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January 30, 2010

Smith's Legacy Looms Large In Tiger Town


(c) 2010 Jason Togyer

"With the drama behind them, it's time for McKeesport Area to do something it hasn't done in nearly three decades --- start the process of looking for a new head football coach ... athletic director Charley Kiss has set a Feb. 5 deadline for applications." (Mark Kaboly, Daily News)

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Posted at 9:44 pm by Jason Togyer
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January 29, 2010

Book Country Eyes Expansion; Could Buy Precoat Property


Book Country Clearing House is eying the former site of Precoat Metals for a major expansion, Tube City Almanac has learned.

Book Country CEO Richard Roberts confirmed Thursday his company made an offer to Precoat and hopes to find out within the next two weeks if the bid has been accepted.

Book Country, which supplies remaindered books to retail stores all over the world, needs to add about 250,000 square feet, and the eight-acre Precoat site on Walnut Street in the 12th Ward would be ideal for its needs, Roberts says.

A Precoat spokeswoman has not responded to email or a phone message left by the Almanac at the company's headquarters in St. Louis.

Other sources say at least one other party besides Roberts is interested in the Precoat site.

. . .

"We saw a 20 percent increase in our wholesale business last year," says Roberts, who with his wife, Sandy, purchased Book Country in 2003. "Bargain books sell very, very well during a down economy."

Book Country currently occupies all of the former Potter-McCune Co. warehouse, which was used by Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank from the mid-1980s until it relocated to Duquesne in 2001.

But to service new clients in China, southern Africa and Europe, Roberts says, the company needs to grow again.

Rapid expansion forced Book Country last year to shut down a short-lived retail outlet in the front of the approximately 375,000 square foot warehouse, he says.

. . .

"Unfortunately, we had to close the store," Roberts says. "We needed the space."

The Precoat plant, previously operated by Enamel Products & Plating Co., closed in March 2009. Demolition of the structures began earlier this month.

According to City Administrator Dennis Pittman, Precoat is reportedly removing the buildings and their contents because of continued demand for scrap metals overseas, and to clear the property for resale.

. . .

But Pittman says that Precoat also has not ruled out returning to McKeesport if the economy --- and particularly new home construction --- recovers.

The company, which has seven other plants around the United States, plates steel for use in construction and building materials.

"They told us that facility was no longer working for them, and they needed to upgrade their equipment," Pittman says. "But they said they want to be back in this geographic area if they start over."

McKeesport is just three miles from U.S. Steel's Irvin Works, which produces flat-rolled steel coils of the type used in Precoat's products.

. . .

Book Country, which currently employs about 100 people, envisions constructing a new warehouse and distribution center on the Precoat property.

The company receives books from stores all over the country that have been returned to their publisher as "unsellable" because they've become damaged or out-of-date, or because they're simply not in demand.

It then repackages those books --- best-sellers, children's books, cookbooks, reference books and all kinds of works --- and resells them to discount stores and other retailers.

The Christy Park warehouse currently holds about 10 million books representing 35,000 titles, Roberts says.

. . .

If Book Country expands its facility in McKeesport, it will likely hire another 25 to 35 employees, he says.

When the Dish Network call center announced it was closing, KDKA talk-show host Marty Griffin reported rumors that it was unable to hire Mon-Yough residents because they were lazy or drug addicts.

But Roberts disputed that accusation, saying his company's work force is "the best asset we've got." Book Country has begun offering profit-sharing and other incentives to retain employees, he says.

"You could not find a better group of people anywhere," Roberts says. "I would put my workers up against anyone in terms of productivity."

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Posted at 07:51 am by Jason Togyer
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January 28, 2010

Briefly Noted: College Aid for MAHS Seniors Tops $40K

(Events, News)

College Aid for MAHS Seniors: More than $40,000 in scholarships, grants and awards is available to McKeesport Area High School seniors again this year, the Consortium for Public Education has announced.

In addition, several new scholarships are available this year. But the deadline for applications is fast approaching.

The scholarships are available thanks to the generosity of alumni, family members and friends, and other supporters in the Mon-Yough area, says Linda Croushore, president of the McKeesport High School Alumni and Friends Association.

The alumni association, now in its 23rd year, is a project of the Consortium for Public Education.

"These scholarships and awards have been underwritten by proud McKeesport alumni and others who want to extend a helping hand to today's students as they contemplate that next, important step in their educational careers," Croushore says.

"We want to stress that they are open to all seniors intent on pursuing post-secondary education, whether they are college-bound or headed to career or technical schools, business school, art school or culinary institute," she says.

All seniors have received flyers announcing the scholarships and grants at home and at the high school, a Consortium spokeswoman says.

New awards for 2010 include the:

  • Bechtol Family Scholarship, providing one $500 award for a student who plans to pursue a teaching career;

  • Zon Fleckenstein Memorial Scholarship, providing two $500 awards;

  • Vern G. Sharbaugh Scholarship, providing $500 for a varsity football player who demonstrates excellent character, dedication and leadership; and the

  • Lou Guarascio Memorial Award, providing $250 for a member of the marching band who plans to go on to post-secondary education.

In addition, The Garden Club of McKeesport Scholarship, providing $600, has returned after a one-year absence.

Deadline to apply for most awards is March 31. Applications can be found in the high school guidance office and library and online at the Consortium for Public Education's website.

To contact the alumni association, call The Consortium for Public Education, 410 Ninth St., Downtown, at (412) 678-9215, or email

. . .

Kiwanis Club Slates Banquet: The Kiwanis Club of McKeesport-White Oak will hold its Valentine's Day Banquet at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Viking Lounge, 3413 Versailles Ave., Grandview.

Dinner will be served buffet-style and the cost is $30 per person. Reservations are required and must be received by Feb. 2.

To RSVP or get additional information, call Chris Del Signore at (412) 400-6559.

. . .

Penn State Sets Health Care ConEd: Penn State's campus in McKeesport will offer two courses to train health-care professionals in March.

From March 1 to 22, Greater Allegheny Campus will offer the required 120-hour nursing home administrator training program in the Frable Conference Center. All courses are approved by the state Board of Nursing Home Administration for individuals interested in receiving licensure. They may also meet continuing education requirements for other professionals.

Each individual course has also been approved for Pennsylvania State Nurses Association contact hours, a university spokeswoman said.

In addition, the program is approved for Trade Adjustment Assistance and Workforce Investment Act funding through PA CareerLink.

From March 12 through April 19, continuing education will hold personal care home administrator training. This is a 100-hour course approved by the state Department of Public Welfare to enable participants to become personal care home administrators.

The course also includes the required certification testing for those attending the training sessions. It will be offered in the Frable Conference Center.

This training program, as well as some additional modules, also is offered to current certified personal care home administrators and direct care workers to assist in fulfilling the annual requirement for 24 hours of training. Courses cover a variety of topics.

To register or get additional information, visit the university's website or call (412) 675-9051.

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Posted at 7:11 pm by Staff and Wire Reports
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January 27, 2010

For Go-Kart Shop Owners, Location is Everything

(Local Businesses)

By Adam Spate
Special to Tube City Almanac

It all started about a year ago, when three friends bought a couple of ScooterX go-karts online.

Mike "Zak" Kostyzak, Vikki Zilonis* and Roman Nowicki had fun tooling around. But they also had a lot of interest from neighbors and relatives wondering where they could buy a go-kart, too.

So they went into the go-kart business for themselves last spring, at first online only, before realizing they needed a showroom to display the products everyone was asking about.

. . .

Now they're selling go-karts, scooters and electric bicycles --- conveniently less than 100 feet from the Great Allegheny Passage Bike Trail that will eventually connect Cumberland, Md., with Pittsburgh.

Located in the lower level of a former house at 3731 Walnut St. in Christy Park, near Olympia Shopping Center, Speedy Go Karts is exclusive Pittsburgh-area outlet for Go-Ped and ScooterX brand products, two big names in the go-kart and scooter world.

On a good day, you can even see one of the best advertisements driving around outside the store.

"My kids love to ride around the parking lot," Zilonis says. The activity has caused many people to take notice and stop in the store.

. . .

Starting this spring, they'll have brand-new bicycles from Marin*, Felt and Surly, and will be custom-building any bike you want.

Business seems to be going well, even in the slow economy that has others sitting back. Speedy is advertising on Facebook and Craigslist, and in good weather the founders ride the bike trail to talk with cyclists.

Finding a place near the bike trail was very important, as was having a decent parking lot for test rides, Speedy's founders say.

. . .

Besides a complete line of go-kart and bicycling accessories, their showroom caters to both novices and experienced hobbyists. They have everything from Know-Ped adult push scooters to an awesome beast called the "Trail Ripper."

Equipped with a four-and-a-half horsepower motor, the Trail Ripper scooter can do just about everything a dirt bike can do, including hill climbing. Top speed is 30 mph.

If "green" technology is more your thing, Speedy Go Karts has eco-friendly scooters and go-karts, including electric and propane-gas propelled models.

. . .

The emissions from the Pro-Ped LP scooter, for instance, are almost as low as those from an electric, and as Zilonis points out, there is no mixing of gas and oil. Riders just attach a one-pound propane cylinder and off they go, with no fumes and no gas on their hands.

It's also safer to transport than a gasoline-powered scooter: You can lay it down in the back of a car or truck and not worry about the fuel leaking out.

. . .

You can tell that Speedy's founders really love scooters and go-karts. Kostyzak knew every detail about every product and sounds like he's been selling them his entire life --- not just a few months.

Exciting products, exciting shop and plans for the future --- if you know anyone who uses the bike trail, tell them to stop by and see what Speedy Go Karts has that might be right for them.

. . .

Speedy Go Karts is located at 3731 Walnut St. in Christy Park, near the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail and Route 48. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 12 to 7 p.m. Fridays, and 12 to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

Call (412) 751-KART or visit their website.


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Posted at 9:33 pm by Adam Spate
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January 26, 2010

Demolition Proceeds on Ex-Enamel Products Plant


Demolition began this month of the former Precoat Metals plant on Walnut Street in the city's 12th Ward.

The facility, which painted and coated steel coils for use in building materials, was closed last March by its St. Louis, Mo., based parent company, itself a division of Sequa Corp.

Sequa Corp. is owned in turn by The Carlyle Group, a New York investment firm known for its powerful connections in the global defense, energy and telecommunications industries.

. . .

It is unknown whether Precoat is marketing the site for future development.

Messages left by the Almanac for a spokeswoman at the company's St. Louis headquarters were not immediately returned.

However, demolition of the existing buildings would seem to make it unlikely that manufacturing will ever return to the property.

Precoat purchased the facility with its 1995 acquisition of McKeesport-based Enamel Products and Plating Co., founded in the 1970s by the late Jack Valoon. The facility employed 135 people --- members of the United Steelworkers union --- in the 1970s, according to published reports.

The Enamel Products factory in turn had its roots as part of the former Artcraft Venetian Blind Manufacturing Co., which supplied its namesake products to chain stores such as Sears, Roebuck & Co.; J.C. Penney Co.; S.S. Kresge Co.; and city-based G.C. Murphy Co.

. . .

About 100 people were employed at Precoat's city plant at the time of the shutdown; at the time of the closing, a company spokesman blamed overcapacity and the global downturn in the construction industry for its decision to close the facility, then one of eight nationwide.

Covering approximately eight acres of land between Walnut Street and the Yough River hiking-biking trail, the Precoat facility was assessed by Allegheny County at more than $1.2 million.

. . .

City officials have worked to attract retail development to a neighboring property once occupied by Reliance Steel Products and later by Steffan Industries.

Part of that site at the intersection of Walnut and Eden Park Boulevard is now occupied by a Rite Aid store; the remaining 2.8 acres is vacant.

. . .

Meanwhile, the city and officials from Regional Industrial Development Corp. continue efforts to market the space soon to be vacated by Dish Network's call center.

Colorado-based Dish earlier this month sent the city the official 60-day plant closing notice required under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. According to the letter, the facility will close for good on March 5. About 600 people will lose their jobs.

Speaking for background only, city officials say they have had very productive meetings with potential tenants for the 105,000-square-foot building in the industrial park on the former U.S. Steel National Works site.

. . .

Rumors aired by KDKA Radio's Marty Griffin on his daily talk show and on the KDKA-TV news --- which alleged that Dish Network was unable to hire Mon-Yough residents because they couldn't pass drug tests --- angered city Councilman Darryl Segina.

At this month's city council meeting, Segina accused the company of spreading the rumors to justify its decision to move.

"I'm really kind of insulted that they chose to burn their bridges on the way out of town," he said. "It was their failure that's causing them to move out --- not ours."

Segina said Dish was unable to retain qualified employees once they found them: "Maybe they should have questioned their management techniques instead. They were able to get people to work for them. They just weren't able to keep them."

. . .

Segina accused Dish of leaving solely because the tax breaks used to attract the facility to McKeesport is running out.

"We gave them 10 years of tax increment financing and made thousands of dollars of road improvements down there," he said. "We bent over backwards with county, state and federal money to get them here.

"I think they knew three years ago that they planned to leave," Segina said. "They just waited until they would have to start paying McKeesport taxes."

. . .

Mayor James Brewster said he also took exception to the rumors aired by KDKA's Griffin, but that there was nothing to link them to Dish Network.

"We had been negotiating with them for the past year to try and extend their lease on the millsite," Brewster said. Dish wanted both improvements made to the building and lease concessions that weren't feasible, the mayor said.

But the city did work with Dish Network --- and will work with future tenants --- to help recruit potential employees, Brewster added. "If a company comes here, we've got to get people down there to fill those jobs," he said.

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Posted at 11:02 pm by Jason Togyer
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January 22, 2010

To Do This Weekend


The dregs of winter seem to be upon us, people. The skies are gloomy, the wildlife is hiding, and the flowers and trees are all dead.

Even the pickings on the events calendar are mighty slim. In fairness to local groups, everyone thought that this weekend was a bad weekend to schedule any events.

We assumed we'd all be at home this weekend, watching the Steelers play for the conference championship.

Yeah. If the weather isn't depressing you, that should do the trick.

Zydeco Music Tomorrow: Zydeco Dogz play the Bulgarian-Macedonian National Educational & Cultural Center, 449-451 West 8th Ave., West Homestead, from 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. Saturday.

Zydeco is a form of American folk music that evolved in Louisiana in the late 1800s, and the evening will include dance lessons.

The event is family-friendly and all ages are welcome. Refreshments will be available at a cash bar. Admission is $8. Call (412) 461-6188.

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Posted at 6:05 pm by Jason Togyer
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January 20, 2010

Knick-Knack: Bargain Hunters Flock to Beulah Park


By Adam Spate
Special to Tube City Almanac

Drive along Grandview Avenue in McKeesport on a Wednesday afternoon and you could be surprised at the flurry of activity surrounding the Beulah Park United Methodist Church. Cars line the street outside the Grover Street entrance, and people are walking out with bags full of this and that.

Every Wednesday, except holidays, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. the church hosts a real gem for the bargain hunter, the Beulah Park Thrift Store. Inside you will find rooms and rooms full of glassware, clothing, books, toys and general household items.

Occasionally you also find furniture, but the early birds --- those who show up every week just before 10 a.m.), usually have that all gone by 10:30.

. . .

There are four former Sunday school rooms of merchandise plus a hallway that are literally stacked to the ceiling with donations.

According to the volunteers who work there each week, every Wednesday they sort through at least 10 to 12 boxes and bags of donations dropped off throughout the week.

One room is dedicated to sorting the donations into what can be used and what can not. Any items they can't use, or have too many of, are packed up and sent to the Vietnam Veterans of America to hopefully be used in one of the thrift stores they partner with.

One of the volunteers, Mitzi Wigand, says the thrift store is much more than just a place to find bargains.

Local fire departments call when someone has lost their house. The church does its own outreach to poor families, while the Salvation Army also comes in to help those in need, and St Mary's Sisters of Charity visit to find items they can use in their efforts.

. . .

Wigand tells of one man who was living under a bridge in the city before someone took him in due to the below-freezing temperatures. He had very little, so they came to the Beulah Park thrift store and were given clothes and other items he needed to help him out.

Sometimes families come in to buy clothes they cannot afford elsewhere, and the church does everything they can to help them, Wigand says.

The store is staffed by volunteers from the church who come in every Wednesday to help out. In addition to Wigand, regulars include Ruby Escott, Pat Kelly, Virginia Sporgeon, Donna Pancost, Carol Roney and Norma Dunly, though others help when they're available.

There's also a social element to their work --- volunteers say they enjoy talking to people from the community and seeing their friends.

. . .

Proceeds benefit the church's projects, with about 10 percent of the income being sent to missions and the remainder used to send as many children from the church as possible to summer camp in Jumonville. Any balances are returned to the church's general fund.

Last year, the thrift store averaged about $225 in sales per week, volunteers said.

At a time when many churches are struggling to stay open, Beulah Park has found one way to keep going --- as well as return something to the community.

. . .

Beulah Park UMC Thrift Store is located at 1615 Grandview Ave. and is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays.

Items available include men's, women's and children's clothing, books starting at six for $1, and toys starting at 25 cents. There also is a holiday room featuring Christmas and Easter items.

Donations are accepted at the church office. Call (412) 672-2785 for information.

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Posted at 09:34 am by Adam Spate
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January 19, 2010

On the Lighter Side

(Pointless Digressions)

This sign in front of Elks Lodge No. 11 in Lincoln Place is likely giving a lot of McKeesport-to-Pittsburgh commuters reason for pause.

You might envision the cartoon character Beavis with his shirt pulled up over his head, calling himself the "Great Cornholio" and demanding "TP for my bunghole!"

Or you might imagine an evening of drunken debauchery that makes you giggle, especially when you remember that the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks lists "brotherly love" as one of its foundations.

However, you and the editor of the Almanac both have juvenile, dirty minds.

. . .

"Cornhole," we are told by an experienced cornholer from way back, is the game that most people would remember from kindergarten, carnivals and Kennywood as "bean bag toss."

There's an even an American Cornhole Association with organized leagues and tournaments and everything.

It just happens to have an unfortunate name, like retired NASCAR driver Dick Trickle.

So, if you're interested in learning how to cornhole, call Elks No. 11 at (412) 461-3322. And please refrain from singing "Pants on the Ground."

. . .

Meanwhile, a discussion at Nancy Nall's always entertaining blog has us thinking of pizza, which is always something pleasant to think about.

You may have noticed the national advertising campaign in which Domino's Pizza essentially admits that their pies taste like ketchup on bread.

It has long been the semi-official position of the editorial board of Tube City Almanac that Domino's, Little Caesar's, Pizza Hut and other national chains produce "pizzas" that are only suitable for Little League teams and invalids who have never had fresh pizza made with real ingredients.

. . .

In fact, while New Yorkers and Chicagoans would likely disagree vehemently, the Mon Valley has surprisingly good pizza --- maybe because we have a large Italian population.

(It's actually kind of a mystery how chain restaurants such as Olive Garden stay in business in Western Pennsylvania, where almost every neighborhood here has at least one really good Italian restaurant or pizzeria. We list a few in Tube City Online's tourism section.)

McKeesport supposedly got its first taste of pizza at Teti's Cafe in Christy Park during the 1940s, and Woody's Little Italy and the Elbow Room also were well-known as local outlets for pizza by the 1950s.

. . .

Your editor likes the pizza at the Elbow Room, but is particularly partial to Luciano's on Long Run Road in White Oak, which makes the area's best "doughy" crust and some wonderful white pizza.

Outside of the city and its suburbs, Vincent's on Ardmore Boulevard probably makes the region's best thin-crust pie.

But just like American Idol, we're always on the prowl for pants on the ground ... er, undiscovered talent, particularly in the art of pizza-making.

. . .

So, what's your favorite pizza place in McKeesport or the adjoining communities of White Oak, Port Vue, Glassport, West Mifflin, North Versailles, Duquesne, Liberty Borough, etc.? Post it in the comments.

And remember to pull up your pants, whether you're picking up pizzas or playing cornhole.

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Posted at 8:49 pm by Jason Togyer
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January 18, 2010

In 1946, Hoops at the 'Voc' Gave Way to Principle


Today we remember the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a story about one of the many local battles fought for civil rights.

. . .

Twenty-six hundred people crammed the gymnasium at McKeesport Vocational High School on Dec. 23, 1946 to see the Duquesne University Dukes men's basketball team play the University of Tennessee Volunteers.

It promised to be a good contest, and the fans from the city's many Catholic neighborhoods --- already in a Christmas mood --- were always ready to cheer for the red-and-blue.

The Dukes, who had just won five games in a row, used the gym at the "Voc" (pronounced "voke") as their home court for many games in the 1940s because the bleachers in their own field house had been donated to a scrap drive during World War II.

But 2,600 people went back out into the cold December night without seeing a single shot.

Instead, for two hours Duquesne Coach Chick Davies and Tennessee Coach John Mauer argued in the locker room over the Dukes' insistence on playing their first-year center, Charles Cooper, wearing the Number 15 jersey.

Cooper was African-American.

. . .

Mauer told reporters his team was made up of "Southern boys, and they said they wouldn't play." (In fact, however, some of the Volunteers that year were from Western Pennsylvania --- proving prejudice knows no regional boundaries.)

After a while, the reason for the delay reached the people in the stands, and McKeesporters started taunting the Tennessee players.

Finally, Allegheny County Judge Samuel Weiss, a graduate of the Duquesne University Law School and chairman of the university's Athletic Council, walked out onto the court.

. . .

"I insist that no player be barred from this game by reason of race, color or creed," Weiss, a Glassport resident and former football referee, told the crowd. "The principle of the entire matter means more to us than a mere basketball game."

As a result, he said, "there will be no game." Tennessee was forfeiting the contest. Refunds would be available at the exits.

The crowd gave Weiss a standing ovation. Then, reported the Pittsburgh Courier a few days later, "the Southerners went sulking off the spacious court while the big crowd hooted and booed and shamed them as no athletic team has ever been in the history of sports in Pennsylvania."

McKeesport police stood guard outside outside the Voc (now part of Founders' Hall Middle School), prepared for a possible confrontation that never came. Instead, the Volunteers silently boarded a bus back to Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin for a flight home and into ignominy.

. . .

It may have been more than racial animus that motivated Tennessee's stubborn stand. The six-foot-four Cooper, who played briefly for West Virginia State College before joining the U.S. Navy, had been responsible for the winning baskets in three of Duquesne's past five games.

Before Weiss' announcement, Cooper tried to defuse the situation, telling other players in the locker room they should play without him if necessary. "I don't want to be the cause of any trouble," Cooper said.

Bull, said the other players. You're a member of our team, and as long as you're a member of our team, you play.

. . .

"A couple of them told me they didn't want to play if Cooper wouldn't be permitted to get into the game," Davies said afterward. "They didn't want to compromise on a thing like this."

The coach added that his team "wouldn't have had any more respect for me" if he buckled.

Cooper himself told reporters that he "appreciated" the stand taken by Davies and Weiss. "I'm glad and proud that I am a student at Duquesne and a member of the basketball team," he said.

. . .

The incident in McKeesport made national headlines --- and led the University of Miami to wire Duquesne and warn them not to bring Cooper to Florida for their upcoming game on Jan. 15.

Local ordinances did not permit "whites and negroes" to compete against one another in athletic events, the University of Miami said.

That was fine, replied the Very Rev. Francis P. Smith, Duquesne president. If that was the case, his team would just as soon not play in Miami.

A survey of Pittsburghers commissioned by KQV radio found nearly 92 percent of residents supported the university's position.

. . .

Tennessee's forfeit and the cancellation of the Miami game hurt Duquesne not at all. They finished the 1946-47 season 21-and-2 and were invited to both the National Invitational Tournament and the NCAA tournament. Choosing the then-more prestigious NIT, the Dukes lost in the quarterfinals to eventual national champion Utah.

During Cooper's four years as a starter, the Dukes were 78-19. Number 15 would play in two NITs, amassing a school-record total 990 points and being named an All-American in 1950. His teammates called him "Silk" --- because, they said, he was so smooth.

As he completed his bachelor's degree in education, Cooper became the first African-American player to be drafted by a National Basketball Association team. The Boston Celtics selected him with their second pick on April 25, 1950.

. . .

Cooper's pro career was less remarkable than his college tenure. In six seasons (four with Boston, one each with Milwaukee and Fort Wayne) he played 409 games, averaging 6.66 points and 1.79 assists.

It also wasn't without additional incidents of prejudice and hatred. Some hotels and restaurants refused to serve Cooper when he traveled with the Celtics to road games.

And like Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who had broken baseball's "color line" a few years earlier, players from opposing teams taunted Cooper with racial slurs, trying to throw him off his game.

"I got that n----r!" one yelled during a game at Madison Square Garden as he tried to guard Cooper.

"I got your mother," Cooper shot back.

. . .

After suffering a broken back and other injuries in a severe car crash, Cooper retired from pro sports and returned to Pittsburgh.

There, he became director of the community services department for the Urban League of Pittsburgh, then the city's director of parks and recreation --- the first African-American department head in Pittsburgh municipal history.

Eventually, he joined Pittsburgh National Bank, working as personnel director and community development officer before his death of cancer in 1984 at age 61.

. . .

Cooper lived long enough to see Duquesne retire his jersey and create the Chuck Cooper Award for the university's most outstanding freshman or sophomore basketball player. Last month, the university and PNC Bank --- Pittsburgh National's successor --- inaugurated the Chuck Cooper Classic to honor his legacy.

"Beyond athletics, Chuck made a difference at PNC and in his community," Bank President Joseph Guyaux said, while in athletics, Cooper's legacy was "defined by his blazing a trail for other NBA players to follow."

And that trail passed through McKeesport --- making national history --- one eventful night at the "Voc" in 1946.

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Posted at 08:03 am by Jason Togyer
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January 15, 2010

GW Parent Peeved by Slippy Sidewalks


It was cold enough last week to freeze the stuff inside your nose. But one parent of a second-grader at George Washington Elementary was plenty steamed.

Steamed enough to write the Almanac and attach the above photo, with the following message:
As I took my daughter to school at George Washington Elementary this morning (Jan. 4), her first day back after the holiday break, I was simply appalled by the lack of maintenance to the school grounds and the roads leading to and from the school from Versailles Avenue.

Allow me to point out that there was a two-hour delay today, which one would expect would allow ample time to clear and salt sidewalks, correct? ... Anyway, after seeing several kids fall, some very hard, and many more sliding around, I thought I would take some photos of this situation.

Our unnamed correspondent claims "the sidewalk on the front of the school" and the entrance bridge on Sumac Street "weren't even touched," and adds that he then went to White Oak to check out the situation near that school:
I don't tend to agree when people say everything is so much better in White Oak, but, nonetheless I was wrong. First, every street around that school was plowed, salted and dry. No kids falling down walking to school.

Then, I got to the drop off for the students ... shoveled, salted and dry, not a slippery spot to be found. Even their parking lots and playground areas were plowed, salted, and looked great.

Are children who live in McKeesport second rate as far as safety is concerned? I surely hope not.

. . .

Most definitely not, says Jim Humanic, director of administrative services for McKeesport Area School District. Sidewalks aren't his department, but with Director of Buildings and Grounds Ed Fagan out of the office, Humanic agreed to investigate.

Humanic was surprised to hear about a complaint --- but if there's a problem with snow removal at George Washington or any school, "it needs to be addressed," he says.

"It's something we take very seriously," he says. "The last thing we want is a teacher or student falling."

During last week's snow storms, Humanic says, the district's salt crews were called out at 3 a.m., while building maintenance personnel reported to each school at 4 a.m.

"There's a concerted effort to ensure that the snow around all of the buildings is cleaned and ready to go," he says. "If it's really bad, we call them out on a weekend to get things prepped."

. . .

At George Washington in particular, Humanic says, a salt truck treated the sidewalks and the parking lot before teachers arrived last Monday, while custodians made two additional passes on the sidewalks with salt spreaders before students reported.

In addition, he says, a city public works truck was spotted by 7 a.m. salting the crosswalks around the building. "The city --- and White Oak, too --- make a concerted effort to keep those streets around the schools clean," he says.

Humanic hopes any problems were "an isolated incident," but says parents who are concerned should contact their building principal right away ... and not, um, email a website. (Even one as well-intentioned as the Almanac.)

The phone numbers are (412) 664-3650 at the high school, (412) 664-3690 at Founders' Hall, (412) 664-3720 at Cornell, (412) 664-3740 at Francis McClure, (412) 664-3750 at Centennial, (412) 664-3770 at George Washington and (412) 664-3790 at White Oak.

. . .

P.S.: The Almanac says "slippy," even if they don't teach such poor grammar in McKeesport schools. 'N at.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: Wayne Macuga and his 17-piece big band swing into town Saturday night to play the Palisades ballroom, Fifth Avenue at Water Street, Downtown.

Tickets are $10 at the door and dancing starts at 8 p.m.

Sunday night, it's Chuck Corby and Quiet Storm, with a holiday concert that was rescheduled from December due to bad weather. Advance tickets sold for that show are still good.

Tickets for Chuck Corby are $20. Doors open at 6:30 and the show starts at 8. Call (412) 672-2001 for more information or visit the Palisades' website.

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Posted at 6:42 pm by Jason Togyer
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January 12, 2010

Briefly Noted: Stimulus Check on Way to City


Police Car Payment Promised Promptly: City officials will have their promised federal stimulus money by the end of the week.

That's the word from Kevin Evanto, spokesman for Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato.

"The check is in the mail, and McKeesport should receive it by Friday," Evanto told the Almanac on Tuesday, "specifically, $93,751.24 for four vehicles and $3,665.06 for computer equipment."

As the Almanac first reported Thursday, the city ordered four new Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptors in April through a program sponsored by the U.S. Justice Department and funded through the so-called stimulus program that passed the U.S. Congress last February.

The money is part of $3.25 million in assistance to local law enforcement agencies that's being administered by Allegheny County.

But city officials became increasingly concerned because while the cars have arrived at Tri Star Motors in Christy Park, the money hadn't. City Administrator Dennis Pittman said Tuesday night the message from Evanto's office was "great news" and that a staffer in the office of U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Penn Hills, had also called to apologize for the delay.

. . .

Blueroof Open House: City-based Blueroof Technologies will dedicate its newest "smart house" for older adults this Friday on Pennsylvania Avenue in Irwin.

The house near the Target store was constructed for Family Services of Western Pennsylvania, says John G. Bertoty, Blueroof executive director.

At a reception for local officials and human services providers, Blueroof will also demonstrate "retrofittable" technologies that can be added to existing homes, he says.

With assistance from the Quality of Life Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, Blueroof designs houses with devices and sensors that make it possible for people with limited mobility --- including disabled veterans, the handicapped and the elderly --- to live on their own, outside of a nursing home or other group facility.

The first of 13 planned "research cottages" in a proposed Blueroof "Independence Zone" near McKeesport's Downtown was dedicated in September 2009.

. . .

Local Vet Named Hall-of-Famer: A West Mifflin resident and Army veteran will be inducted Friday into the Southwestern Pennsylvania Veterans Hall of Fame.

Mike Mauer, who served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, will be inducted along with other soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in an 11 a.m. ceremony at the Southwestern Veterans Center in Highland Park. The event is free and open to the public.

A life member of West Mifflin's VFW "Intrepid" Post 914, Mauer was an Army photojournalist and public affairs officer assigned to cover units, escort members of the media, and send information back to Army posts and civilian news outlets. He also was named non-commissioned officer in charge of the U.S. Central Command's command information office during the first Gulf War.

His efforts earned the Joint Service Commendation Media from Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., commander of all U.S. forces during the Gulf War, and the Keith L. Ware Award for journalism from the U.S. Army.

Since leaving active duty, Mauer has served as quartermaster for Post 914, organizing events to support troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and to welcome returning veterans. He and his wife, Marsey, have two daughters, Sarah, a sophomore at Pitt, and Rachel, a senior at West Mifflin Area Senior High School.

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Posted at 11:57 pm by Jason Togyer
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January 11, 2010

Officers Worked 'Business Beat' in December


Two patrolmen worked an unusual "business beat" in the city during the holidays, and officers will continue their outreach efforts in the Grandview neighborhood, police Chief Al Tedesco said.

Tedesco told city council last week the two were told to contact "every business in the city of McKeesport" during their shifts.

"We wanted to show them that we do care about our businesses," the chief said. The officers' presence and efforts to talk to owners and employees one-on-one "virtually eliminated" complaints from businesses during December, Tedesco said.

Additional patrols have now been added in Grandview in response to a rash of burglaries in the neighborhood, he said.

. . .

City police answered 1,899 calls in December, made 259 arrests and issued 91 traffic citations, said Tedesco, who also reported statistics for 2009:

  • Calls: 26,065 (2009), 25,526 (2008), up 2 percent

  • Traffic Citations: 2,287 (2009), 1,962 (2008), up 15 percent

  • Arrests: 4,232 (2009), 3,821 (2008), up 11 percent

Eight homicides were reported in the city during 2009, versus four the previous year, Tedesco said. Three of last year's cases remain open, he said.

Although the additional arrests may make it appear that crime has gone up, Mayor James Brewster said he believes the increase is because police have "done a better job" in apprehending suspects. "If you had a scanner, you'd know how busy they are," he said.

Officers are being asked to make foot patrols in their districts whenever possible to make them more visible to residents, Brewster said, and are now required to keep a log of whenever they get into or out of their cars.

In addition, with assistance from Allegheny County emergency dispatchers, police are creating a database of nuisance rental properties, Brewster said. The statistics gathered will shape a series of planned changes to the city's landlord and tenant ordinances, he said.

. . .

Many of 2009's traffic citations were issued through the city police department's participation in the state's program to target aggressive or dangerous driving, also known as "Smooth Operator," Tedesco said. McKeesport police are one of 170 departments in Pennsylvania participating in the program, according to state Department of Transportation officials.

The city has received an additional grant and will be participating in the program again in 2010.

State Route 48 and state Route 148 --- which includes East Fifth Avenue and much of Lysle Boulevard --- are among the areas that have been targeted in the aggressive driving campaign.

. . .

In Other Business: Also last week, city council by 6-0 vote named the following residents to boards and commissions:
  • Civil Service Commission: Reappointed Mary Ann Popovich and appointed Jim Miller to replace the late Jane Zatek;

  • McKeesport Ambulance Authority: Reappointed Edwin Coulter, Walter Chuchla and Ron Oleska;

  • McKeesport Housing Authority: Reappointed William Craig;

  • Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport: Appointed former Councilman Dale McCall to replace David Demchak;

  • Planning Commission: Reappointed Mary Ann Popovich, Harvey Grant, DeNita Francis, Gloria Sabo and Terri Kisan and appointed Margaret O'Keson; and

  • Zoning Hearing Board: Reappointed Joseph Como, Dee Connor, Gary Dailey and William Richards.

On a motion made by Councilman Richard Dellapenna and seconded by Councilman A.J. Tedesco Jr., council voted 5-0 to appoint Darryl Segina to the McKeesport Neighborhood Initiative to replace former Councilman Paul Shelly Jr. Segina abstained and Councilwoman Fawn Walker was absent due to family emergency.

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Posted at 11:00 pm by Jason Togyer
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January 07, 2010

With Stimulus Check 'In the Mail,' City, Dealer Await $93K


Three new Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptors, tricked out for the city police department, sat at Tri Star Motors in Christy Park on Thursday. A fourth was scheduled for delivery this week.

They were ordered back in April through a federal government program that was part of the economic stimulus package.

But eight months later, the money hasn't been released. And until it is --- or until McKeesport officials arrange $93,500 in alternate financing --- the cruisers will stay up at Tri Star.

"I'm actually embarrassed," City Administrator Dennis Pittman says. "We got the grant in April. The federal government told us, 'Order them right now!' Now we've got four police cars that we can't pick up."

. . .

The money is technically part of a $3.25 million award to Allegheny County through the U.S. Justice Department's Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program.

The program was designed to help financially-strapped local police departments replace equipment while also boosting the manufacturing sector.

According to the U.S. Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, which is tracking the stimulus money nationwide, as of Dec. 31, 2009, $275 billion in contracts and grants had been authorized, but only $68.5 billion had been disbursed.

Somewhere in the other $206.5 billion that hasn't been released, apparently, is the money for McKeesport's new squad cars.

. . .

The non-profit news service ProPublica, which is tracking stimulus-funded projects, has reported that local and state governments have been slow to ask for stimulus money, and the federal government has been slow to release checks for qualified projects.

As of November, for instance, only a third of the money had actually been released, according to ProPublica.

Besides the cop cars, the city and related agencies qualified for nearly $4.8 million in combined assistance, including:

  • McKeesport Housing Authority: $3.3 million for capital improvements (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development)

  • McKeesport Community Development Department: $327,572 for various projects (HUD)

  • Homelessness Prevention programs: $500,957 for resettlement, rent and utility assistance (HUD)

  • Police Department: $641,763 for training and hiring new officers (U.S. Justice Department)

About $431.6 million total was promised to all of Allegheny County, according to ProPublica.
. . .

Responding to questions from the Almanac, Matt Dinkel, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Penn Hills), and Kevin Evanto, spokesman for Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, were both trying on Thursday to see when the money for the police cars would be released.

Tri Star Ford isn't angry about the delay, says Jack Bartko, director of operations. "The city of McKeesport is a good customer," he says, "but obviously, we'd like to get paid."

City officials would like that, too, says Nick Shermenti, public works director. "We could use those four cars," he says.

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Posted at 11:00 pm by Jason Togyer
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January 06, 2010

Snow Jobs Take Toll on City Crews


Two weeks of nearly continuous snow and freezing rain are taking their expected toll on city employees and the budget, public works director Nick Shermenti told council Wednesday night.

Public works employees have logged a combined 700 hours in overtime, he said, and since the third week of December the city has consumed 1,200 tons of rock salt.

"We're doing the best we can with the manpower we've got," Shermenti said.

. . .

According to the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh, the Mon-Yough area had snow on 11 of the past 13 days, totaling 9.8 inches. Temperatures have dropped below freezing every day since Dec. 26.

The weather also wore out two truck-mounted salt-spreaders, which had to be replaced at a cost of $3,500 each, Shermenti said.

. . .

The good news, he said, is that the city's salt purchase agreement through South Hills Area Council of Government has locked the price at $52 per ton, delivered to McKeesport's public-works garage.

A check of rock salt prices on Web sites Wednesday night found prices in Pennsylvania averaging $70 to $80 plus delivery charges.

There have been no shortages so far this winter, Shermenti said. "I ordered 450 tons on Tuesday, and 250 tons arrived (Wednesday)," he said. "They're on the ball, and I don't see any problems."

. . .

The bad news, Shermenti said, is that the freeze-thaw cycle is also producing a bumper crop of potholes city-wide. Asphalt "cold-patch" has been ordered, he said, "and when the snow stops, we'll start patching those potholes."

His "pothole hotline" for city-maintained streets, Shermenti said, is (412) 675-5020, extension 631.

. . .

In Other Business: City council OK'd a five-year contract with its unionized firefighters.

The pact with International Association of Fire Fighters Local 10 runs from Jan. 1 of this year through Dec. 31, 2014 and establishes pay raises of 3.5 percent in the first three years of the contract and 3.75 percent in the final two years.

The contract --- which fixes this year's annual salary for a full-time hoseman at $47,078.07 --- was approved by a 6-0 vote, with Councilwoman V. Fawn Walker absent due to a family emergency.

There are 21 full-time firefighters and 12 part-timers in the bargaining unit, including city electrician Tom Rosso. Fire Chief Kevin Lust is not included.

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Posted at 11:10 pm by Jason Togyer
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January 05, 2010

The Sick Chicken


Do you listen to the radio? I mean, really listen?

Can you name three Pittsburgh-area radio personalities --- newscasters, talk show hosts or disc jockeys, for instance --- you've heard in the past week?

Twenty years ago, that would have been an easy question for me. In high school, I started my day with Jimmy Roach and Steve Hansen on Y-97, but I also checked out Jim Quinn and "Banana Don" Jefferson on B-94 and Scott Paulsen and Jimmy Krenn on WDVE. When I got home, I listened to Bruce Keidan on 1320.

Later, my radios were glued on WTAE (1250) and its lineup of Lynn Cullen, Doug Hoerth and Phil Musick, who died this morning at age 71.

. . .

These days ... well, let me see. I listen to Bob Studebaker on WDUQ-FM (90.5). I also hear a few minutes every day of Marty Griffin on KDKA (1020).

But I had to struggle to remember those two. And keep in mind, I work part-time in radio, and I've been writing about the business, on and off, for a decade.

I'll bet most people have a much harder time remembering anything. I'll bet many of you never turned on an AM or FM radio at all. You started your day with the morning TV news and listened to an MP3 player, webcast or satellite radio the rest of the time.

. . .

As most of you know, I'm part of a group that tried in 1999 to bring a low-power public FM station to McKeesport. Under pressure from the big broadcasting lobby (including National Public Radio), Republicans and some Democrats in the U.S. Congress (including then-U.S. Rep. Ron Klink of Murrysville) blocked our station and hundreds of others from going on the air.

A few weeks ago, the House of Representatives passed legislation --- introduced by U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, who represents the McKeesport area --- to overturn that blockade. It still has to pass the U.S. Senate and be signed by President Obama.

But when a reporter for the Post-Gazette called me recently, wanting a reaction to Doyle's legislation, I told him it was nice, but probably too little, too late.

"Radio," I said (and he quoted), "is a very sick chicken." In fact, it's so sick, I'm not sure that adding a bunch of low-power FM radio stations --- even if it can still be done --- can pull radio out of its death spiral.

. . .

You've probably heard a lot about how newspapers are in trouble, but I'm here to tell you, friends and neighbors, that radio's right behind them.

Like newspapers, broadcast radio is losing an entire generation of young listeners who are unlikely ever to consider radio as vital as their parents or grandparents did. The average age of talk-radio listeners, for instance, has gone up every year since 2000. It's now 67.

Part of that's due to competition that didn't exist 20 years ago, but a lot of it's due to the fact that radio no longer offers much worth listening to.

. . .

Scan around the dial, and what do you find? On the AM dial, a lot of hour-long, program-length infomercials; syndicated talk shows; and religious programs aimed at tiny populations.

I would sadly include both stations licensed to McKeesport --- WEDO (810) and WMNY (1360) --- in that category, along with the 1550 station in Braddock.

On the FM dial, you get repetitive music, more syndicated talk shows, and "stop sets" of commercials that last five to seven minutes each.

What don't you get? Local news. New music. And other than WDVE's morning show, you get very few personalities --- radio performers who actually create content.

. . .

Radio can't just be a jukebox, because the iPod and other MP3 players will always win that competition. It has to provide something extra. It's failed miserably.

Although AM and FM stations might want to blame new media for taking away their listeners, they're the ones who created the void that iPods and the Internet have filled.

Or more specifically, the big Wall Street firms that gobbled up radio stations in the early 1990s created the void.

In their quest for ever-higher profits, they slashed creative content and replaced it with lousy crap that doesn't get ratings, but does make money (like the aforementioned infomercials).

. . .

Maybe, if low-power FM radio stations had been allowed to sign on in 1999 and 2000, they would have held onto the listeners that the big boys didn't care about. But that's a moot point, since it didn't happen.

And I'm not convinced that very many new stations will ever be created even if Doyle's bill goes into law.

In the 10 years since Congress blocked low-power FM, hundreds of open frequencies have been given away --- spots on the dial that could have been used by local community radio stations like ours.

. . .

Many of the spots were given away to national chains of religious broadcasters. (I don't mean to keep harping on religious programming --- I like some religious radio shows --- but they are the worst offenders. One chain, Educational Media Foundation, has at least five stations in the Mon-Yough area, all repeating the exact same canned crap, beamed in from Omaha, Neb.)

Don't get me wrong. I still think a public radio station would be an asset to the McKeesport area. Our group still wants to be a part of getting one on the air ... if there are any spots left.

After all, while a satellite radio or high-speed Internet connection costs a fair chunk of change, even the poorest households have at least one radio.

It's just that lately I wonder how often those poor households ever bother turning on those radios.

. . .

I've leave you with this thought: People who grew up in McKeesport in the 1960s and '70s are excited that Terry Lee is coming back to host a dance, more than 20 years after he left and more than 30 years after he ruled the airwaves here.

Will anyone growing up in the Mon-Yough area today remember anyone in radio that fondly 30 or 40 years from now? Say, Mark Madden or Michelle Michaels?

Perhaps. But without taking anything away from either of those two people in particular, I doubt it.

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Posted at 11:27 pm by Jason Togyer
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January 04, 2010

Two New Councilors Take Seats


Two new city councilors were installed Monday night in a brief special meeting at the Public Safety Building.

Taking the oath of office for the first time were Alfred "A.J." Tedesco Jr. and V. Fawn Walker, both Democrats. They replace Democrats Dale McCall and Paul Shelly Jr., who lost their bids for re-election last year.

Also sworn in was city Councilman Darryl Segina. The former public-works director and longtime chair of International Village, also a Democrat, is beginning his third term on council.

Councilman Regis McLaughlin was re-elected council president last night by a 6-1 vote, with Segina dissenting. Elected vice president, also by a 6-1 vote, was Councilman Michael Cherepko. Segina again cast the only dissenting vote.

"Welcome to the team," Mayor James Brewster told Walker and Tedesco.

"McKeesport is a proud city, and we've had good representation on council," Brewster said. "I want to compliment council, because there is a longer list of accomplishments than there is failures."

Council holds its first regular meeting of 2010 at 7 p.m. Wednesday. A work session will precede the voting meeting.

. . .

In Other Business: The first issue of In McKeesport Area magazine has been delivered to mailboxes in the city, Dravosburg, South Versailles Township, Versailles and White Oak.

Published by Peters Township-based In Community Magazines, the 48-page slick-paper magazine is a response --- at least in part --- to complaints in 2008 from residents of White Oak and other communities that they were not receiving enough information from the McKeesport Area School District.

Articles in the first issue include a profile of McKeesport native and author John Hoerr; stories on plans to redevelop Fifth Avenue, Downtown; and municipal directories for the city and White Oak.

Initial sponsorship for In McKeesport Area comes from the city, school district and UPMC McKeesport hospital.

Other advertising in the premiere issue, which was mailed to more than 16,000 homes and businesses, comes from Gala Jewelers and chiropractor Dr. Debra Andrews, both of White Oak, along with the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County.

In Community Magazine publishes similar magazines for Woodland Hills School District, Monroeville, Penn Hills and other western Pennsylvania communities. The titles are published quarterly.

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Posted at 11:00 pm by Jason Togyer
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