Riverfest co-chairman Jim Haight gets 'Spark Award'
BY JAMES LOEWENSTEIN
WYSOX TOWNSHIP - The Wysox Chamber of Commerce presented its annual Citizen-of-the-Year Award to Wysox Fire Chief Brett Keeney on Thursday, while the Central Bradford County Chamber of Commerce presented its 2011 Ann Van Ness Spark Award to Jim Haight, the longtime co-chairman of the Towanda Riverfest Committee.
The awards were presented at the third annual dinner of the chambers of commerce, where Bill Kelly, who grew up in Towanda and who has been president of WVIA in Scranton for 20 years, was the guest speaker.
Kelly talked about broadcasting from a home-made radio station in a residence on Third Street in Towanda and how he got his foundation in journalism and broadcasting while working as a teenager at WTTC in Towanda.
Keeney started volunteering with the Wysox Volunteer Fire Company in 2000 as a fireman, said Debie Kithcart, who is a member of the board of directors of the Wysox Chamber of Commerce and who presented the Citizen-of-the-Year Award to Keeney.
"It didn't take him very long to become chief of the department," Kitcart said.
Only a few years after he began serving at the Wysox Fire Company, Keeney became its fire chief.
Keeney was the company's fire chief for five years, then served as first assistant chief for one year before returning to the post of chief.
Kithcart recited a long list of duties that Keeney performs for the fire company, from mowing the grounds to training firefighters to responding to many emergency calls, Kithcart said.
Keeney provides "great leadership" for the members of the fire company, Kithcart said.
"The Wysox Fire Company would not know what to do if it did not have him (Keeney) as part of the company," said Kithcart, who is also a member of the fire company.
In addition to serving as fire chief, Keeney also serves as an EMT with Wysox Volunteer Emergency Medical Services and is a member of the Towanda and North Towanda fire companies.
"I don't know where he gets the time to devote to the fire company," Kithcart said.
When he accepted the award, Keeney said: "I've got a lot of help (at the fire company. Everybody listens well. It takes more than one."
The Spark Award is presented to a member of the Bradford County community who goes above and beyond ordinary efforts to support, improve or provide service to the community, said Jim Parks, the 2010 recipient of the Spark Award who presented this year's Spark Award to Haight.
Parks said that Haight is very active in the Towanda Lions Club, has served in the vestry for several years at the Christ Episcopal Church, and helps do fund-raising for the Abuse & Rape Crisis Center.
Haight has served as co-chairman of Riverfest Committee, which organizes Towanda's Riverfest, for approximately 18 years, and has owned his own excavating business, Haight Construction Company, since 1976.
Haight, who is the Towanda Borough public works superintendent and code enforcement officer, said it was "truly a surprise" to receive the Spark Award.
Haight said he enjoys interacting with the public and fellow workers through his excavating business and through his job as a Towanda Borough employee.
Kelly recalled how his friends, including local disc jockey Bob Brenner, had a basement radio station on Third Street in Towanda when they were 12 or 13 years old.
He said he bought an AM transmitter for $13 but was disappointed that the station did not even be heard across the street.
So he hooked up a Lionel train transformer to the transmitter to boost its power.
"It (the transmitter) blew up," Kelly said. "It went up in smoke."
Kelly said he visited the WTTC radio station in Towanda when he was 12.
After seeing the turntables and other equipment in the station, "I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It's pretty much turned out that way," he said.
He said he began working at WTTC when he was 14 years old, which was the minimum legal age to work there.
At the station, he worked alongside men in their 40s and 50s, who did not treat him like a kid, and he said he spent a lot of time working at the station.
"I grew up much too fast," Kelly recalled. "I missed out a lot in high school."
"Everything I learned about broadcasting - it was better than college - I learned here" at WTTC, he said.
"I learned about journalism from a mentor," Charlie Snyder, who owned WTTC, he said.
He said he considers himself a lucky man, having been able to work at a career he loves.
He said he was ambitious, and that Snyder made him the manager at age 19 of a radio station that he had just bought in Messina, N.Y., "because he wanted the cheapest manager he could find."
Kelly said that WVIA lost $1 million in state funding a year ago, which amounted to 20 percent of its annual budget.
But he said that the staff at WVIA focused on ways to reduce costs and generate revenue, and that the station ended the year with a surplus.
James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.