HOLLIDAYSBURG - Life's journey is sometimes unpredictable as John Dively of Hollidaysburg found out when he graduated from college and became a police officer with the Freedom-Greenfield Township department more than 30 years ago.
As a police officer, Dively received a call one day from the mother of a good friend. He was told his friend was having "difficulty."
Without going into the details, Dively said the experience turned his life in a different direction because he realized that had his friend received help as a juvenile, he might have avoided the trouble he was facing at the time.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
John Dively sits behind his desk at the Blair County Courthouse.
Dively decided to work in the juvenile justice system to help young people address their problems before their futures were in jeopardy.
Fast forward to 2012.
Dively, 55, was recently named the Pennsylvania Juvenile Probation Supervisor of the Year by the Pennsylvania Council of Chief Probation Officers and the Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges Commission, which funds juvenile treatment programs throughout the state.
The Dively file
Name: John Dively
Education: graduate of Claysburg-Kimmel High School; Penn State and Shippensburg universities
Position: retired as deputy director, Blair County Juvenile Probation Office
Award: Pennsylvania Juvenile Probation Supervisor of the Year
Family: wife, Terry L. Cannarsa
Earlier this month, Dively retired as the deputy director of Blair County's Juvenile Probation Office after 30 years of service.
Nancy Williams, the county office's director, who has worked with Dively all of those 30 years, called him a "pioneer" in the development of new programs to help kids in trouble.
He fought for legislation to change the system throughout the state and put together unique efforts to help young people gain a sense of themselves, as well as learn responsibility, Williams said.
One of Dively's programs was to give youngsters wilderness training, including teaching them how to fish.
Another program he developed, along with former office director Mike McCalpin, was the Litter Brigade where juveniles clean up the berms of the roads, earning money to pay off their restitution.
Dively pioneered computer use in the juvenile office, and became an expert - a master trainer - of a new program called the Youth Level of Service/Case Management Inventory. The assessment examines not only the crimes a youth commits but also explores his personality, family, the kids he hangs out with, possible substance abuse, education and employment.
Williams said the new assessment system is designed to address those factors in a young person's life that will cause him to reoffend, Williams said.
A Roaring Spring native, Dively was known around the county's juvenile office as someone who inspired confidence.
"He is a very quiet person. He never talked about other people, never negative, always positive, taking the practical point of view ... forward thinking," Williams said.
McCalpin, now an executive with Adelphoi Village in Latrobe, was a young juvenile probation officer when he was named to lead the Blair County department in 1982.
The first person McCalpin hired was Dively, a Penn State graduate and police officer.
McCalpin laughed when thinking about the situation then, noting that hiring Dively was one of the things he did right in his career with Blair County.
Dively joined McCalpin, Williams, who had been hired in 1975 as a probation officer, and Michael Green, who went on to become an Altoona city and school district officer, to comprise the staff of the juvenile department.
"John was clearly a workhorse. He got so much done in a short period of time. I could always count on him. If I had a project that required a lot of work, a lot of research, it was John I would select to lead the charge," McCalpin said.
Dively pursued many programs and grants for McCalpin's office and was part of the decision-making team.
"We appreciated and respected his input. He did a lot of good things for kids. He had a great rapport with kids," McCalpin said.
Dively was not just a full-steam-ahead guy at work, McCalpin said.
He played hard, too.
McCalpin remembered an old flag football league that included teams from the Altoona and Logan Township police departments as well as the Blair County Prison.
Dively and McCalpin were ringers for the prison team, and McCalpin said he'd get beat up more at practice than he would during the games because Dively practiced like he played. He hit hard.
McCalpin said Dively is a natural athlete, even when fishing. He remembered standing side-by-side with Dively along a fishing stream and Dively yanking one fish after another out of the water while McCalpin was attracting no bites.
McCalpin suggested the two switch positions. When Dively took McCalpin's position and McCalpin assumed what he thought was the better spot along the stream, Dively still continued to pull out the fish while McCalpin came up empty.
"He attacks whatever task he would be asked to do," McCalpin said.
Kids do bad things for many reasons, but generally they like to test the community, test their parents and test the law, Dively said.
He's seen successes.
He spoke about one boy who burglarized homes and sold the stolen goods. The youngster wanted things other kids had but his poor family couldn't provide, Dively explained.
Dively placed the boy in a Harrisburg treatment center, and the boy, now a successful adult, periodically contacts him.
Studies have shown that 95 percent of the kids who get into trouble are "low risk." They don't come back, and Dively has learned when a juvenile is not likely to reoffend, the probation system is "better off staying away from them."
It's another story with those youngsters who are "high risk," and that's where the probation office, the many agencies that provide services and treatment facilities like Adelphoi come into play.
Blair County previously had as many as 150 youngsters a year in placement. Because of programs in the community - programs Dively had a hand in developing - placements are now down to 20 to 24 a year, which saves the county money and is better in the long run for the juvenile.
Dively said he has no immediate plans for his retirement.
"There are mixed emotions," he said. "It has been part of my life for the past 30 years. I think I'll miss the people and talking to the kids."
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.