Avonmore has taken its licks, but it still celebrates with Harvest Jubilee | TribLIVE.com
Valley News Dispatch

Avonmore has taken its licks, but it still celebrates with Harvest Jubilee

Mary Ann Thomas
Mary Ann Thomas | Tribune-Review
Ashley Bertelle festival director of Avonmore’s Harvest Jubilee works on last minute details of the electrical service with Tim Carson, a technician with Prodigy Electrical Group.
The stage donated by Reynolds Manufacturing of Avonmore is ready for action for the Harvest Jubilee this weekend.

“We got the wings.”

The director of Avonmore’s Harvest Jubilee excitedly told its former director that another purveyor had been found after the original chicken wings vendor pulled out.

They were checking final details Wednesday for the festivities that take place Friday and Saturday.

The jubilee is free.

It features live music, kids activities, a foam party, train rides, pony rides, parade on Saturday, car cruise, fireworks, a duck race on the Kiski River, food, games and crafts.

A musical group, The Thieves, will headline Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

The town’s annual fall festival, now in its 55th year, drew crowds so large that cars had to park on the outskirts of town and people were bused in.

“You didn’t need food vendors before because the churches made the food,” said Penny Dunmire, 71, of the Avonmore Community Association, the longtime former festival director.

Besides the food, telltale of the generational shift in producing the jubilee are the names: They don’t mint women named Penny anymore.

The new director is of a much younger name vintage, Ashley Bertelle, 32, a mother of four. The event isn’t called a festival but still goes by the bygone moniker “jubilee,” coined by an old and proper borough lady, the late Irma Sutton DeCarpentier, who was founder of Avonmore’s historical society and museum.

Loss bodes ill

It’s not news that Avonmore has been shrinking and getting older.

But with its largest employer Akers National Roll Co. closing this month, the town could get even smaller.

According to a filing with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, the Akers National Roll Co. will lay off 40 some people before Sept. 27. Earlier in the year, the plant employed about 119 people.

The plant is owned by Ampco-Pittsburgh, which said it is selling the facility to an affiliate of the South Side-based WHEMCO Inc. Ampco-Pittsburgh CEO Brett McBrayer said in a news release that the move is a key step in the company’s restructuring.

Avonmore Borough, with an annual budget of about $350,000, stands to lose about $20,000 in real estate taxes when the plant is shuttered, said Mayor Paula Jones, 65. Jones worked in the payroll department from 1977 until about three years ago.

“I start to cry when I talk about it,” she said.

But not for too long, as Jones later launches into a promotion of the town, touting its frontage on the Kiski River and its popularity for kayaking and canoeing.

“The Kiski River has been a great help to us,” Jones said. “The (boat) launch has made it possible for people of different ages to come to town.”

But she sure would like to see a new business move into the National Roll site where there awaits a ready workforce.

Avonmore is a town used to loss.

“We’re a microcosm of an American town that’s been through it,” Dunmire said.

But good things do happen, Dunmire said, like when a movie star such as Matt Damon shows up at your front door for the filming of the movie “The Promised Land” in 2012 and 2013.

The movie was filmed in the region with Avonmore serving as the rural town of McKinley, grappling with the fates and fortunes of unconventional gas development.

Another possibility is an existing business such as Reynolds Manufacturing Co. taking off.

With 10 employees now, Reynolds Manufacturing president Brett Stevenson is looking to ramp up employment in his business. It fabricates structural and plate metals for bridges, building structures, landfill tippers and other uses.

Stevenson’s grandfather moved Reynolds to Avonmore in 1949.

“We’re hoping for a brighter future,” he said. “There have been things against us but we do have work.”

Party on

Things in Avonmore might be old, but some have proven to be durable.

The situation in town is admittedly difficult and sad, Dunmire and Jones said.

The Jubilee almost didn’t get off the ground this year.

But the stage is already set on Indiana Avenue. The sturdy and portable 35-by-30-foot stage was built by Reynolds and volunteers. Not surprising, Stevenson is president of the Avonmore Community Association.

For Bertelle, the festival director, Wednesday was all about last-minute work and craziness, like nailing down a wings vendor.

She’s been volunteering with the Community Association for 10 years. With four children and a part-time job at Reynolds, why do the festival?

“It’s for the kids,” she said simply.

Great weather is forecast.

Life carries on in Avomore.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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