We still have a few more months left in the year, but these Pennsylvanians are already having a 2023 to remember.
Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon – Philadelphia
Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon, 55, first became a chef at the age of 48, yet she recently won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic. Suntaranon is the culinary master behind Philadelphia’s Kalaya, a restaurant specializing in Southern Thai cuisine, which Suntaranon grew up eating in Thailand. Kalaya first opened in South Philly 2019. Its move to the Fishtown neighborhood three years later cemented Kalaya’s reputation as a Philly culinary institution. And if that’s not all, Suntaranon is currently working on a cookbook that will be released in 2024.
P. Gabrielle Foreman – State College
The MacArthur Fellowship, an award commonly known as the “genius grant,” is given to people who show “exceptional creativity” as well as “the prospect for still more in the future.” P. Gabrielle Foreman, a professor of African American studies and history at Penn State, was named a MacArthur Fellow late last year in recognition of her work cataloging early Black history. Not only can Foreman introduce herself as a genius with a straight face, but she will also receive $800,000 over the next five years to support her work.
This year, Foreman released an edited volume called “Praise Songs for Dave the Potter,” which celebrates the African American artist and poet David Drake, who was enslaved in South Carolina while he crafted pottery and poems.
Loretta Claiborne – York / Izaak Hobday – Athens
In June, two Pennsylvanians won gold at the 2023 Special Olympics World Games, held in Berlin. The Special Olympics is a major, multi-sport event held for adults with intellectual abilities from around the world. York’s Loretta Claiborne, experienced in multiple sports, has competed in eight Special Olympics World Games. This year, she won gold in a singles tennis match as well as bronze with a partner in a doubles match. The 70-year-old has won a total of 12 medals in all. Runner Izaak Hobday, from Athens in Bradford County, won gold in the 1,500-meter run. He also won silver in the 5,000-meter run. This year was the 19-year-old’s first Special Olympics World Games. Both Claiborne and Hobday came home to parades in their honor.
Heidi Lagares-Greenblatt – Jefferson Hills
Heidi Lagares-Greenblatt made the Pittsburgh area proud when she won second place in the 44th season of the hit CBS show “Survivor.” The Jefferson Hills resident seemed to be a quieter contestant, but she proved herself when she boldly volunteered to make fire in the late-stage fire-making challenge after already winning immunity. Lagares-Greenblatt didn’t only win the challenge—she broke the show’s fire-making record, creating tall flames with just a knife and flint in a little over three minutes. While she may not have won the grand prize of $1 million, as runner up Lagares-Greenblatt took home a comfortable $100,000.
Sara Innamorato – Pittsburgh
Sara Innamorato started off the year as a state representative, but she’s currently the Democratic nominee to become the next county executive for Allegheny County. At 37, Innamorato was the youngest candidate to run for the office, winning the Democratic primary in what was a mild upset. Allegheny County historically votes for Democrats, so it’s likely that Innamorato will become county executive when voters head to polls in November. If she wins, Innamorato will become the first female to hold the position in Allegheny County history.
Sophia Rodriguez – Dallastown
With plenty of time left in 2023, 14-year-old runner Sophia Rodriguez of Dallastown has already broken two world records.
The previous record for the 5,000-meter run in the U-14 age group was set in 2004, before Rodriguez was even born. In June, Rodriguez broke that record at a track meet outside Philadelphia by about two seconds. Rodriguez, soon to enter ninth grade (and already faster than most high schoolers), also broke a world record in May for the 2-mile run, a record which hadn’t been broken for 44 years.
Andrew McCutchen – Pittsburgh
Even though the Pittsburgh Pirates’ performance has been wanting for some time, Andrew McCutchen is happy to be home. Five years ago, the outfielder was traded from the Pirates, the team with which he made his major league debut in 2009. He had not wanted to leave. “I was in a space of grief for weeks,” the 36-year-old told GQ in June, discussing his frame of mind after he was traded.
But after stints with the Giants, Yankees, and the Phillies, McCutchen is back in the Steel City, serving as the Pirates’ designated hitter. Though new baseball rules this year introduced a pitch timer, the umpire let that rule slide to allow a lengthy standing ovation when McCutchen came to bat during the Pirates’ home opener in April. McCutchen — and probably thousands of fans — wiped away tears.
Taylor Swift – (grew up in) Wyomissing
While Taylor Swift got her start as a country singer based in Nashville, Pennsylvanians still claim the Berks County native as one of our own. Swift has had a fantastic year so far, with her summer “Eras” tour a sold-out sensation that’s pumping up local economies wherever it plays. Getting tickets wasn’t easy, with Ticketmaster catastrophically fumbling initial ticket sales. But those who did get tickets to see Swift’s three shows in Philly and two in Pittsburgh — one of which set a new attendance record at Acrisure Stadium — were treated to a show they’ll be talking about for years to come.
Pennsylvania Pet Rescues – Various
Each February, one of the biggest TV events of the year takes place, gluing millions of people to their seats. That’s right, we’re talking about the Puppy Bowl, which airs on the same day as another major sports game that some people also watch.
This year’s game, Puppy Bowl XIX, featured plenty of adoptable puppies frolicking in a mock football stadium. More than 100 rescue dogs competed in the effort to take home the Lombarky Trophy, including some from Pennsylvania.
Charlie’s Crusaders Pet Rescue, which coordinates pet adoptions in Lancaster County, sent five puppies to the Puppy Bowl: Dalton, Eleven, Kai, Venturi and Wolfie. A dog named Pierogi joined the Puppy Bowl via Easton’s Center for Animal Health and Welfare. And of rescues in and around Philadelphia, Harley’s Haven Dog Rescue sent one puppy, Ritz; Providence Animal Center sent two, Gordon and Chaos; and a puppy named Amanda came to play from Wet Nose Rescue. Additionally, Greater Philly’s Brandywine Valley SPCA, which also operates in parts of Delaware, sent four puppies: Daisy, Ireland, Tia, and…Tailen Hurts.
After the Puppy Bowl, the dogs were all adopted by new families.
Gritty – Philadelphia
So maybe Gritty isn’t a person per se, but he’s definitely a Pennsylvanian. And earlier this year, the Philadelphia Public Relations Association gave its Gold Medal Award to the fluffy, orange mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers, who accepted it with aplomb. The Gold Medal Award is for those “whose accomplishments have left a lasting impact on [the] community and brought national recognition to Philadelphia,” according to the association. That’s certainly true of Gritty, who can distract Philadelphians with those lovable googly eyes whenever the Flyers lose, which is often.
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