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A night to celebrate WB’s historic homes

WILKES-BARRE — The owners of three historic downtown properties were honored Wednesday by the Wilkes-Barré Preservation Society for their efforts to keep the city’s architectural heritage alive for generations to come.

The third-annual awards event was hosted by honorees Joel Zitofsky and his wife, Ronne Kurlancheek, at the Andrew McClintock house, their historic 1841 home on South River Street. They purchased the dwelling 12 years ago and spent 15 months renovating it, turning the former Wilkes University dormitory back into a family residence. Zitofsky and Kurlancheek rent out one half of the house and live in the other half.

Zitofsky and Kurlancheek seemed right at home mingling the 50 or so guests who attended the event.

“For us, it’s just another night,” Zitofsky said. “We love entertaining.”

Zitofsky’s work in preservation began in 1978 when he purchased the former Franklin Street Elementary School building and converted it into apartments. Over the years, he’s restored countless homes and is already hard at work refurbishing another former Wilkes University building on South Franklin Street, which was in danger of being demolished.

“It’s always been a love of mine to restore wonderful old buildings that should not be torn down,” he said.

His passion certainly did not go unnoticed.

“It feels really good to be in a house that has been cared for and loved and restored,” Preservation Society director and curator Tony Brooks, said during the award’s presentation.

Brooks founded the Wilkes-Barré Preservation Society in 2003 along with Betsy Bell Condron, Lisa Griffiths and Harry Haas.

“It’s wonderful that so many people appreciate our local history and architecture and have been coming on tours for 20 years,” he said. 

Vaughn Koter, who was recognized for his work in preserving his 1928 Art Deco style home on West Ross Street, said he was both overwhelmed and excited by the honor.

“You know, I did it for myself. And you don’t think that anyone ever really notices or pays attention and so it’s nice to see that things don’t go unnoticed,” said Koter, who bought the property in 2018.

The home, designed by registered architect Carl J. Schmitt as a combination residence for Dr. Gerald Fluegel, was rented for years by members of the Wilkes University wrestling team. Koter restored it back to a single-family house with the former doctor’s office portion converted into a one-bedroom apartment.

Today marks the fifth anniversary of him purchasing the home.

“It’s been awesome,” Koter said. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Also celebrated were Bill Frey and his wife, Irina Melnik, who are in the process of restoring the Issac Long house, a Queen Anne style home on South Franklin Street built in 1889.

Frey credited Zitofsky for helping them restore the home, which was vacant and in disrepair when they purchased it in 2016.

Frey and Melnik have been slowly renovating the home for the last four years and currently live there with their three children: Charlotte, 7, Henry, 4, and Robin, 1.

“There will be another family in 50 or 60 years,” said Frey. “We did it for us because it’s a great place for us, but at the same time, it’s a house that’s going to be around others.”

For more information about each of these three historic homes and their owners, see our Oct. 29 story at