THE YEAR IN CHEER: Take A Look Back At The Heart-warming, Inspiring Stories Of 2018

December 25, 2018 GMT

Stories that dominate the pages of this newspaper are often negative. So many articles are about controversies and bleak stories about crime, budget woes and political bickering. From murder and mayhem to fatal car crashes and fires, bad news often dominates our headlines.

Not today.

Throughout the year, we report a lot of good stories as well — stories that prove we really are the “Valley with a Heart.”

And today we continue a tradition started a few years ago. As we celebrate the holiday season, The Citizens’ Voice reflects on some of the positive news that appeared this year in our paper.


Jackpot winners

The famous Publishers Clearing House “Prize Patrol” showed up at a Wilkes-Barre Twp. couple’s home in February, informing them they were the grand prize winners of $1 million plus $5,000 a week for life.


Jo Ann Snyder and her husband, Michael, 72, were shocked.

Many commented that the big award given locally finally was proof the Publishers Clearing House award seen handed out on television was real.

Odds of winning were said to be one in 2.6 billion.

The “Prize Patrol” returned just the other day to award a $25,000 check to a Wilkes-Barre woman.

County courthouse renovations

The beauty of the Luzerne County Courthouse was on display in grand fashion once again as renovation and restoration work was complete this year.

Following the restoration, which included new lighting to illuminate the building’s dome, hundreds visited for tours of the building.

W-B’s oldest house saved

Speaking of history, the Wilkes-Barre Preservation Society saved the oldest house in Wilkes-Barre from the wrecking ball.

The group raised money to buy the “Butler House” at 313 S. River St. with plans to turn it into a historical museum.

The white Connecticut Yankee-style home, built in 1793, belonged to the descendants of Col. Zebulon Butler, the Revolutionary War soldier who commanded forces in the Battle of Wyoming and also represented the Wyoming Valley when it was part of Connecticut.

The home originally was located at Northampton and South River streets, and was moved to its current location in 1868.

Sports milestones and achievements

Payden Montana of Berwick High School won a national gold medal in shot put in June at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals in Greensboro, North Carolina. A month earlier she won her second consecutive PIAA championship with a 51-foot throw, breaking a record that had stood since 1980.


Ray Black, 28, a Coughlin High School graduate, made his Major League Baseball debut in July as a pitcher with the San Francisco Giants.

A youth softball team from Tunkhannock made the region proud during its run through the Little League Softball World Series. The team made it to the national championship game in Portland, Oregon, that was broadcast live on national television. Unfortunately, the team lost, but it still was a major accomplishment.

Huge crowd at final GAR/Meyers game

GAR and Meyers played their final football game, ending a storied rivalry between the cross-city foes.

Despite constant, cold rain, the bleachers were packed right until the end.

The two sides put on a good show.

Next year, the schools with join forces with Coughlin to become the Wilkes-Barre Wolfpack.

Surprise pizza party

During the ice breaker for a GAR High School 50th class reunion, a familiar face showed up as the pizza delivery man,

Angelo Ricci, 87, iconic owner of a Wilkes-Barre pizza shop that was a class favorite, surprised the group with pizzas.

“I feel honored, really, that they remembered me,” Ricci said. “These kids used to always come in after GAR games.”

Sailor finally laid to rest

After nearly 77 years, a Newport Twp. sailor killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor was laid to rest in a cemetery near his childhood home.

Seaman First Class Edward Slapikas was one of the 429 men killed when the USS Oklahoma was bombarded by Japanese torpedoes during the ambush on Pearl Harbor that pushed the country into World War II. The bodies, buried in Hawaii, were exhumed in 1947, but only 35 sets of remains were identified.

The unidentified remains were then reinterred. Several years ago, the bodies were exhumed again and taken to laboratories to attempt to identify them once and for all.

DNA testing matched Slapikas’ remains with a niece from Kingston.

CV carrier sniffs out gas leak

Citizens’ Voice newspaper carrier Kathleen Thomas was credited with possibly saving a life in January when she detected a natural gas leak near a home in Lehman Twp. while delivering a paper around 4 a.m.

Thomas called the homeowner and 911.

The occupants were evacuated until crews from UGI could repair the cracked pipe.

Shopping spree winner helps women’s shelter

When Anne Opiela won a supermarket shopping spree, she decided to share the windfall.

Opiela, 55, of Plains Twp., completed the shopping spree at Wegmans in February for the Ruth’s Place women’s shelter.

Opiela won the spree as a prize for donating to the United Way of Wyoming Valley fundraising campaign

She hauled in $651.37 during her two-minute spree.

Consignment shop rabbit a hit

A consignment shop in Luzerne had a mascot that became popular this year, a lionhead rabbit named Mr. Chunkers.

The owner, Kayla Rhiel, said the rabbit spent most workdays delighting and surprising customers at Tiny Trends, 86 Main St., Luzerne.

Rhiel’s boyfriend bought her the rabbit. She said she didn’t want to keep him home, so she brought him into the store in a travel cage, which attracted the attention of a child at the store, who asked to pet Mr. Chunkers. Rhiel posted his picture on Facebook and customers took to the adorable creature.

“People love him,” she said. “He’s the boss of the store.”

Young cancer patient named honorary police officer

Nathan Welby, a 6-year-old battling brain cancer, was named an honorary junior police officer in Lehman Twp. in September.

Nathan, who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in April, was given a Lehman Twp. police officer uniform and a replica badge.

Police from throughout the area came to give him some more gifts.

Excited Knoebels girl goes viral

Video of a little Nanticoke girl’s excitement upon arriving at Knoebels Amusement Resort went viral in September.

The mother of McKinley Gleco, 2, posted the video to Facebook with a caption of “... And the rollercoaster! I freaked out!,” the girl’s final words in the funny 28-second clip as the family’s car passed a coaster.

“ADORABLE: This two-year-old is talking about Knoebels, then realizes she’s AT Knoebels!,” the amusement park later posted on Facebook.

After the video garnered so much attention, the park reached out to give McKinley’s family free tickets.

Community gathers after synagogue shooting

Following the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October, hundreds of people of all faiths turned out for a community vigil at the Jewish Community Center in Wilkes-Barre as a show of solidarity.

As a sign of unity, the large crowd closed the program by singing the national anthem, the “Star Spangled Banner.”

Couple married atop Empire State Building

Luzerne County natives Savina Vavlas and Josh Ortiz were married on Valentine’s Day on the observation deck of the 86th floor of the Empire State Building in New York City.

The couple won a contest to exchange their vows at the iconic landmark.

Just 11 couples were chosen for the honor.

Paint Pittston Pink a big success

The cancer charity, Paint Pittston Pink, had another big year.

Its main event, the Gentlemen’s Dash, raised a record $48,223.46 for cancer research.

Organizers hoped to donate a total of $100,000 through all of the events.

Contact the writer:


570-821-2055, @cvbobkal