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The Pennsylvania House High Rise celebrates its 30th anniversary

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the nine floor, 100 apartment Pennsylvania House High Rise in downtown Tyrone.
The block area once contained the Pennsylvania House Hotel, a landmark destroyed by an early morning fire on January 16, 1972 that claimed the lives of 12 hotel residents. The Masonic Building and other offices still existed after the fire, but were torn down to build the high rise.
On September 22, 1976, the Blair County Redevelopment Authority voted to sell the land for the project to Tyrone Associates, the developer, for $9,500. The developer and contractor associated included Crossgates-Lawruk, which was originally named as the developer. Gunther J. Kaier Associates were the architects.
The high rise was part of the Tyrone Disaster Urban Renewal Project. The construction was financed and approved through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Construction began in early 1977 on the west side of Pennsylvania Avenue between 11th and 12th Street. On November 1, 1977, the first residents moved into the high rise.
The Pennsylvania House is a low-income housing apartment building for either elderly (62 years of age or older) or if a person is handicapped or disabled, by which there is no age requirement. The rents are subsidized through the Section 8 program and it has a 40 year contract through HUD. Every rent is based on each individual’s situation.
Of the many residents at the high rise, there are three wonderful women who have been living in the building since it opened. Verda Myers, who is 94, moved in November 1, 1977. Helen Meredith, who turns 98 November 13, moved in also in November of \’77. And Elaine Woleslagle, who is 92, moved in December of 1978.
All three women have graciously enjoyed their stay at the high rise and hope to live out the rest of their lives there.
\”I\’ve been here for a long time. I stood out here on the street and watched them when they were finishing the building of it,\” said Verda Myers. \”I like it here. I had the opportunity to select the apartment I wanted, they weren\’t all finished, and the one I picked on the ninth floor, 902, I came in on that one and I\’m still there, and I love it.\”
Verda said she loved the people at the high rise. Some of her best friends have lived there and jokingly added that she never had an enemy she knows of, although they might not all like her, but she doesn\’t know it.
\”I will probably spend the rest of my years here, how long the Lord will let me, but I love the years I have been here,\” added Verda.
Helen Meredith came into the high rise at the beginning also when quite a few apartments were empty, and she chose an apartment on the fifth floor because she didn\’t want to be any higher up. Helen was known for many years as the resident who was always taking pictures, she loves photography and always loved taking pictures at all the parties that were and are held at the high rise for the residents.
\”There was always a lot of us all together and I just love it in here,\” said Helen. \”I\’ll be 98 on November 13th and I never thought I\’d be that old, I never thought I\’d get out of my 70\’s, but here I am, you just never know – I just love it in here.”
Helen said she has made a lot of friends at the high rise, but the ones she ran around with and went to the Presbyterian Church together with have all passed away, and that’s the sad part of it for her.
Elaine Woleslagle is 92 years of age and she moved into the high rise in December of 1978. She said she knew the managers of the building then, the Dixon’s, and they asked her to move into the Pennsylvania House. Elaine’s conditions were if she could get the middle of the building, no higher than the fourth floor and on the 11th Street side. Low and behold, she received a phone call shortly after to come on up and that’s where she has been ever since.
“I’ve really enjoyed it here and I’ve made a lot of friends,” said Elaine. “I’ve got involved with a lot of things here, the community dinners and all the parties and events. It’s very nice and I’ve met a lot of good friends, and I think I still have a lot in here – I hope anyhow.”
Donna Miller, the community manager of the high rise for the past 24 years, said that Verda, Helen and Elaine are her cheerleaders and every one of them have been so happy to be here, and they never talk negatively to her, about her or about the high rise, and if any one of them didn’t like where they lived, they didn’t have to stay all of these years.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is the people that come here usually stay here, there’s been a few that have left and come back,” said Donna. \”We have family members now of original tenants who come here and it says a lot about us, that family members choose to come here.”
The unique thing about the high rise is that a resident can stay in the building and never have to leave and go outside. Residents can get meals, receive and send mail, do laundry and get things delivered. There are monthly dinners, holiday parties, bingo and cards, and movies. There is always something going on and it’s up to the resident to participate, but privacy is equally available.
Transportation is up to the individual, but Tyrone offers the Care Car for people who are no longer able to drive or can\’t afford to keep a vehicle, so the residents can still get to the hospital to see the doctor if they can\’t get there themselves.
The high rise offers a nice place to live for many people who might not be able to afford market rents because they are simply unreachable. Pensions from many years ago don\’t come close to the rents being charged today, not including utilities. Many apartments have staircases the elderly or disabled can\’t climb and at the high rise that is not an issue.
The high rise has five staff members, including Donna, who serves the apartment building and its residents well. Amy Elder is the administrative assistant/in-house superintendent; Jenny Weaver is the custodian; Mike Bonsell is the service tech and Francine Hughes is the resident services coordinator.
“It couldn’t be done without them, we’re a team,” said Donna. “There are times when we are the only people who care that a resident is sick, lost someone, that something really good happened in their world and they want to share it, and they might not have any family around.”
Donna said that she and her staff are very approachable and it depends on the tenant if they want to interact with the staff, and the staff knows if a resident wants to joke around or really needs a hug.
“It’s a big family here and we are a part of it. We have a job to do and we do our job, and we do it very well, but we are part of this place and they\’re part of our world as we are theirs, so it’s really neat,” ended Donna.