This is the 32nd column I have written for Russell-Akeley Life. Usually, I choose some aspect of Russell or Akeley history to write about that describes past life and times in our communities. But, as I thought about a topic for this month, the events of the past six weeks kept coming to mind and I thought it important to record what was happening in our family’s life because the COVID-19 pandemic is one that will go down in the history of our lives, like World War I, the 1929 stock market crash, the 1930s Depression, and World War II.
I might not have been paying attention, but I had not heard mention of the Spanish Flu epidemic until I read Josh Cotton’s article in the Times Observer Monday morning, despite the fact that my wife and I grew up in southern New Jersey about 10 miles from Philadelphia.
My mother was born in 1911 in a Philadelphia suburb, but probably was too young to remember. My grandmother, great-aunt and great-uncle were born in the late 1800s and lived in the west Philadelphia suburbs and I can’t recall any mention of the Spanish Flu epidemic. My father was born in England in 1906 and would have been 12 years old in 1918, but I don’t remember that he ever mentioned the Spanish Flu. The only thing about that time period I remember my father talking about was the death of his brother in World War I.
After reading Josh’s article, my wife commented that her Methodist Church in Haddon Heights New Jersey commemorated the Spanish Flu epidemic in Philadelphia each year by taking up a special offering and contributing it to a community cause in thanks for the fact that no one in the congregation had died of the Spanish Flu. That aside, the COVID-19 flu epidemic surely will be etched in our minds for many years to come.
Our experience of this crisis is not entirely in Warren County. My wife and I had reservations at a condominium on Marco Island, Fla., south of Naples on the Gulf Coast from February 29 to April 18. The drive to Florida was uneventful. During the first week, we went to church, attended a Penn State alumni gathering, had dinner in restaurants with several former Warren couples, and hosted our daughter and her family for several days. That was week one. In week two, things began to change as infections with the COVID flu began to come into the news. Over the next few weeks, activities and businesses began to shut down. The weekly farmers market was the first to go. This was followed quickly by closure of restaurants, theaters, and the suspension of traditional church services.
Winn Dixie and Publix supermarkets remained open, but fresh vegetables began to disappear. Oddly enough, the commodity in shortest supply was paper towels and toilet paper. At one point, none of the supermarkets on the island had any. Off the island, not even Walmart had these items. A Walmart employee told me that they got a truckload of these items between 2 and 4 p.m. everyday. The next day, I showed up at 2:30 p.m. and was able to purchase two packages, because these items were being rationed, so that they could serve as many people as possible. After we had been in Florida for about three-and-a-half weeks, my wife and I decided that we should come home. We were spending more time inside our condo looking out at the Gulf of Mexico than on the beach. The only consolation was a gentleman in the condo complex across from ours who sang the Star Spangled Banner every evening as the sun sank into the Gulf of Mexico. We notified the owner of our condo that we were leaving for home and he graciously allowed us to transfer our unused time to next year.
We packed our bags and left Marco the next morning at 5 a.m. The trip to the Hampton Inn in Rock Hill, S.C., was a 10-hour drive. That evening, we ordered food at the local Olive Garden. It was delivered to us at our car in the parking lot by a masked waitress. Breakfast the next morning at the Hampton Inn was a to-go bag of pastry, an apple, a chocolate bar, and coffee. The next day, we drove the remaining 10 hours home, stopping only for restrooms and gas ($1.40 per gallon in Ohio).
Since arriving home a couple of weeks ago, we’ve been staying around home. Whenever we have had to go to public places for food, etc., we have used our homemade and N9 masks. 2020 will be a memorable year for us.
Revitalization of Akeley and Russell April 13
Until about two weeks ago, the ROAR committee had been meeting to complete plans for the third Pine Grove Days Celebration on May 23. However, these plans have been put aside as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the Pine Grove Days Celebration has been cancelled. The past two celebrations have been a huge fundraiser for ROAR, helping the group to sponsor betterment projects for downtown Russell. A special thank you to all of the vendors and others who have given us their desire to participate in Pine Grove Days. All pre-registration fees and reservations have been returned. The fireworks is being rescheduled for a later date to be announced. Donations for fireworks are being accepted at ROAR — Revitalization of Akeley and Russell, PO Box 303, Russell, PA 16345. ROAR is a 501c3 organization. Designate “For fireworks” on your check. Watch for updates and, as always, thank you for your patience as we all try to navigate through these trying times.
Supervisors report April 8
The board of supervisors is continually monitoring the township’s readiness to respond to an outbreak of the COVID-19 virus.
The local Emergency Medical Services (EMS) provided by the Russell Volunteer Fire Department have their personnel well-trained and prepared to respond to suspected cases, including implementation of protocols to protect patients and first responders.
They also have an adequate supply of personal protective equipment.
To further insure the township is prepared and is able to tap additional resources, should these be needed, the supervisors have issued an emergency disaster declaration for the township. This declaration will remain in effect until rescinded by the supervisors.
The township, along with the county, has been fortunate in that to date only one case of the flu has been identified in the county. One concern of the supervisors has been the use of Larimer Park. On occasion, it has been noted that groups of young people are gathered there without attention to maintaining appropriate social distancing. The supervisors do not want to close the park; so they are asking all users to maintain social distancing of six feet or greater when using the park.
Residents are reminded that the township office will remain closed to the public throughout the remainder of the stay-at-home order. However, township staff will be available by phone during normal business hours. Additionally, water and sewer payments can be mailed or be placed in the drop box at the township office on East Street. Township staff also can be reached by email. The township office phone number is 757-8112 and the email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The supervisors will meet the second Wednesday of every month at the town hall, but with attention to social distancing and safety of attendees. Arrangements can be made for township residents wishing to speak at a meeting via phone conferencing or through attendance at the meeting. The meeting room will be disinfected before and after each meeting and chairs arranged to provide safe distancing of attendees. Attendees also are asked to wear protective masks. Persons wishing to present at any supervisors’ meeting are asked to call the office to be placed on the agenda. If the situation changes, the public will be notified.
With the loss of two employees from the township’s road operation, the supervisors took the opportunity to restructure and re-organize the operation. The township was fortunate in being able to replace the road foreman and a road worker/tech quickly and with experienced people. This gives the township a full complement of experienced workers who are currently concentrating on repairing winter road damage, as well as road/street cleanup, before taking on needed major projects. The supervisors, along with the new road foreman, have established a multi-year plan to bring all township roads and streets up to accepted standards. Unfortunately, the governor’s requirement that all non-essential services be closed will impact the supervisors’ ability to undertake major road projects. For example, the restoration work required by the water line replacement project cannot be completed by the contractor until the order is lifted. This leaves many streets in Russell with several places where open ditches were covered with dirt, which prevents us from paving over these spots until repaired. Also, our paving contracts are on hold due to the shutdown. The contractor has indicated it might not be until at least June before his company even begins to lay asphalt. Nevertheless, the township will use its existing resources to continually repair and upgrade our roads and streets. Residents are reminded to call the township office or email us to report any road concerns.
Due to the restraints imposed by the virus outbreak, the township’s spring clean-up day has been pushed back to Saturday, June 6, from 8 a.m. to noon.
Township residents are reminded to check the website (www.pinegrovetownship.org) for additional information on clean-up day, items of interest and approved minutes of supervisors’ meeting.