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98-year-old celebrity cook releasing cookbook of favorite recipes

It all started last March when a friend asked Mary Ellen Raneri if her mother, Lucy Pollock, could show her how to make Easter bread.

Raneri asked her, then added, “Do you mind if I do a video? And can we do it live?”

Pollock, as easy going as she is, said, “I don’t care.”

The video that Raneri shared on Facebook turned into another, then another, and more. The live episodes have been streaming every Sunday since March 22, and sometimes there are pop-up videos on weekdays whenever Pollock feels like making something. Like maybe she has a bag of apples, so it’s time to bake an apple pie.

What became known as “Baking With Lucy” has more than 30,000 followers, and a cookbook of the same name will soon be released.

Not bad for a woman who turned 98 a few days ago.

Pollock lives with her daughter, son-in-law Phil and dachshunds Lily and Alfredo in Lawson Heights. Her culinary skills are legendary in their circle of friends and family, and now people all over the country and abroad are watching her bake and cook. She makes no-frills comfort food like grandma used to make, and no wonder. Her cooking was passed down to her from her own mother who kept the family fed during the Great Depression and other hard times.

“Grandma had a huge garden and a cow, and she was the best cook in the world,” Raneri said.

It was such an influential lesson in frugality that Pollock is still saying, “More flour, less meat.”

If it’s too fancy, she’s not going to cook it. If it has too many ingredients, or things that aren’t readily available in an ordinary kitchen, she won’t make that, either.

“I’m a plain Jane,” she said.

Pollock’s Italian parents immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s and ended up in Homer City. Her father was a coal miner and a “carpenter who could make anything.” Her mother took care of nine children (one died at a young age) and baked around 26 loaves of bread for the family every week.

Pollock’s late husband Michael was a Pennsylvania state trooper based in Punxsutawney. Raneri, who taught French and composition writing in the Ligonier Valley School District, was their only child. She grew up eating a combination of Italian and Slovak foods, and remembers always smelling something good cooking when she turned the corner on her way home from school.

Her mother moved in with her in 2012, and the two often cook together.

“I learned a lot from her, but I’m not as good as she is,” Raneri said. “I’m always in a hurry, and my mother is more methodical.”

Pollock takes time with her baking and cooking but, like many good cooks, the measurements aren’t always precise. Add enough flour, a little at time — “don’t just dump it in” — to make the dough perfect.

“Use this, the heels of your hands, not your fingers,” she says, holding up her hands every time she makes dough.

Those kneading instructions are a standard on her show. She’s also known for saying “don’t burn the garlic” so many times that they now have t-shirts with that motto.

Phil Raneri usually films the livestreams of both women interacting in the kitchen. Raneri will do other segments with just her mother on camera. On Thursday, Pollock made another batch of dough.

“Knead it, knead it, knead it,” she said, pounding it with the heels of her hands.

She didn’t know what she was going to do with it, so she placed it in a greased bowl and covered it to let it rise. The mother and daughter came back on hours later. Pollock had decided to set aside a small portion to make buns and roll out the rest of it in a cookie sheet, add oil and some herbs. They later posted a photo of the finished product baked with Romano and mozzarella cheese, and garden tomatoes.

A viewer commenting during the second segment of Thursday’s livestream asked if she was going to add garlic powder or real garlic.

“Not garlic powder,” Pollock responded. “I use cloves of garlic all over it, and if somebody doesn’t like it, they can spit it out.”

Pollock, for sure, has a quick humor and, her daughter said, “She tells it like it is. My mother is very honest.”

There are lots of lighthearted moments in the episodes, and Pollock laughs when things go wrong. One time when she was preserving a sandwich spread, they had the filled jars ready to go into the boiling water bath when a viewer sent a message: “When do you put in the salad dressing?”

Oops. They forgot to add that. No problem. Pop off all the lids and rings, dump everything back into a bowl, mix in the salad dressing, and refill the jars with new lids.

Comments come in from viewers all throughout the episodes. One person thought that Pollock didn’t add enough cornstarch to thicken the coconut cream pie, but it turned out perfect. Another asked why there was so much liquid in her own canned tomatoes. The answer was easy: “Not enough tomatoes.”

“Baking With Lucy” has become so popular that many times people recognize her when she’s at the supermarket, even though she’s wearing a mask.

“It’s like being out with Elvis,” Raneri joked.

The livestream and videos have become more successful than they ever imagined.

“I think we are both a little overwhelmed,” Raneri said. “We’re really trying to feel our way and it’s all so new to us. It’s so nice that people like this.”

Pollock had several careers before she retired. At one time, she managed Kroger supermarkets, and she also worked as an assistant manager at an unemployment office. Now she’s having the time of her life as a Facebook celebrity.

“I’ll keep doing this until the good Lord makes me stop,” she said. “I’ll do this as long as I’m able and as long as I can think straight. I’m 98, but I feel like I’m 50.”

The cookbook contains 222 recipes in honor of her birth year 1922. They’re written with instructions in her voice, and there are additional fun notations and photographs. It is spring bound and hardback so that it’s easier to prop up on a kitchen counter. A website is still under construction and the book’s availability will be announced on the Facebook page, Baking With Lucy. The price is $19.99 with $1 from each sale donated to Helping Hearts & Healing Tails rescue based in the Ligonier area.

Westmoreland County records highest single-day COVID-19 case total

Westmoreland County recorded its highest single-day increase in positive coronavirus (COVID-19) cases Thursday, according to statistics provided by the county on its website.

As of 4 p.m. Thursday, Westmoreland County had 3,201 total coronavirus cases, an increase of 148 cases from Wednesday. That total includes 2,926 confirmed cases and 275 probable. As of Thursday’s update, there have been 47,307 negative COVID-19 tests in Westmoreland County (93.66%).

There have been 65 deaths among Westmoreland County residents attributed to coronavirus, as confirmed by the state health department through the National Electronic Disease Surveillance System (NEDSS). The Westmoreland County Coroner’s Office lists a total of 61 coronavirus deaths — 54 confirmed by testing and another seven presumed cases based on symptoms.

The coroner’s COVID-19 death total includes any individual whose death occurred in Westmoreland County, regardless of their county of residence.

According to the state health department, there were 36 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the county and four coronavirus patients on ventilators as of Thursday.

The daily coronavirus figures on the Westmoreland County website differ slightly from those on the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s COVID-19 Dashboard, which is updated at noon each day. The county’s site is updated at 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, with a weekend recap included with each Monday’s update.

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Police seize more than 2,000 stamp bags in South Greensburg drug bust

State police at Greensburg seized more than 2,000 stamp bags of suspected heroin and more than $2,000 in cash while executing a search warrant on a South Greensburg home on Wednesday.

Chyrone Lamar Rodgers, 32, of South Greensburg was arraigned Wednesday before Magisterial District Judge Charles R. Conway on charges of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance. He was ordered held in Westmoreland County Prison and denied bond after Conway ruled him a flight risk.

According to court documents, a state police Special Emergency Response Team executed a search warrant at a home on the 1700 block of Broad Street in South Greensburg around 5 p.m. Wednesday and arrested Rodgers there. Police discovered 2,050 stamp bags of suspected heroin inside a refrigerator in the home’s kitchen, according to court documents, as well as $2,180 in an upstairs bedroom and two cell phones in the living room.

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Derry Area aims to bring alumni together through Trojan's Spear initiative

Ask anyone from the area and they will likely agree: There is something special about the Derry Area School District community.

“We’re just very humble people,” said Sarah Mikeska, a Derry Area graduate who is the current Derry Area School District Foundation president and a Grandview Elementary School teacher. “I see my parents, my friends’ parents and everybody work very hard, and what we’re given is what we’ve earned so far. And I think everybody in this community knows what a great school district we have — the teachers here really shape the students and they want to give back.”

Now, alumni will have a chance to give back through a new initiative — aimed at channeling Derry Area pride and the district’s proud past into a brighter future — called the Trojan’s Spear. The group, which will operate as a subgroup of the foundation, will focus its efforts to support the four A’s of the school district: academics, arts, agriculture and athletics.

As part of the Trojan’s Spear, five separate programs — an alumni association, an annual fund, capital campaigns, scholarships and a Hall of Fame — have been created to “build camaraderie, increase pride and generate financial support for numerous upcoming projects,” according to a news release on the initiative.

Key to the initiative’s long-term success is involvement and all Derry Area alumni are invited to register online at thespear.dasd.us to become part of the new Trojan Alumni community. Brett Miller, the district’s director of athletics, said plans are in place to issue a quarterly electronic newsletter that features students of the month, an alumni spotlight, recognition of annual donors, athletic and academic honors and more.

“We want to give (alumni) some highlights of the district so they’re still connected to us,” he said. “It’s a way to build a relationship with them.”

Miller said the framework of what became the Trojan’s Spear was formed two years ago when Derry Area honored its 1985 football team.

“I was listening to their stories, their reminiscing and how much the school building has and hasn’t changed,” Miller said of the gridiron reunion.

The idea, Miller said, began with a lettermen’s club and an athletic alumni association but soon grew into a district-wide alumni association after a conversation with the school board. Also that year, the foundation received a $50,000 donation from a private donor to be utilized as seed money for a large project.

“We had these two initiatives traveling side by side before they collided into one with this group that we called the Trojan’s Spear,” he said.

As for the name, Miller said Trojan’s Spear began as “just a creative, interesting and exciting name we put on the alumni association and capital campaign group, and that grew into something even bigger.” The initiative is also using “POREIA PROS TA EMPROS” as a slogan on its social media page.

The annual fund is intended to grow the initiative and help provide funding for Derry Area to be, as the news release describes, on the “cutting edge of education and to have the ability to pivot quickly as educational trends and technology becomes available.” Alumni can contribute to the fund annually through a donation level of their choice: The Trojan’s Spear Society, $2,500 and above; The Victory Gold Club, $1,500 to $2,499; The Royal Blue Club, $500 to $1,499; The Lettermen’s Club, $100 to $499, and The Friends of Derry Area Club, $99 or fewer.

“The annual fund is exactly what it sounds like,” Miller said. “It’s an annual drive for donations from alumni and donors to build up a pot of money to improve the school district from a faculty and staff perspective, to infrastructure, to aesthetics, to equipment, to technology. If there’s something our teachers want to do, we can tap into the annual fund and share that with our alumni.”

Per the news release, the group is “engaged in a feasibility study to determine the viability of launching a capital campaign that supports and enhances the the four A’s of the school district.” Additionally, a special committee within the initiative has been developed to generate funding for scholarships in the four categories; Miller said scholarships amounts will be determined by the amount of funding the Trojan’s Spear generates.

Derry Area’s inaugural Hall of Fame class, meanwhile, will be selected by a designated committee and honored in fall 2021. The Hall of Fame will include several categories — athletics, academics, fine arts, humanitarian and lifetime achievement — and honorees will be comprised of alumni who “have made a valuable contribution to society in his/her personal or professional life” and who have “brought distinction, honor and excellence to the Derry Area through various achievements and accomplishments.”

Those involved with the initiative are set to contact donors. Miller said 20 to 25 people are helping push the Trojan’s Spear forward, and added that the initiative has received positive feedback from alumni after it was announced during a recent Derry Area football game. A alumni kickoff event slated for Friday, Oct. 16, was postponed and is in the process of being rescheduled.

Derry Area School Board president David Krinock said alumni who have signed up to the Trojan’s Spear span multiple generations.

“It spans a lot of years, and it covers a wide spectrum,” he said.

The goal by the end of November, Miller said, is to have about 1,000 people signed up to an alumni directory.

“I really think we can hit that number,” he said. “The more people that are signed up for the directory, the more we can communicate what our efforts and goals are, and the more successful this program will be.”

From there, Miller hopes that number will continue to grow. Those involved with the initiative, he noted, estimated there are more than 12,000 Derry Area alumni that could potentially be part of the Trojan’s Spear.

Among the initiative’s key contributors is Joseph Murin, a 1967 Derry Area graduate and Bradenville native with more than 40 years of experience in the mortgage, banking and financial service industries. The current chairman of JJAM Financial LLC, he previously served as president of the Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae) under the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, and has held CEO positions for a number of financial organizations.

“There’s people who graduated before me and people who graduated after me who never really felt part of the system, other than the fact they went there,” said Murin, who will serve as Trojan’s Spear president and plans to reach out to alumni and assist with the capital campaign. “This (initiative) is going to be kind of the glue to bring grads together for a common cause and a common goal ... you can pull people together, and I think that’s the most important thing right now.”

Murin said his upbringing in the Derry Area community — through his parents, his education and his involvement in athletics, including helping the late William “Doc” Livingston start the Derry Area wrestling program during Murin’s junior year — played a large role in his future professional successes.

“Everybody has a foundation — you get that from your family and you get that from your school,” he said. “Fortunately, I had a great town I grew up in and a great school system that gave me the ability to do the things I’ve been able to accomplish. And that holds true of so many kids who went through the Derry school system. We’re just so happy to have this alumni program and we think we can bring people together and continue that Derry pride.”

“We have a great group of people who have really spent so much time and effort to pull this together,” he continued. “And this is another spoke on the hub that is going to bring so much benefit to the school system on an ongoing basis.”

Krinock praised Miller’s extensive efforts to help push the initiative forward, which also included combing through old yearbooks for photos that were used as part of a short video created by Derry Area graduates Dan and John Flickinger to preview the Trojan’s Spear.

Miller added that the Trojan’s Spear — with increased exposure and a deeper alumni network over time — will pay dividends for future generations of Derry Area students.

“We want to be able to call Derry the best school district in the state,” he said. “We know we already have the best staff in the state, but we want the facilities and equipment to be the best. When families are looking at what school district to move into, we want them to look at Derry. It’s kind of a snowball effect: If you start to improve those things now, it will (pay dividends) 10, 15, 20 years down the road. I know it’s not a short turnaround, but you have to think short-term and long-term about what you’re trying to improve.”

However, what doesn’t need improving is the pride so many have for the school district and the Derry community. And it’s even rubbed off over the years on Miller, a Mount Pleasant native who was hired as Trojans’ athletic director in 2013.

“It’s a good place,” he said. “We had a superintendent years ago that said Derry is one of the best kept secrets in Pennsylvania. I didn’t know what he meant by that because I wasn’t here long enough to really know people, but after eight years in Derry, I get it now.”

And that deep pride is something Mikeska knows firsthand, as a parent of students who attend the district, as a Derry Area alumni and as a current Derry Area teacher.

“For personal reasons, I have overwhelming pride for our school district and our community, and this is very exciting for me that I get to be a part of it,” she said of the Trojan’s Spear.

“I just want to give my children and other children the experiences they deserve that sometimes the school district isn’t able to fund because we don’t have a very big tax base. But what we do have is a lot of people with a lot of pride from Derry, all over the world, that can help support us and give our children some wonderful things that just aren’t feasible with the budget. That’s what I’m most excited about.”

For more information on how to help The Trojan’s Spear, visit thespear.dasd.us or visit the initiative’s Facebook page.

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36th LWA art auction goes virtual

The Loyalhanna Watershed Association (LWA)’s annual art auction will have a virtual format this year. The new concept is yet another adjustment non-profit organizations like the LWA have had to make to raise funding for ongoing projects during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“The auction is different this year, obviously, because it is online. For the past 35 years we had a big dinner, an auctioneer, a silent auction and a live auction,” said LWA Executive Director Susan Huba.

“Still Waters” is the theme of the LWA’s 36th auction, featuring original works from renowned local and national artists.

“The committee met in January to pick the theme that ended up working out with the pandemic,” Huba said. “So, we played on the reflection theme. After all, people had to stay home and had time to reflect on things. The artists took our theme literally about reflection and water. It was just a fitting theme for this year with self-isolation.”

All artwork may be viewed in person at G Squared Gallery, 138 East Main St., Ligonier, beginning Oct. 17 during normal business hours – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays. The artwork may also be viewed by special appointment; call 724-238-8083 for more information.

“We want people to be able to come and see the pieces in person. With art pieces it would be hard to try to get the colors of a piece by viewing it on a flat computer screen,” Huba said.

“Thankfully, we reached out to G Squared Gallery’s new owner Sandra Svilar and she has been wonderful about using her gallery space for our exhibit.”

Huba is encouraged that the exhibit will bring in new people who are not on the annual auction mailing list to see and bid on the art pieces.

Auction proceeds benefit the LWA’s mission to conserve, protect and restore the natural resources of the Loyalhanna Creek Watershed.

“This event usually supports our efforts for land and water conservation program projects,” Huba said. “We have stewardship projects on the conserved properties that we own, stream improvement projects and water-quality-monitoring programs.”

The 24 participating artists have created 27 pieces of art that reflect their interpretation of still water scenes from the Ligonier Valley.

“Many of the artists have been our supporters for years. A core group of them have been involved for 20 to 30 years by contributing half of their proceeds from the sale of their artwork to the organization. We try to add new people. We want to try to offer different types of pieces, not just oil paintings,” Huba said.

This year two new people are providing art pieces: Doreen Currie of Latrobe submitted an oil painting and Alexis Dillon submitted a photographic piece.

Artists who submitted oil paintings include: Gordon Allen, Dix Baines, Jaime Cooper, Doreen Currie, William DeBernardi, Ron Donoughe, Peggy Fischbeck, Bud Gibbons, Rita Kambic Haldeman, Claire Hardy, Richard Hower, Lynne Lockhart, Lydia Mack, Joan Mudge, Stuart Thompson, Nora Thompson and Nancy Richards West.

Other artwork submissions include: Francis DeFabo – pottery; Alexis Dillon – photography; Ned Ewell – watercolor; Jack Mayer – sculpture; Leo Osborne – acrylic; Joseph Teplitz – photography, and Lisa Dawn White – collage.

Huba said they will be seeking patron support this year since they will not be selling tickets.

“We would typically sell a ticket for a $100 dinner. We have been very fortunate that people are still supporting us through donations,” Huba said.

Online bidding starts at 8 a.m. Oct. 17, and concludes at 8 p.m. Oct. 24, via computer, laptop, tablet or mobile device. Go to bidpal.net/stillwaters to place a bid.

“We have a designated website for this that we set up with the online platform OneCause,” Huba said.

The art auction has always been the largest fundraising event for the LWA.

“We generate the most revenue from this event,” Huba said. “Our fundraisers are generally held in the summer and fall. By this time we had hoped things would have been back to normal. They are not. So, it was a big change for us to keep this event going. We tried to be creative and hopefully, people will still support us.”

WCA organizing Christmas Toys for Kids toy drive

Westmoreland Community Action (WCA) is seeking support from the community for its Christmas Toys for Kids program.

“Christmas Elves” can help out by adding the WCA Christmas Toys for Kids program to their holiday shopping lists, sponsoring a family or hosting a virtual toy drive.

This year, the WCA is utilizing a new remote drop-off location for toy donations. Those donating toys must call 724-834-1260 to schedule a drop-off time.

The WCA receives applications from families in Westmoreland County that need help meeting the wishes of their children during the holidays. To sponsor a family, contact jkemerer@westmorelandca.org.

Those interested in helping out can also host a virtual toy drive by sharing the WCA’s Amazon Wish List, creating their own Amazon Wish List or creating a shopping cart on their favorite store’s website. The WCA’s Amazon Wish List can be found at https://a.co/153Di6U. Online orders for the Christmas Toys for Kids program can be addressed to 226 S. Maple Ave., Greensburg, PA 15601.

The deadline for the Christmas Toys for Kids program is Dec. 4.

All presents must be new, unwrapped and unopened. The program serves children from birth to age 15. Monetary donations can be made by check, cash and online through PayPal.

For more information about the toy drive, contact Jennifer Kemerer at 412-707-3551 or at jkemerer@westmorelandca.org, or visit the website at www.westmorelandca.org.