HOLLIDAYSBURG - Three Altoona residents were all smiles Tuesday as they recited the Oath of Citizenship in an ornate Blair County courtroom that appropriately included a large oil painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on one wall.
Ashwinbai Raojibhai Patel said he fell in love with America while visiting many times.
"It is a vast country. ... It is a country of opportunity and growth," he said as he explained why 22 years after his first visit to America and 11 years after moving here, he decided to become a citizen of the United States.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Blair County Clerk of Courts Carol Newman administers the Oath of Citizenship to (from left)?Graeme Francis St. Clair, Ashwinbai Raojibhai Patel and his wife, Neela Patel, all of Altoona, Tuesday at the Blair County Courthouse in Hollidaysburg.
His wife, Neela, who had also visited the country many times and who has many relatives here, said with fervor, "I like it here."
The Patels are taking advantage of America's opportunities. They own the Sun Valley Motel at 1539 E. Pleasant Valley Blvd.
They are also enthusiastically awaiting the arrival of their two grown sons from London, who will come to America in August. One of the sons is a banker, the other is real estate.
The Patels joined Graeme Francis St. Clair, who was employed by a British company as a computer specialist and who regularly traveled between the United Kingdom and California as part of his job.
St. Clair is also a singer who met his wife, Mary Lu, at a church choir practice.
While he has been living here for 13 years, St. Clair said he decided to become a citizen so he could vote.
"The United Kingdom's loss is our gain," said Blair County Judge Hiram A. Carpenter as he became the county's official greeter, speaking for the judges and all Americans.
Carpenter told a story that during one of his prior appearances at a naturalization ceremony, he decided to relate the history of his family and how his ancestors landed on American shores, but he realized that nobody really cared.
And that was his point on Tuesday.
"What brought you here, that probably is the most interesting today that it will ever be," he said.
Now, he said, "You are part of us."
The important thing is not how you got here, but what you do now that you are here, Carpenter said.
"It's a whole new slate," he said.
While Blair County Judge Elizabeth Doyle was involved in an all-day hearing, the county's other four judges, including Carpenter, Jolene G. Kopriva, Timothy M. Sullivan and Daniel J. Milliron, lined the bench to greet the Patels and St. Clair.
It was an important and special day for Blair County Court, because for eight years the county has not had a naturalization ceremony.
New citizens from Blair County attended naturalization ceremonies, starting in 2004, in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh. It ended Blair County's annual swearing-in ceremony, but this year, new citizens from Blair County were told they had a choice: to take the oath in Pittsburgh or their home county.
The Patels and St. Clair decided to take the oath at the Blair County Courthouse.
"This has always been a good day for us. We enjoy this day. You could have done it somewhere else and you chose to do it with us. ... So bravo," Kopriva said.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.