Visitors Bureau Recognizes Heritage Aviation, The Fence Drive-In and Pat Hess at Annual Dinner

HUMMELS WHARF – The Susquehanna River Valley Visitors Bureau (SRVVB), which promotes tourism in Snyder, Union, and Northumberland Counties, recently honored two local organizations for their commitment and dedication to the region’s tourism industry.

The SRVVB and its members honored Heritage Aviation LLC with the Dan Baylor Award. The Visitors Bureau also honored The Fence Drive-In with the Herb Bendt Award, and Pat Hess, owner of Colonial CandleCrafters and outgoing SRVVB Board President with the inaugural Pat Hess Award. The Awards were presented at their Annual Membership Dinner at The Susquehanna Valley Country Club in Hummels Wharf on Thursday, June 6.

Heritage Aviation LLC Honored The Dan Baylor Award honors the entrepreneurial spirit of one of the founders of tourism promotion in the Susquehanna River Valley. Past recipients include: Ard’s Farm Market in 2008, the Susquehanna Heartland Wine Trail in 2009, the Friends of Joseph Priestley House in 2010, Fred Scheller, the chair of Sunbury River Festival in 2011 and Shade Mountain Winery in 2012. Heritage Aviation, LLC is the fixed base operator for Penn Valley Airport in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania and manages all facets of the airfield operation from long range planning; airfield upgrades; infrastructure construction; aircraft sales and service; a fully certified aircraft maintenance facility; aircraft rentals; a flight school; and an Avis car rental franchise. Five years ago, the airport was in disarray, deeply in debt, and provided few services. In 2008 Heritage Aviation and its parent company Ritz-Craft poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into infrastructure repair, established a flight school, staffed the aircraft maintenance facility, and began providing customer services at their finest so that now Penn Valley Airport has become well known in the general aviation community for its world class service.

The flight school has grown from a handful of students to over 40, and attracts students from as far away as New York City, Annapolis, and Washington DC just to fly with their Heritage Aviation instructors. Heritage Aviation provides a computer testing center on behalf of the FAA, and their instructors are in frequent demand as speakers at safety seminars.

Heritage Aviation has become well known for its unique events attracting thousands to the Susquehanna River Valley. Two years ago they hosted their first Heritage Days air show expecting a crowd of 2-3,000. More than 12,000 people attended. Last year Heritage Days featured 6 hours of acrobatic flying and dozens of WWII war birds, re-enactors, and a USO style dance during a weekend while attracting close to 25,000 visitors. This year they will feature Barnstorming Days which is designed potentially attract 100 airplanes over the course of one day. Heritage has also been tremendously successful recently with their foliage flights in the fall, night-time Holiday Light Flights in December, and a collaborative partnership with Colonial Candlecrafters, Shade Mountain Winery, Graci’s Flowers, and BJ’s Restaurant to offer Valentine’s Day flight packages. They were hoping to offer 15 such flights, but actually flew more than 50.

More than just an airport, Heritage Aviation prides itself on world class service and promoting tourism in the Susquehanna River Valley.

The award was presented to Matt Rabb, Owner/Operator of the Fence Drive-In by SRVVB Board Vice President Trevor Knoebel of Knoebels Amusement Resort.

Area Landmark Recognized
The second award, the Herb Bendt Award, honors the founder of tourism promotion in the Susquehanna River Valley.   The award recognizes events, businesses or individuals who impact favorably upon the tourism industry in the Susquehanna River Valley.  Past recipients of the award include: Clyde Peeling of Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland, the Buck Family, Christkindl Market, Warrior-Run Fort Freeland Heritage Society, Susquehanna Life Magazine, Knoebels Amusement Resort and the John Skotedis Family.

For nearly 40 years, the Rabb family has owned and operated The Fence Drive-In seasonally from mid-April until mid-October. Robert and Debra Rabb purchased The Fence from the founders, Bob and Elva Reitz in 1975. The Reitz’s opened the now famous local landmark in 1951. The property located along the Susquehanna River offers the same incredible dining view as the original establishment of the 1930’s named the “Breezy Tent.” Matt Rabb took over operations at The Fence in 2001 and he and his wife Trisha purchased the business in the spring of 2011.

The Fence has become a destination for travelers and a tradition to locals. Patrons are taken care of the same way it was done back in 1951, by car hops.  Not much else has changed in the 60+ year history of The Fence. Customers know that they are going to be greeted with a friendly smile and served the same quality and consistent food they have for generations.  Families come to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere you find by sitting at one of the picnic tables overlooking the river.

The Fence has become “the” summer job for local high school and college students. Usually hiring 10-15 high school students yearly and bringing back around 40 from the previous year, the staff consists of 50 15-24 year olds. Many of the employees start when they are 15 and work until they graduate college. According to the Rabb family, molding local youth into working members of society has been the most rewarding benefit of their business.

The award was presented to Matt Rabb, Owner/Operator of the Fence Drive-In, by SRVVB Board President Patricia Hess.

Local Small Business Icon Celebrated
This year, the SRVVB has created a new award, the Pat Hess Award, to be presented to an individual who understands the “big picture” of the economic importance of tourism’s role in the Susquehanna River Valley – and most importantly – is an informed, impassioned, advocate and tourism ambassador at the highest level. The inaugural award was presented to the tourism ambassador for whom it was named, Pat Hess.

Hess is well-known as the proud and enthusiastic owner Colonial Candlecrafters, a small candle manufacturing and retail business since 1982. She has worked with candles since her parents began the shop as a hobby in their basement where, at the age of fourteen, she pioneered her technique of hand decorating with intricate designs.

Now in its 41st year, she has led her business it through two expansion projects, introduced several new product lines and has turned her candle shop into a destination shopping experience for both tourists and local consumers.

Pat has successfully built what started as a hobby into a healthy and thriving small business with a strong internet presence. Colonial Candlecrafters also provides sustaining wages for four, year round employees and additional part-time employees on a seasonal basis. In 2009, Hess was honored by the Governor as one of “PA’s 50 best women in business.”

Among her many volunteer positions, Pat has served diligently on the SRVVB Board for a total of 12 years, with her most recent three, 2-year terms of service ending this month. Patty has held the position of President of the SRVVB Board for the last 3 years as a selfless advocate for tourism and economic development, the SRVVB, and its staff and Board.

The award was presented to Hess by SRVVB Executive Director Andrew Miller.

For more information about the region and the SRVVB, go to www.VisitCentralPA.org or www.Facebook.com/SusquehannaRiverValley