When Mary Ellen joined the Etna Borough Staff in 1977, she never could have imagined the transformation that our small municipality would go through. Etna once had a population of over 11,000 residents and was a manufacturing hub. During her tenure, Mary Ellen has navigated through economic downturn and environmental trauma. It was her vision and leadership that has changed the narrative our of community from a victim of our watershed and industrial collapse to a steward of the environment and a model for sustainable redevelopment.
Just last month, Mary Ellen was named a "Champion of Sustainability" at the 2022 Carnegie Science Awards. Winners were chosen by a committee of peers — both past awardees and industry leaders — who "selected the most deserving innovators whose contributions have led to significant economic or societal benefit in western Pennsylvania." The video put together by Carnegie Science Center takes you through many of Mary Ellen's accomplishments in her role as manager.
One of her crowning achievements was completing the Etna Riverfront Trail & Park. The park was recently awarded a "Great Places of Pennsylvania" from the PA Chapter of the American Planning Association. Earlier this year, Mary Ellen was in Harrisburg to accept two Governor's Awards for Environmental Excellence from Pennsylvania Environmental Council on behalf of the Borough for the riverfront park and for the Etna EcoDistrict. The riverfront park was not the only park she helped to open in 2021; she led the acquisition, planning, and redevelopment of 37 Wilson St. to become the Etna EcoPark. This is the first public green space specifically for West Etna and provides valuable stormwater infrastructure as well as a beautiful place to gather.
Three weeks ago, it was announced that the Borough was awarded $400,000 via Allegheny County's Trail Development Fund. As usual, Mary Ellen led the grant writing and application process. This funding will be used to design and engineer a multimodal connection between the community and the Etna Riverfront Park & Trail.
These accolades are only the most recent in her many years of service to Etna Borough. Her legacy will be the Borough's pivot towards green infrastructure and stormwater management projects. Three phases of the Etna Streetscape have been completed already and two are in planning. Etna residents and visitors will soon see the Butler St. redevelopment of High St. to Maplewood St. adding to the millions of gallons of stormwater that are diverted from the system.
Combining both sustainability and equity, Mary Ellen was an integral leader behind the Etna EcoDistrict planning process which brought hundreds of residents into the process of shaping the community's future. The three-year journey was long and challenging, but it led to Etna being recognized as the world's first Certified EcoDistrict at the EcoDistricts Summit. Etna EcoPark was the first project from the plan to be completed and the second is underway: Etna's library. In her role as the Capital Campaign Chair for the project, she helped the team successfully acquire the library's site, the historic Ochse Building on Butler St. The building is now being used for interim community programming while the design and engineering advances on the future library and community center.
It's all the little things, too. The day-to-day business of running the borough sits on her shoulders. This year, like many businesses/nonprofits/government offices, places have been understaffed and a lot of that work has fallen on her. Yet, she perseveres and still accomplishes so much for the Borough.
Her entire life has been dedicated to helping Etna bounce back and now thrive; she'll have served for 45 years on November 7th. There's no way to repay Mary Ellen for all she's done for the community. "Champion for Sustainability" almost doesn't do her justice. For Etna, she's been a godsend, a hero, a mother. Thank you, Mary Ellen, and congratulations.
Mary Ellen serves as the Etna Community Organization Board Vice Chair. We're so grateful for her service to our organization and the community.