JETSA Honors Burkey for 30 Years of Community Service

By Beth Ann Burkey Lombardi

JETSA Honors George E. Burkey for 30 Years of Community Service

When the Jackson - East Taylor Sewer Authority (JETSA) meets in 2023, it will be only the second time in 30 years that George E. Burkey of Vinco, PA, will not be in attendance. Burkey has retired as JETSA Chairman after 30 years of service. He missed just one meeting in that time and worked tirelessly to form and operate the organization.

Burkey was honored at a surprise reception in December.

He is the only remaining founding member who is still on the board that brought sanitary sewer to the communities of Jackson and East Taylor.

"Thirty years of dedication is really something to celebrate, and the employees of JETSA and its board members certainly pulled off a surprise celebration to remember," said Courtney Ickes, JETSA's administrative assistant.

"Mr. Burkey was honored with a celebration of delightful food, an appreciation plaque and most importantly the presence of numerous past and present JETSA board members, a number of Jackson and East Taylor Supervisors, friends and family."

Board vice-chairman Don Ochenrider presented Burkey with the plaque. "Everyone wanted to recognize George's outstanding dedication and service to JETSA, which goes back to the first day," Ochenrider said. "We want to thank him for all his hard work over these three decades and for helping to make JETSA a strong and viable organization."

JETSA serves more than 2,000 residents and businesses in rural Cambria County and has approximately 50 miles of lines, from Mundy's Corner to Johnstown. Burkey has been on-call nearly 24/7 to assist the staff and help deal with leaks and other problems and to oversee finances, contractors, legalities, and customer issues.

Board members are only paid a stipend for attending monthly meetings; all of the rest of Burkey's daily commitment to JETSA has been as a volunteer. One summer he filled in at the office for three months, working 40 hours a week for no pay.

Why does he do it? "I care about doing the right thing. I believe it's important to make our community a cleaner and healthier place to live," Burkey said. "My grandson, Christopher Lombardi, was born shortly after we started JETSA, and I wanted to make sure this was a better place for him, his generation and future generations. I enjoy getting exercise and being around people; JETSA has been personally satisfying for me."

The late-night calls are one thing he may not miss. "I'll never forget it was below-zero weather after midnight when we were called to Park Hill one time. I don't remember how long it took, but we found a basketball blocking the sewer line," Burkey said with a laugh. Retiring Again at 82

Burkey retired at age 62 as Jackson Township Manager. Over the next 20 years, he not only kept busy with JETSA, but served as Jackson Township Zoning Officer. Now, at 82, he is retiring again.

Burkey's wife of 63 years, Pat, was invited to stand next to him at the reception as Ochenrider presented the award.

Later, Burkey reflected with a smile, "When I retired the first time, I was 62 and retiring from my job as Jackson Township Manager, and Pat was beside me. But I never really retired because I wanted to keep serving the community, being around people, and remaining active. Pat deserves to share in this JETSA award because she has spent 30 years getting me off to as many as three meetings a day; taking phone calls at our home from customers, lawyers, engineers and others; accepting calls from pump stations-usually at night; going with me to troubleshoot problems; and so much more. Pat has earned this award, too. My wife and I are both 82, and this time, I promised her I will retire, but I can't say that I plan on sitting still. God willing, we will both remain active.

"We are very grateful to have our children, grandson, and our little great-granddaughter. They make everything worthwhile, and Pat and I are truly blessed."

Their son, Tim Burkey, and his wife Patty, daughter Beth, and grandson Christopher Lombardi attended the reception. One-year-old great-granddaughter Emilia Mae Lombardi and grand daughter-in-law Alina Lombardi were at home waiting for them, having been part of the "plot" to get Burkey to the surprise reception. Founding JETSA

Burkey's contributions to the community began when he joined the Jackson Township Volunteer Fire Company at age 18. He has been a continuous member of the fire company, serving as a volunteer fireman, fire-police and long-time trustee, and recently emceeing the Thanksgiving turkey raffle. He and his wife are also members of Singer Hill Grace Brethren Church.

For 27 years, he owned G. Burkey Kirby Sales & Service, then left self-employment to serve as Jackson Township Manager. During his tenure as township manager, Burkey and four others started JETSA.

When JETSA was incorporated on August 12, 1992, residents and businesses in Jackson and East Taylor Townships were just getting used to having "city" water instead of personal wells or springs. Those who were lucky had working septic tanks; some had little streams of waste openly flowing from their homes, and others had outhouses instead of indoor waste management.

A lifelong resident of the community, Burkey knew officials had promised residents for decades that much-needed infrastructure would be installed. He was tired of waiting and was eager to volunteer for the board.

"There was a lot of work to be done to get everything running, from funding and finances to personnel, engineering and legal issues. We were all volunteers who had full-time jobs, so we had to fit in the JETSA work on evenings, weekends, and-my wife will tell you-during lunch," Burkey recalls. He began reading and learning about wastewater management during his own time, becoming familiar with pump stations and tap-in needs for homes and businesses. Education remains important. Burkey, his son Tim, and fellow JETSA staffer Brian Daughenbaugh routinely attend the Pennsylvania Rural Water Association (PRWA) Professional Certification Training Program at Penn State University to maintain their certifications as wastewater treatment professionals.

In addition to the massive job of founding JETSA and ensuring that customers hooked up to the new system, Burkey secured a grant to purchase the JETSA property and building in 1996. During the COVID-19 pandemic he kept plans moving for construction of JETSA's new office building. In 1999, Burkey created the Cambria County Sewage Enforcement Agency and watched it grow to include 34 townships. Burkey also helped bring to fruition JETSA expansion projects at Brazil Lane and Cherrywood, as well as the new extension project in the Fords Corner area.

"It's been a pleasure to work with Mr. Burkey, and the employees, board members and I will certainly miss having his leadership and guidance," said Ickes. "I am sure he is going to miss my phone calls that require him to get out of his garden, stop chopping wood, or come down from the mountain where he cuts down trees, as we all know he is a hardworking man that keeps busy."