A newsmaker you should know: Ligonier Valley topic of her book

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Jennifer Sopko's love of history developed from her love of writing. While an English major at Saint Vincent College, she started freelancing for the Westmoreland Historical Society. As she wrote the historical features, she found she really enjoyed the topics.

In hindsight, it makes sense.

"My dad really loves history and went to college to be a history and social studies teacher," she said, "So I think I might have unconsciously absorbed an interest in history and imparting information to people."

Ms. Sopko said her mother, Carol, may have something to do with that love of history by sharing family events.

"She grew up in McKeesport and seems to vividly remember a lot about the families that also lived and grew up in her neighborhood. In a sense that's her communicating local history through her personal history," Ms. Sopko said.

Ms. Sopko's book, "Ligonier Valley Vignettes: Tales from the Laurel Highlands" (History Press, 2013: $19.99), a collection of stories about the Ligonier Valley, was recently published. She will be speaking about her book at the Westmoreland County Historical Society tonight.

"History Press contacted me after they had read some of my articles on my website. It was exciting to think about a book," Ms. Sopko said.

Ms. Sopko, 30, of Plum, said she has two careers.

"I work as a research assistant for Federated Investors by day and a freelance writer by night," she explained, a schedule that keeps her quite busy.

The book took her more than a year to complete from proposal to publishing and included some of the articles she had already written, along with new pieces.

She broke the content of the book into five categories: how the valley came into being including information on the Native Americans of the region; a section on the town itself; a section on the railroad and how important it was to the region; local military heroes; and a section on popular recreation and teen hangouts.

"I included articles that were published then filled in with others that would work with those and fit into the categories," Ms. Sopko explained.

To complete her research, she used archives from the Historical Society, Idlewild Park and local libraries and talked with residents of the Ligonier Valley along with local history experts.

Lisa Hays, executive director of the Westmoreland Historical Society said Ms. Sopko will discuss her research and the background of her stories from the book.

"History plays out at the local level and by bringing in authors who write about local history, we can help make that connection," Ms. Hays said.

Ms. Sopko's energy and love of history are contagious, said Ms. Hays.

"By knowing and understanding the past, we can know more about the future. Her thoroughness and excitement she brings help others be involved in local history," Ms. Hays said.

Ms. Sopko said she enjoyed the face-to-face interviews with local residents.

"Many of the residents of Ligonier grew up in that town and know the history and stories," she said.

Ms. Sopko still works for several local publications as a freelance writer, but hopes to write a second book, maybe on another aspect of history in the Western PA region.

"There are a lot of possibilities. I just need to narrow them down," she said.

Ms. Sopko will speak at The Westmoreland County Historical Society, 362 Sand Hill Road, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. tonight at the Calvin E. Pollins Library. A book signing and an ice cream social will follow. For reservations, call 724-532-1935, ext. 210. The event is free and open to the public.


Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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