Population of most Butler County communities slowly gets older

| Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, 12:23 p.m.

Butler County is aging, albeit gracefully.

In 2010, half the county's roughly 185,000 residents were 41.5 years old or older. Ten years before, half the county's residents were 37.6 years old or older.

An aging population brings with it several concerns, said David Culp, chair of Slippery Rock University's School of Business.

“When we have a demographic shift in population, you have a demographic shift in needs,” Culp said.

“With an older population, there's a growing concern about delivery of health care services.”

He said an aging population also means fewer children in area schools and fewer businesses, including those focused on entertainment targeted toward younger people.

However, Culp said, it's his perception that “the younger population, contrary to a lot of people's perceptions, are fairly comfortably well-off, income-wise.”

Only five Butler County communities got younger from 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For the others, the median ages remained relatively steady or increased substantially.

Local officials attribute that climb, in many instances, to a stable population of residents who have lived in Butler County communities most or all of their lives, growing older where they grew up. Another reason is older residents moving in, seeking lower property taxes or a quieter, more serene life.

These communities have seen changes in their population without change in their small-town character:


Of all the communities in Butler County, Valencia's median age grew the greatest between 2000 and 2010, from 51.4 years to 75.1 years. The increase reflects the expansion of St. Barnabas Health System's nursing and elder care campus and construction of carriage houses at the adjacent Woodlands of St. Barnabas over the last decade.

The Woodlands housing plan that sits above the tiny town of 551 residents has been home to Neal Murphy, a retired Duquesne University law professor, since July 2010. Murphy, 80, lived in Downtown Pittsburgh for 25 years before making the move north, though he frequently visits Pittsburgh for cultural events.

“I've become more aware of the beauty and the scenery of the change in seasons,” Murphy said of his move to the Woodlands.

“I'm more into the natural rhythm of seasons more than I ever was when I was in an urban setting.”

Valencia Woods nursing home houses 32, while The Arbors, which provides living assistance, has about 100 patients, according to Robin Taylor, public relations director for St. Barnabas.

Also, The Woodlands drew another 235 residents into 164 carriage homes, and that increase in older residents within the past few years has driven up Valencia's overall median age.

“There's a certain cheerfulness among residents and among administrators and employees. There's a lot of goodwill at work here, and it makes for pleasant companionship,” Murphy said of the St. Barnabas campus.

But Murphy added that a mix of ages can also be a good thing.

“You've got a little more rounded experience when there's a mix of younger people in the community,” he said.


Elizabeth Seiber, 22, moved to Zelienople from Darlington Township, Beaver County, in June to be closer to her job in Cranberry.

“I liked Zelie mostly because of its proximity to Cranberry, but also because it's a small town where I feel safe living,” Seiber said. “I definitely didn't want to live too close to Pittsburgh because I'm not much of a city person and places to rent in Cranberry are pretty expensive. Zelienople is in a good location and had a lot of places to rent at a reasonable price.”

Zelienople is the quintessential small town, with a Main Street filled with businesses including jewelry and candy stores, and the old Strand Theater, which is in the midst of a revitalization effort, drawing people to town for movies, shows, concerts and other entertainment.

Seiber enjoys living in Zelienople so far because there's a lot of things to do in town, and the town is close to friends in Pittsburgh and Beaver County. “Zelienople is a nice middle ground; I don't have to drive too far to go visit them or for them to come visit me.”

Zelienople borough Manager Don Pepe said that even though the median age has risen in the community, the numbers are a bit misleading. According to the Census, the median age rose from 41.3 years in 2000 to 47.2 years in 2010.

“If you look at the median age, it's not as old as you think. There's a lot of young people here, with young families,” Pepe said.

Pepe said the large, old-age population is because of Passavant Memorial Homes and other county senior citizen projects happening in Zelie. But there are also a lot of young families living and moving here.

“It's a wonderful place to live in terms of raising a family. I think that's probably a real draw. It's close proximity to Pittsburgh, less than half an hour away. And you're close to Cranberry. It has its value here. The school district is good. So in terms of that, you have a draw for younger families,” Pepe added.


The natural beauty of Moraine State Park drew Portersville businesswoman Nicolette Tolomeo Germain nearly 20 years ago.

The community, with nearly 250 residents, embraces its surroundings. On its website, it notes its location by saying it's “conveniently nestled between McConnells Mills and Moraine State Park, you will never be lacking activities and natural beauty. Whether it is kayaking, rock climbing, hiking, biking, boating, hunting, fishing or just relaxing, we have it all.”

Tolomeo Germain, who lives in nearby Muddy Creek, said she and her husband left the Monroeville area in 1995. They headed north, and since they had often sailed on Lake Arthur in Moraine, it seemed like a logical choice.

“That's the main reason we wanted to be here. And to be out in the country, away from the city. It's beautiful here,” Tolomeo Germain said.

By the following year, Tolomeo Germain opened Nicolette's Tailor Shop and Specialty Gift, selling hand-crafted items.

She said that the store's proximity to heavily traveled Interstate 79 is yet another plus for the area.

Ken Miller, who has been cutting hair in the borough for about 42 years, said that the area hasn't changed drastically.

The median age has risen significantly, however, from 36.8 years in 2000 to 46.3 years in 2010.

“Things don't change here because there's no (municipal) water and sewer. When that come, we'll be like another Cranberry overnight,” Miller said.


Steve and Kim McElravy have most of what they need within walking distance of their Petrolia home, above the Bauer-Hillis Funeral Home in the tiny borough of Petrolia, population 212. The median age ticked down slightly over the decade, from 38 years to 36.8 years.

“You've got a gas station, a restaurant, bank and post office,” said Steve McElravy, 52. “It's everything you need right nearby.”

Petrolia and Karns City, separated by about a mile along Route 268, are united through the common bond of manufacturing facilities lining the western hills, including Calumet Karns City Refining and the Sonnenborn Petrolia plant, employing hundreds in the immediate area. Residents said the plants have kept the population relatively steady, as people stay close to where they work.

“There are good paying jobs here. People are going to go where the money is,” Steve McElravy said.

Like the character Norm Peterson in the TV show. “Cheers,” everybody knows Sandy Cousin's name when they walk into Miller's Restaurant along Route 268. That's because Cousins, 67, has been a fixture at the restaurant for 38 years, and most of the folks who grab a bite to eat have lived nearby for decades.

“I know what they eat even before they tell me,” Cousins said.

The median age in the two communities rose from 36 years to 42.8 years.

Cousins, the wife of the town's mayor, Virgil Cousin, who has led the borough of 209 for 35 years, said it's the small-town atmosphere that keeps folks there.

“The people here are friendly, and everybody knows everybody,” Cousins said.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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