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Impressions of Somerset County Courthouse: A tour, an essay and a check

JUDY ELLICHMay 18, 2019

An attorney-sponsored ceremony at the Somerset County Courthouse Friday honored students who wrote about their impressions from a courthouse, jail and county office building tour.

The Somerset County Bar Association has been conducting tours and choosing winning essays from students for more than 50 years. Association President Susan Mankamyer said the local bar was “appreciative” of the participation in the event.

On Friday, each of the finalists read their essays before Judges D. Gregory Geary, Scott Bittner and Dan Rullo. One of the finalists, Turkeyfoot student Morgan Griffith, daughter of Brandy Uphold and Joshua Griffith, of Confluence, was not able to attend the ceremony, but her essay was read into the court record by Mankamyer.

The overall county winner, Ty Harmon of the Somerset Area School District, appeared thrilled as he was handed a $200 check and received accolades from the other contestants, parents, educators, judges and attorneys in attendance. His school sponsor, Steve Landis, received $25. Harmon is the son of Steve and Jennifer Harmon, of Somerset.

The remaining eight winners took home $100 each for their efforts.

Students from nine Somerset County school districts and 13 schools participated in the 2019 tours, which began in January and concluded earlier this month, according to event coordinator and Somerset attorney Chad Pritts.

Members of the Somerset County Bar Association, which sponsors the event, conducted 28 tours of approximately 30 students each though the courthouse, county office building, county jail and 911 center. During the tours, guides and county employees informed the students of the history and function of each office or facility.

“I really enjoy speaking with students every year,” Bittner said. “It is one of my highlights in the year.”

The tours involved eighth- and ninth-grade students, along with 11th- and 12th-grade students. Only the students in the eighth and ninth grades were eligible to participate in the essay contest based on the tours.

Geary said that he has been part of the courthouse tours for 14 years and he cannot recall “ever having this level of participation.” He then issued a “shout-out” to the parents and grandparents of the participants, because “success at school begins at home, and like their children they deserve accolades for their role in this event.”

The theme of the contest was “My Impressions of the Courthouse Tour.” A winning essay was selected by the school sponsor from each participating school and given to Pritts, who in turn gave them to the contest judges: attorneys Mary Schellhammer, Matthew Zatko and Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser.

“I think sometimes we don’t appreciate how important this is,” Rullo said. He spoke of an attorney who worked with him in a Somerset law practice before his judgeship. That lawyer went on the courthouse tour in the 1960s and wrote an essay about the experience. The attorney kept a copy of the essay in a frame on the office wall, he said.

Harmon’s essay will be printed on the official 2020 court calendar.

The other winners are:

Ryan Felesky, North Start School District, son of Paul and Bretta Felesky, of Boswell. His school sponsor is Sal Lascari.

Lucy Mincek, Shade-Central City School District, daughter of Jamie and Kim Mincek, of Cairnbrook. Her school sponsor is Seth Walker.

Annalina Brant, Shanksville-Stonycreek School District, daughter of Christopher and Kristin Brant, of Stoystown. Her school sponsor is John Patton.

Maggie Vaughn, Salisbury-Elk Lick School District, daughter of Doug and Joanna Vaughn, of Salisbury. Her school sponsors are Dara Seibert and Linda House.

Kaitlyn King, Rockwood Area School District, daughter of Greg and Carey Beth King, of Markleton. Her school sponsor is Jim Wagner.

Connor Baca, Conemaugh Township Area School District, son of Heather and Steve Baca, of Davidsville. His school sponsor is Fred Mainhart.

Lydia Renzi, Meyersdale Area School District, daughter of Leanne and Joseph Renzi, of Meyersdale. Her school sponsor is Julie Stahl.

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