From history-making politicians, to kids with early-90s hair, it was our great pleasure to meet these Pennsylvanians in 2023 and share their stories with you.
It’s the people who make Pennsylvania so special. And one of the best parts of this job is that we get to speak with Pennsylvanians from all walks of life with great stories to share.
Some are making history, some are turning a passion into a cool business venture, and some are trying to help others in their community.
It was our great pleasure to meet these Pennsylvanians in 2023 and share their stories with you.
Not only is the late 80s/early 90s hairstyle known as the mullet experiencing a resurgence, but there’s a contest devoted to the business on top, party in the back coif. And this year’s winner in the kid’s category of the USA Mullet Championships hailed from right here in Pennsylvania. Six-year-old Rory Ehrlich, of West Pottsgrove, Montgomery County, took home top honors in the contest. And in the process, he raised more than $6,600 for Homes 4 Wounded Warriors, a nonprofit that builds and remodels housing for critically injured veterans. Rory’s mom, Airen Ehrlich, told us in August that she isn’t exactly sure what inspired her son’s mullet fascination, though she thinks Phillies folk hero John Kruk had something to do with it. As the first-place winner, Rory received $5,000, money his mother said he planned to use to buy his 7-year-old sister, Emma, an alpaca.
To many Philadelphians, Pennsylvania can seem like a hazy mystery once you travel west of Hershey or north of the Poconos. Not to Center City resident Florence Gallagher, who in the fall completed her quest to visit each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. Gallagher, 84, first visited the neighboring counties in the greater Philadelphia area as a child, before branching out during her high school years to visit Lancaster, Adams, and Centre counties. Since then, she’s traveled Route 6 from the New Jersey border to the Ohio border, visited the Coudersport Ice Mine, seen bison and alpaca farms, and learned plenty of local history by chatting with residents in dozens of quaint Pennsylvania towns, where Gallagher found the locals to be a little nicer than those in her native city. “As much as I love Philadelphia — it’s my city — people are kinder once you get out of the Philadelphia area and into the smaller towns,” Gallagher told us in November. “From the time I left Montgomery County, I never had anyone beep the horn at me. I was flabbergasted.”
Did you have “police target village witch” on your 2023 bingo card? We sure didn’t, and Beck Lawrence, owner of the Serpent’s Key, a Hanover business billed online as a “witchery and apothecary,” was equally surprised to find the chief of police at their doorstep in early October after the shop was featured on social media. Hanover police were there to inform Lawrence that the tarot readings offered at their store violated an obscure state law from 1861 banning fortune telling for personal gain — this despite the numerous “for entertainment only” disclaimers on display throughout the shop. While the interaction was short, according to Lawrence, because police chief Chad Martin refused to be filmed, they were still scared at the possibility of losing their livelihood. That is until a TikTok they made following the police visit went viral, prompting an uptick in business. “I think I have been validated by my community and I’m just very grateful that people are willing to put themselves out there in support of me,” Lawrence told us shortly after the incident. “Before all of this had happened, I was freaking out because I was like ‘I am going to have to live off of ramen and peanut butter just to afford rent.’ And since then we made rent for the shop after paying out all of our vendors. We did that in less than 72 hours.”
Summer Lee’s election to the US House last November was historic, as the Braddock native became the first Black woman to represent Pennsylvania in Congress, a victory that helped Democrats gain a 9-8 edge in Pennsylvania’s newly redrawn House map. It wasn’t the first time Lee made history. Lee became the first Black woman to represent southwest Pennsylvania in the state Legislature when she was elected to represent the 34th District in the state House in 2018. While acknowledging the significance of these victories, Lee told us in March that the history she’s made points to systemic inequalities and a lack of representation for large groups of people. “All over this country, there are Black women, queer women, queer folks, trans folks, poor working-class folks who have never had representation in our federal government,” Lee said. “Which means [I have] a responsibility to not just serve honorably the people of (Allegheny and Westmoreland counties), but to also keep in mind the thousands of Black women throughout the commonwealth who are relying on my voice, my advocacy, my perspective, [and] the thousands of working-class people who are doing the same.”
Lauren McChesney and Matthew McClanahan
A shared love for drive-in movies is what inspired Allentown couple Lauren McChesney and Matthew McClanahan to purchase Shankweiler’s, America’s oldest continually operating drive-in theater. As just the fourth owners in the Orfield theater’s 89-year history, the couple are running one of the 28 remaining drive-ins in Pennsylvania, and one of only approximately 320 drive-in theaters still in operation nationally, according to DriveInMovie.com. With many people content to watch streaming movies from their couch, the couple felt an urgency to act when they learned Shankweiler’s was up for sale in 2022, or risk losing the unique drive-in experience in the Lehigh Valley. “We were very nervous it was going to become a gas station or a warehouse because that’s what seems to happen with everything,” McChesney told us in April. “We decided to figure out how to buy it. We’re not wealthy land investors. We’re not real estate people. We’re just normal people who love drive-in movies.”
When customers arrive at Franklin Hill Vineyards — for many years, the only one of Pennsylvania’s approximately 300 winery-vineyards that was solely female-owned — they might catch a glimpse of the Mack truck founder and co-owner Elaine Pivinski was gifted for her 73rd birthday. That truck transports Franklin Hill’s many varieties to grocery stores across Pennsylvania, and to the winery’s retail shops in Bartonsville, Bethlehem, and Easton. Much has changed for Pivinski since 1976, when she planted the first crop of grapes at the 35-acre Bangor farm. What hasn’t changed is Pivinski’s work ethic. Just like when she planted the first grapes, you’ll still find the 75-year-old out in the vineyard getting her hands dirty planting and harvesting. “I love being out there working with the earth, because I feel like the earth is working with me,” Pivinski told us in May. “I feel like the universe has rewarded me. I’m not talking financially, but in being happy with my life, and the way I’ve treated people. It all comes back to me and it’s been good stuff.”
Kevin Bacon, the wayward pig, already made our list of the coolest Pennsylvania animals of 2023. One of Kevin’s new “pet parents,” Chelsea Rumbaugh makes this list for a couple of reasons. The Facebook page she started following the pig’s escape after her family adopted him is great, and even caught the attention of Kevin Bacon, the actor. Most importantly, we love that she sees a calling for Kevin and her other pigs beyond the viral story. She wants her family and her pigs to be of service to the community. The goal is to have a working farm, where the pigs can serve as therapy animals to neurodivergent adults and children. “I feel like there’s a great need for a fun activity where you can go with kids that get overwhelmed easily, adults too,” Rumbaugh told us in October. “Who doesn’t want some pig snuggle therapy when things are hard? We live in a town with several colleges. If it’s exam week, come on over, snuggle a pig, know that everything’s going to be alright. And the ultimate goal would be the opportunity to create jobs for people who might have a hard time holding down a job due to mental health conditions.”
If you’ve ever pre-gamed for the Super Bowl by watching the “Puppy Bowl,” you’ve probably wondered how they get those adorable dogs to trot across the field during the player introductions, stare at the flag during the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and stay in place during the presentation of the coveted Lombarky Trophy. That responsibility falls to Victoria Schade of Doylestown, Bucks County. While the cameras capture the rescue pups in all their cuteness, Schade is off-camera, crouched in the opposite corner, using her powers of puppy persuasion to get dozens of untrained baby pooches to help the production run smoothly. Schade loves her work. But, as you might imagine, getting pups to obey commands they don’t understand while the cameras are rolling isn’t easy. “Player intros are the most challenging part of what I do,” Schade told us back in January. “If you look at that moment on film, it’s super high stress for the dogs. They are coming through this dark tunnel. There’s dry ice in their way. You’ll see some of the dogs trying to step over the smoke. When they award the Lombarky Trophy at the end, I have to get two untrained puppies to hold a sit for upwards of 60 seconds. That can be a lot.”
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