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2018-08-01 / Features

Wake Up, Happy Valley!

While most of the Centre Region sleeps, these early risers are getting a jumpstart on the day
Jenna Spinelle | Photos by Matt Fern



Some people are early risers by choice; others need to set multiple alarms to make it out of bed before the sun rises.

Either way, there’s an entire world of activity that happens before the traditional workday begins. Follow along with the people who rise and shine to help the Centre Region start each day on the right foot.


3:30 a.m.

Well before the sun is up, the first employees arrive at the Penn State Bakery. The bakery supplies all of the sweet and savory baked goods for the dining halls, the Nittany Lion Inn and the Penn Stater as well as custom catering orders.

Even in the summer, there’s still plenty to do. Chocolate chip cookies and “brookies” — a decadent brownie and chocolate chip cookie combo — remain popular year-round, as do muffins and scones for coffee shops on campus. A team overseen by executive pastry chef Heather Luse gets to work at giant mixers filled with pounds of butter and sugar.





“Our alarm clocks start going off at 1:30 so people on campus can have freshly baked muffins,” Luse says. “I’m amazed at how much we get done before 7 a.m.” In the next few hours, Luse and her team will make around 500 loaves of bread, anywhere from 25-250 dozen rolls and pastries and more than 1,000 cookies.

While Luse’s team is baking away, Rick Padgett is getting up to take his daily morning run. Lots of people run in the morning, but running this early is a different story.

Padgett is the superintendent at the Penn State Golf Courses and gets to the course around 5 a.m. every day. That early start time doesn’t stop him from getting in 4 or 5 miles before going to work.

“I don’t smoke, and I don’t drink coffee, so running is my stress reliever,” Padgett says. “Getting those miles in sets my mind right for the rest of the day no matter what happens.”


5:00 a.m.

Padgett and the rest of his team — 20 seasonal employees and two full-time assistant superintendents — arrive at the golf course for their morning staff meeting. Along with Blue Course manager Scott Martell and White Course manager Gabe Menna, they divide up responsibilities for the day and head out to the course to make sure it’s ready for the first tee time at 7 a.m.





While the meeting room is filled with Thermos mugs and bottles of energy drinks, three members of Padgett’s crew are ready to go without any caffeine boost — Zoysia, Guinness and Poa are the course’s resident groundskeeping dogs who help keep chipmunks, groundhogs and other pests at bay.

“They love it, and we love having them here,” Padgett says. “They’re always ready to get out there, no matter what time it is.”


5:30 a.m.

As the sun rises over the golf course on a mid-June morning, Quinn Becker is crouched down at one of the holes moving the cup from one part of the green to another as his co-workers run lawn mowers and rake sand traps around him.


Becker is a 21-year-old physics major at Penn State who is working at the golf course as his summer job while he takes an online class. He says he fell into the early morning routine pretty quickly and, as summer jobs go, it’s not so bad.

“I like working outside and I get to go golf for free,” Becker says. “That makes getting up early worth it.”


5:45 a.m.

A few miles from the golf courses, Josh Cone cranks up AC/DC on the speakers and begins setting up equipment inside the gym at the State College YMCA. Cone and Vanessa McLaughlin team-teach a boot camp class on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 6 to 6:50 a.m.



The class regularly draws about 25 participants. Unlike daytime or evening classes, the early morning group tends to be more consistent. In today’s busy culture, this is perhaps the only time of day when there truly are no excuses for missing a workout — besides not setting your alarm.

“This class gets it done and out of the way,” Cone says. “This is a community; it’s a real family … Everyone knows each other, and we know them.”


6:00 a.m.

Dave Snyder’s morning show on 98.7 The FREQ kicks off with Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” followed by “Lucky Penny” from retro rocker JD McPherson. Snyder says he tries to play feel-good songs first thing to help start his day — and his listeners’ days — on the right foot.


Snyder, who is also the station’s programming director, took over the morning shift last fall. After working in radio for 30 years, he’d somehow managed to avoid early mornings, but he’s taking the new gig in stride — with a little help from a big cup of Sheetz coffee set within arm’s reach in the studio.

“I knew right away I wasn’t going to be the wacky morning DJ … Other people do that better than I ever could,” Snyder says. “I’m just trying to help people get up and get their feet on the floor.”


6:20 a.m.

“Burpees, burpees, burpees!” Cone yells out across the gym. He’s met with a mix of groans and dirty looks, but everyone takes a turn doing them as they move from station to station.


Each station is a different cardio or strength training drill, and participants rotate continuously through them. Cone and McLaughlin demonstrate the moves at the beginning, keep track of the time at each station and serve as motivators when things get tough.

The class includes a longer-than-normal warm-up to ensure everyone is ready for high-intensity exercises like burpees and sprints after just waking up.

“It’s really critical that I work in a good warm-up to get people loose and get their hearts warm and ready to go,” he says.


6:30 a.m.

Lila Mixer pulls into the Pump Station Cafe for her daily chai latte. The dental hygienist is, without fail, the cafe’s first customer every weekday. She stops by on her commute from Pennsylvania Furnace to Bellefonte.



Mixer has been coming to the Pump Station since it opened in 2005. She used to get her chai fix at a coffee shop downtown, but the Pump Station was more convenient, and she found that she liked the tea better.

“I’ve tried chai tea all over the world and I’ve never found one that tastes like this,” she says.
Café manager Erin Eminhizer and her team arrive at 6 a.m. to ensure that the café is ready for Mixer and the other regulars who arrive at 6:30. They move through the café like clockwork, putting things in display cases, slicing vegetables and setting up the espresso machine.


7:00 a.m.

Jason Coopey and his team leave the Way Fruit Farm store to drive about a mile up the road to the orchard.

They were picking sour cherries on the morning we visited in late June, but this month, it will be the height of peach season. No matter what type of fruit is in season, it all comes off the tree or the vine the same way — one piece at a time.



Coopey worked as a federal law enforcement officer in several cities around the country before coming back to State College to manage the farm with his wife, Megan, who is part of the Way family.

“Agriculture starts early, and retail goes late,” he says. “But I love living in this community and serving the people, so that makes everything worth it.”

As Coopey’s basket begins to fill with fresh fruit, the traffic along 550 slowly starts to pick up. Alarms and coffeepots are turning on in homes around Centre County, as so many of us ease into the day that started hours before for some of our neighbors. •SCM

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