Feature stories are the ones that get creative, that dive deep into the stories of people, places and things that make a community special. In 2015, Centre Daily Times features highlighted community groups working to make a difference, shared personal stories of love, loss and hope and even got into the nitty gritty of local ice cream wars. Here’s a look at five staff-selected memorable features.
Readers share what they love about living in Happy Valley
In February, the CDT launched Sunday’s Good Life, featuring local stories about Happy Valley. To kick off the weekly section, we asked readers to explain their idea of a “good life.” While many cited the Centre Region’s natural beauty, others described their enduring friendships, hunting and fishing opportunities and Penn State sports.
The bottom line: Many people feel fortunate to be living in Happy Valley. For Melanie and David Cramer, of Boalsburg, it’s the natural beauty of places like Jo Hays Vista off of state Route 26 atop Tussey Mountain. For Judy Henry, of Bellefonte, it’s Talleyrand Park, where she and her husband were married more than 30 years ago. Barb Loviscky, of State College, told us that the family she raised in State College is now doing the same with new generations.
“State College is truly a small-town environment with big-city advantages,” she said. “It is our utopia.”
Letters retell a love story
Long before John and Ruth Ferguson became fixtures in the community, they were two teenagers falling in love in Nebraska — one letter at a time. Their daughter, Rachel Ferguson Rider, found more than 600 letters in the attic of the Fergusons’ former home on Ridge Avenue in State College and shared them with the CDT in a February story.
The letters were written between 1925 and 1930, telling a love story that concludes just before the couple’s wedding in May 1930.
“It’s amazing to find out how much your parents were in love,” Rider said.
John Ferguson was a longtime political science professor at Penn State and Ruth Ferguson taught piano lessons in their home. They were active members of the Quaker community, and John Ferguson retired to Foxdale Village.
Rider set up a blog for her parents’ letters and also created a presentation about the letters that she showed at Foxdale Village.
Volunteer organization makes returning pets to loved ones its mission
For more than a year, a group has roamed Centre County with fliers, high-tech tools, keen eyes, and with the help of volunteers and social media. Pet Recovery of Centre County has one mission: To return any kind of pet — dog, cat, tortoise — to its owner.
In July, members of the all-volunteer group spoke to the CDT about its mission. The group utilizes an impressive array of high-tech tools, including thermal imaging, a scanner that can read the microchips used to identify some pets and a drone to search mountain terrain. It can be challenging and emotionally draining, group member Susan Harpster said, when animals don’t come home or can’t be found. But when there’s a happy ending, there’s no better feeling.
As the group’s reputation and reach has grown, so has the frequency of late night phone calls or commandeered weekends. More than 5,300 people follow Pet Recovery of Centre County’s Facebook page, where each day, pictures and information about lost and reunited animals are posted.
Book recounts Bellefonte native’s World War II survival story
If you ask 93-year-old Malcolm Eckley, what happened near the end of his European tour as an Army Air Corps B-17 gunner in World War II isn’t really an exciting adventure. His son-in-law, Scott Helsom, disagreed, and wrote “Last Man Out” about Eckley’s experiences. The book uses Eckley’s accounts to recount the three-month period between when Eckley jumped from the burning B-17 to the next time he saw American soil.
After Eckley landed, he was separated from the rest of the plane’s passengers and spent hours searching for shelter. Eventually he was brought into contact with a local doctor, a conduit to a British program operated with aid of the French resistance helping to hide other downed Allied airmen. They dug a hole and buried Eckley’s flight suit deep in the earth, and after weeks of hiding out in secluded French locales and more than a few close calls, Eckley was rescued and returned to the United States.
Even after all of the close calls and near misses, Eckley told the CDT in August that he never doubted that he would make it back home. He worked as a photographer at Penn State before retiring and moving to Arizona.
“I thought if there was only one guy to come out of it, it would be me,” Eckley said.
Readers called to settle ice cream showdown
In August, it was time to settle a chilling Centre County question. Of the top ice cream spots — Penn State Berkey Creamery and Meyer Dairy Store — which is the top choice?
Clearly, it was on the minds of readers, too. An online poll garnered more than 2,600 responses and readers weighed in on one side or the other via social media. CDT staff even got into the debate, conducting a blind taste test.
In the end, the Creamery ruled the CDT’s blind taste test, while Meyer came out on top in the reader poll. The final verdict? Both spots are special to community members, and you can’t go wrong with scoops from either place.