Category Archives: Local Events

Concert planned to help ‘break the cycle’

By KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent

Brittany Gregorchik said she was humbled and excited when she was crowned Miss Pittsburgh International 2015 this past September, especially because she realized she could continue to use her title to spread awareness about domestic violence.

“I’ve participated in pageants pretty much my whole life,” 29-year-old Gregorchik said. “I got out for a little bit to pursue my bachelor’s . . . and when I got back into it last year, I was awarded Miss Pittsburgh International 2015. I was really excited because I now have the opportunity to be able to do a lot with my platform.”

She described a pageant platform as “a public issue that you speak out upon if you hold the title.”

“Once you’re awarded the title, you continue with that platform,” said Gregorchik, who was also crowned Miss East Coast in 2006. “Basically, you do appearances, you do charity work, you do fundraising for that specific issue. I chose domestic violence because it’s so prominent now in our society and there are so many people who are affected by it, both physically and emotionally.”

The Richland School District and University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown graduate’s platform is titled “Emotional Domestic Violence – Empowering Women to Overcome the Unseen Wounds.”

“I’m focusing more on the emotional side because there’s so much emphasis placed on the physical side that a lot of people overlook the emotional side,” she said. “People who are in a relationship and are being emotionally abused sometimes don’t realize that they’re a victim of domestic violence. Just because they’re not walking around with a black eye doesn’t mean they’re not being abused.”

Gregorchik is working with a national charity called Break the Cycle.

“They reach a broad audience,” she said. “They offer a domestic abuse hotline and focus on college-­aged teens and young adults who are in abusive relationships. They help them get help and recognize an abuser.”

As part of Gregorchik’s charity work, she is organizing a benefit concert for Break the Cycle at Ace’s on Chestnut Street in Johnstown’s Cambria City neighborhood Jan. 17.

The event is to begin at 7 p.m. and conclude at midnight.

Local rock bands Inside Out, Paragon and Fuse are to entertain guests throughout the evening.

“I’m good friends with a couple members of several of the bands and they’re very popular in Johnstown and very well­-known,” Gregorchik said. “I know they do a lot of benefit shows, and I wanted bands that would be open to doing charity work and contributing to charity. All three bands are extremely talented and very professional. They really know how to get a crowd involved and really put on a good show.”

The benefit concert is suitable for those 21 and older. A cash bar will be available.

There is an admission fee. All proceeds are to benefit Break the Cycle. Gregorchik also mentioned that the charity is sending her tote bags, bracelets and purple ribbons to sell in order to spread awareness about domestic violence.

Gregorchik, who moved to Pittsburgh last year, is attending graduate school at Duquesne University. She is pursuing a paralegal law degree and is hoping to do other charity work for Break the Cycle at the University.

“I’m part of the Graduate Professional Student Council, so I would like to plan some things with them to help fundraise for Break the Cycle,” she said.

Gregorchik will also be getting ready to compete for Miss Pennsylvania International 2015 in March at the Jaffa Shrine in Altoona.
In the meantime, she encourages anyone interested in helping people who have suffered or are suffering from domestic violence to consider attending her benefit concert at Ace’s.

“The money raised from this benefit concert is going to a really good cause that’s going to do a lot of good for a lot of people,” she said.

Chiz Rider returning to Johnstown for performance

By KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent

Professional trumpeter Charles “Chiz” Rider is to perform at Memorial Baptist Church on Jan. 14 beginning at 6 p.m.

The touring and recording artist is a first-class professional American trumpeter: He plays contemporary and traditional Christian music and has opened for Christian artists such as Carman, Margaret Becker, DC Talk and Skillet. Myrrh Records signed Rider after hearing his pop-jazz style, making him the youngest artist to be signed to Myrrh Records since Amy Grant.

Rider performs approximately 250 concerts annually throughout the United States and abroad. He has even shared his talents with former President George W. Bush.

“Chiz Rider has performed several times in Johnstown,” said Micah Mood, a local recording artist and concert promoter. “I’m not sure about other venues, but I know he has performed several times at Memorial Baptist Church, and we’re happy to have him back. Chiz is an entertaining performer, and his performances cover a variety of styles and moods.”

Mood said Memorial Baptist Church will serve as a suitable venue for Rider’s concert.

“The church building is a great structure. It was built in 1925 when two congregations, Welsh Baptist and English Baptist, merged,” Mood said. “The sanctuary has very nice acoustics. I’ve actually recorded some music there for past projects and have always enjoyed the sound in the sanctuary. If you’ve noticed Memorial Baptist from the Inclined Plane, this free concert is a great opportunity to check it out. If you’re a fan of great music, this is a great opportunity to hear a great performance here in town.”

Memorial Baptist Church is located at 210 Vine St. in Johnstown, near the foot of the Inclined Plane. Rider’s performance is free of charge, but donations will be accepted. All donations will benefit Rider and his ministry.

For more information about this performance, call Memorial Baptist Church at 814-535-1859. Rider’s official website is www.chizrider.com.

Photo courtesy of chizrider.com
Photo courtesy of chizrider.com

Ethnic, trolley tours scheduled in the city

By KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent

The Johnstown Area Heritage Association (JAHA) is ringing in the holiday season by offering two unique events for adults and children.

Both the “Immigrant Christmas” tour and “Jolly Trolley Tours” are to take place this Saturday.

The “Immigrant Christmas” tour begins at JAHA’s Heritage Discovery Center in Cambria City and gives participants an opportunity to learn about the holiday traditions of Polish, Slovak, Hungarian, Russian, Irish, Welsh and Italian immigrants. JAHA curator Kaytlin Sumner will discuss their ethnic Christmas traditions and then offer participants a look at a display of miniature Christmas trees that are decorated with traditional Christmas ornaments.

Shelley Johansson said that the “Immigrant Christmas” tour has been taking place for a few years and continues to grow in popularity.

“We typically (receive) a good response to it,” said Johansson, director of communications at JAHA. “I think what we find with the tour is that a lot of people are looking for something nice to do with an older relative. They want to give the gift of time to somebody as opposed to a typical present. It’s a really nice way to do that because the tour brings back a lot of memories for a lot of people and we’ve even had occasions when people have shared with us stories about their ethnic Christmas traditions.”

The second part of the tour involves a trip to the neighboring Wagner-Ritter House and Garden. The house and garden was occupied from the 1860s to the 1990s by three generations of a steel-working family. JAHA’s curatorial staff has decorated the traditional German Catholic home to reflect what it might have looked like in the late 19th century.

“I think what’s neat about the house is that it depicts a modest living space,” Johansson said. “Plus, there aren’t that many buildings left in Cambria City that survived the 1889 flood, and this is one of them.”

The tours, which are approximately 60 minutes long, are scheduled for 12:30, 2:30 and 4 p.m.

“Jolly Trolley Tours” will be offered at the top of the hour on Saturday beginning at 11 a.m.

The trolley will travel around the city and give children an opportunity to search for Santa in the style of a scavenger hunt. They’re encouraged to wear their pajamas or holiday-themed clothes and bring their letters to Santa. The tour is open to children of all ages.

Sumner said that this is the first year for the “Jolly Trolley Tours” — organizers at JAHA thought the tours would make for a memorable family bonding experience while also giving families a chance to see what Johnstown has to offer.

“We wanted to find a way to connect the different neighborhoods of Johnstown and also to connect our different museums so we could highlight them and show off some decorations, while at the same time making it into an activity kids would enjoy,” Sumner said. “The scavenger hunt is sort of an extension of a ‘Polar Express’ adventure to find Santa.”

During the trolley ride children will receive a passport that will be stamped at each special stop on the tour. Stops include Piece of Cake Bakery, the Johnstown train station, the Wagner-Ritter House and Garden and Slim Adam’s Supper Club (a new bakery in Cambria City). The tour is to conclude at the Heritage Discovery Center, where Santa is to pay a visit.

“This will be an interactive experience,” Sumner said. “There will be carolers and special treats along the way. When they do find Santa, they’ll be able to do some crafts with him and enjoy some other activities.”

“Jolly Trolley Tours” depart from the Heritage Discovery Center. The last trolley is to depart at 3 p.m. “Jolly Trolley Tours” are also scheduled to take place Dec. 20.

ORGANIZERS: FEAST FAST BECOMING A TRADITION
By OUR TOWN

Last year’s inaugural “The Nicholas Feast” at The Grand Halle on Broad Street was such a hit that organizers are already calling it “Johnstown’s newest holiday tradition.”

“We had many guests who had not been to The Grand Halle before,” said Kim Rauch, program director for The Grand Halle and producer of “The Nicholas
Feast.” “They were awed by the space, the beauty of the decorations and the unique program.”

“The Nicholas Feast” is an event that offers those who attend a traditional, family-style ethnic holiday dinner and live entertainment, not to mention an opportunity to celebrate cultural traditions.

This year’s “The Nicholas Feast” is scheduled to take place this Friday and Saturday beginning at 6:30 p.m. Last year, The Nicholas Feast focused on German traditions; this year, the event will focus on Eastern European traditions.

For live entertainment Johnstown’s Band of Brothers Shakespeare Co. is to perform dramatic narratives inspired by the life of the real St. Nicholas, while the Greater Johnstown Community Chorus will sing seasonal choral works that complement the narratives.

“The Band of Brothers Shakespeare Co. has created this script especially for this ‘Nicholas Feast’ program. They have worked hard to create something unique that matches the unique nature of the ‘Nicholas Feast’ program,” Rauch said. “We are blessed to have the Greater Johnstown Community Chorus as our guest musicians. They will sing choral music that ties into the script. Our theme this year is Serbian-Russian. The music will reflect that ethnic culture.”

This year’s dinner menu will feature Croatian and Serbian dishes, traditional dessert rolls and holiday punch.

In between meal courses, diners can expect to enjoy choral numbers and brief performances that focus on specific Eastern European traditions. After the meal, the Johnstown Community Chorus will present the remainder of their program and encourage the audience to join them in traditional holiday carol sing-alongs.

Organizers are expecting a strong turnout, especially because The Grand Halle on Broad Street — formerly Immaculate Conception Church — is decorated for the holiday season as part of the Halle’s annual “Wintergarten.” Decorations inside the church include Christmas trees, gingerbread houses and more.

“I believe that guests will really enjoy something elegant, unique and highly festive for the holidays,” Rauch said. “The Nicholas Feast is a something really special to do with your family and friends.”

Favorite Bartender Contest Runners-Up: KELLY COLEMAN & SPEVE TAGLIARINO

Kelly Coleman: A friendly face
kelly coleman
By Cody McDevitt
codym@dailyamerican.com

Some bartenders make a name for themselves based on their knowledge of beer, wine or fine spirits. Others make it because they can juggle bottles. A lot make it because of their ability to mix drinks. Kelly Coleman makes it simply because of her personality.

“Being friendly with the customers, joking around and being a good listener is what makes a bartender special. (They voted for her) because I joke around and have a good time,” she said.

Coleman, 38, was our second highest vote getter; she works at VFW Post 155 in Johnstown. Coleman received 473 votes, and had the most votes sent by mail or delivered in person to the Our Town office. She has worked for the VFW for three years, and all of her customers and co-workers enjoy being around her.

“Her personality — she’s got the most sparkling personality,” Mary Ann Nagrant, one of her customers, said. “She makes it a fun experience to be here at the VFW. We did the ice bucket challenge, the entire VFW. She organized the whole thing. It was a lot of fun.”

Julie Michaels occasionally fills in when a bartender calls off. She loves the shifts she gets to work with Coleman.

“She would do anything for anybody. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t smile when they see her. She’s friendly and happy. She knows what people drink. She’s a caring person. She’s bubbly all the time,” Michaels said.

The VFW isn’t a place where you’re going to see craft cocktails made or see a bartender use a muddler. But it’s got an atmosphere that makes people feel welcome. It’s inclusive, and Coleman is a large reason for that. She loves how close everyone at the VFW has become.

“I love watching everyone helping each other out and coming together as a family in times of need,” Coleman said. “What’s special about there is that everybody comes together when someone needs help.”

Speve Tagliarino: A small-town favorite
Speve Tagliarino_The Stadium
By Cody McDevitt
codym@dailyamerican.com

Unlike his big city counterparts, Speve Tagliarino gets to know his customers on a first name basis because he sees the same crowds regularly.

“Being in a small town, you have a lot of regulars,” Tagliarino said. “You have the ones who are normally there at the same time every day. You get used to talking to them.”

Tagliarino, 32, works at The Stadium Bar & Grill in Nanty Glo. He finished third in Our Town’s Favorite Bartender Contest
with 399 votes. Tagliarino has been a bartender for a year, but he has already established himself as one of the best in the area because of his sense of humor, pleasant demeanor and memorization of people’s preferred drinks.

Bill Gabany, owner of The Stadium, said Tagliarino does much more than is required for him.

“He’s really reliable. He’s on time. I could go on and on,” Gabany said. “He’s very devoted to his job. He comes early. He goes above and beyond.”

Tagliarino started as a bouncer before moving behind the bar. He said it’s been a welcome change because he can talk to people, hear their stories and laugh more than when he was working the door. He has learned in a short amount of time what makes people good at his profession.

“I think one big thing is knowing their name and knowing what they drink before they get to the bar. I’ll have their drink already ready for them. Things like that,” Tagliarino said. “The big thing is being personable. Some bartenders just get you a drink, and that’s as far as it goes. Carrying on a conversation and getting them everything they need as fast as possible is pretty important.”

Tagliarino said his best drink is the Long Island iced tea. He also makes a drink called a Blue Motorcycle, which is made from rum, gin, tequila, triple sec, blue curacao and Sierra Mist. Tagliarino is also good at figuring out what a person would like for a second drink.

“Normally if a person liked Yuengling, I’ll recommend something hoppier. If I notice a woman drinking a fruity mixed drink, the possibilities are endless for that. Based on what they initially drink, that helps me determine what they’ll like after that. Then I’ll start offering different things,” Tagliarino said.

On the weekends, 100 people come and go at the bar. During weekdays, there are usually 40 to 50 people. The weekday crowd are the regulars. They are the driving force behind Tagliarino’s third-place finish in the Favorite Bartender Contest, and he’s grateful they voted.

“It’s great. It feels good all the people and customers showed so much support. It’s nice that they showed so much support to let me compete with the bigger bars out there,” he said.

Favorite Bartender Contest Winner: TARA KLINE – HARRIGAN’S CAFE AND WINE DECK

By KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent

Before Tara Kline could participate in a phone interview last Wednesday, she had to make sure her customers were happy.

“Hold on one moment,” she politely requested. “I have a few people at the bar, so I need to make sure they are taken care of.”

Kline’s dedication to her customers is one reason why the Harrigan’s Café and Wine Deck employee won Our Town’s inaugural
Favorite Bartender contest.

Kline was nearly speechless when she found out that she had won the contest with a whopping 949 votes.

“This has been one of the best experiences in my adult life. I feel that this contest has pushed me toward more goals in my life that I want to accomplish. It makes me feel so good to be recognized for all the work I put into making every customer feel special,” she said.

Kline, who moved to Johnstown afterliving and bar tending in Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood for seven years, has been working at Harrigan’s Café and Wine Deck in downtown Johnstown for a year and a half. She said that she appreciates how the restaurant and bar is attached to the Holiday Inn because it gives her a chance to meet travelers from around the world.

“You meet so many people . . . I feel like I could write a book someday,” she said.

She also meets people from all over Johnstown and the surrounding areas.

“I love the people who come in here. We laugh and have a good time. Even people I’ve never met before become friends. Being able to brighten someone’s day is just awesome.”

Kline’s bartending career began at a bar called Calico Jack’s in Pittsburgh.

“I was messing up Long Island iced teas,” she said, laughing. “From there, I just had to learn everything myself.”

Kline hasn’t just learned from experience. She has also learned by cracking open a book or two.

“I order bartending books on Amazon before they even come out. I do a lot of research and reading so I can be fearless and have a lot of faith in coming up with something that will amaze our guests,” she said.

Currently, Kline has been working hard to implement seasonal drink menus at Harrigan’s. One of her specialty fall drinks is a caramel apple martini.

“It’s very sweet, but it could be a nice after dinner drink,” she said.

Another surprising drink Kline has concocted involves jalapeño-flavored simple syrup served in a glass that’s rimmed with habanero sugar.

“That one is sweet, sour and spicy hot,” she said. “It’s very exciting how many different flavors you can put into a drink and how it all comes together. I feel like I am making a new piece of art every day.”

Before beginning her career in bar tending, Kline pursued an art degree at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

“Everything that I learned in art school helps me in bar tending,” she said. “Just knowing the color theory will help you make a vibrant drink. You’re not going to be mixing something that turns out brown and is not delectable — you want something to look appetizing before you even drink it.”

Kline thanked her family, friends and all the patrons who voted for her.

“This is such a great opportunity for me,” said Kline, who is a member of the United States Bartenders’ Guild. “There are so many great people in this city and it makes me feel proud to be living and working in Johnstown.”

She also credited her co- workers at Harrigan’s for being supportive and enthusiastic.

“I have learned so much by working at Harrigan’s. I’m always learning, and it always helps when you have a supportive team,” she said. “I love the people I work with — they’re so fun and I know they love their jobs, too. They care about what they do here. Everybody here wants to put out the best product possible. We want to make sure the customer is our first priority.”

Kline said that winning this contest reminded her that she’s definitely on the right path.

“This is what I was meant to do. There are so many opportunities in bar tending — you don’t just have to be slinging beer and making rum and Cokes,” she said.

Sandyvale Wine Festival Sequel Forthcoming

Organizers of the inaugural Sandyvale Wine Festival this year agreed to host its sequel.

The Sandyvale Wine Festival is to be held Friday and Saturday.

Proceeds from the festival will once again benefit Sandyvale Memorial Gardens, which includes a park, dog park and gardens.

Diana Kabo, who has been involved with the Sandyvale Memorial Gardens since 1999 and is also a member of the festival committee, said that the festival came to fruition last year as a way to help maintain the space.

“Everything that’s done at Sandyvale is done by volunteers. We have no paid staff and the maintenance of the grounds is done purely by volunteers,” Kabo said.

“It costs about $10,000 to $12,000 a year to keep the area maintained. It was becoming a real struggle for us, so our board met and we decided that we needed to have one big fundraiser a year to offset the costs. We came up with the idea of a wine festival. We weren’t sure how it would go over, but last year was a huge success so we decided to do it again.”

This year, events kick off early in two ways: first, last year’s festival was held in October. Though they had gorgeous weather that weekend, committee members didn’t want to count on that again this year. Second, wine lovers can gather Friday evening in the Holiday Inn’s Crown Ballroom in downtown Johnstown, where guests can expect a five-course dinner featuring specialty wine pairings. The PLCB Chairman’s Selection wine buyer, Steve Pollack, will be the featured guest.

Event Chairman Ernie Peterson said that there seems to be an influx of wine enthusiasts living in and around the area.

“I think there’s a real interest in knowing about wine in general,” Peterson said. “Every bottle of wine tells its own story. We gave out almost 1,400 glasses last year. That shows that there’s really an interest and by having it at Sandyvale, people get to see what a cool place it is. That’s exciting.”

Peterson mentioned that Friday’s dinner featuring Pollack should be a special event for ticketholders.

“They’ll get to hear from a person who runs the second-largest wine buying operation in the world,” he said. “He’s done a very careful job with pairing the wines with the food and he’s bringing some wine makers with him; I think it’s going to be a nice, educational experience.”

For the past five years, Pollack has been the wine buyer for Fine Wine and Good Spirits’ Chairman’s Selection program; Chairman’s Selection wines are available in more than 70 Fine Wine and Good Spirits Premium Collection stores across Pennsylvania. He hand-selects wines from around the world for the program.

Seating for Friday’s dinner is limited, and there is a fee to attend.

Saturday’s festival hours are 3 to 7 p.m. Ticketholders can spend the day sampling wine from 12 Pennsylvania wineries, including Bee Kind Winery, Laurel Mountain Winery, B&L Wine Cellars and Fractured Grape Wine Cellars. Vendors such as Peaced Together Jewelry, Wilkins Eco-Logic Soaps and Smicksburg Community Cheese will have booths set up on the grounds. Live entertainment-wise, Pittsburgh recording artist Kenny Blake will entertain audiences with his “soul hybrid” sound: a combination of traditional jazz with modern rhythm and blues.

V.I.P.s on Saturday will have access to a ribbon cutting for the dedication of the new patio (donated by local businesses Danchanko and Fi-Hoff Concrete Products) that surrounds the greenhouse. The patio is to be used for the educational greenhouse series and historic speaker series, both of which are open to the public and take place between the spring and fall.

Saturday’s admission price includes a souvenir wine glass and access to all music, vendors and wineries. For an additional charge, attendees also have the option to go on a horse and carriage ride or a tethered hot air balloon ride.

Only those 21 and older will be granted admission.

Committee members are hopeful that this year’s event will be even more successful than last year’s. In addition to raising funds for Sandyvale Memorial Gardens, the event also introduces people to local wineries.

“I think it’s very important to support local vendors, particularly the wine vendors at this event, because they have put forth an effort to establish a business in this community,” Kabo said. “I really think that to support them is to support improving the economic status of the community.”

Peterson said that the community’s support means a lot to festival committee members. Last year, they surpassed their fundraising goal, and this year they hope to raise $20,000.

“Sandyvale is a beautiful place to be,” Peterson said. “Everybody gets to see a place that is one of the city’s gems. I think they’ll have a great time seeing the different wine vendors. We have excellent food vendors, plus artisans and great jazz music.”

Kabo added that the event’s uniqueness is part of what makes it a hit. “I think it’s such a unique event that we’ve never had in Johnstown before. That was one of the comments we had last year — ‘I can’t believe this is Johnstown,’” Kabo said. “The other thing that was appealing to people was the outdoor venue. It’s a little different to have a wine tasting in a building, and when it’s outside in a beautiful area, it seems more appealing.”

Much like the gardens themselves, the entire festival will be run by volunteers. “We really thank our volunteers who help every year,” Kabo said. Sandyvale Memorial Gardens, not long ago known simply as an abandoned cemetery, was transformed by volunteers like Kabo into a green space that’s open year-round to the public. “Many people don’t realize how much history there is at the gardens. That was the first cemetery in Johnstown,” Kabo said. “The site was compromised by three major floods: 1889, 1936 and 1977 and after each event, there was more destruction. Each time, tomb stones and even some bodies were washed away. There are not as many people buried there now as there were initially, but the founding fathers of Johnstown are buried there. Five abolitionists from the Civil War are buried there. The National Park Service has even identified that and they’ve placed an exhibit along the trail honoring those five individuals.

“The other part, which is very important, is that Sandyvale should be identified as a veteran’s memorial park because we have a huge number of veterans buried there from major conflicts — from the French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, Korean War.”

Sandyvale Memorial Gardens is also serving as a hub for fresh produce. “We also discovered there’s a need in Johnstown for good food, so we’ve become the hub of the community garden initiative in Johnstown,” Kabo said. “We are providing low-income families, children, adults and seniors with fresh produce that they wouldn’t normally have. At the end of July, we provided (more than) 1,000 heads of lettuce to The Greater Prospect Co-Op and local soup kitchens. Sandyvale, in many ways, is serving the community. We’ve improved the site to not only look aesthetically pleasing and to be respectfully ornamental for the original use of the site, but we’re also providing the community with needed opportunities for many things.”

Sandyvale Memorial Gardens volunteers are also striving to teach both local and out-of-state students the history of the gardens and surrounding areas.

“In the summertime we have an educational history session called ‘Hometown Roots: Stories of the Laurel Highlands,’ and it tells the stories about this area and how it impacted American history,” Kabo said. “Education is a big part of Sandyvale. We’re trying to continue that.”

Sandyvale Memorial Gardens is located at 80 Hickory Street and Holiday Inn’s Crown Ballroom is located at 250 Market Street. Tickets for Saturday’s event will be priced at a discounted rate until Thursday at midnight.

“There’s just so much history at Sandyvale,” Kabo said. “That’s the most important thing that I always point out to people. We can’t lose that because it’s the foundation of how Johnstown came about. I love Sandyvale and I want to see everything that’s done there succeed. (The festival) is going to be a wonderful event. We’ve improved a couple of things from last year and this year we’re offering a really nice variety of vendors. I think it’s going to be an enjoyable event for everybody.”