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Monday, November 7, 2016

Bill Pekarski: Day 70, Living life on my terms.

Editors note: Coudersport resident, Bill Pekarski, has been writing on his Facebook page since August 29, 2016 while recovering from a life threatening illness. He has shared his writings with friends on Facebook. As I read each day, I realize that what Bill has to say needs to be shared with everyone and I asked Bill and received permission to repost his Facebook posts for our readers. We'll post his current post and a couple of the previous posts to catch up. Hope you enjoy them as much as I have. If you have something negative to comment, save your energy cause it won't get posted. Jim

Day 70, Living life on my terms.

Tonight I was sitting here thinking about what a resilient area Coudersport, and for that matter Potter County, is. Just think about what all has happened here over the years. 

As the area was settled, the virgin timber that covered the landscape was cut and used to construct houses and other buildings. Saw mills sprung up all over to convert the plentiful and precious hardwoods into lumber that would be shipped all over the country as the railroad came to fruition. 

While the timber held out, our population and prosperity grew. Once the timber was gone and the hills were clear; many of those people left, some chose to stay.

The lumber industry made way for the tanneries and other manufacturing companies that set up operations. With the railroad in place they were able to ship in raw materials and ship out their products. We saw an immigrant population develop as row houses were constructed to house the workers and their families. Things were looking good.

At one time, the world’s largest tannery was located in Costello, PA, just a bit south of Austin. The town of Austin was bustling and thriving with a population that measured around 9,000 people at its apex. They even had a huge paper company, the Bayless Pulp and Paper Company, that would build a dam to support its’ industrial endeavors in the area. However, we all know what happened there after the dam broke. The town of Austin, as well as the industries that supported it, was destroyed; many of those people left, some chose to stay.

And so things went on for a while. Smaller tanneries stayed in business as long as they could and different industries came and went throughout the years. You can hear old timers talk about the clothes pin factory, or the doll factory, or even the Coudersport Glass plant. The formerly barren hills were starting to fill in with a multitude of trees planted to replace those that were clear cut. Many of these were maple trees that would lead way for maple syrup farmers. People that chose to stay just tightened their bootstraps and made career changes as needed.

More recently, we experienced the rise and fall of Adelphia. The Rigas family built a cable and multimedia giant based right here in Coudersport. Many local people were employed there and many others moved their families here to accept work at the company. 

Local schools were packed and businesses flourished as the local economy seemed to grow exponentially. I will admit that I did not understand what Adelphia really was at the time. John Rigas used to joke about how the company phone directory was barely one side of a sheet of paper that only listed employees by their first names. When the company collapsed, the directory had several different versions with a couple hundred pages.

Of course we all know what happened. With the Rigas family removed, the company was broken up and liquidated. It was like road kill and all of the other big cable companies were hawks coming in to take a bite. Coudersport, and Potter County for that matter, took a real hit; not only financially, but also our pride. Once again, people who had moved here started to leave for jobs in other areas; many of the people left, some chose to stay. 

I guess my point is that we are not dead! We still have communities with wonderful people who have found ways to survive. We have a way of life that lends itself to being less hectic compared to cities and urban areas. We have streams with fish, forests with wild game, and even dark skies at night to explore the galaxy and dream of other worlds. I for one am thankful for what we have here. That is not to say that I don’t want to go to a city from time to time for a concert, ballgame, or something else of interest. I am just saying this is my home and I chose to stay.

Today I am dedicating my progress to everyone here that chose to stay. We can make a bright future for ourselves and future generations as we maintain our resilience, keep our communities strong, and continue to work toward prosperity.

Day 5, Living life on my terms.
Its hard to keep seeing stories on tv and the internet about bullying in our schools and kids who don't want to go to school because of the way they are treated. It makes me sad because in my day it wasn't recognized as much and you really felt alone.

I understand because that was me and I made it through because of 4 specific reasons. Those reasons are Melanie, Joe, Lucia and Anne.

We were a tight family living down in the tannery part of town. We may not have had a whole lot of money but our parents provided the best they could. Ours was a happy house with love and protection.

As the "fat" kid in school I felt that I was occasionally getting picked on by some people, not every one, but some and I was afraid to say anything. Some times the words hurt but I would take it. The nicknames hurt, but I dealt with it. The loneliness hurt, but I continued to come each day.

Now if my brother or sisters heard anything like this was going on they were there in a flash to my side to protect me and even the wrong. I remember one time my sister Anne made a girl push me on the swing once which wasn't really a bullying issue but a "he always pushes you issue" and at this time it was a girl who was and is still a very good friend (J.C., you know who you are).

I know I was bullied back then, and today I am friend with all of them as we look back and realize how stupid it was to be treated that way. It does not change the fact that at the time it really hurt but it does make things come full circle.

That is why today's steps are taken in honor of my siblings. Thank you for always being there for your little pain in the ass brother! I love you guys!

Day 6, Living life on my terms.
Whether it is done formally or not, life is like a bucket list of experiences. Appreciating that from my Coudersport upbringing I have had the opportunity to do things like sing at Carnegie Hall, perform national anthems for professional sports teams, record an album, and (as I went on into firefighting and nursing) saving lives. Today I wish to address a small area of my experiences.

Learning to play an instrument and be in the band helped teach me how to work within a group for a common goal. The amazing thing is that this extra curricular activity would open up a whole new world to me.

I like to harken back to Mr. Wilcox who was my first band director and teacher. He taught me to play trombone and tuba. I would take lessons every week for the next couple of years hoping to someday make my way into a uniform and in the high school band. We had 75 or more people in the marching band back then. The bus trips to away games, the hijinks in the stands, and the halftime shows-does it get any better?

Indiana University of Pennsylvania is where I went for music education. I made friends from the start who accepted me for who I was. These are truly lifelong friends who I miss dearly. I would love to list them, but there really isn't enough room and my hands would get tired from all of the typing. It was there that I really got to travel and experience so much more than I could have imagined as a 10 year old learning to play.

Looking back now, its been one wild ride. Today's step is dedicated to Mr Dick Wilcox. A man who taught me to love music and community.

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