Huntingdon's Time to Shine

Residents tune in, donate to WPSU-TV’s ‘Our Town’

By GARRISON CROW

Daily News Staff Writer

Huntingdon residents involved with the “Our Town: Huntingdon” production manned the phones at the WPSU-TV State College studios Thursday evening during the station’s fundraising drive for the show’s premier. Among those volunteering were, from the left, Erin McCool, Dee Dee Brown, Joan Cassatt and Peggy Yoder. Photo by GARRISON CROWThe phones rang so steadily callers had to wait to make their connection with one of the nine Huntingdon County residents manning the lines at the WPSU-TV studios in State College Thursday night during the premier of “Our Town: Huntingdon.” That’s not a bad thing, considering those calls were from donors pledging support for their friends, family and hometown.
 
The phone bank volunteers were among the dozens who helped make the program come to life and they watched the production from behind the scenes as it was being aired live. At the same time, they were also aiding the station in one of its fundraising drives.
Local resident and Huntingdon Borough Council member Joan Cassatt said she had a great time on the phones Thursday, even though she promised herself she would not step foot in front of the camera.“I didn’t want to be on air, but they needed help, and it turned out it was wonderful. And there’s a lot of support from our own town,” she said. When she picked up the phone, she was pleasantly surprised to learn the caller was her next door neighbor, she said. That was a constant theme among the phone operators.
 
After pizza and a quick training lesson on how to take a pledge via phone, the producers and hosts of the show ushered nearly 30 Huntingdon locals into the small studio where their hometown was given its three hours of fame.  Ed Stoddard, marketing director of the Huntingdon County Visitors Bureau, said the show was a windfall for the town as it showcased the best Huntingdon has to offer.
“It highlights a wonderful community that we’re proud to promote. We’re really lucky to be involved with this project, especially because it turned out so well,” Stoddard said, “It shows off Huntingdon in a very positive way and tells the great story of our present and rich past.”
One of the segments featured Leo Steinbeiser narrating the story of the Stone Creek Valley Lion’s Club Hootenanny. He was glad to get the word out about the charitable party held every month by local residents.  “It’s a good deal. I’m a part of the hootenanny and (the episode) is real good advertising. Hopefully a lot of people will see it and come visit us and help someone in the community,” he said. “We have a lot of fun and the proceeds always go to someone local.”  As a lifetime musician, Steinbeiser also said he was amazed at how advanced studio equipment has become over the years.
 
Huntingdon resident Tim Busko, who shot much of the footage shown on the program, knew the details of how far the “Our Town” series had come since it first came to Huntingdon in 1997. Busko also shot footage for the original Huntingdon program and said the show has progressed well over the 16 years since he last helped the local feature.  “Technically, there is a huge difference just because of digital filming and technology which gives the finished project a more professional look than we were capable of then,” he said. “We were using VHS based cameras back then, and I think individuals are now more video savvy because of the ease of filming and editing on computers.”
 
In addition to the technical changes, Busko pointed out the style of the program had changed significantly as well.  “The first one was a lot cruder in some respects because I don’t think the interviews they did then were as extensive,” he said.  The interviews had a more man-on-the-street perspective back then, as people were just given cameras for a day and told to film something interesting, Busko noted.  He also noted the first program emphasized small businesses around town where this program focuses on the history and institutions of the region.
 
One of those institutions featured was J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital with its history narrated by hospital marketing and community relations director Chris Gildea.  “We celebrated our 100-year anniversary in 2011, and we had such a beautiful book on our history done by (local historian) Nancy Shedd, that I couldn’t help but take the opportunity to share much of that information in this format,” she said.  Gildea said her goal was to reflect on the past, but also share how far the hospital has come in the century since its inception in Huntingdon.  Other segments of the program featured the small connections that abound among local residents. Larry and Marsha Closz dug through the archives of the Huntingdon County Historical Society to find information on family connections they were unaware of when they first moved to the region.
 
Huntingdon Borough Mayor Dee Dee Brown said she knew the program would be a boon to the town.  “I think this is probably one of the most wonderful things that could happen to us, just like it did in 1997,” she said. “This actually brings us tourists from everywhere. The people you talk to on the phone think it’s great for our little town.”  Brown said it is great that Huntingdon has attractions like Raystown Lake, but to get the visitors to come and stay, those features have to be flaunted first.
 
By the end of the night, the goal of 255 pledges had been exceeded with a total of 257 donations coming in from not only Huntingdon, but from all over the country. People from as far away as Charlotte, N.C., and Honolulu, Hawaii, sent pledges for friends and family members back home. The program had a goal of raising $20,000 to help support the local public television station and it made that goal exactly.  Whitney Chirdon, head producer for the show and one of the hosts, said the call turnout was amazing.  “We had an overwhelming response and it was great to be able to have so many folks come and help us here in the studio,” she said. “I think this is the largest crowd we’ve ever had here in the studio tonight.”
 
The members of the audience thought it was a hit, too.  “I think this was a success by WPSU standards and by the Huntingdonians’ show of enthusiasm,” Martha Swigart, local resident and WPSU board member, said.
 
Garrison can be reached at dnews@huntingdondailynews.com.