Despite obstacles, family continues to help

EBENSBURG – Despite a basketball injury that eventually cost him a leg, John Robertson remains a force in the community.

While serving in the U.S. Navy, Robertson was playing basketball, hanging on the rim, and when he came down, he tore his ankle. After many surgeries, including one that went wrong, Robertson eventually had to have his right leg removed. He later received an artificial leg.

He received an honorable discharge in 1982.

Robertson’s daughter, Kiersten, died three months before she was scheduled to graduate from Richland High School.

“She was just 17 years old,” Robertson, 50, said. “She was the light of our life. She was so beautiful and smart. She is my backbone.”

Regardless of his adversity, Robertson wears many hats. One is entertaining people throughout the state with magic.

Family is part of Robertson’s show. His son, “JR,” and daughter-in-law, Wendy Baxter, participate, as did Kiersten.

“We did about 120 magician shows a year, which include anything from my hanging 150 feet in the air on a burning rope to making people laugh,” Robertson said. “Laughter is the best medicine.”

Robertson added, “We have performed all over the East Coast. As many have said, we are the modern-day Houdini family.”

During one act, Robertson asked a woman to hold a colored Life Saver in each of her hands. He then told her to close her eyes, and he would change the colors. When the woman opened her eyes, the same colored candies were in each hand, but Robertson asked her, “What time do you have to go?”

She looked down at her watch, only to find that it was gone and in his pocket.

In 2013, Robertson took on another hat when he, with his son and his cousin, Jeffrey Kopsic, the former police chief of Cresson Borough, opened the nonprofit Triple J of Paks Karate School at the Ebensburg Senior Center on Tuesday and Thursday nights.

The cost of $30 per student is given back monthly to the center in Kiersten’s memory so that the seniors can go on bus trips and to other events.

In April, the Triple J Paks school was recognized as the outstanding community volunteer organization and was presented the spirit award during ceremonies at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.

The karate school is not only for the every day person but also for the physically challenged, Robertson said, adding that amputees and those with joint disorders or autism are welcome.

Robertson said his passion to help the physically challenged comes from JR.

“My son JR is a big part of my dedication and inspiration to others,” Robertson said. “JR will graduate from school as a registered nurse this year and is currently an LPN at the Crichton Rehabilitation Center in Johnstown.”

Ross and Kopsic are planning other fundraising events such as a martial arts tournament at Mount Aloysius College.

“We all believe in education,” Robertson said. “I ask each student as they come for karate lessons if they are on the honor roll, and if they are, they get to wear a patch showing their accomplishments.”

Recently, Robertson traveled one weekend to Jacksonville with nine of his students to attend the 2014 UTF United Tang Soo Do National Karate Championships.

Much to Robertson’s delight, all nine students came back with first- and second-place trophies in form and sparing.

JR also received his master black belt with first- and second-place in form and sparing. Robertson received a plaque for dedication to the martial arts.

The students at the karate school range in age from 6 years old to 70-year-old Paul Bowden of Nanty Glo.

Sixteen-year-old Shane Dill of Wilmore, a junior at Forest Hills High School, is one of the students.

“I enjoy doing a lot of different self-defense programs such as using the bo stick and learning how to protect myself,” Dill said.

Another hat that Robertson has worn the last two years is wound coordinator at the Cambria Care Center in Ebensburg.

In his spare time, Robertson enjoys taking senior and wedding photographs. He and JR just finished building a street dune buggy in memory of Kiersten, and plans are underway for a fundraising project to benefit the Kiersten Alexandria Scholarship Fund, which presents two scholarships to Richland seniors.

On Oct. 19 Robertson’s friend Jimmy Fortune, a former member of the Statler Brothers from Nashville, will be featured in concert at Richland High School, with all of the proceeds going for two scholarships to deserving seniors.

For more information on Robertson and his ventures, visit his website at