From Marines to Mushrooms:
Walt Rucosky of Walt’s Shrooms in Jennerstown, PA, Somerset County
As a boy, Walter Rucosky went on expeditions to the forest with his grandfather, looking for mushrooms and hunting deer and small game. Walt’s dad, a coal miner, refused to eat the foraged mushrooms, and Walt realized he’d better learn which were safe to eat, and which were poisonous. Many years later, he’s still learning.
After finishing high school in Johnstown, PA, Walt knew his options were limited. His grandfather on his mom’s side had served in the Marine Corps during the Boxer Rebellion, and tradition ran deep in his family. “There were no jobs at the mill, and I was considered ‘prime beef’ for the military, so I decided to go into the Marine Corps Reserves.” At the time, that meant 6 months of active duty followed by the rest of his obligation on reserve duty. “Weekends and summer camp,” in Walt’s parlance. Having played football in high school, he also wanted to find out if Parris Island was tougher than football camp.
While on Reserve duty, Walt completed his bachelors and masters degrees in psychology. From that professional vantage point he looks back at his three months of boot camp, during which the Drill Instructors were present 24/7, even sleeping in the barracks, as an exercise in complete re-socialization. Rucosky states that even today, he and those with whom he served find their identities as Marines define them, and tie them indelibly to those who have worn the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor throughout history.
Living in the Johnstown area, where Congressman Jack Murtha led the local Marine Reserve unit, made it easy to ‘stay Marine’. But as Reserves units began to draw down, Rucosky moved to other units, including PSYOPs. He served his annual duty at Ft. Bragg and Ft. Leavenworth before transitioning to the Air Force Reserves, from which he retired.
With more time on his hands, Walter joined a mushroom growers’ club, and went to Canada to mushroom school for a week. There he learned techniques to identify mushrooms that may look safe to the casual eye but may not be.
Rucosky has presented locally at workshops for those interested in harvesting wild mushrooms or growing them. He has a down-to-earth way of imparting his vast knowledge: “Most popular mushrooms around here are morels. Raising morels is hard because of the freezes in PA. It takes 8-9 months gestation period (fruiting). Shiitake grow best on oak-look for acorns but they're hard to grow.”
Walt’s next project is learning to grown oyster mushrooms, and he’s looking for someone with good manual dexterity to help him with the inoculation process. If you’re in the Jennerstown area and interested in learning what Walt has to share about mushrooms, contact him at (814) 629-9215.
Not ready to grown your own? Find Walt’s Shrooms at Ligonier Country Market Saturday mornings this summer.
Want to get started in the wonderful world of fungi? Walt suggests Greg Marley’s book Chanterelle Dreams, Amanita Nightmares: The Love, Lore, and Mystique of Mushrooms. You may also want to download USDA’s Field Guide to Common Macrofungi in Eastern Forests and Their Ecosystem Functions