SANBORN, N.Y. (WIVB)–Two years ago, Anna Krehan was driving along New York Route 31 near Niagara Wheatfield High School when the car in front of her slammed on its brakes in an attempt to avoid a vehicle pulling out of a gas station.
Krehan couldn’t stop her own car in time and got involved in what she describes as “a little three-car collision.” Her car, an old clunker, was ruined. But fortunately, no one was injured.
But it was a reminder of the dangers that existed on the busy road outside the school, where the speed limit was 45 mph. The limit outside the other schools in the district were 10 miles less. Couldn’t something be done about that stretch of Route 31?
Actually, all it took was the faith and persistence of a child, and the guiding hand of a teacher.
Beth Pyskaty has taught history and government for 27 years at Niagara Wheatfield. Three years ago, she began offering a course called Participation in Government. One of the assignments requires students to identify an issue of concern and reach out to elected officials to seek a solution.
“I always tease them,” Pyskaty said. “I said, ‘My thing is my recycling bins in Cambria aren’t big enough. If I wrote to Donald Trump about it, he wouldn’t care. I’d have to write to Wright Ellis, the supervisor in the Town of Cambria’.
“Really, state and local governments affect our lives the most,” Pyskaty said. “I try to get them aware that they’re constituents. They need to tell people when they’re upset about stuff.”
Krehan was upset, all right. So in February of ’19, not long after her accident, she decided to make the speed limit on Route 31 her issue. She wrote what Pyskaty calls “a letter of informed action” to a State Senator Robert Ortt and got a cursory reply. Pyskaty told her to keep trying.
“She brought up the idea of speaking in front of the school board,” Krehan recalled. “When she asked me, I said “I don’t know if I can do that.’ I had no experience speaking in front of adults. But she pushed me, and it ended up working out.”
Krehan, a senior at the time, addressed the school board about the speeding issue. At Pyskaty’s urging, she took her mission a step further, distributing a petition around the high school and middle school.
“That got a lot of people on board,” Krehan said. “We sent that, and I think that was when they recognized that it should be changed.”
By that time, Krehan was close to graduating from Niagara Wheatfield. In the fall of 2019, she became a freshman at Niagara University. She had almost forgotten the speed limit issue a few months later when a letter arrived at her home — from State Sen. Ortt of the 62nd district.
“He said it was going to happen as soon as possible,” Krehan said. “That was very exciting.”
A month or so ago, the new speed limit sign went up on New York State Route 31 outside Niagara Wheatfield. It’s 35 miles an hour.
Pyskaty tells her students they can make a difference in this world. She teaches them to question and form their own opinions and to realize how much government affects their lives. You’re a kid and think you can’t change things, she tells them nowadays? Anna was 17 and look at what she did.
“It’s really, really hard, because Route 31 is a state road,” Pyskaty said. “Trying to get a speed limit reduced on a state road is like trying to move a mountain. For her to achieve that goal and get all the signage and things is really quite an accomplishment.”
Krehan, who is majoring in hospitality at Niagara U., wants to manage a hotel some day. You have to think she’ll manage well in life, whatever she does. She has discovered that you need to be involved, that everyone can make a difference if they put their heart into it.
She’s now 19. This fall, she’ll be old enough to vote for the first time. You can bet she won’t take it lightly.
“I definitely thought before that my vote didn’t matter, because I’m only one person,” she said. “I think that’s how a lot of kids feel. It taught me that I can do things and be taken seriously, even when I’m young. I’d have to say that sign was one of my biggest accomplishments.
“Being part of something that’s going to be there forever, that’s really rewarding.”