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Archaeological Exploring Post to probe long-gone community

John Matviya has an idea about what can happen in the long-abandoned community known as Denniston, formerly a part of New Alexandria.

Matviya, president of the Derry Area Historical Society, said his vision includes plaques with historical information or maybe a kiosk or two.

Demolished by the Army Corps of Engineers for a flood control project on Loyalhanna Creek in the 1940s, Denniston may someday rise to prominence again, thanks to the young people who join the newest branch of Learning for Life, Archaeological Exploring Post 1817.

According to Matviya, the first and only archaeological Learning for Life post in the nation will uncover Denniston in an attempt to find items from everyday life that may lie buried just below the surface of the earth.

“A few of the men who settled there built a sawmill,” Matviya said, delighted with the prospect of recovering an artifact or two from the mill.

“There’s a beautiful stone wall that was built hundreds of years ago,” he said, speculating about the potential for a treasure trove of historical artifacts.

Other future projects include several of the old Native American trails that cross the township.

On Thursday, Matviya, whose group is sponsoring the Learning for Life post, along with Bill McCleary of Derry, Boy Scout Post 1817 Explorer adviser, and Dr. Theodore S.J. Davi of Greensburg, chairman of the Learning for Life National Science Careers Committee, will welcome prospective members of Post 1817 to the historical society headquarters in Fulton House in New Derry.

This first meeting will be open to any young person age 14 to 20. The three are uncertain about what to expect. Davi said he would like to see 20 to 25 attend.

“If we see a dozen, that would be great,” said McCleary, a Boy Scouts leader, “because next year we can double that.”

“Kids are funny,” he said. “They have a buddy who’s doing something that’s fun, and they want to do it, too.”

Learning for Life, which has its offices in Irving, Texas, is a national nonprofit that specializes in school and community-based programs that try to prepare youngsters to meet the rigors of contemporary life and the job market. Programs are grouped around character development and career education.

Loosely affiliated with the Boy Scouts, the Learning For Life motto is “Our best today for a better tomorrow.”

McCleary and Davi, whose friendship goes back five or so years, are passionate about archaeology. Early last summer, Davi was kicking around the idea of a Learning for Life archaeological post when, during a dig in Ligonier Township, he asked McCleary where he lived. When McCleary said Derry, Davi said he jumped at the chance to partner with the township’s highly reputed historical society.

The duo called on Matviya, who quickly decided a Learning for Life archaeological post was an outstanding idea.

“Bill came to our ice cream social in June and brought up the concept,” Matviya recalled. “We are always struggling with getting young people involved. We were very pleased.”

Davi said he and McCleary first realized the impact archaeology can have on kids several years ago at a Boy Scouts outing. They arranged a dig in which the youngsters at first only grudgingly took part. Once engaged, however, the Scouts really took to it, McCleary said.

It was fun and exciting, he said, to see a youngster first discover an old piece of pottery or a rusty farm tool no one has lain eyes on for 100 years or more.

“It’s like history coming alive,” Davi said.

Student surveys were sent to area school districts in September asking about archaeology and other Learning for Life subjects. School principals are expected to spread the news through schools announcements, and history teachers were asked to mention the archaeology sign-up to students.


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