Social studies teacher Cummins McNitt: the opposite of ordinary

Mr. Cummins McNitt brings a wealth of life experiences to his students every day

Cummins, Peg and Dudley McNitt in 2008.

From his childhood in Mount Union to his current home in the rolling hills of Tyrone, he’s been a cook, a bouncer, a DJ, a folk life specialist, a Boy Scout leader, a museum director, and most recently, a beloved teacher.

Mr. Cummins McNitt’s life has been the opposite of ordinary.

He was born in Shade Gap and grew up Mount Union, Pennsylvania.

“Mount Union was a great place to grow up because it was full of a lot of very nice people and a lot of diversity,” said McNitt.

Mount Union was a great place to grow up because it was full of a lot of very nice people and a lot of diversity”

— Cummins McNitt

Growing up, McNitt dreamed of doing all sorts of jobs.

He imagined himself being everything from an archaeologist, to a preacher, to a diplomat serving overseas.

His childhood heroes were always the adverterous type.

“I loved John Muir as a kid,” said McNitt, “I always thought it would have been cool to live a life like his.”

McNitt’s father traveled all over the country as a young man and told his son stories about the many different jobs he had and people he met.  As a result, McNitt developed an interest in travel and how people interact.

“I’m intrigued with how human beings do and do not get along,” said McNitt.

“In high school I had the opportunity to backpack through the Rockies and the Appalachian Trail, as well as many trails through Pennsylvania,” McNitt said, “I loved backpacking and I still do.”

After graduating from Mount Union High School, McNitt pursued a degree in religion at Thiel College in Greenville, Pennsylvania.

It was there he began to build his resume of interesting jobs and careers.

To help pay for college, he worked as a student supervisor in the campus dining hall.

“It required about 50 hours a week, on top of my classes” said McNitt, “but I worked with some wonderful people.”

McNitt was also a DJ on the midnight to 6 a.m. shift at the Thiel College student radio station.

“One year I created a two hour radio documentary on the religious aspects of Southern Appalachian mountain music,” McNitt remembers, “I was big into folk rock and folk music at the time.”

After college, with no money and no car, McNitt asked some friends if he could live in the woods on their farm until he could save the money for a car.

“The challenge was that it was in the snow belt and I lived there through the summer, fall, winter and into the spring before I could make enough to buy a car.”

I love meeting amazing people. You can find them everywhere if you just take the time and listen.”

— Cummins McNitt

To save money, McNitt worked for an all-night diner as a cook and bouncer.

“I love cooking” McNitt said, “Some of our patrons would send tips back to me for the meals I made them – the waitresses always thought this was pretty funny.”

After doing some other odd jobs for a few years, McNitt decided it was time for a change and applied to join the Peace Corps.

However, the Peace Corps had a hiring freeze in place at the time, so McNitt decided to further his education again.

He applied and was accepted to a graduate program in the Penn State University department of history.

After receiving his MA in American history, McNitt got married and settled in Tyrone, his wife Peg’s hometown.

He went to work for the Boy Scouts of America as a senior district executive, and he’s been involved with scouting ever since.

McNitt also worked as a historian/fieldworker for a program called America’s Industrial Heritage Project, a job that took him all across central Pennsylvania making audio recordings of early 20th century industrial workers such as coal miners and railroader workers.

“I was then given the opportunity to work as a curator, a folklife specialist, archivist and eventually a museum director,” McNitt said.

One of the most interesting experiences of McNitt’s life was his job as the curator and director of the Railroaders Memorial Museum in Altoona, Pennsylvania.

McNitt played an integral role in the creation of what was considered the cutting edge of museum interpretation.

“We had folks from all over the world, including the Smithsonian pay us visits,” McNitt said, “we developed some incredible new ways to tell stories to the public.”

Spending time with young men and women, opening minds and eyes to the world beyond Tyrone is one of the most important and enjoyable things I’ve ever had the opportunity to do.”

— Cummins McNitt

“I love meeting amazing people,” he said, “you can find them everywhere if you just take the time and listen.”

Eventually, as the funds dried up for many museums, including the Railroaders Museum,  McNitt was looking for a new career and again struggling with how to “reinvent himself.”

This time he decided to go back to school to earn his high school social studies teaching certification from Saint Francis University.

In 2007 McNitt began his current career as a social studies teacher at Tyrone Area High School.

“The students are what the job is about,” said McNitt.

“Spending time with young men and women, opening minds and eyes to the world beyond Tyrone is one of the most important and enjoyable things I’ve ever had the opportunity to do.”