Trash to Treasure

Unusual piece of St. John history discovered in Centre County, PA

Published: Monday, April 10, 2017

Donnie Aukerman, an avid hunter and resident of Centre County, was scouting near his hunting camp about 15 miles from State College last Thanksgiving weekend, when he noticed what looked like a note of some sort laying on the ground.

The laminated note had a tattered, deflated balloon attached. The note read: “You have found a balloon from Mars,” and included a phone number to call before July 18, 2003 for the chance to win a prize.

“Occasionally when I’m hunting, I find things here and there that look interesting. For the most part, I just put them in my pocket and forget about them,” Aukerman said. “But this one seemed a little different. I was surprised that I could still read the note and that it hadn’t deteriorated after all these years,” Aukerman said. “I am somewhat of a history buff, so I decided to call the number.”

Diana Kuhn, a receptionist at St. John Specialty Care Center, answered the call, and listened to Aukerman’s story of finding the balloon in the woods.

Given the date on the balloon, Kuhn said she recognized that it had been released during St. John’s centennial celebration ceremony in 2003. Having been born and raised in Mars, she understood the historical significance of the balloon.

“It’s amazing that he called us. I think I was meant to get that call,” she said. “Most people wouldn’t have even taken the time to do that.” Kuhn said she told Aukerman about St. John Specialty Care Center and their work in serving seniors.

“This kind of historical stuff is really exciting to me,” Aukerman said. “I know a lot of people like to archive things like this, so I was happy to send the balloon back to St. John. It was great hearing about St. John and the people who live there. It helped me see just how important this balloon was.”

St. John’s Centennial Celebration was held on July 12, 2003. A total of 345 balloons were released that day by residents, community members, staff and volunteers as part of the festivities. In the weeks that followed, a few people who found them called to report how far the balloon had traveled—one as far away as Delran, New Jersey, about 337 miles away.

St. John's Centennial Celebration balloon release, 2003.


Although the balloon found by Aukerman did not travel the farthest, it certainly had the most interesting story attached to it.

St. John Specialty Care Center was originally founded in 1903 to provide care for orphaned or neglected children as well as the needy elderly of the area. In 1952, they began caring for seniors only.

St. John Specialty Care Center, 1903.

In 1986, St. John joined Passavant Retirement Community under the umbrella of Lutheran Affiliated Services - now known as Lutheran SeniorLife. Since then, St. John Community has expanded to include RoseCrest Assisted Living with Memory Support and Overbrook Pointe independent apartments. 




Scroll To TopBack to top