JOHNSTOWN – Joined by her family and friends at Asiago’s Restaurant atop the historic Johnstown Inclined Plane, Karen Esaias recently announced she is running for Cambria County Commissioner in the May Republican Primary Election.
She pledged to use her God-given talent and experience to help make Cambria County strong.
“Proven leadership and good governance are at the heart of moving communities forward,” said Esaias. “I will be a strong steward of our hard-earned tax dollars and I pledge to always put our families first if given the honor to serve as Cambria County Commissioner.”
Following her graduation from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown (UPJ), she enlisted and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force.
As a member of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), her mission was to identify and neutralize criminal, terrorist and intelligence threats to the Air Force and Department of Defense.
In her capacity as a federal agent, Esaias conducted investigations into various felony-level crimes including drug dealing, sexual assault and terrorist murder of airmen.
During her distinguished 27-year career, Esaias became the first female Vice Commander of AFOSI and senior law enforcement and intelligence professional where she directed the worldwide investigative and force protection activities of more than 3,000 personnel.
She provided strategic direction and management of personnel and resources for 200 operating locations with a $250 million budget. She supervised AFOSI headquarters staff of more than 500 personnel.
“I have committed my professional career and personal life to serving our country and most recently, my local community right here in Cambria County,” Esaias said.
“Now, I want to build on my commitment to public service by working hard to protect local taxpayers and creating a positive environment for local job creators.
“I am ready to run, win and to use my proven experience to be a part of the team to move our county forward as County Commissioner.”
Esaias continued, “During my Air Force career, I learned how to work well with people, manage large budgets and accomplish shared goals.
“Cambria County is facing several challenges: a serious opioid crisis, the lack of good paying jobs and spreading blight which negatively portrays our county.
“As County Commissioner, I will focus on solving these problems to ensure Cambria County remains a great place to live, work, raise a family and retire.”
Born and raised in Southmont Borough, Esaias graduated from Westmont Hilltop High School. Her father, Donald Esaias, was a World War II navigator in the Army Air Force.
Upon returning home, he earned a degree in metallurgical engineering and worked at Bethlehem Steel. Esaias’ mother, Catherine (Sherlock) Esaias, “Kaye” to her friends, served as the surgical room nurse supervisor at Mercy Hospital for many years. Later, she ran the UPJ Health Service for 16 years, and still calls Southmont home today.
Highlighting her strong family ties to Cambria County as an important reason she wants to give back to our community, Esaias said, “My sister Kathy and I were raised by patriotic parents who believed in the importance of service.
“They taught us the values that have enabled us to be successful throughout our lives: hard work, living within our means and helping others. These are the same values I will carry with me to the county courthouse.”
Retiring as a Colonel in 2007, Esaias and her husband, Richard Von Schlichten returned to Johnstown where she was employed as the assistant to the president of Concurrent Technologies Corp.
Following her retirement from that position, she and her husband started a small business “Keystone Ancestry,” so Esaias could pursue her passionate interest in the area’s heritage and assist others in finding their family roots.
Since her return to Johnstown, she has become an integral part of the community. She is a member of the Veteran Community Initiatives (VCI) Advisory Board, Conemaugh Valley Veterans and the Buzz Wagner Chapter of the Air Force Association.
For the last four years, she has been a peer mentor for Cambria County’s Veterans’ Court, supporting four young veterans as they work to turn their lives around.
Esaias is also a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, Cambria County Historical Society and Johnstown Area Heritage Association.
Esaias has been the featured speaker at Memorial Day, Flag Day and Veterans Day functions at various venues from Sandyvale and Ashville to Vinco and the Gazebo.
She was instrumental in bringing back the annual Armed Forces Dinner during Armed Forces Week. The event benefited the SFC Raymond Richard Buchan Memorial Scholarship Fund, which honors the memory of a local soldier killed in action outside of Ramadi.
In 2013, the second Armed Forces Dinner hosted over 500 people who came to honor local Korean War Veterans on the 60th Anniversary of the Armistice.
“Throughout my career in the service, I traveled the world extensively,” said Esaias. “What I learned is that this area is wonderfully unique in its heritage and people.
“It is my favorite place on earth. I was lucky my path allowed me to return to Cambria County with my husband and we were warmly welcomed back into the community.
“I have seen first-hand the needs of local residents and the threats against our community, and I am excited to have the chance to be a force for positive change as commissioner.”
Esaias and Richard live in Westmont. They are active members of St. Clement Parish, and she volunteers her time on its Finance Council and serves as Parish Coordinator for ARISE Together in Christ spiritual renewal.
Richard is the director of the St. Clement Food Pantry, which feeds hundreds of area families. Esaias has been widely recognized and honored for her service to the country and community.
In 2012 she was recognized as a “Distinguished Alumnus” of UPJ and inducted into the Cambria County Veterans’ Hall of Fame. In 2014, she was inducted into the Chapel of the Four Chaplains and most recently in 2018 she was presented with the YWCA “Lady Liberty” Award at the Annual Salute to Women.