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WPSU Listeners Tell How They've Endured The Pandemic

Ernie Chamberlain

 WPSU asked you, our listeners, to tell us how you were getting along during the pandemic lockdown. Here are some of the ways you’ve been getting through it.

Evie Madison of Altoona is pastor of Wehnwood United Methodist Church in Altoona. She was busy becoming tech savvy early on in the pandemic.  She learned to record and edit video so she could bring Sunday services to her shut in congregation.

“I can trim out the part where I say ‘Wait a minute – wait a minute – are we starting now?’” Madison said. “So now I have also learned how to overdub and add audio onto the video. “

Madison and her friends at the church also kept busy helping neighbors. The Wehnwood congregation mobilized to feed some local families in need.

“When the schools closed, that meant those children were not getting lunches,” Madison said. “And so we send hot dogs and we send cereal and we send peanut butter and other things that are what I would call kid-friendly foods.”

Meanwhile, in McKean County, another WPSU listener has had a rare chance to spend quality time with his kids.

“We live right on the outskirts of the Allegheny National Forest.  It’s very remote here.  It’s just dense forest all around us,” Ernie Chamberlain said. 

He teaches at Kane Area Middle School, and has been passing the time hiking in the forest with his wife and three kids.

“This is something that we’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “But what would normally be going on right now is baseball season, and track and spring soccer. Every night of the week we would have a game, practice, and we just never had time. So with all this free time at the end of the day, we’ve been travelling to different trailheads, hiking 5, 6, 7, 8 miles at a time.”

Credit Ermie Chamberlain
Ernie Chamberlain finds his roots in the Allegheny National Forest during the pandemic.

Chamberlain says he had to buy his kids some serious boots for these outings.

“Real hiking boots. And it’s been muddy, it’s rocky it’s been quite a challenge at times. The trails cross the creek, and they don’t have a bridge.  Because a lot of this is very remote. You know, the North Country Trail is just a very rustic trail. And so you’re like jumping across these creeks and trying to find rocks to step across in some parts.  And we got wet.  A couple times.”

For Chamberlain, the pandemic lockdown has brought an important benefit to his family.

 “I would imagine that a lot of fellow listeners are probably going through the same things,” he said. “We’re spending more time than we’ve ever got to with our children, which is amazing.  We’ve had conversations that we never really get to have because of all of our busy lives.  And we’re enjoying that. “

Near the other side of the Allegheny National Forest, close to Tionesta, Richard Schall has been tending to his lumber business.

“I actually live right where I work,” Schall says, “and it’s on the edge of the national forest.  Nothing but trees, you know.”

Schall is the chief executive officer of a company that distributes hardwood.  When the pandemic came and business slowed, he had to lay off his staff to part time. 

 “Because I’ve cut the hours of my employees, I’ve had to pick up some of the slack that they were doing.  But I’m doing what I would ordinarily do.  I’m basically working part-time right now.”

When he’s not working, he’s been passing the time with some creative endeavors.

“I got in with a group of friends, and we started doing silly mask pictures. And the idea was we would circulate a picture around, and everybody would fill-in their caption. And then we would take a vote on which picture was the silliest or best, and which caption was the best."

Credit RIchard Schall
Richard Schall, wearing a feathered owl mask.

“That absorbed us for a week or two,” Schall said, laughing. “Then we ran out of silly pictures and captions.  And then I took up writing poetry for the local newspaper.  Because, as you probably know, April was National Poetry Month. “

Schall wrote his poems for The Forest Press. He says he used to write poetry more regularly before he got into the family lumber business. He minored in creative writing at Carnegie Mellon.

He says his poetry takes a lot of inspiration from his part of the Allegheny National Forest.

“My office is right on a trout stream. And there’s a pretty good size hole like 50 yards away,” Schall said.  “And one night I had a bear just knocking the trout out of the water.  I watched.  I did not walk by.”

Schall says when officials stock the water with fish, big trucks are used to dump the fish in. The otters and the bears have caught on to the fact that those trucks mean it’s mealtime.

“And that was kind of my inspiration for that one poem about the otters,” he said.

“I’ll read it off to you here real quick.  You ready?  The otters follow in the water, leaping and barking their delight. The black bear watches from the forest as the truck comes into sight. The white truck stops at every crossing, pouring down it’s silver stream. The driver turns the pump off, finishes, then blows the horn and waves goodbye. Bears and otters charge the waters.  So long, and thanks for all the fish, is their glad reply.”

We’ve all had to find new things to do during lockdown, or new ways to do what we were already doing. And Schall thinks “new” is the operative word for the future.

“Most of the people I talk with, the consensus is, that life is never going to go back to what it was,” he said. “There’s going to be a new normal.”

Kristine Allen is Program Director of WPSU-FM. She also files feature stories for WPSU on the arts, culture, science, and more. When she's not at WPSU, Kris enjoys playing folk fiddle, acting, singing and portrait-sketching. She is also a self-confessed "science geek." Kris started working in public radio in college, at age 17, and says she "just couldn't stop."
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