seemed to enjoy having things break down on him.
Having to fix things on the fly was his forte. Regular maintenance was too ponderous to even conceive.
"Where's the fun in that?" he'd ask.
It drove me nuts.
One time we put his boat in at Corson's Inlet, which is between Ocean City and Strathmere, N.J.
He loved to go to the Deauville Inn, which was on the Strathmere side of the inlet. You could pull the boat right up onto the beach.
On this day it was a little too cloudy for the beach so David, my son Elliott, who was about 7 at the time, and I were just going to go for a ride and maybe a little fishing.
That was the plan. Before I knew it, we were headed out through the breakwater and into the open ocean in a 16-footer that had a spotty performance record at best.
I lashed Elliott into a life vest as the theme song to "Gilligan's Island" played in my head.
We skipped along the rolling waves like a cigarette boat running from the Coast Guard.
Sure enough, we weren't 10 blocks up the Ocean City shoreline when the engine began to sputter.
Minutes later we were dead in the water. Seems Uncle Dave, as Elliott called him, forgot to mention the connector on his fuel hose was shot.
As we floated along on the waves the boy started asking questions.
"What's that?" he asked, pointing toward shore.
"That's Ocean City," I said.
"What's out there?" Elliott asked, pointing eastward.
"France," I said, eyeballing David.
"Relax," David replied as he jury-rigged a new clamp out of some of the flotsam and jetsam scattered on the deck.
David died suddenly when he was just 40 years old. It was almost four years ago.
Once or twice a year I'll accidentally scald myself while washing my hands in mom's kitchen.
And I'll smile and think I couldn't have picked a better brother-in-law.

City truancy points up ongoing problems with youth aid agency where aid is optional

George Kovarie, director of the Berks County Children and Youth Services agency, changed his mind.

Kovarie said his agency will now accept truancy cases directly from district courts and the Reading School District and will handle cases of truants 16 and older.

A month earlier, Kovarie said his agency would not accept referrals from District Judge Wally Scott if there were fines included because he wasn't running a collection agency for the Reading School District. He also said he would not accept truancy referrals directly from the district. And Kovarie said he would not handle truants 16 or over because it didn't make financial sense.

Scott's Coke-bottle glasses steamed up at the county's first truancy summit in August.

"I don't know how you still have a job," Scott said to Kovarie.

Lest we forget, Kovarie is the guy who denied his agency was supervising 16-month-old Maxwell Fisher, who was raped and murdered by Percy Perez, boyfriend of Maxwell's crack-addicted mother, April R. Fisher.

Kovarie also is the one who said it wasn't his fault that more than 1,100 truancy cases referred to his agency by Wally Scott were put in a box and ignored.

Berks County Commissioner Christian Y. Leinbach said he read about the 1,100 neglected truancy cases and wanted answers.

President Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl summed up the committee's work thus far.

"It's amazing how much more you can do when you bring everyone together in one room," Schmehl said. "People can't say stuff that's not true because somebody's there to call them on it. And people hear straight from the lips of other people what they're willing to do and not do."

Truancy is important. Studies show crime in most cities occurs overnight. In Reading, most crime occurs between noon and 3 p.m. Reading's truancy rate is number two in the state behind Philadelphia.

Temperatures in the room last week had cooled significantly since the August meeting.

I'm still not sure Leinbach will get his answers, but something or somebody changed George Kovarie's mind.

Soldier's daughter holds hands, breaks hearts

Abby Bennethum of Laureldale is pregnant with her third child.

She says she got pregnant back in June or July just before her husband, U.S. Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Brett Bennethum, deployed to Iraq with the 733rd Transportation Company, based in Reading.

"I've heard of deployment babies, but I never thought I'd be having one," Abby said.

If Abby's daughter Paige, who turned 4 last week, is any indication, Abby is going to have her hands full.

Abby was wrestling with her second daughter, Lena, 10 months, when I spoke to her.

Staff Sgt. Bennethum got a four-day pass just before the 733rd deployed in July, and Abby bundled the kids into the car drove down to Fort Dix, N.J., to pick him up and spend some quality time before he left for Iraq for a one-year tour of duty.

Staff Sgt. Bennethum and his men are transporting supplies and soldiers back and forth in Iraq.

Abby said she could tell me what part of Iraq her husband is in, but then she'd have to kill me.

When Abby and the kids got to the base, Staff Sgt. Bennethum unbelted Paige and lifted her out of the car. Almost immediately his commanding officer ordered the soldiers to fall in.

"Gotta go," Staff Sgt. Bennethum said as he joined his fellow soldiers in formation.

What he didn't realize was that Paige was hot on his heels.

When he got into formation, Paige grabbed onto his right hand and wouldn't let go.

"I called to her a couple of times, but she wouldn't budge," Abby said. "I don't know if the officers didn't see her because they were in the back row, or they simply didn't say anything about her being there."

"She just wouldn't let go of him," she said.

I'd like to think Staff Sgt. Bennethum's commanding officer saw Paige and decided that her being there was just fine.

Abby's third child is scheduled to arrive in March.

Staff Sgt. Bennethum will still be in Iraq.

It's going to be the first time he wasn't there for the birth of one of his children.

Abby said she's exploring video-conferencing and other options.

"I know some of the families are using Skype (an Internet-based video phone service) but I haven't been able to do anything like that because our computer isn't working right," Abby said.

So, if you're reading this on, Staff Sgt. Bennethum, the girls say hello.

Update: 10/7/2009 2:07:00 PM

If a picture paints a thousand words it can also inspire and break hearts.

I felt at once inspired and heart broken when I first saw the photo of 4-year-old Paige Bennethum defying military tradition to stand with her father and hold his hand as he stood in formation preparing to deploy to Iraq with the U.S. Army Reserve's 733rd Transportation Company of Reading.

It ran with my Kelly's Korner column in the Reading Eagle.

Staff Sgt. Brett M. Bennethum of Laureldale said it may have been the proudest moment of his life.

In an e-mail from his base in Iraq, he also revealed that it wasn't the first time that Paige has broken with Army tradition.

"When we began the mobilization process I was briefing the new soldiers and as soon as I left the podium she pushed a chair up to it and started telling everyone to listen up and do things," Staff Sgt. Bennethum wrote.

The thought of the little girl in the gingham sundress barking commands to the soldiers conjures memories of Shirley Temple in "The Little Princess".

"She went up to one of the other soldiers and said 'get your hands out of your pockets.' It was pretty funny and cute," he said. "She loves the army."

I've tried twice to write about that photo, but still can't do it justice.

Updated 10/08/09

I’ve heard the stereotypes about Berks Countians being cheap.
They throw nickels around like manhole covers, have deep pockets and short arms, even water won’t trickle from their hands, are a few sayings I’ve heard.
Well, I’m here to tell you that Berks residents are some of the most generous folks I’ve met.
Take the case of the Bennethum family of Laureldale.
We ran a photo of 4-year-old Paige Bennethum holding her father’s hand as he stood in ranks waiting to deploy to Iraq.
At the very end of the item, I wrote that Paige’s mother, Abby Bennethum, told me her husband, Staff Sgt. Brett M. Bennethum, would be in Iraq until July and that he was going to miss the birth of their third child.
The Bennethums have a second daughter, Lena, 10 months.
Abby also mentioned she wanted to set up some kind of computer video conference so her husband could see the baby when it is born, but that her home computer wasn’t cooperating.
Well, that’s all it took to open the floodgates.
I came in Tuesday morning to about 30 e-mails and phone calls from folks commenting on the picture of Paige holding her dad’s hand as he stood in formation and offering to either fix or help replace the Bennethums’ home computer.
Abby sent me an e-mail Wednesday morning reporting that a Philadelphia news crew had been out to the house and that she’s getting request calls and e-mails from all over the county and the country, for that matter.
"It has been very crazy around here and I’m kind of in shock that a simple picture of a little girl that loves her daddy has made national news," Abby wrote.
Being a mother of two, pregnant with what Abby calls a deployment baby, and with a husband in Iraq with the U.S. Army Reserve, 733rd Transportation Company of Reading, is no picnic.
"There are some things that just have to be done and I do them without ever thinking it is a big deal," Abby said. "It’s astonishing to me that it has taken the kindness of strangers to make me see the significance, importance and difficulty of doing what I am doing."
You’ve heard the stereotypes.
What say you?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Sleep study columns lead to spot on wall of infamy

Some people have their picture hanging in the local post office.

My mug is hanging on the bulletin board in the control room of the Reading Hospital sleep lab.

For those of you wondering how I'm making out with my colossal snoring problem, here's the third and final installment in my snoring/sleep apnea series.

I first wrote about scaring little children as a young man.

Then I wrote about how later in life I was waking my neighbors whenever I slept with the windows open.

Then I wrote about how much I disliked undergoing sleep studies.

I went so far as to accuse medical science of dropping the ball and sacrificing patient comfort in the pursuit of better data.

I had sleep studies about 10 years apart and the only improvement in the process was that they put you in a nicer room, I wrote.

The electrodes, hoses, belts and clamps they use to gather data make it nearly impossible to sleep, I alleged.

Instead of a sleep study they should call it a discomfort study, in the course of which some people get so exhausted they fall asleep.

After the study, during which the hospital staff was totally professional, courteous and informative, the doctors concluded I had sleep apnea. Well, duh!

I was placed on a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, machine that has significantly improved my health.

I'm told that over time the CPAP will help lower my blood pressure, improve my cognitive functioning and might even help me lose weight as I become more active.

I'm not expecting miracles. It's just nice to be able to sleep through the night for a change.

Loud snoring is a symptom of sleep apnea. With sleep apnea, as you fall asleep the muscles in your throat relax and cause your airway to close, which in turn causes you to wake up as much as a hundred times per night gasping for air.

Usually you're so exhausted you don't even realize you're doing it, but when the alarm goes off in the morning, you still feel tired.

I'm trying to get the word out about sleep apnea. And I must be making some headway.

For one thing, my columns appear to be required reading at the Reading Hospital sleep lab.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Kelly column breaks impasse in Reading K-9/FOP flap

Just hours after my column hit the streets in the Reading Eagle I received a call from Reading police Chief Bill Heim reporting that the impasse in the K-9/FOP flap had been reached.
I'm convinced Heim and Mayor Tom McMahon decided to swallow their pride and do the right thing because it was obvious the police union wasn't going to live by their word.
Reading Eagle Reporter Don Spatz wrote the following story because I was on vacation.

Reading police to keep K-9 unit; dog handlers reassigned
By Don Spatz
Reading Eagle

Reading police Chief William M. Heim on Thursday broke a two-month impasse over the future of the city's K-9 squad, offering K-9 jobs to four patrolmen in accordance with an arbitrator's ruling.

However, the complex decision means current K-9 Officer Joshua Faust could lose his job as a handler and his dog, Rocky.

The chief and the officers union, the Fraternal Order of Police, have been fighting over what qualifications the six dog handlers need. Three are trained, and three teams have been on the job since last fall.

The FOP had insisted seniority alone be used to choose handlers. Heim wanted additional qualifications to apply.

The three current K-9 officers have remained on duty despite the battle. Heim's decision means they lose their jobs as dog handlers.

However, two of them - Officers Andrew Winters and Jason Linderman - get the jobs back based on seniority.

But Faust, the third K-9 officer, loses the job unless one of the new appointees fails to make the grade.

Heim would not comment on what happens to Faust's dog. He said that will be handled later.

In addition to Winters and Linderman, Heim offered K-9 posts to Officers Brian Rogers, Eric Goudy, Ron Miko and Hector Santiago. The four new officers will have to be trained.

Ironically, Santiago, Linderman and Faust were hired the same day and have the same seniority.

In such cases, the contract says older officers are more senior. Among the three, Faust is the youngest.

In making the offers, Heim passed over another applicant with more seniority, as Heim said the contract allows him to do. He declined to name that officer or say why he was passed over.

The FOP did not return calls seeking comment.

Heim and the FOP have been battling over what qualifications K-9 officers should have.

An arbitrator ruled that unless they agree otherwise, the written contract applies. It specifies seniority, plus brief psychological and physical agility tests, as the only qualifications.

Failing to reach agreement with the FOP, Heim decided in May to disband the unit rather than giving in to seniority alone.

That sparked the beginning of a court battle with the Berks County Community Foundation, which wants back the $361,000 in grant money it provided for training and vehicles.

Foundation President Kevin K. Murphy said he was pleased with Thursday's decision.

"Once we get formal notice, we'll ask the court to withdraw the petition," he said.

Heim said the written contract uses the wording "qualified applicants," allowing him to keep the minimum qualifications for future hires.

Among them, he said, are that applicants must have three years on the job, agree to stay in the unit for four years, have a spouse (and a landlord, if renting) that agrees to the dog and have a suitable place to exercise the dog.

Will Reading K-9 dispute make a prophet of former District Attorney Mark Baldwin?

You may not know this, but the impasse between Reading police Chief William M. Heim and the Reading Fraternal Order of Police over staffing for the new K-9 unit is all my fault.

I've been accused in the past of having an exaggerated sense of self-importance, but I think I'm right this time.

This whole mess actually started five years ago this month.

Reading police seized $1.1 million from a drug dealer in the city in July 2004. A judge signed an order forfeiting the money in April 2005, but former District Attorney Mark C. Baldwin did nothing.

When Mayor Tom McMahon and Chief Heim went to Baldwin's office to demand the $1.1 million, you could almost hear the gears turning in Baldwin's Machiavellian mind.

After promising to give the $1.1 million to the city police in $200,000 installments, Baldwin pulled the rug out from under everyone, including me.

In June 2008, he gave it to the Berks County Community Foundation to create the District Attorney's Anti-drug Fund.

It all happened about five months prior to the election in which Baldwin was running for re-election.

I went on the attack.

I wrote that Baldwin and the city police had a long-standing written agreement to split forfeited funds 80-20 in favor of the city. The county prosecutor must file the court papers to legally seize the cash or assets, but that doesn't make it his money, I averred.

When Baldwin gave the money to the foundation, he said he did so in part because he knew that if he gave that much money to the city they'd find a way to screw it up.

The city cried foul.

Mayor Tom McMahon filed a lawsuit against Baldwin alleging that he violated the 1993 agreement on the split.

Truth be told, an 80-20 split might have worked for a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars in seized drug money, but once you get into seven figures even level-headed people start to lose their minds.

The lawsuit was settled when the foundation agreed to give $461,000 of the $1.1 million to the city in the form of a K-9 unit run by the city but available countywide.

Baldwin lost his bid for re-election, but his prediction appears to be coming true.

That's why even though everyone agrees we need that K-9 unit, it will probably be disbanded.

And it's all my fault.

Monday, June 29, 2009

50 years separate West Point teammates

Good things happen in threes.

It's certainly true in the case of 2nd Lt. Andy Ernesto and Dr. Len Marrella and Gen. Frederick M. Franks Jr.

When Ernesto, of West Lawn, took an internship with Spring Ridge Financial in Wyomissing during his junior and senior years at Wilson High School he got to work closely with Dr. Len Marrella.

About a week into the internship he learned that Marrella, aka the Money Doctor on WEEU and author of "In Search of Ethics," a book extolling the virtues of good character, morals and adherence to principles, was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. Franks wrote a chapter in Marrella's book.

Ernesto had been kicking around the idea of going to West Point and Marrella encouraged him all the more. Ernesto and Marrella also talked sports and Ernesto learned that Marrella had played center field at West Point and had been a team captain.

"It was awesome," Ernesto said of working with Marrella. "He is a great guy."

When Ernesto got to West Point he met Franks, a West Lawn native now living in Florida, who still teaches at the academy.

"It was kind of weird: We went to the same high school," Ernesto said. "He graduated from West Point 1959 and I graduated in 2009, and your 50-year class is a really big thing at West Point," Ernesto said. "They are your class sponsors."

Ernesto also learned that Franks had played baseball at Wilson, and was a center fielder and team captain for the Army Black Knights.

Franks said he is impressed with Ernesto's leadership skills, both on the baseball diamond and in the classroom.

"Ernesto and I both played center field for Wilson High School at the Owls Field in West Lawn and share with Len Marrella all being West Point baseball captains and all from Berks County," Franks said. "I played in the same outfield with Len at West Point for one year."

Marrella, whose book is required reading at West Point, said he was two years ahead of Franks and remembers playing with the general in the Black Knights' outfield.

"I played center field and Gen. Franks took over center field when I graduated," Marrella said.

Franks and Marrella both praised Ernesto as the kind of leader that not only the Army but the country needs.

With lieutenant's bars and a degree in engineering management under his belt, Ernesto said he's off to Fort Rucker, Ala., in August, where he'll spend two years training to become a helicopter pilot.

When you talk about local boys making good, Franks and Marrella are two and Ernesto makes three.

On the Web

To learn more about Andy Ernesto's record-setting baseball career with the Army Black Knights visit

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Did dad's hopes for son go up in smoke?

The first memory I have of my father, Dan Sr., was when he sat me in front of the television to watch news coverage of the Kennedy assassination.

I remember him telling me it was important, but the more he tried to get me to focus the more my mind wandered. All I really remember is him trying to sit me down and what looked like a big parade on our black and white TV.

I had just turned 5 years old, and we were living in a small ranch home at 410 Larchmont Drive, in Delanco, N.J.

It was just across the river from the Mayfair and Tacony sections of Philadelphia, where my mom and dad grew up, but it was a heck of a commute to dad's job at the former Western Electric plant on Allendale Road in King of Prussia.

We moved to Norristown in the summer of '65.

The next thing I remember was Dad and I walking to Sunday Mass through a blizzard.

We walked down the center of North Hills Drive with me right behind my father, grasping the hem of his coat so I didn't get blown down by the wind and snow.

Then there are times in every father and son relationship when the son does something that leads the father to ask: 'Where did I go wrong?'

In our case they are too numerous to mention here, but the "Star Trek" incident is a fitting example.

One night after dinner I was downstairs in the rec room watching my favorite program, "Star Trek."

A few minutes later Dad yelled down, "Is something burning down there?"

"No," I replied.

Ten minutes later, Dad came to the top of the stairs.

"Are you sure nothing is burning down there?" he asked.

"Yeah, I don't smell anything," I said.

Five minutes after that, Dad came down the stairs to see for himself.

I was lying on the floor in front of the television. My head was propped up on one of those pillows with arms on it. Thick clouds of acrid smoke were pouring out of the back of the television.

Dad pulled the plug on the TV and pushed open the sliding glass door to the back porch.

He chased me up the stairs wondering aloud how I had failed to notice that the TV was on fire.

What Dad failed to see was that in the roughly five years since the Kennedy assassination, I had learned to focus.

Happy Father's Day, Dad.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sleep study no slumber party

I had a sleep study done last month.

It was the second one I've had in about 10 years.

After the first one I had throat surgery.

Back then, I told a doctor I would rather have big hunks of flesh cut out of my throat than to go through another sleep study.

The surgery corrected my sleep apnea for a while but it has returned.

If you don't have sleep apnea or know anyone who has suffered from it, it's like undergoing waterboarding in your bed every night.

As soon as you relax and start to fall asleep your throat muscles relax, closing your airway, and you wake up gasping for air. Then you fall back asleep and repeat the process as often as hundreds of times every night.

It sounds like torture but the cure is, too.

The medical community has really dropped the ball in this area.

I thought sleep studies were medieval 10 years ago. I'm here to report they are no better.

It takes 45 minutes for a technician to attach electrodes to your scalp, face, throat, jaw, chest and legs. Elastic belts are wrapped around your chest and abdomen. Small tubes are inserted in your nose.

Ten years and the only improvement medical science has made is to put you in a nicer room. Have these sleepologists even heard of wireless technology?

Don't get me wrong. The Reading Hospital Sleep Center technician that got stuck with me was completely professional, courteous, respectful of my privacy and answered all my questions.

But you can only relax so much when you're trussed up like a Christmas tree - complete with blinking red lights - while someone watches you through a video camera and records your every move.

I can't sleep with a tight T-shirt collar around my neck, and I had at least two rubber hoses and a half-dozen electric wires draped around my Adam's apple. You have to ask to be unplugged to go to the bathroom.

And you tend to be more cautious about scratching.

The study showed I had significant sleep apnea.

But just when it looked like I'd have to go through a second study, my doctor hooked me up with a lifesaver, Manny Esch, a Shillington respiratory care expert, who hooked me up with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine I'm trying out.

After 10 years, I can't wait for this odyssey to end.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Blogging via email: Is this a headline?

I set up my blog so that I could make entries via Email.
It's also set up so that I can make entries from my phone, although I don't see myself using that function any time soon.
I have a Motorola RazR, which like other standard cell phones, is just okay for texting a few words here and there but not writing extensively.

Brother and sister meet at Cabela's

Stan Stine looked like a little lost boy Wednesday morning standing outside the entrance to the cavernous Cabelas store in Tilden Township.

The burly, 45-year-old mill worker held a bunch of flowers in his left hand, balloons in his right.

His stomach had been churning since 9 a.m. when he and his wife, Susan, left home in Tamaqua.

"He's never had family of his own," Susan said.

Stan had agreed to go halfway to meet his half sister, Tammy Cavalier, 35, of Birdsboro, for the first time in their lives.

Unlike Stan, Tammy had no trouble putting her feelings into words when the two embraced at the appointed hour.

"Oh my God, this is a great day," Tammy said as she threw her arms around Stan's neck. "I wish mom were here to see this."

Tammy said their mother, the late Nancy Cavalier of Reading, always talked about finding Tammy's three older brothers.

The mother and daughter located one of Tammy's half brothers in Reading when Tammy was just 6 years old.

But time had taken its toll.

"He didn't want to have anything to do with me or mom," Tammy said.

Undaunted, the two women continued to look for Tammy's two oldest brothers, Stanley and Jesse.

"Mom knew that you had been adopted by a family in Schuylkill County," Tammy said.

Stan and his older brother, Jesse, had been adopted by Paul and Pat Stine and grew up in Tamaqua. Stan said he hasn't spoken to Jesse in ages.

For years Berks County Children and Youth Services officials told Nancy Cavalier they could not help her find her sons.

Nancy Cavalier died May 25, 2008.

"She made me promise that whatever I did I had to find my brothers," Tammy said.

The county youth agency in January bought a computer program that located Stan.

"I got a letter from the agency on Friday asking if it was OK if Tammy contacted me," Stan said. "She called me Monday evening and we agreed to meet."

Tammy said she felt like the circle of her life had finally been closed.

Stan said he can't describe how he feels about the day.

But that's OK.

From now on he can let his little sister explain.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

It's no fun being the family snoring champion

As the sun sticks around longer each day, flowers bloom and I'm awakened by birds chirping, I'm reminded to keep my windows closed at night so my snoring doesn't wake the neighbors.

I come from a long line of blue ribbon champion snorers.

My grandfather on my mother's side snored so loudly that my grandmother, who also snored, eventually went deaf.

Uncle Tommy Ryan, a barrel-chested Irishman, woke up one morning with concussionlike symptoms that his doctors attributed to the thunderous drumming of his uvula against his soft palate.

He also eventually lost his hearing and later became slightly cross-eyed, we thought from the tremendous suction of his massive lungs against his small windpipe.

My first experience with public snoring occurred shortly after college. My friends all gathered at the large home of one of our parents in the suburbs of Philadelphia for a New Year's Eve party.

We did this so no one group would be faced with a long drive home late at night.

The guys let the girls and kids have the beds, and we slept on floors and couches around the house.

I ended up sleeping on the floor of a walk-in closet in the master bedroom.

I was awakened about 9 a.m. the next day by one of my friends kicking my foot.

As I opened my eyes I saw my friend Larry standing in the closet doorway holding the hand of his 3-year-old son, who appeared to be crying.

"Kel, wake up," Larry said, turning the closet light on.

"What's wrong?" I asked, rubbing my eyes.

"You're scaring the kids," he said.

Alas, I inherited the snoring gene. But instead of the thunderous variety, my snoring has been likened more to the song of the humpback whale.

I had a sleep study done about 10 years ago, and the grad student doing it woke me up early and said he had had enough.

"So, you've collected enough data?" I asked.

"No, I just can't stand your snoring anymore," he said. "I've never heard anything like it."

Poor guy. The needles of his snore-o-meter must have been spiking all night.

I bring this up because my doctor is scheduling another sleep study for me.

Until then, I'll remember to keep my bedroom windows closed at night so my neighbors aren't out with flashlights looking for the source of that strange howling noise.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Uncle Howdy had a big old boat

Uncle Howdy had a big old boat.
It was made of wood and was white with blue trim. It had an inboard motor, a small compartment with a head below decks in the bow and a covered cabin where you could get in out of the wind when we were under way. A classic fishing boat.
Dad had a 16-foot Chris Craft tri-hull bow rider with a small outboard motor. We trailered it to the shore except for the month of August, when we stayed at 2954 Asbury Ave. in Ocean City, N.J.
Our boat was fiberglass. I know that because I ran it into a piling one day trying to do the old slam-it-into-reverse-as-you-pull-up-to-the-dock trick.
Uncle Howdy had his own slip. Going out on the boat with dad was fun. Going out on the boat with Uncle Howdy was more like going to a church social. I had to wear shorts with a belt, a polo shirt and new sneakers.
Uncle Howdy owned his own business and was very businesslike about everything except when he named his boat Sea Gal after Aunt Betty. He had three different boats during his life but they were all named Sea Gal.
On this particular day, Uncle Howdy said the flounder were biting just north of the Ninth Street Bridge.
We would go out at low tide and then drift on the incoming tide from the Longport Bridge to the Ninth Street Bridge.
Toward the end of one drift Uncle Howdy went to start up the Sea Gal and she didn't respond. All of a sudden the rectangular concrete and steel piers of the Ninth Street Bridge looked more like big, rusty teeth.
"Dan, get the boat hook," Uncle Howdy said calmly to dad as he climbed up onto the gunwale and walked toward the bow holding the handrails on top of the cabin like he showed me.
Dad grabbed the boat hook and handed me an oar. Aunt Betty led my mom and two sisters forward into the cabin.
As we positioned ourselves on the back bench and leaned over the transom toward that nasty old bridge I turned in time to see a Coast Guardsmen throwing a line into Uncle Howdy's outstretched arms.
He tied the line to the forward cleat, and we were snatched from the jaws of the bridge with less than 10 feet to spare.
Uncle Howdy climbed back into the cabin and took the wheel.
"Thanks, shipmate," he said to me.
After that, going out on Uncle Howdy's boat was not only fun, it was an adventure.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

It's prom night somewhere in America

Every now and then you stumble across something that makes you feel old.
It’s happening to me more and more often to me.
Take the other day.
I was talking to Gerard Russo, owner of Fifty-Fifty Tuxedo Rentals, Sinking Spring.
I asked him what kind of tuxes kids are wearing to proms these days.
“Usually it’s black,” he said. “There are some white, but mostly black with a wildly colored vest or cumberbun to match their date’s dress.”
I thought back to my senior prom and how I looked like a 70s version of Napolean Dynamite.
I was tall and skinny. I had the long hair and wore big tortoise-shell glasses that had the first generation of lenses that tinted dark grey in daylight and stayed dark grey at night. I wore a powder-blue tux with a contrasting cumberbun and a frilly white shirt and blue bow tie.
Cool, man, cool.
“Wild-colored vests to match the date’s dress?,” I asked Russo. “Is that some kind of new trend?
Russo cleared his throat before responding.
“Yeah, it’s pretty new,” Russo said. “They’ve only been doing that for about 20 years now.”

See a bully, punch him in the face

I admire the folks that marched for nonviolence here last weekend.
Yet I can't help but believe that sometimes a little violence begets peace.
Take the case of childhood neighbor Bobby.
Bobby lived in the middle of my block, halfway between my house and my best buddy Cubby.
Cubby had a nice mom and a big old built-in pool.
But Bobby had decided he was going to make my life miserable.
It got to the point that I couldn't go down to Cubby's house without getting punched in the nose or put in a headlock by Bobby.
One spring day I came running home in tears, complaining of another beating at the hands of the neighborhood bully.
Dad was a patient man, but it was getting old, even for him.
He pulled the metal cap mechanism out of my black, plastic Tommy gun and handed it to me and told me to whack Bobby in the leg with it if he bothered me again.
"If that doesn't work, hit him right between the horns," dad said.
"Dan!" Mom yelled at Dad.
"It's plastic. It'll shatter in a million pieces before it hurts anybody," dad explained.
The point was to scare the big galoot, not hurt him.
At the time, I shook my head "Yes," but "Yeah, right," was running through my mind.
Had he seen this gorilla?
I went back outside, but I didn't go anywhere near Cubby's house or Bobby's.
Later that summer, Cubby's mom was reclining on a chaise lounge in their backyard as her husband installed a new rug. The rug came wrapped around a long, bamboo pole and Cubby and I were using it to pole vault, throw spears and just about anything else two 5-year-olds could do with something exotic like a bamboo pole.
Suddenly Bobby appeared out of nowhere, grabbed one end of the pole and began swinging it at us. This probably was more dangerous than even he could imagine.
Anyway, I was so angry, I ran up to him as the pole swung away from us and punched him in the mouth.
His big teeth raised a welt on my right ring finger.
I then turned and ran into Cubby's backyard and slid under his mother's lawn chair, scaring her half to death.
What I didn't know was that Bobby had run home crying.
His family's mangy dog bit me on the ankle a week later, but I never had a problem with Bobby again.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I always ask the toughest questions

When I was in eighth grade at St. Paul’s Elementary School in Norristown, our teacher decided to launch a class newspaper.
My best friend, Guy Mercogliano, was appointed editor, and I was one of the columnists. The teacher was Miss Laura Zatny, a former nun too rebellious to be contained by convent walls.
Before the first issue went to print on one of those mimeograph machines with the fragrant blue ink, Miss Zatny pulled an editorial I wrote challenging the concept of an all-merciful God.
There had been some tragedy in the world and I posited the perennial "Why would God let this happen?" question.
"This is a Catholic school, for chrissakes!" she scolded.
She spiked the column, and my friend Merc and I resigned in protest.
Except for delivering the Norristown Times Herald in my neighborhood, the short-lived St. Paul Gazette was my first exposure to newspapers, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
To me, newspapers epitomize democracy.
They’re all about sticking up for the little guy and challenging bullies wherever they exist. Rooting out corruption, exposing waste and revealing dangerous conditions are all worthy pursuits of a newspaper.
Some say newspapers got too wrapped up in telling their communities what’s good for them, or too consumed by what the paper looked like instead of the content of its pages.
I think a good newspaper strikes a balance between the watchdog and the town crier.
I’ve worked at five newspapers in my nearly 30-year career, and I don’t have any answers for the current crisis.
Merc is a partner in a Philadelphia law firm, and I’m still tilting at windmills from my parapet on the rampart of democracy we call newspapers.
The industry is going through revolutionary changes. Will print editions disappear completely? Will newspapers become a Web-only medium? Will newspapers be replaced by Internet bloggers.
For democracy to survive, there will always be the nucleus of a community newspaper staffed by responsible reporters and editors.
God willing, that is.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Harry Kalas called it all

Sea gulls flocked over the blanket next to our family plot on 30th Street Beach in Ocean City, N.J.
A group a shoebies let their kids throw bits of their ham and cheese sandwiches up to the birds.
It’s a seaside disaster in the making, but it’s something you can’t tell people. You have to let them experience an aggressive flock of swarming gulls before they start yelling at their kids to stop the feeding frenzy.
Dad turned up the radio against the roar of the surf and the incessant squawking of the sea birds.
My uncle Paul bolted to his feet.
“It’s a Russian trawler, I tell ya,” he said.
Uncle Paul always brought binoculars to the beach.
Often, when he saw a big boat off shore he’d be convinced it was a Russian trawler.
Ship names that weren’t printed in English were Russian. And they weren’t doing any fishing either.
Uncle Paul was a medic in WWII and was as jumpy as a toad in a hailstorm.
My dad, a Marine, sat with a towel over his feet and zinc oxide on his nose. He wore a big floppy jungle hat and cracked open another can of Schmidt’s.
Uncle Paul was a lizard. He could stand in the sun all day and get nothing but Vitamin D from it.
Dad has skin like fine Irish porcelain. He gets a sunburn from too much television.
When Uncle Paul was satisfied that he had spotted a Russian trawler, he’d pass the binoculars to Dad.
Dad would look, but probably couldn’t see much with his bad eyes.
“Let me know when they’re coming ashore,” he’d say and pass back the binoculars.
A sea gull swooped down and took a peanut butter sandwich from my little sister, Trisha.
Another gull dropped a bomb down the front of my Aunt Marie’s swim suit.
My mother and Aunt Beth agreed that dad and Uncle Paul shouldn’t drink so much beer when they’re out in the sun.
Grace Karpinski said she’d go to the boardwalk with me that night.
There was a deep drive to left-center field and the Phillies were not at bat.
“Aw, for cryin’ out loud,” Uncle Paul complained to the voice on the radio.
Harry Kalas was calling the Phillies game. He was the de facto narrator of so many of our family outings.
On the beach, on the back deck, at night dozing off in my room, Harry called it all.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Democracy doesn't stand a chance without newspapers

Since time immemorial, whenever things got bad, everyone from political wags to barroom philosophers has declared that the end is near.
Among the more frequent refrains, particularly among popular pundits, has been the downfall of the United States of America.
It is a recurring theme that normally surfaces around times of economic recession, but also can be heard from one political party after the other wins a presidential election.
President Bill Clinton stripped away our expectation for even a modicum of decency from our elected officials.
President George W. Bush is accused of trying to bring about the destruction of the middle class.
And now, less than 100 days into his presidency, Barack Obama is considered by some to be presiding over the end of our nation as we know it.
For the past century, or at least the half-century that I've been around, folks have been talking about how the Roman Empire didn't last forever.
I graduated from high school in 1976 and of those years I can remember reading editorials in newspapers and magazine articles about how we might as well enjoy our bicentennial because it was the beginning of the end for the U.S. of A.
We had our 200-year run and it was good while it lasted, but these are the end times, the doomsayers warned.
But the nattering nabobs of negativism have always discounted one aspect of our democracy that was lacking in Rome: newspapers.
H.G. Wells, in "The Outline of History," writing about the fall of the Roman Empire, observed the following:
"To the modern mind it is clear that a widespread popular government demands, as a necessary condition of health, a steady supply of correct information upon public affairs to all the citizens and a maintenance of interest. The popular governments in the modern states that have sprung up on either side of the Atlantic during the last two centuries have been possible only through the more or less honest and thorough ventilation of public affairs through the press."
Though things are looking pretty bleak right now, I firmly believe we're going to make it through.
The scary thing to me about this latest economic collapse is the impact it is having on newspapers.
I'm with Wells.
If the end of our nation is near, it won't be due to an imaginary historical clock.
But because too many of us seem to think we can survive without newspapers and the protection they afford us.

Exeter man won't pass up any job chance

Let me start by saying I can’t do this for everybody.
That said, someone needs to hire Charles D. Phipps.
Phipps, 44, of Exeter Township got laid off from Johnson & Johnson Co. in West Chester last year and has been retraining and looking for a job ever since.
He’s gone to trade school for technical writing and computer skills and was honorably discharged from the Army in 1989.
He’s a high school graduate. He’s Internet savvy.
And, after he spent six months looking for a job, the economy went into the toilet in January.
Now, he’s just another statistic in the unemployment figures that are posted each month.
But he doesn’t seem to be just any unemployed guy.
A few weeks ago I wrote a story about how the state is issuing debit cards to pay unemployment benefits.
Phipps was one of the Reading Eagle readers who responded to my request for comments from local unemployment recipients.
He wrote in sharing his experience with the unemployment system.
“Your article could have been better directed and more useful with a list of banks that charge fees and those that don’t,” Phipps wrote. “Then to really go at it, go ask those banks why do they charge fees to the unemployed?”
He not only contributed to my story, he challenged me to do a better one.
Then he did something you might think a long-term unemployed person might have given up on.
“Attached is my resume,” he wrote. “If you know of a decent job that fits my spectrum please let me know or forward my resume.”
I wrote Phipps back and told him I couldn’t open his resume on my office computer because we didn’t have the program.
A few days later there was a manila envelope in my mail slot in the newsroom.
It was a hand-printed letter, written in ink and without errors, from Phipps.
A copy of his resume, certificates from the technical courses he has attended and his military discharge certificate were attached with a yellow paper clip.
“Just throwing a dart,” Phipps wrote. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained, etc. ...”
Phipps said he’s applied at the Office of Homeland Security for a security job at an airport, but the only openings are in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, which he considers to be too long of a commute to make economic sense.
“Any ideas or suggestions would be greatly appreciated,” he added.
I have an idea.
Somebody hire Charles D. Phipps so I have something positive to write about amid all this economic gloom.

Friday, March 27, 2009

One of these days I'm gonna write a book

After almost 30 years in journalism I’ve come to realize certain truths about newspapers, stories and the people who read them and contribute to them.
One of the truths that I’m going to include in the journalism textbook I’m going to write someday is a little thing I call the “Expert Availability Anomaly.”
Here’s how it goes: when you’re looking for an expert to help you with a story, there are none to be found.
But as soon as your story hits the front page of the paper, it’s Katie bar the door.
The experts come out of the woodwork.
And most of them are convinced that you are a idiot for not printing their side of the story.

Sheriff's probe lands fiance at fashion show

Berks County, PA - Sheriff Eric J. Weaknecht paced nervously backstage at the Berks County Bridal Show in the Reading Crowne Hotel on Sunday.

He had enlisted several of his deputies to assist him in the final phase of a two-year investigation.

Somewhere out in the audience sat the subject of the probe.

His mind raced as he considered what might go wrong.

Could his prime suspect get away?

Weaknecht and his deputies had arranged to model tuxedos at the annual bridal event so they could blend.

Though only sheriff for a little over one year, Weaknecht has worked in the department nearly 25 years.

He started as a deputy and rose through the ranks. During that time he learned a lot about law enforcement.

Since taking office in January 2008 Weaknecht has started a K-9 unit, initiated traffic and tobacco enforcement, and opened up satellite offices for gun permits and dog licenses.

His favorite achievement is a special program that provides identification cards to children and enters their information into the Amber Alert system. If a child is abducted, his or her name, description and other vital information can be broadcast immediately as an Amber Alert.

Jessica D. Barrett said she could see Weaknecht pacing behind the curtain.

"I didn't think anything of Eric and his men volunteering to model," the sheriff's girlfriend said. "Eric is that kind of guy, wanting to help people out if he can."

She said she knew Weaknecht had his eye on her for about two years, but she admitted she had no idea she was the cause of his anxiety.

"Afterward, I remembered that he did seem really nervous," Barrett said. "But I attributed that to the fact he had never modeled."

The bridal show was a big success and the crowd of mostly women cheered wildly at the end as Weaknecht and his men went back on stage for an encore, dancing and twirling their vests to "I'm Too Sexy."

Barrett said she was applauding when, out of the blue, the emcee called her up on stage.

"Eric and the guys are always goofing around, so I thought I was prepared for anything," Barrett said. "But as I walked toward him I noticed his niece at the side of the stage with a camera."

Before she could react, the sheriff sprang his trap.

"I told you when I did this I was going to do it big," Weaknecht said. "Will you marry me?"

A fall wedding is planned.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Berks woman's leg injuries can't stop her running.

Janet Oberholtzer has spent the last five years of her life defying expectations.

Some of you may recall that she is the former Morgantown woman whose husband, Jerry, sold their garden center in 2004, rented a 39-foot RV and with their three sons, Joshua, Joseph and Jonathan, went on a cross-country trek that ended in a near fatal wreck.

Jerry and the boys came away with bumps and bruises but Janet's legs were pinned in the wreckage.

At first she was not expected to live.

Then doctors said she'd live but they didn't expect her to walk.

Then she walked and they said she'd never run again.

Well, guess what?

"I did recover a lot better than my doctors thought," Oberholtzer said. "I've had about 18 surgeries."

Jerry bought an older home in Mohnton and is fixing it up.

Joshua, 20 is in his second year at West Chester University, studying communications.

Joseph, 18, graduated from Twin Valley High School last year, and Jonathan, 16, is a 10th-grader at Gov. Mifflin.

All the while, Janet has been undergoing surgeries and physical therapy and after a long time wondering, she started getting up on a treadmill. She built up her strength so that she could walk comfortably, and always there in the back of her mind was the admonition that she'd never run again.

She always loved to run and missed it badly.

She started jogging on her treadmill and a few weeks ago went to Gring's Mill and took her first steps as a runner again on the dirt path along the Tulpehocken Creek.

To understand the kinds of injuries Janet suffered you need only look at her left calf.

"It almost looks like a prosthesis," Janet said. "But the doctors were able to save the sciatic nerve that goes from your spine down to your foot and gives you range of motion in your foot and ankle.

"I lost some of the veins and arteries, but the main ones were still there and that's what made the doctors determine they could save my leg in the first place," she said.

Janet said she pushed herself to adjust to what she calls the new normal.

"I used to think people should just get over things and move on and now I realize it's much more of a process."

Her next goal is to run in the Garden Spot Village Marathon relay on April 4.

Sounds like Janet has found her way through.

Then again, what did you expect?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Saved by a haircut: the Little Cliff story

The race of his life came down to the wire for Little Cliff.
In his short career, Little Cliff was a relatively successful thoroughbred racehorse.
The descendent of horse-racing royalty, he was trained by Nick Zito, a giant in the Sport of Kings, and the gelding ran with some of the best in his class.
Zito won the Kentucky Derby in 1991 with Strike the Gold and again in 1994 with Go for Gin. He won the Preakness in 1996 with Louis Quatorze.
The trainer and his wife, Kim, were taken with Little Cliff and before they parted when Zito finished training him, Kim placed a sticker on Little Cliff’s Jockey Club file that read: “If this horse needs a home when he retires, please call.”
But when he had run his last race, rather than being put out to pasture to meander away his golden years on the Zitos’ property near Louisville, Ky., he was put into a pen in late March at a Lancaster County animal brokerage, destined for someone’s dinner table in France, Japan or Belgium, or some other horse-eating country.
Little Cliff was about to be sold to a slaughterhouse operation that ships horses overseas, said Christy C. Sheidy, co-founder of Another Chance 4 Horses.
There Little Cliff would have been unceremoniously shot, butchered and eaten, she said.
Sheidy runs the all-volunteer, nonprofit equine rescue agency out of her North Heidelberg Township home.
“These horses are not going for dog food or glue but for human consumption abroad,” Sheidy said. “I call it America’s dirty little secret.
“Rich people in foreign countries like to eat American horses.”
In the broker’s pen, Sheidy said, Little Cliff caught a staph infection and was becoming emaciated.
To the untrained eye, Little Cliff resembled a worthless nag.
A spy in the horse-rescue network noticed how well Little Cliff was groomed, took a photo of the thoroughbred and e-mailed it to Sheidy.
“I could tell the way he was groomed that he had been well cared for by someone,” Sheidy said. “I didn’t know then who he was, but I could tell he was a thoroughbred.”
Sheidy contacted Diana Baker for help identifying Little Cliff. All thoroughbreds have a tattoo inside their upper lip.
“If you can read that tattoo, you can trace their ownership and race record,” Sheidy said.
Baker, a former director of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and head of the thoroughbred division of Another Chance 4 Horses, said many horses with royal racing breeding lines and who have undergone expensive training are quietly being sold for slaughter.
“People will take these horses to what are called direct-to-slaughter pens where they are sold for about $350 to $500 per horse,” said Baker of Casanova, Va.
Thoroughbred horses come with credentials and often the original breeder or a trainer will enter a notation in the file.
“They’ll say that when this horse is retired and no longer wanted to contact them and they’ll come and get the horse,” Baker said. “That’s what Kim Zito did in Little Cliff’s case.
“People want to get rid of these horses under the radar rather than getting involved in contacting people interested in giving the horse a place to retire.”
Kim Zito said she can’t understand the reasoning behind slaughtering such pedigreed horses.
“That’s the question of the year,” Zito said. “It’s not like Little Cliff was so broken down he couldn’t be saved.
“Little Cliff will make someone a fine riding horse for years to come. I don’t understand what’s behind these decisions.”
She said when she and her husband get Little Cliff back, they will either keep him themselves or give him to a worthy home.
“Millions of people have come forward offering to take him in,” Zito said.
Sheidy said all together that AC4H rounded up $680 to buy Little Cliff from the slaughterhouse and bring him to Berks County to recover.
After a 30-day quarantine period, Sheidy will make arrangements with the Zitos to send Little Cliff back to them.
“Our veterinarian will issue him papers saying he is fit to travel and he’ll go,” Sheidy said.
And when Little Cliff goes back to his old Kentucky home, Sheidy said, he’ll free up a stall for another thoroughbred at Another Chance 4 Horses.

Monday, March 2, 2009

If it's snowing in Laureldale, better shovel the grass

In most Berks County municipalities you must remove snow from your sidewalks 24 hours after the snow stops falling.
But in Laureldale, you now must also remove snow from your lawn.
Failure to do so will result in a $111 fine.
“It’s an existing ordinance and it’s pretty much boilerplate language,” said Osmer S. Deming, borough solicitor. “It’s just never been enforced.”
Ordinance 182 was adopted by borough council in 1962 and contains the 24-hour time limit to clear sidewalks. It also sets forth what constitutes a sidewalk, Deming said.
The ordinance says sidewalks “shall also mean any unimproved or ground surface area ... fronting on a street within the curbline. ...”
Deming said though the ordinance has been on the books for 47 years, it has not been enforced — until now.
Gary Lutz, 2300 Montrose Ave., said he was one of the first victims of the borough’s new lawn-shoveling police.
Lutz said he uses a snowblower to clear the sidewalk in front of his house.
On the south side of his property his lawn abuts a dead-end street. There is a curb but no sidewalk.
A strict interpretation of the ordinance requires Lutz to remove snow from the lawn that abuts the street.
“The ticket says ‘Resident failed to shovel grass,’ ” Lutz said.
Lutz said he was fined $50 plus $61 in costs.
“I honestly didn’t know what to think,” Lutz said. “I thought it was a little crazy.”
Lutz said he actually doesn’t have a problem running his snowblower across the lawn if the borough wants him to, but he can’t understand why.
“I don’t think they thought this through,” he said.
Lutz said he has appealed the citation and has a hearing scheduled this afternoon before District Judge Dean R. Patton of Muhlenberg Township.
“I’ve lived in this borough for 15 years and nobody ever told me I had to shovel my lawn,” Lutz said. “I think at the very least I deserved a warning.”
Lutz said he never had been cited before by the borough, considers himself a good neighbor and wants to clear his record.

Wing Bowl judging leaves bad taste with Birdsboro man

Mike Casciano of Birdsboro always knew he could eat a lot of food fast.
But he never imagined a Philadelphia radio station’s annual chicken wing-eating contest, the famous WIP Wing Bowl, could suddenly rocket him toward the zenith of amateur competitive eating.
“I heard they were having a Wing Off in West Chester, so I thought I could get some free wings and see how I do,” Casciano said of his first step toward the 2008 Wing Bowl.
The Wing Bowl, whose byword is boundless debauchery, is held in the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia the Friday before the Super Bowl. It was started as a consolation to Eagle fans whose team has never won a Super Bowl.
About 17,000 attended Wing Bowl 17 on Friday, Jan. 30.
Casciano went to a couple of preliminary Wing Offs — 10-minute competitions held at various eateries around the Delaware Valley to see how many wings can be devoured by semifinalists.
“I went to one in West Chester and ate 54 wings in 10 minutes and then went to a second Wing Off in New Jersey and qualified for the Wing Bowl,” Casciano said.
Competing at Wing Bowl is a national competitive eating distinction. It also means putting together an entourage and coming up with a persona.
One of Casciano’s teammates on the Kutztown University Golden Bears football team had dubbed him “Caveman.”
“I never shaved during football season and had the whole beard thing and sloppy look going on,” he said.
Casciano came in seventh in 2008 but 11th at this year’s Wing Bowl.
Casciano said he never thought he’d be contemplating retirement just two years into his amateur competitive eating career, especially just after gorging himself beside pros like Joey Chestnut, the Black Widow and Philadelphia’s own El Wingadore.
Make no bones about it, he loves the eating and the competition, but in a way he felt a little cheated this year.
He chewed through 75 wings in the first round. Then there was a technical snag.
“The judges didn’t count all my wings,” he said. “They said I didn’t eat 90 percent of the meat off of some of the bones. How do you tell what 90 percent is, anyway?
“Besides, I was still hungry.”
The incident left a bad taste in his mouth, Casciano said, but he still hasn’t made a final decision on retirement.
“I don’t want to do a Brett Favre and end up coming back,” Casciano said. “I know I can still do it, but I’m not sure my heart is in it.”
And, he’s graduating from college later this year.
“I’m going to have to live in the real world,” Casciano said. “I’m not sure where competitive eating fits in there.”
In Kelly’s Korner, Dan Kelly writes about the people and personalities that make Berks County special. Contact him 610-371-5040 or

Monday, February 9, 2009

Super girl had heart of kryptonite

Nicole Overman was a mild-mannered sixth-grader at Lincoln Park Elementary School in the Wilson School District.
OK, maybe she was a bit of a tomboy, fond of camouflage clothing, but otherwise she was mild-mannered.
The characters that she studied and sketched, however, were the larger- than-life superheroes of comic-book fame.
Nikki’s favorite was the Flash.
She got so good at drawing superhero figures in her notebooks that she started creating characters of her own.
She would share her drawings with her classmates and they regis-tered their approval.
Next to each sketch of a newly created superhero, Nikki would write a brief synopsis of how they acquired their super powers. The synopsis included a list of their strengths and the one thing, like Superman’s kryptonite, that could sap their powers and lead to their demise.
A sketch of Nikki would include details of how she got her super drawing powers. It would list among her strengths her love for her classmates and community and how her bright and charming personal-ity could win over the most dastardly bully.
But her own heart would be her kryptonite.
Nikki had always had a heart murmur. Since birth, her doctors told her parents, David and Cathy Overman of Lincoln Park, that it was nothing to worry about. Then the murmur got louder and her doctor recommended that she have surgery.
But surgeons at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found two holes in Nikki’s heart.
They performed surgery to close the holes and her prognosis was good when on Jan. 9 she suffered convulsions and slipped into a coma.
Nikki died Jan. 10 of complications.
Her family, classmates and school staff were devastated.
“The whole community was affected,” said Lincoln Park Principal Dina G. Wert.
In memory of Nikki, her classmates and friends put on a Jump Rope-a-Thon for the American Heart Association. An event that usually raises $5,000 raised $15,000 in Nikki’s name.
Still, there was something missing at Lincoln Park Elementary.
“I knew I had to get the students involved in something physical that would help them remember Nikki,” Wert said.
The students and staff hadn’t yet come to grips with their loss.
Taking a page from Nikki’s life, Wert obtained some of Nikki’s sketches from her parents. Robert Chappel, an art teacher at Wilson High School in Reading, grabbed three of his brightest students and they met with the sixth-graders.
Seniors Joe Palumbo and Ben Sweeney, both 18, and junior Matt Levy, 17, interviewed the sixth-graders and came up with a plan.
They would create a circle of superhero friends.
The three high school artists drew a 20-foot circle in the middle of Lincoln Park Elementary’s playground and began sketching outlines of the superheroes.
Wert took money collected by Nikki’s classmates for a memorial fund and used some of it to buy paint at a store in Spring Township.
Over a week, Palumbo, Sweeney and Levy sketched outlines of su-perheroes, then guided the sixth-graders as they painted inside the lines.
At first, one or two curious students would watch the painters from a window inside the school that overlooked the playground. A day later, a few teachers had stopped to talk near the window.
By midweek, students and teachers would gather at the window to marvel at the comic-book characters coming to life on the macadam of the school playground.
After the circle of friends was completed, the students continued to work even harder on a character taking shape in the center of the cir-cle. From the window no one could make out the figure.
There was the Flash, the Hulk and Superman, but who was that in the middle — and why was the new character twice as big as the others?
On Tuesday, the mystery was solved as Nikki’s parents pulled back a parachute to officially unveil the mural.
Dressed in a gold, wind-swept cape and powder-blue camouflage pants, it’s not a bird or a plane.
It’s Super Nikki.

Once chaired through the market place, she fights on

The first thing Morgantown native Janet Oberholtzer wants to do when she gets home is hug her sons.
Then she wants to hug everyone else in town.
For six months Janet and Jerry Oberholtzer and their three sons, Joshua, 15, Joseph, 14, and Jonathan, 11, have been seeing the country in their RV.
The former owners of Meadow Gardens, a garden center, they ac-cepted a developer’s generous offer to buy their prime real estate on Main Street in the village.
“It’s not something we could plan for, but we’re fortunate that it hap-pened,” Janet said.
Jerry, a Myerstown native, said having run their own business since 1992, they hadn’t had a lot of time to spend together as a family.
“We decided to take a couple months off and see the country and be a family again,” he said.
They bought a motor home and took off for points unknown, with Janet continuing to home school the boys as she has for the past four years.
“We both love the sun and warm weather and the water so being from Pennsylvania that means heading south,” Janet said. “We figured we’d go someplace, stay a week and then move on.
That plan went out the window after their first stop.
“We stayed in Key West for 10 days,” Janet said. “We fell in love with the islands driving out. The boys went snorkeling. It was fantastic.”
Then, after other stops in Florida and Louisiana, the Oberholtzers spent a month in Texas.
They saw the Alamo in San Antonio and visited Austin, Corpus Christi and Padre Island on the Gulf of Mexico.
Then, at the request of Jonathan, the family spent a week on a dude ranch. They were brown as berries from riding the prairie and still singin’ the cattle call when they headed still farther west.
After taking in the scenery for a couple of months, the Oberholtzers decided it was time to give back.
They met up with other volunteers from the Salvation Army and Mennonite Disaster Services who were cleaning up after the wildfire that struck southern California last summer.
Jerry and the boys helped with the cleanup, and Janet cooked for the volunteers for three weeks.
Aglow with the good feeling of doing hard work for a good cause, the Oberholtzers bundled themselves into the RV and headed north.
  
Jerry swerved sharply left and then it was lights out for Janet.
Local newspaper reports say six semis were involved in a chain-reaction collision just ahead of them. The RV didn’t clear the left back end of the last trailer.
Everything in the 39-foot RV was thrown forward, including the Oberholtzers.
There is a stairwell just in front of the passenger’s seat. Janet was thrown down in the stairwell and pinned between the back of the trac-tor-trailer and the twisted wreckage of the RV.
“Jerry says I asked if the boys were OK and then I kind of drifted off,” Janet said from her hospital bed in the John Mayo Newhall Trauma and Rehabilitation Center in Santa Clara, Calif.
Jerry and the boys were uninjured, and after 10 days in a hotel, the boys flew home with their grandparents while Janet recuperated. Jerry has been staying in the home of a hospital volunteer.
Janet has been operated on several times over the past six weeks and still can’t put weight on her legs.
But she’s had enough of the road and six weeks of hospital food and she’s coming home tonight.
“I came close to losing my life and I didn’t, and I came close to losing my leg and didn’t and I’m still here to see my boys grow up,” Janet said. “I just want to get back home and reconnect.”
And tonight, around 8, Janet will get her chance.
Keep it under your hat, but as the wheelchair van carrying Janet ar-rives in town around 8, her friends plan to line Main Street with as many Morgantowners as they can muster.
Meet me at the red light.