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January 31, 2013

Reporter’s retirement marks end of era at courthouse

EBENSBURG — In the spring of 1964, Sandra K. Reabuck graduated from Penn State and landed her first job as a general assignment reporter with The Tribune-Democrat.

Though she fully intended to move on to the “big city,” Reabuck’s career evolved into covering a wide variety of news beats in this region. Now, after three decades as bureau chief at the Cambria County Courthouse, Reabuck is putting away her notepad and pen.

Today is her last day of work.

Friends and co-workers say Reabuck’s retirement marks the end of an era and leaves big shoes for her successor to fill.

Former Johnstown Mayor Donato Zucco said he thinks of Reabuck when he looks at the motto on The Tribune-Demo­crat’s Editorial Page: “It is the organ of no faction or clique, and will aim to be, in truth, a tribune of the people.” – Anderson H. Walters, editor,

1902-1927.

“She took that motto and lived it – for the good of the community and for the good of all of us,” Zucco said.

Zucco met Reabuck, whose friends call her “Sandy,” when he was with Greater Johnstown School District, first as a teacher and later as superintendent, and she covered the school board as part of her beat.

“I think she was always fair. She wasn’t afraid to call you out in the paper if, in her opinion, you were off base,” Zucco said.

“She was fair and even-minded about her reporting, and I found her to be very bright and very creative.”

A native of Danville, Reabuck looks forward to the privilege of staying home and reading, especially when the highways are coated with snow and ice.

She tells those who ask about her plans that she’s still considering her options and hasn’t decided whether she will stay in the Johnstown area or relocate to the Montour County town she calls home.

During the years she spent at the newspaper’s main office in Johnstown, Reabuck covered just about everything, including breaking news and school board, borough and Johnstown City Council meetings. There were times, she said, when she wrote features and took obituaries from area funeral directors.

When Reabuck was assigned to the courthouse in Ebensburg in 1980, it marked the start of a professional relationship between her and a young attorney – and a friendship that still exists.

Patrick Kiniry, now one of the county’s five judges, said he was an assistant in the district attorney’s office when Reabuck turned up in what was then a media office on the second floor of the courthouse. The office, which has since been moved to the courthouse basement, at that time had a clear view of the DA’s office, something Reabuck used to her advantage. She would spot an attorney or someone newsworthy going in the door, and in a few minutes she’d show up to inquire, he said.

“As far as I’m concerned, this is like the end of an era,” Kiniry said of Reabuck’s retirement. “She just had so many sources of information. It was amazing how she could find things out.

“She was just amazing for being able to sniff out a story,” he said.

About the time Reabuck came to the courthouse, the Altoona Mirror assigned Sandy Ivory to increase its coverage of Cambria County’s court and government. That started a friendship which remains strong to this day

Ivory, of the Ashville area, lights up when asked to talk about her longtime friend and sometimes nemesis.

Ivory recalls covering a murder in Carrolltown, when the two were able to work together despite the reporting for neighboring newspapers.

“We were fierce competitors, but she really helped me without compromising her own professionalism,” Ivory said. “She was a big help to me, and then we became fast friends.”

Ivory said she is always taken aback by Reabuck’s compassion and concern for a friend in times of need. She recalled times when Reabuck went above and beyond to make sure she and her family were safe.

The two covered notable criminal cases including those of Lawrence Christy, who was convicted in the 1980 shooting death of a night watchman at the Gallitzin American Legion, and trials involving Blair County organized crime in the 1980s.

“We spent many a late night there at the courthouse,” Ivory said.

While many consider Reabuck a friend, Ivory said Reabuck never let a relationship interfere with her questions for a story she was covering.

Three-term Cambria County Commissioner Kathy Holtzman said Reabuck will go to her grave with many secrets and sources because she does not break confidences.

“She honored the term ‘off the record,’ ” Holtzman said.

“We were friends, but with her it was all business, and she wrote things that I wasn’t always thrilled with.”

It’s the trust Reabuck’s sources placed in her that impresses Arlene Johns, The Tribune-Democrat’s former city editor.

“Her sources trusted her com­­pletely and knew she reported the truth – nothing more, nothing less,” said Johns, now editor of Johnstown Magazine.

With Reabuck’s retirement, Holtzman said, the newspaper and the community are losing a sharp mind and decades of courthouse history.

“I didn’t think she would ever retire,” Holtzman said. “The court will never be the same, and bless the person who has to replace her.”

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