By ELLEN BUTKUS, AUTHOR, RUSSELL, PA
Recently I marked the eighth anniversary of my move with my husband Richard to Warren County. Growing up as an only child in the city of Pittsburgh, I spent many joyful days in the company of my cousins in Warren. Before the arrival of Interstates 79 and 80, a trip to Warren was an adventure. We’d awaken before dawn to prepare for what seemed like a prolonged journey. I could hardly wait to visit my small-town relations no matter what the season. After the passing of seemingly endless hours, when I saw the welcoming sign from Warren’s 15,000 friendly people, I knew the enjoyment was about to begin!
After graduating from SUNY at Buffalo, I relocated to yet another city, Philadelphia, where I resided for six months before moving to the suburbs where I was to dwell for the next thirty years. I loved the Philadelphia area, and never regretted moving there; but as development encroached on the pastoral Bucks County farmlands I’d grown to love, bringing with it more inhabitants and congestion, I felt something lacking. Although we had many friends, my husband Richard and I could drive to a town just a few miles away from our home and never meet anyone we knew. As owners of a Bed and Breakfast, we were part of that community, however as time passed, we found the collegiality we’d treasured had sadly transformed into blatant rivalry. On Election Day when I worked at the polls, I realized how few people in our township of 3,000 I actually knew.
Selling a B&B sometimes takes years, and from the time we put ours on the market to the night after Christmas three and one-half exhausting years later when we learned that our sale was imminent, Richard and I deliberated about where to spend the next phase of our lives. He’d lived his entire life in the region, and I’d spent all of my adulthood there; this was a huge decision. I don’t accept change easily, and in spite of the negatives about Bucks County, I didn’t really want to leave. Conversely, Richard felt that it was time to move on. The region was growing too rapidly, property values even for modest homes were skyrocketing and taxes were on the rise.
We’d traversed nearly every corner of Pennsylvania, and had decided that we’d like to remain in the Commonwealth. Richard proposed that we move to an area where we knew someone. It seemed like a wise idea, so I agreed. Living in the Pittsburgh vicinity where many of my relatives reside was not an option; we were looking for a more relaxed lifestyle. But Warren, a mere three hours from Pittsburgh and where I still had some family seemed to beckon. Richard and I had been visiting Warren County together nearly every year for the previous twenty five years, and he shared my love of the region. When we found the idyllic property in Akeley, our fate was sealed.
Planning our move was simplified with the assistance of our Warren family, real estate agent and the various inspectors we engaged. We noticed easiness in our transactions that had been missing in Bucks County. Even a glitch that occurred on settlement day was resolved quickly and painlessly with the help of an agreement between our lawyer and the sellers’ attorney. This was our first glimpse of the real community of Warren County.
After spending our first weekend in our new home in a state of television withdrawal, I contacted a satellite installer in Warren first thing Monday morning. I was amazed when he advised me that he could do the job immediately, in spite of an impending blizzard. After several months elapsed, we attended our first Warren County Fair. To our surprise, we actually met several acquaintances who were not my relatives!
It’s interesting to us how everyone in the area seems to have a connection to everyone else. Instead of six degrees of separation, in Warren County it’s closer to two. Through our respective businesses, Richard’s handyman service and my radon testing (and even through my defunct errand service), we’ve created so many friendships. Unlike so many urban and suburban neighborhoods where alienation is the norm, we’ve encountered a truly welcoming atmosphere here.
In Eastern Pennsylvania, where a larger population supported many diverse events, we never took full advantage either because of the driving distance or because of the crowds we eschewed. We still chuckle when we recall the first Concert in the Park we attended in Warren, arriving forty minutes early to ensure we’d claim good spots for ourselves! The Warren-Jamestown area offers so many cultural happenings, and interestingly, we find ourselves more inclined to attend these because of the paucity of people, traffic and parking problems. We’ve enjoyed going to many concerts and plays at the Library Theater and at the Reg, and look forward to the film series.
We feel so fortunate to live in an area with such a wealth of natural, unspoiled beauty. It’s wonderful to visit the Kinzua Dam in winter for the eagle watch or during warmer weather for hiking or sailing. We’ve even developed affection for winter and snow. When roads are cleared properly and the population knows how to deal with winter driving, it’s not a big deal. And I confess to taking pleasure in the cozy feeling of watching the snow fall while I’m curled on my sofa.
I’ve met wonderful people in all sorts of activities, from Yoga to swimming at the Y to College Club to Woman’s Club to political campaigns. I have great friends with whom I’ve become acquainted through jobs I’ve had both in Warren and in Jamestown. I’ve gotten to know myself better and established close friendships through spiritual connections both at Open Heart Fellowship and through occasional visits to the Unitarian Universalist Church in Jamestown. I’m saddened by people referring to Warren as “worn,” and claiming that the region lacks diversions. Warren County is great and I feel privileged to call it home. And I have to admit that Richard indeed was correct when he persuaded me to move here eight years ago.
Ellen Butkus graduated from SUNY at Buffalo with a BS in Social Work. She has worked as a Social Worker, Government Contract Negotiator, and along with her husband Richard, she owned and operated a Bed and Breakfast in Bucks County, PA. She is currently a certified radon tester in PA, and owner of Action Radon Testing, LLC. Individuals who may be interested in radon testing in PA are welcome to contact Ellen at (814) 757-9142.