First Posted: 12/18/2014
Dear Class of 2014,
As most of you have already graduated from something, you are, and always will be, a student of life.
While reading Weekender throughout the past year, you have learned that Northeastern Pennsylvania has an abundance of thought-provoking people who are not easily forgotten; each person contributing a different story to be told.
They entertain us.
They teach us.
They learn from us.
We root for them.
We root against them.
Some are our friends.
Most are strangers.
If we listen, a lesson will be learned from their story.
As the year comes to an end and the stories close out another chapter, Weekender presents the most unforgettable people and moments from NEPA during the year that was 2014.
MOST ATHLETIC: Stephanie Jallen
While most high school senior girls were busy campaigning to win prom queen, Stephanie Jallen of Harding was busy competing to win at the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
In February, Jallen won two bronze medals for alpine skiing at the coveted Games.
Afterwards, she was named Best Female Paralympian and her super-G performance earned her the Best Moment of the Paralympic Games at the Best of the U.S. awards.
Jallen was born with a condition that prevented the left side of her body from fully developing. She is proof that with hard work and determination, obstacles can be overcome and triumph can be achieved.
You go, girl!
CUTEST COUPLE: Every gay newlywed in PA
On May 20, Pennsylvania joined many other states when its ban on gay marriage was ruled unconstitutional. Same-sex couples in NEPA were finally allowed to tie the knot, making the gay community one of the most talked-about social groups of the year.
Randy Fenner of Scranton told Weekender of the news: “I feel the biggest misconception about people who are gay is that we are perverted, promiscuous and have no regard for family values,” stating that he hopes people will think differently of same-sex couples when more modern families are present in the community.
The news wasn’t widely accepted by everyone in NEPA though. Many calls and emails were received from people voicing their dislike for the cover story and the photos, which ran in August.
Whether you agree or disagree with gay marriage, maybe it’s their time to shine: every gay newlywed in PA is our cutest couple.
MOST HATED: Eric Frein
Eric Frein became one of the FBI’s most-wanted fugitives after murdering Corporal Bryon Dickson and attempting to kill Trooper Alex Douglass in Pike County. After a man-hunt that lasted 48 days and cost tax payers roughly $11 million, Frein was captured on Oct. 30.
Frein appeared to have attacked public servants in hopes of starting a revolution to “get our country on the right track.” Court papers revealed his alleged motive in a letter he wrote to his parents that read: “Our nation is far from what it was and what it should be. There is so much wrong and on so many levels only passing through the crucible of another revolution can get us back the liberties we once had.”
Frein’s twisted and extreme remedy to fix our nation’s problems is why he is our most hated man of 2014.
MOST LAID BACK: Anyone for marijuana legalization
The year started with a newly legalized recreational drug when Colorado legalized marijuana on Jan. 1.
Weekender asked locals ‘the burning question’ of whether pot should become legalized in one of our most talked about cover stories in January; around the same time that Colorado started lighting up, legally.
Some were against it, including Rebecca Briskie of Moosic, who told Weekender: “I’m just not OK with it, in any capacity. People think the answer is to tax it and make money off it and it’ll fix our debt and it’s going to help not put marijuana in the wrong person’s hands — who is the wrong person? Anyone who does marijuana, drugs, drinks alcohol is a person; it doesn’t matter their socioeconomic status — when you’re intoxicated, you’re intoxicated. No one should be able to do drugs and operate in their lives that way. Would you want your surgeon to operate on you after having three beers? Would you want someone babysitting your child drunk? No. So why in God’s name would you want that same person to instead smoke a joint and do those things?”
Meanwhile, people like Joe Jerrytone, of Jerrytone Law in Kingston, looked at the laws as “archaic” telling Weekender: “I think it falls back on the Pennsylvania voters. If they were more aware of studies in how medical marijuana can benefit people, I think they’d be more willing to be a proponent of it. A lot of people think there are going to be a bunch of Cheech and Chongs running around, but that’s not it.”
While everyone is entitled to their opinion, the most calm side of the argument is from the people for it — quite possibly because they are too high to give a crap — making people for marijuana legalization the most laid back people of the year.
MOST LIKELY TO SPEND THE REST OF THEIR LIVES IN JAIL: Jason Domenick and Niel Pal
Justice was served for the brutal and undignified murder of Frankie C. Bonacci of Dunmore when his killers were sentenced this year.
In May, Jason Domenick of Dunmore was found guilty of third degree murder and a conspiracy charge. The 23-year-old was charged after jurors spent three days deliberating his involvement.
In July, 2013, Domenick and his friend Niel Pal of Scranton shot Bonacci execution-style before dumping his body over a ravine, where it sat to rot for an entire week before being found.
Pal, who was tried separately, went on to receive a sentence of life in prison plus 20 to 40 years for his actions following the murder. Pal went to great lengths to divert suspicion, such as joining the search for the body and attending Bonacci’s viewing, causing the judge to call Pal the most cold, callous and apathetic defendant he has ever seen.
After taking the life of a young man who was supposed to be their friend, Domenick and Pal will most likely — and hopefully — spend the rest of their lives in jail.
MOST PERSONABLE: The ‘Apparently’ Kid
It was a typical day in August at the Wayne County Fair for five-year-old Noah Ritter of Wilkes-Barre.
When interviewed by local news anchor Sofia Ojeda about his day at the fair, his day became less typical.
This little guy with an enormous personality took the microphone from Ojeda’s hands to not only steal the show, but become a viral sensation.
Within a few days, Ritter had millions of hits on YouTube and a string of national television interviews booked — eventually ending up with a series of appearances on “The Ellen Show.”
Apparently, a five-year old is cooler than you and everyone else you know.
MOST PHILANTHROPIC: Anyone who competed in the #icebucketchallenge
This summer, the challenge of dumping icy water on yourself, positing it to social media and nominating others to accept the challenge evolved from a modest stunt in the professional golf circuit (as a way to support pet charities) and grew into a huge fundraising coup for patients and organizations with ALS — an incurable neurological disease commonly called “Lou Gehrig’s disease” that causes nerve cells to break down and die.
Everyone from Mark Zuckerberg and Oprah to all of your friends on Facebook participated.
According to the ALS Association, over $100 million was raised to research the neurodegenerative disorder.
So, if you participated, pat yourself on the back, because you are our most philanthropic person of the year.
MOST PROVOCATIVE: Sunny Rest Resort
Over the Lackawanna River and through the woods, to Sunny Rest Resort in the Poconos we go, where ‘long hair don’t care’ if you’re even wearing any underwear.
Didn’t know there was a nudist colony near you? Believe it or not, it’s one of the longest running businesses in Carbon County, having operated since 1945. With seasonal events that draw in crowds, such as a packed Fourth of July weekend, the Sunny Bowl Volleyball Tournament and a boat regatta, where guests build a boat from nothing but cardboard and duct tape and paddle it from one end of the pool to the other — while completely nude, of course.
In June, the local nudist resort held a unique beer festival where beer was sampled and nudity was required.
Sunny Rest Resort’s general manager, Halsie Shoemaker, who grew up in a nudist household, told Weekender: “Being a nudist strips you right down to who you really are. You get t0 know people for what’s inside, their real personality. You don’t know what people do for a living or what social status they are at first glance. You’ll find that nudists are the friendliest people you will ever meet.”
MOST LIKELY TO TAKE A STAND: Marywood protesters
On Dec. 2, a group of Marywood University students assembled a protest in support of the racial profiling riots in Ferguson, Missouri, following a grand jury’s decision to not indict officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown.
The students protested with a die-in — a form of protest where participants simulate being dead.
While replicating a dead body, one student had a piece of cardboard resting on her chest, with the words, “How many more must DIE?” written on it.
One protester hung an American flag upside down with “#BlackLivesMatter” written on it.
While similar protests found flocks of supporters across the country, the Marywood students lacked similar support. Locals were furious by the vandalized American flag, resulting in some to impose death threats toward the protesters via social media.
Marywood’s Public Relations Director, Juneann Greco, told Weekender students feared for their lives following the die-in.
Greco said the students who participated were not raised in Northeaster Pennsylvania and were not aware that many local residents were not progressive enough to embrace such a protest.
Students approached by Marywood faculty declined to comment.
Though their statement was made, they appear to want no part of explaining themselves after not gaining large support, making Marywood protesters the quietest, and one of the most unforgettable, people in NEPA in 2014.