Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 March 2014 21:05
Written by David Amerman
Here on planet Earth, John Kerecz has accrued an impressive multitude of accomplishments throughout his 52 years of existence.
When he’s not at work as an engineer for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, he runs Old School House Radio, an Internet radio station, and portrays the vampire host of “Cartoon Castle” for White Rose Community Television in York.
He’s written several books about stress release, toured the country as a bassist for the band Seventh Layer, and has been inducted into both the World Sports Medicine Hall of Fame and the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame for his expertise in hapkido, shōrin-ryū and tai chi.
So, with all he’s achieved on terra firma, it seemed only logical that Kerecz’s next venture would be to realize a dream that dates back to his childhood: completing a voyage to space.
He grew up in the 1960s, when a fascinated nation watched on TV as U.S. astronauts were shot into space. “There were days when they’d bring the TV into the classroom and stop everything just to watch the space flight,’’ said Kerecz, of Lower Swatara Twp. “It was that big a deal.”
He decided to make his dream a reality while he still could.
He discovered a program called Incredible Adventures that offered trips to a Sokol Air Base in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, to fly in a MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jet to the “edge of space,” an area in the upper stratosphere where the curvature of Earth and space itself are perfectly visible. He scheduled a trip for January.
“My friends kidded me that I was going to visit relatives,” joked Kerecz. “My father had passed away and it made me feel my own mortality. It made me think of things I wanted to do before I got too old, so I did it.”
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Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 March 2014 20:44
Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 March 2014 19:44
Written by Jim Lewis
She’s come to the rescue in two major floods and several house fires. She’s provided needy families with help in paying for groceries, in paying electric bills, in paying their rent.
Nancy Schenck has helped a lot of people in her 19 years as executive director of the Middletown chapter of the American Red Cross. From providing shelter to those who lost their homes in emergencies to providing vouchers at local grocery stores to those struggling to make ends meet, she has touched the lives of many area residents.
She wouldn’t have guessed that she would end up in such a position, after a career in the banking industry. When she began her job as executive director in 1995, she had worked as the secretary to the board of directors of a savings and loan. Now she had to set up cots at emergency shelters, arrange blood drives, help people any way she could. “I’ve never done anything like this,’’ she told local volunteers who organized the Middletown chapter.
On Friday, Feb. 21, she retired from her job, having helped countless people in times of distress. She’s learned how to set up cots. She’s quickly found shelter, heating oil and other aid for those in need through her “little resources,’’ as Royalton Mayor Judy Oxenford, a friend and former Red Cross board member, calls them.
Volunteers and co-workers at the Harrisburg main office of American Red Cross Serving Central Pennsylvania held a potluck luncheon for her last Thursday, Feb. 20. Volunteers in the Middletown area will host a farewell to Schenck from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 2 at Wesley United Methodist Church, 64 Ann St., with an honorary presentation planned for 2:30 p.m. and coffee and cake served throughout.
Schenck will move to Pittsburgh to be close to family sometime in March. While being close to family will be nice, she will miss her work in Middletown.
“It’s one of those bittersweet moments,’’ she said. “I hate to leave. I especially enjoyed what I have done with volunteers. I’ve heard about their families. I’ve heard about their illnesses. I’ve heard about what they’ve done. They became family.’’
To Oxenford, Middletown is losing a devoted and compassionate friend, someone whose strong religious faith shines through in her dealings with those in need.
“They can’t make a better lady,’’ said Oxenford. “They did right when they put her in that position. She’s a very devout, religious person, though she’s not a Bible-thumper. I told her, ‘You don’t have to praise the Lord, honey, because you’re on the way up.’ ‘’
Schenck credits local volunteers and the Red Cross staff with believing in her. She was out of work when local attorney James Pannebaker called her one day and offered her the Red Cross job.
About a year later, she was scurrying to help victims of the flood of 1996, caused when massive ice on the Susquehanna River and snow from several heavy snowstorms melted too quickly.
Volunteers and local government officials helped her do her job, she said.
“Everyone has treated me with dignity and respect,’’ said Schenck. “There were always people willing to step up and help. I’ve had very kind people to work with.’’
Schenck had many clients who came to her office in borough hall for help to buy groceries, pay electric bills or meet their rent on time. The Middletown chapter had a unique fund that other chapters didn’t have – a benefactor had left the chapter money in his will from the interest made annually on investments in the Hershey Trust, and that money paid for staples for those in need. The annual check that the chapter received was made out to the chapter “for the poor of Middletown.’’
And Schenck preferred to help rather than turn someone away, Oxenford said. “Some would come in with their nails done, or gold around their neck, or smoking cigarettes, and I’d say, ‘Nancy, they don’t need it,’ ‘’ recalled Oxenford. “She’d say, ‘Well, they might need the money.’ When they put her in that position, they did right. They couldn’t make a better lady.’’
Schenck often worked in the Red Cross office alone, helping those who came in. The Red Cross closed the office in 2011, just before Tropical Storm Lee brought another major flood in September 2011. Schenck returned to Middletown to help.
Call her late at night and she still could quickly find the resources needed, Oxenford said.
To Schenck, her work was as good as the volunteers and officials who helped her find ways to help.
“Throughout all the things I’ve seen, there’s always been someone to step in and help me,’’ she said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without people like them.’’
Leaving the area, and her group of dedicated volunteers and friends, will be difficult, Schenck admitted. “It’s one of those bittersweet moments,’’ she said. “I hate to leave.’’
And Middletown will lose a compassionate friend, Oxenford said.
“Middletown’s going to miss Nancy,’’ she said, “because she has done a lot for Middletown.’’
Last Updated on Tuesday, 25 February 2014 20:35
Written by David Amerman
When 8-year-old Stephanie Harvey came home from school one day with a Jump Rope for Heart fundraiser sheet in her hand, her mother, Rebecca, thought it was nothing new. Middletown’s Kunkel Elementary School did fundraisers all the time, and Stephanie, who had always been an extremely shy girl, had never been interested in participating.
It seemed as though Stephanie’s sole interest was anything bird-related. One peek into Stephanie’s room instantly reveals her passion, represented handily by a plush parade of Yoshi, Kirby and Angry Birds memorabilia. Stephanie also enjoys the melodic company of Tweet, her cerulean pet parakeet.
However, this day was different. Much different. Stephanie was adamant about wanting to take part in Jump Rope for Heart, a program that raises money for the American Heart Association. Why? She wanted to raise money in honor of her “Pa-Pa,” Jerry Burkett, who died in his sleep when his heart stopped beating last Halloween.
“She came home and said she wanted to raise $200 so she [would be eligible to win] toy ducks, but she said that’s just a bonus,” said Rebecca. “She said, ‘What I really want to do is fix people with bad hearts.’”
Stephanie was inspired to participate when her gym teacher, Stacy Herlocher, explained what Jump Rope for Heart was about and distributed the fundraising forms. Rebecca Harvey said that after this presentation, Stephanie started crying, and Herlocher took her aside to find out what was wrong.
The two of them then had a conversation about how each of them dealt with losing their own grandparents, which motivated Stephanie to try and raise money in honor of her Pa-Pa.
For Rebecca Harvey, this was particularly shocking because Stephanie had never really gone through the grieving process in the wake of her Pa-Pa’s death.
“She never talked to us about my dad’s passing, except for that very day that we told her and there were different things that she was very upset about,” said Rebecca. “He always cut the meat at Sunday dinner and she would always lay on the couch with him. But she did not speak a word about it. She didn’t cry at the funeral, at the viewing, not at all.
“So to hear that she was talking to people about it was so good,’’ her mother said. “Maybe she didn’t feel comfortable talking to us about it, but at least she was talking about it and starting to deal with the grieving process.”
But while Stephanie’s parents were abundantly proud of their daughter’s plan, they knew this task could prove difficult since Stephanie is not at all accustomed to talking on the phone, a necessary element of fundraising.
“She does not speak on the telephone, and I told her that she was going to have to call people,” said Rebecca. “This is your project. You’re going to do the work.”
And, to Rebecca’s great surprise, Stephanie did just that.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 25 February 2014 20:51