A newsmaker you should know: Hunker mayor rides a Harley

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Hunker certainly falls into the category of Small Town, USA.

It's a quiet, clean and friendly borough, with the obligatory white gazebo in the park at the center of town.

Pat Brigode, though, is not your typical small-town mayor.

You get that idea when you pull up to the neat, two-story white house on Olive Street and there's a sleek, new Harley-Davidson Sportster Custom parked on the front lawn. Pat and Bob Brigode live there.

You also get that idea when you encounter a herd of mounted deer heads with racks that would make any hunter envious, and stuffed turkeys and birds.

A blur of activity, Mrs. Brigode is dynamic, interesting and immensely popular. She lives life to the fullest.

"Why not?" said the former state small bore shooting champion, with a laugh. "This is the final chapter of our life. I want to make sure we enjoy it."

She also is a marrying mayor, as was evident in an episode of "My Big Redneck Wedding," a Country Music Television reality series hosted by actor Tom Arnold.

"As mayor, I've performed eight marriages," she said. "But I guess the most memorable wedding was the redneck wedding in the Motordrome Speedway [known locally as Smithton Hole].

"It was December 2007. The track was extremely muddy and kept sucking my boots off my feet.

"I married Charles 'Ronald' Sarsfield Jr., a boy who used to live across from us in town, and Kelli Renee Johnston. They got into their cars and crashed into each other, demolition derby style. Then they crawled out and walked across the muddy field toward the camera crew. He wanted me out there, too, in the mud. I told him he was crazy.

"I suggested they stand on the hoods of their cars and I performed the wedding ceremony from the ground. The director wanted me to be up there as they said their 'I dos.'

"I told him 'not unless you have a hoist to get me up there and promise me I won't fall off with these muddy boots. I won that argument too. I guess you could say I directed that wedding."

Another memorable wedding united Mrs. Brigode's friend, Darlene, with Harold Robinson Jr.

"It was at the Hunker gazebo on a bitter cold New Year's Day, 2009," the mayor said.

"[Darlene is] the one who fixed Bob and me up on the blind date in 1978 that changed our lives. ... It was kind of like paying her back for introducing me to Bob.

"My only regret is that I didn't meet Bob 10 years sooner."

Mrs. Brigode draws waves and smiles when she passes by on the "Mayoral Bike" -- the Harley -- or "Ghost Buster," an older Suzuki 250 she also owns.

Her husband often tags along on his "Chrome Coyote" -- a Suzuki S50.

"I get really excited when I ride the Harley," she said. "I love to feel the wind blowing against my face."

A Democrat, Mrs. Brigode has been mayor of Hunker for 13 years. The pay is $40 a month, before taxes.

"So you know I'm not doing it for the money," she quipped.

The mayor earns most of her pay as a medical transcriptionist at Excela Health System's Medical Commons 2 in Greensburg.

She was elected to borough council in 1996, and was appointed mayor a year later. She replaced Daniel Muir, who resigned.

As a testament to her popularity in a town of 312, she ran unopposed for council and four terms as mayor. She received 63 votes.

And that blind date? Pat and Bob shot rifles at a mine site in Reade Township, Cambria County.

They celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary on May 31. Their one child -- son Andrew, 25 -- is a senior at California University of Pennsylvania.

The Brigodes are avid hunters and certified National Rifle Association instructors. They compete annually in national NRA bow and rifle events.

An antique muzzleloader rifle and powder horn and several trophies and plaques adorn the walls of the family room.

"Hunting is our family time together," Mrs. Brigode said. "Bob and I take our vacation and hunt together."

For 17 years, Bob was the head coach of the Hempfield Area High School rifle team. Pat was his assistant for 15.

After graduating from Greater Latrobe High School in 1967, she worked as a clerk in the Westmoreland County Register of Wills office. After three years, she quit to become a legal secretary.

Over the next 23 years, she worked in offices of various lawyers, including current county Common Pleas Judges John J. Driscoll and Richard McCormick, and current District Judge James N. Falcon.

"When I look back, I think that's when my political ambitions began, actually," she said. "I always say who would have thought that quiet and shy Patty Torock would wind up being someone important like a mayor."

In 1991, Mrs. Brigode joined Southwest Therapy Services as a transcriptionist. A year later, the agency became part of Westmoreland Regional Hospital and was renamed Barclay Rehabilitation Center. She was hired by the hospital as a transcriptionist, then became secretary at Medical Commons 2.

"The question people ask is, 'Do you ride the Harley to work?' I get a kick out of that one."

Norm Vargo, freelance: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com .


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