After a life-changing, near-death experience in Guatemala, Sandi McQuaide realized how much being an American meant. While traveling alone, Sandi ended up just barely boarding the last flight out of the airport before it was taken over by militants. “A man with a bandolier of bullets and a rifle pushed me away from the gate I needed to enter,” said Sandi McQuaide. “I stomped my feet and raised a fuss, and he eventually let me go, and I rushed to my gate. When my plane touched down in Pittsburgh, I wanted to kiss the ground,” continued McQuaide. While driving home from the airport, Sandi was passing the Stone Bridge when she had a vision. She looked up at the Inclined Plane and in her mind’s eye could see the American Flag flying high over the mountain. That vision motivated her to act and set a goal to raise Old Glory, a symbol of freedom, flying high over Johnstown.
Sandi and Rosalie Danchanko took their idea to a transit authority board (now CamTran) meeting. They were given time to present their idea to the board who said it was a wonderful idea but wanted Sandi and Rosalie to make it happen. Realizing they were on their own, and more determined than ever, they did just that. They formed the Centennial Flag Committee. Within three months, Sandi, Rosalie, and their committee raised the money to erect the 120’ pole and 60’ by 30’ flag on top of the steepest vehicular inclined plane in the world.
“We live in the greatest country in the world,” said McQuaide. “We may complain and quibble over politics, but the fact remains that we are safe in this country, and have the opportunity to live our lives as we choose, and not live in fear. Our flag is a symbol of those freedoms,” continued McQuaid.
Eventually, the committee requested that the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies manage those funds. Maintaining the flag was a huge commitment, and the funds allowed for the necessary repair and replacement of the flag. Friends at WJAC TV would call CamTran to let them know that a big storm with high winds was on the way and that they should lower the flag. “It was a true labor of love,” said Rosalie. “The committee members originally took on this responsibility until it became too much work,” continued Danchanko. “We were so grateful when CamTran agreed to raise and lower the flag.”
Over those 34 years, the flag would get tattered and need repair. The flag would be taken to the then Bali Bra factory in Cambria City. Matt Johnson of Martin Baker has agreed to reinforce and repair the flag once the pole is installed and the flag goes back up. Flags last less than two years, with new replacement flags costing $2,000 on average.
Sandi recalled a conversation she had with a flag company in those early years. Sandi presented them with an idea to reinforce the borders of the flag with mesh to keep them from shredding in the wind. The fast-talking New York businessman told Sandi he was in the business of “selling” flags, not making them longer lasting to which Sandi replied, “I’ll never buy another flag from your company.”
This past year, as Sandi was traveling on Route 56, she noticed that the flag was no longer visible on the mountain. She called CamTran and was told that 34 years of weather and exposure had seriously damaged the flag pole, and the pole could no longer bear the weight of the flag. For safety reasons, it needed to be taken down.
At that point, Sandi and Rosalie contacted the remaining Centennial Flag Committee members and started raising the $70,000 needed to replace the pole. “We never thought we’d be doing this again,” said Sandi. “Rosalie and I both thought this was a one-time thing. We’re just privileged to be here now, all these years later, to do what’s necessary to get that flag flying again.”
To contribute to the restoration of the flag pole, click here.