2021 USWCares District 10 Jefferson Award winner LuAnn Murray

LuAnn Murray is a volunteer firefighter and community activist in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania. In 2018 she brought new life to an annual community festival that originally began in the 50s and had gone non-existent. Murray also single-handedly leads a Hometown Hero Banner Project that gets memorial banners of military veterans from Jefferson County displayed on the light posts of Brookville. For her tireless community service efforts, she is the 2021 USW Cares District 10 Jefferson Award winner.

Murray has worked as an injection press operator for Berry Global, a company that manufactures child-resistant closures for pill bottles, for thirty years. Her local, Local 247M, is a former GMP local, and Murray had been a trustee and union steward for the Local for four years, until her brother, who also works for Berry Global, was elected as Treasurer of the Local.

Hometown Hero Banner Project

Murray took on the Hometown Hero Banner Project all by herself three years ago. The families of veterans from Jefferson County purchase a banner and supply a picture of their veteran for it. Murray designed the banners herself and visited the sites of other towns’ banner projects to get ideas for the look. The banners are installed on the light polls in Brookville on Memorial Day and they stay up until Veteran’s Day when they’re removed and stored for the winter. The veterans’ families pay a maintenance fee, and the banners are reinstalled the next year.

The process for Murray to get these banners installed was long. She had to work with the electric company to get permission to install banners safely to the light polls, but she also had to go around town to record the poll numbers of every poll that was to have a banner and have them inspected in order to get permission.

Murray ordered and assembled all of the hardware for the banners to be hung on the polls; Brad Greeley, Brookeville Burrows Maintenance Department, and Silverado Tree Service all volunteer their time and man-power for installation.

Murray organizes a dedication ceremony for the banners at the Hometown Hero Night of the Laurel Festival and she inputs the names of all of the honored veterans on America Salutes’ website that maps where veterans’ banners are hung all over the country: http://www.troopbanners.com/Brookville/. Family members can look up and see their veteran’s banner from anywhere.

“I literally cried when we installed the first banner,” said Murray. “I have enjoyed this project so much. I’ve worked hand in hand with the families and veterans. I’ve heard their stories, and I learned a lot of history. I would be in tears hearing their stories, it was just very heartwarming.”

Murray’s own brother is a veteran who has a banner in town. “Without them we wouldn’t have our freedom. A lot of them didn’t get the respect they deserve when they came home, if it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have the land of the free,” said Murray.

At the banner dedication ceremony Veteran David Reitz spoke in Murray’s place; he did and official “welcome home” for the veterans of the Vietnam war.

“I am very emotional about these banners. It’s been wonderful to drive through town and see them. I think it’s a wonderful way to honor our veterans, it shows our pride and appreciation in them.”

The community shows Murray a lot of appreciation for the work she’s done to honor their veterans. She even had a few kids recognize her and say “Hey, you’re the banner lady! Thank you!”

Fire Department and Search-and-Rescue

Murray joined the Pine Creek Volunteer Fire Department June of 2014 at the age of 49. She is one of nine active volunteer firefighters in her immediate family.

“This was my positive that came of my divorce, me doing my volunteer work. The comradery is unbelievable. I had always wanted to be a firefighter, and my ex-husband didn’t approve,” she said. The first thing Murray did after getting a divorce was join the volunteer fire department.

She is one of ten out of 49 active responders who respond to the most calls. She’s also on seven committees in the fire department and chairs two of them. She is the reporting secretary, as well, so she reports back to the state about every call that the department responds to.

Murray is also very passionate about fundraising for the Fire Department. She sells raffle tickets and participates in a 911 Memorial Stair Climb, climbing 2,200 steps, the equivalent of the 110 floors in each of the twin towers. Proceeds are donated to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and the Fire Department of New York’s Counseling Services Unit.

Murray also volunteers with Pine Creek K9 Search and has helped conduct a training with Heaven-Scent Search and Rescue Team.

“I’m the kind of person who doesn’t wait for people to ask for help. I’m the kind of person who jumps up and says ‘Wait let me help ya!’” said Murray.

The Laurel Festival

Murray says that her brother does just as much for the Festival as she does, and that he is the one who suggested that she reinvent it, but because of entity rights, it had to be renamed.

Now called the Laurel Festival, this community affair brings the residents of Jefferson County together every year for a nine-day long festival packed with creative and interesting activities and vendors; a lot of people treat the Laurel Festival as a Homecoming-type event.

Each day of the Festival has a different theme, there’s a festival board with 11 members and four associate members; each member of the board is a assigned a day of the festival to run/plan. Any money made from the events goes back into the festival, but almost everything is free.

Festival Days

Day one is the Scholarship Pageant: On this day there is also “Art in the Park,” and it’s geared around kids and live entertainment.

Day two is Family Faith Day and the Strawberry Social: This day starts with a pancake breakfast and later on there is a “Strawberry Social” where people come to hang out and enjoy shortcakes volunteers make with icecream. It is open to all, and church groups come to speak and sing.

Day three is Outdoor Sportsmen Night: Chainsaw carvers hold a demonstration and sell their products, and there are kayaking water rescue demonstrations. The game commission, the Elk Alliance, Pheasants Forever (an organization that raises pheasants and releases them for hunts) are all invited. Invictus Axe-throwing brings back boards for people to try their hand at axe-throwing. Outdoors vendors set up tents to sell their products, and they want to have a lumberjack competition next year.

Day four is Family Fun Night: On this day there’s a “Pet Parade” and the kids’ Laurel 500 race where for a small donation the kids can paint wooden cars provided by the Free Masons and then race them; the kids get trophies. There’s “Hungry Human Hippo,” a dunking booth for the police force, a penny booth ring-on-pop-bottle toss run by the firefighters, bubble pit and bouncy houses for the kids, and it all ends with a family movie night on Main Street. The street is shut down, a huge movie screen is put up and give popcorn

Day five is Relay-for-Life Night: This night is run by the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life staff. There is a luminary ceremony, scavenger hunt, and other activities; the money raised goes toward Relay for Life.

Day six is Hometown Hero Day: This is Murray’s Day! On this day there is a bridge-naming ceremony; a bridge is named after a military veteran from Jefferson County. Murray works with veterans in the community to select a veteran to name the bridge after. Then she helps them do the paperwork and get the proposition to name the bridge approved by the state house and senate. This year a main bridge in Brookeville was name after Budd Hedrick who died in action and his remains weren’t found until years later. Murray worked with State Representative Brian Smith and State Senator Cris Dush, who did the behind-the-scenes work through the state congress and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to get the bridge named. On this day the Veterans from Brookeville, American Legion Post 102, sponsored the installation of a granite military tribute memorial in the yard of the Courthouse.

Day seven is Sidewalk Sales Day: On this day, vendors and local businesses rent tables at ten dollars apiece to sell crafts and other products at discounted prices. The Pine Creek Volunteer Fire Department does a chicken barbeque that all the local residents look forward to; they sell 1,000 chicken halves that day! There are also manufacturing tours, which Murray is also in charge of: seven businesses give tours of their facilities and offer snacks and drinks. There is also a “Quilt and More Show,” where demonstrators and vendors from quilting and sewing businesses come sell products and do knitting, embroidery, wool-spinning, and sewing demonstrations. In the evening there is a live band.

Day eight is the Grand Parade: This day starts with weight lifting competition, then moves on to “Touch a Truck,” which is an event for the kids. The police, the armory, the fire department, and construction companies bring in cool vehicles for the kids to climb on and pretend to drive. Then, of course there is a parade, and after the parade there is the “Firemen’s Games” obstacle course for kids. Then, adult firefighters do the “Battle of the Barrel”, where two teams of firefighters use hoses to push a barrel strung on wire overhead to the other team’s end. They also do “Bucket Brigade,” where teams do a relay with buckets of water through an obstacle course. In the evening they have a live band and do fireworks display – there’s a raffle for the fireworks display, and whoever wins the drawing gets to be the person to push the button that sets off the fireworks.

Day nine is the last day: There’s a remote-control car race in the morning for the kids, and then they host “Autorama,” a car and motorcycle show that features a live band. The festival ends with an awards ceremony for the car show.

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