Community mourns loss of public figures

MIFFLINTOWN – A seat remained empty Tuesday as the Juniata County Board of Commissioners gathered for its weekly meeting hours before receiving word that Commissioner Robert “Bob” Reynolds passed away.

Reynolds, 69, of Mifflintown, died Tuesday morning at Geisinger-Lewistown Hospital, after battling cancer since January.

Commissioner Jeffrey Zimmerman said he was talking to Reynolds in January at their office when Reynolds stopped responding to the conversation. Reynolds was taken to the hospital, where it was determined he had a seizure and received his diagnosis.

Zimmerman said he was released from the hospital and was undergoing chemotherapy.

During last week’s board meeting, Reynolds seemed out of sorts.

“He looked tired … worn out,” Zimmerman said.

After the commissioners and salary board meetings, his wife, Roxie, picked him up from work. Reynolds returned to the hospital Thursday morning, where he stayed until his death.

“I lost not only a fellow commissioner, but a dear friend,” Zimmerman said Tuesday afternoon over the phone.

He said Reynolds was a veteran who served his country and was proud of his service.

“Even though he traveled far and wide, Juniata County was always his home,” Zimmerman said.

“We’re very shocked and overwhelmed and saddened by his loss,” added Commissioner Teresa O’Neal.

News of Reynolds’ passing also brought words of sympathy from the Mifflin County Board of Commissioners in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon by Commissioner Kevin Kodish.

“Juniata County has lost a dedicated public servant, and Bob’s commissioner colleagues from Mifflin County were saddened to learn of his death. Commissioners Sunderland and Riden join me in sending our prayers and deepest sympathies to Bob’s family and friends,” Kodish wrote. “I had the good fortune to spend a lot of time in meetings with Bob, and he was very committed to his position and to the people of Juniata County. He will be missed.”

Back in Juniata County, the commissioners and Chief Clerk Jim Bahorik said it is too soon to provide information about how or whether Reynolds’ seat on the board will be filled before the next election.

“Our concern right now is with his family and our family here in county government,” Bahorik said. “We’re going to keep it one step at a time.”

Reynolds was elected in 2011 and served as county commissioner from Jan. 1, 2012, to present. He lived in Mifflintown with his wife, Roxie. He had two children and four grandchildren.

Community mourns loss of public figures

LEWISTOWN – There are always a few people over the course of time who leave their marks on a town. In recent memory, no mark has been quite as visible in Lewistown as the one left by Dwight Kirkland.

The Mifflintown artist behind at least seven area murals died suddenly Sunday at the age of 52.

Jim Tunall, executive director of the Juniata River Valley Visitors Bureau and Chamber of Commerce, met Kirkland before his business, Black Leaf Studio, was established. At the time, Kirkland sold hand-painted furniture, and Tunall bought a few pieces.

Several years later, Kirkland approached Tunall with an idea for a mural in Victory Park. The Veterans Memorial mural would become the first of Kirkland’s marks on the area.

“During the course of all the weeks and months of preparation dealing with history and the plan, I discovered he was one of the most interesting people I’d ever met in my life,” Tunall said.

Lewistown Mayor Deborah Bargo met Kirkland at about the same time.

“From the very beginning, I was just amazed by his talents and how unselfishly he contributed himself and his talent,” she said.

The mural in Victory park took about eight weeks to actually complete. Tunall recalled a scissor lift that, “had a mind of its own.” Kirkland would extend the lift and begin painting the top portions of the mural, only to have the lift lower itself back down to the ground. At other times it would move on its own; it was frustrating at the time, but provided laughs for the pair later as a working partnership turned into a friendship.

“When he was in town, he’d come in and have what we called ‘bench time,'” Tunall said. They would sit in Tunall’s office and discuss everything from spirituality to history and family.

“We often discussed how a wife and kids gives you a reason to go home at night and get up in the morning,” Tunall said.

Kirkland and his wife, Kay, have two young children.

Before meeting Kay, Tunall said Kirkland was something of a wanderer, preferring the traveling life to a more settled one. Once Kirkland’s brother, Dave, who died after being struck by a vehicle last Christmas Eve, and his wife, Delphine, settled in Mifflintown, he came to the area more frequently to visit.

“He discovered his family was more important than his nomadic lifestyle,” Tunall said.

“Everybody appreciated him,” Bargo said. “The kids absolutely adored their dad.”

The completion of the mural in Victory Park brought more discussion. Discussion brought more community involvement. And the community involvement brought more murals, all completed in Kirkland’s spare time between other projects he worked on nationally.

Tunall said Kirkland donated his time and talent, and the cost of the murals was strictly for supplies.

“He was down to earth, enjoyed his work immensely, put his heart and soul into his work and he certainly has made his mark within the community,” said Jim Zubler, executive director of Downtown Lewistown Inc., one of the organizations that supported Kirkland’s vision of painting the town.

Most recently Kirkland completed the “History of Theatre” mural on the side of the building housing Wilson’s Jewelry and Gifts on Monument Square.

Paul Fagley supplied Kirkland with all the graphic elements for the mural from the Embassy’s files.

“I really didn’t know Dwight until they came to us with the idea to do the theatre mural,” Fagley said. “He was very pleasant to work with.” Fagley added that Kirkland was gracious about making a change to the design of the mural even after painting began.

The “History of Theatre” mural was dedicated on Nov. 1, in a ceremony during which Bargo presented Kirkland with a key to the city. The plaque read, “In appreciation of your tremendous artistic contribution to the residents of the Borough of Lewistown and the Juniata Valley.”

“It was a surprise,” Bargo said. “Even just a month ago he was saying ‘I still can’t believe I got this key to the city!’ He was practically speechless, if you can believe that.”

Bargo called Kirkland a humble man, never boastful, who had so much to offer and was lined up to do even more in the community. She said he would talk to people who passed by as he painted and loved interacting with them, knowing he was doing something to make them happy.

In April, Kirkland moved Blackleaf Studio to the Mifflin County Industrial Development Corporation plaza, intending for it to become a gallery as well as his work space, Bargo said.

“He was excited about doing that,” she said.

Bargo and Tunall both said they often discussed future mural sites with Kirkland, though nothing was officially slated for creation. Options included a wall in Kirkland’s new studio, Fountain Square Park and other blank walls around town. Now, those walls might be filled, but it won’t be by Kirkland’s artistry.

“There will be no more,” Fagley said. “Some other artist could come in and do more, but it will never be Dwight’s work.”

Bargo said Lewistown was fortunate to have him.

“He was just an amazing person,” she said.

For Tunall, it will take a long time to get used to the idea that Kirkland won’t be breezing into his office for bench time.

“He was my hero. He never ran out of energy. He never ran out of ideas. I just can’t believe he ran out of life,” Tunall said. “In the movie of Lewistown, he was one of the stars.”