Get a behind-the-scenes look at the reconstruction of a major model railroad empire as the McKeesport Model Railroad Club hosts its annual holiday train show and open house.
The club's 40-by-80-foot layout, located in the former United Steelworkers union hall in Christy Park, is undergoing a major expansion, and large sections have been demolished and replaced this year.
The club's layout will be open and operating Friday evenings through Dec. 17 and Saturdays and Sundays, beginning at 12 noon, through Dec. 19.
A donation of $3 for adults and $2 for children ages 5 to 17 is requested. The club is located at 2209 Walnut St., between the 15th Avenue Bridge and Eden Park Boulevard. Parking is available at CP Industries or behind the club building.
For more information, call (412) 664-LOCO or visit the club's website.
A new bridge constructed to carry Greensburg Pike over U.S. Route 30 has opened to the public.
Jim Struzzi, district spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said the span near the North Versailles Township municipal building was officially opened to traffic at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
The old bridge was closed to traffic and demolished in March. Although Greensburg Pike is a county-maintained road, the bridge itself is maintained by PennDOT. About 4,700 vehicles use that section of road daily.
Built by Guilsek Construction of Mt. Pleasant, Westmoreland County, the new bridge is made of steel girders. The $4.7 million bridge project also included new approaches and drainage upgrades along Greensburg Pike.
Work continues to complete the project, Struzzi said, and periodic restrictions will continue on Greensburg Pike and Route 30 through mid-December.
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Ethnic Crafts, Art on Sale Dec. 4: Ethnic crafts from around the world will be on sale Dec. 4 at Munhall's Pump House at a "Holiday Heritage Market."
The show and sale is being sponsored by Homestead-based Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, said spokeswoman Sherris Moreira, and will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free and the event is open to the public.
Crafts will include Hungarian wood carvings, Bulgarian and Macedonian pottery and Native American beadwork. Artisans will demonstrate carpet making and stained glass, while music will be provided by the Slovenian polka band Grkmania.
Greek, Hungarian, Bulgarian and Carpo-Russyn foods also will be available for sampling or purchase.
The Pump House, once part of the U.S. Steel Homestead Works, was the site of a violent clash between steelworkers and Pinkerton guards during the steel strike of 1892. Now under the auspices of the Rivers of Steel group, it hosts events throughout the year and is one of the few remaining structures from the steel works that once spanned three boroughs.
Moreira said the Holiday Heritage show is now in its second year. For more information, call (412) 464-4060 or visit the Rivers of Steel website.
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Public Invited to View Park Plans: Renovations to the historic South Park Fairgrounds are being planned, and the public is being asked for its input.
County officials will hold a public meeting from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Buffalo Inn in South Park to present design concepts created by GAI Consultants for the development of the fairgrounds and surrounding areas.
Those unable to attend the meeting can complete an online survey. Deadline for the online survey is Wednesday.
"We asked residents to help us create a sustainable development plan for the South Park Fairgrounds that makes the most of this significant public asset," said Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato. "We are excited to share the design concepts that were developed in response to the public input process this fall and to determine the best use of this section of South Park."
The public meeting will offer residents and park users a chance to view the design plans and provide additional comments. The effort is part of a program to improve recreational opportunities at the county's nine regional parks.
South Park, which spans more than 2,000 acres in South Park Township and Bethel Park, is the second-largest in the county system.
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Kane Cookbooks on Sale: Cookbooks are on sale at the city's Kane Regional Center and three other Kane hospitals, and proceeds benefit programs for residents of the facilities.
"Everyone's Favorite Recipe from the Heart: Volume 2" includes new recipes from county employees, along with a "Healthy Eating" section that contains gluten-free, diabetic and low-calorie recipes.
The book costs $15 or two for $25, and can be purchased while supplies last at Kane Regional Center McKeesport, 100 Ninth Ave.; Kane Regional Center Glen Hazel, 955 Rivermont Drive, Pittsburgh; or at the two other Kane centers in Ross and Scott townships. Sales will benefit the John J. Kane Foundation.
The cookbooks are also being sold from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays in the lobby of the County Office Building, 542 Forbes Ave., downtown Pittsburgh, a spokesman said.
Frustrated members of city council traded sharp words Monday night while working on McKeesport's 2011 budget.
A $750,000 gap looms in the $19.5 million spending plan --- a hole that was supposed to be filled by an annual payment, or "host fee," by the city's sewerage authority into the city treasury.
That host fee is not going to be paid, predicted City Council President Regis McLaughlin, who also serves as chairman of the Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport.
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Host fees are commonly assessed against landfills, sewage treatment plants and other environmental facilities to compensate cities and townships for damage caused to their roads and streets, and for offensive odors or smells, according to the 2002 book, The Economics of Waste.
McKeesport city council assessed a $720,000 host fee against the sewerage authority in the 2010 budget, which was passed last December by 6-0 vote.
But this year, the host fee is "off the table," said McLaughlin at Monday's work session, adding that the authority had a "slim to none" chance of paying it.
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Although the authority has approved a $30 million bond issue, every penny is needed for upgrades to the sewage treatment plant in the lower 10th Ward, he said.
Deficit spending is not permitted under the city's home-rule charter. Without the host fee, the budget is unbalanced, and either a tax increase, employee layoffs or both would be necessary.
The city laid off 10 employees at the end of 2008 to eliminate a $1 million deficit. McKeesport is not the only community struggling to balance its budget; Monroeville councilors are trying to plug a $1.9 million hole in their 2011 budget, according to the Monroeville Times-Express.
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During a meeting that stretched more than two hours and often turned argumentative, several members of council aimed their criticism at outgoing Mayor Jim Brewster.
Several of those councilors are expected to vie for Brewster's old job during next year's municipal election. McLaughlin is presumed likely to be appointed acting mayor at the Dec. 1 council meeting.
Councilman Darryl Segina charged that Brewster's revenue projections --- including the host fee --- were too optimistic. "Our revenues are always overstated," he said, using parking fees and violations as an example. "We have good intentions, but we never get around to collecting it."
Brewster, who did not attend the meeting, told the Almanac on Tuesday that he preferred not to address specific charges since he did not hear them directly. "If they have ideas of their own (instead of collecting the host fee), then I think we should hear them," he said.
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Segina and others also criticized Brewster for not providing all council members with a finished copy of a financial review of the city conducted by a consulting firm, Delta Development Group.
A draft copy of that report was leaked to the Daily News by City Controller Ray Malinchak, but has not yet been made public. Malinchak, who is recovering from injuries sustained in an accident, was not present at last night's meeting.
The Delta report "is a lot to do about nothing," Segina said, "except that we as council have not seen the report. I don't think there's anything sinister in it, and I'm not looking for any dirt, but we as a council should have seen that report before we vote on this budget."
City Administrator Dennis Pittman --- who said he has only seen pieces of Delta's unfinished report --- told council that Brewster has asked representatives from from Delta to explain the report at the Nov. 30 council work session. Council members said that wasn't enough time to digest the information before voting on the budget the following day.
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Several council members expressed surprise that $83,500 in deferred compensation for Brewster is included in the 2011 budget. The mayor's position is a full-time job, with a 2010 salary of $60,000. But under the city charter, mayors are paid 5 percent more than the next highest salaried employee, which would have bumped Brewster's salary to near $70,000 per year.
Brewster deferred that compensation until the city was financially stable. But as of Nov. 17 --- the day he was sworn into the state Senate --- he is off of the city payroll, and the city is potentially liable for deferred payments, Pittman said. The $83,500 figure also represents unclaimed sick days and vacation pay for which Brewster is also theoretically eligible, he said.
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"I have nothing against the man, but if we didn't have the money before, well, we don't have the money now, either," Segina said.
Pittman told the Almanac following the meeting that Brewster has not asked to be reimbursed, but that the line item is included because the city is potentially liable for the money.
Brewster confirmed that he has not asked for back compensation from the city. "My credibility and my reputation are more important than any money," he told the Almanac, and said he would leave it up to council to decide whether the payment was appropriate.
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Council discussed several strategies for closing the $750,000 gap, including increased enforcement of parking violations, aggressively prosecuting property owners who have delinquent taxes, and targeting businesses that have ignored the city's business privilege tax.
A move to centralized, countywide wage tax collection --- mandated for all Pennsylvania municipalities --- will help stabilize the city's income, Pittman said, but is unlikely to cause a dramatic increase in revenue. The city estimates that it collects 90 to 93 percent of the wage tax due already, he said, though some is paid late.
But Pittman and city Solicitor J. Jason Elash said existing labor contracts make it difficult to shift wage tax employees into other roles, such as targeting delinquent fees and taxes. Teamsters Local 205 of White Oak, which represents city clerical workers, is not willing to change employee job classifications unless those employees receive raises, both men said.
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Council's next scheduled meeting is a work session at the public safety building, 201 Lysle Blvd. at Market Street, at 7 p.m. Nov. 30. Under the home rule charter, the budget must be approved by Dec. 31.
There's no property tax increase planned for city residents and businesses, but McKeesport's finances remain delicately balanced.
"There are serious concerns regarding escalating costs of fringe benefits, especially medical insurance and (pensions)," says outgoing Mayor Jim Brewster in his final budget message to city council.
A public hearing on the city's 2011 spending plan is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday in city council chambers at the Public Safety Building, 201 Lysle Blvd. at Market Street.
The budget message also confirms rumors that the parent company of Equitable Gas is considering the construction of a regional service facility Downtown.
To be located in the RIDC industrial park on the old U.S. Steel National Works site, the facility would employ 65 people and include a fueling station for natural gas-powered vehicles, Brewster says.
Interest from Equitable and a proposed solar-panel factory "indicates the viability of (the RIDC site) as a significant employment center in our future," Brewster says.
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The 2011 budget is the last prepared during Brewster's administration. The two-term mayor, who was sworn into the state Senate on Wednesday, is expected to submit his resignation to city council at the Dec. 1 meeting.
Without new sources of income, Brewster cautions council and his successor, "a balanced city budget would become not only difficult but impossible."
Wage and property tax collections are not keeping pace with expenses, he says, recommending that council and the next mayor aggressively pursue drilling for Marcellus shale gas, as well as the treatment of the so-called "fracking" water used in the drilling process.
"While other opportunities may present themselves, these two solutions are imminent answers to the future funding gap," Brewster says.
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The projected 2011 budget, not yet made public, will project $19.5 million in expenses --- about $500,000 more than this year's budget --- while property taxes would remain 4.26 mills on buildings and 16.5 mills on land. Earned income taxes stay the same at 1.2 percent.
But the municipal service fee, which covers trash collection, street lights and other expenses, would increase by $20 per year. The increase would have been more, Brewster says, if the city had not switched its trash collection to Nickolich Sanitation in 2009.
In addition, restructuring the health insurance plans for all city employees will actually result in the costs decreasing 11 percent in 2011, he says.
The cost savings are the result of careful cash management and a "dedicated effort" by department heads and city employees to control expenses, Brewster says.
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In his four-page budget message, Brewster also addresses a report, provided to the Daily News by city Controller Ray Malinchak, which suggested the city would be running multi-million dollar deficits within five years unless major changes are made to both expenses and income.
The report by Mechanicsburg-based Delta Development Group, which has not yet been officially released, "did not reveal any issues of which this administration was not aware of during the past seven years," Brewster says.
Brewster notes that several projects begun this year will "come to fruition" in 2011, including:
McKeesport's new state senator was sworn into office Wednesday.
With a few stumbles apparently caused by nervousness, Jim Brewster took the oath of office at the state Capitol in Harrisburg with his wife, Linda, by his side. The two-term mayor of McKeesport won a special election Nov. 2 to the 45th Senatorial District seat vacated by Sean Logan.
Logan resigned in August to accept a job with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Brewster will fill the remaining two years of Logan's term. He is expected to formally resign as McKeesport's mayor at the Dec. 1 council meeting.
Both state law and the city's home rule charter forbid him from accepting a salary for two elected positions simultaneously; a city official told the Almanac that Brewster has been removed from the city payroll.
With his election, Brewster, a Democrat, bucked a statewide Republican sweep that saw the defeat of longtime legislators such as Rep. Jim Casorio of Irwin, and the loss of Democratic control of the state House.
In a prepared statement, Brewster, 62, vowed not to accept per diem payments, a taxpayer-provided car, or any state salary hike or cost-of-living increase.
"My top priority will be to address the needs of the people who live in our region," Brewster said. "I will work hard, seek positive results and be responsible with tax dollars. I will strive to make a difference and have a positive impact on job development, education advancement and efforts to rebuild our local communities."
The 45th District includes parts of Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, including McKeesport, Monroeville and New Kensington.
"I am excited about this opportunity and look forward to doing what I can to help families," Brewster said. "I will work to improve the Pittsburgh region's business and jobs climate, cut property taxes and make government more efficient and responsive."
Mayor for seven years, Brewster served for 10 years on city council and was a vice president of operations at the former Mellon Bank, where he worked for 27 years. A graduate of Community College of Allegheny County and California University of Pennsylvania, he and his wife have three daughters and four grandchildren.
An offshore drilling platform is not being erected in Lake Emilie. The old schoolhouse hasn't been sold to ExxonMobil. And there's no derrick in the McKeesport Arboretum.
After the recent decision to allow a Westmoreland County company to drill for natural gas in the so-called Palkovitz property, city officials are trying to squelch some of the wilder rumors.
Although council this month voted 7-0 to add the 27-acre parcel to Renziehausen Park, that does not open the door to drilling anywhere else, said J. Jason Elash, city solicitor.
"I've heard rumors that the city is drilling all over Renzie Park, and that's simply not the case," he said. At a public hearing in October, officials of Penneco Pipeline Corp. of Delmont said they intend to drill three wells on the parcel in exchange for paying the city an annual royalty payment of up to $14,400 per well per year.
According to a map displayed at this month's council meeting by outgoing Mayor James Brewster, the well site would be off of the intersection of York and Mercantile streets, near the old Babe Charapp Ford property.
Under the city's lease agreement with Penneco, that's the only place where drilling can or will take place, Elash said.
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As for the concurrent rumor that drilling in Renzie is against the law, Elash said it's a common misunderstanding, because of the way the 258-acre park was created.
According to the city's official 1976 history, Renzie was created at the behest of department store owner Henry H. Renziehausen, who donated $50,000 for the creation of a city park. The first parcel was purchased in 1931, and the city borrowed $140,000 to purchase additional land. Other parcels were donated over the years.
As a result, Elash said, Renzie isn't one large piece of land --- it's literally dozens of small pieces. Many of those pieces carry restrictions --- known as "deed covenants" --- that prohibit mining, drilling and other commercial activities.
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But there is no blanket prohibition on commercial activity in the entire park, and no ordinance, either, he said. If there were, things like refreshment stands and other concessions would also be outlawed, Elash said.
And no such restriction against commercial activity was ever placed on the Palkovitz property, which was taken by the city in 2009 in lieu of back taxes. Indeed, part of the vacant site along Eden Park Boulevard was once used as a garbage dump.
Similar to Renzie, the Palkovitz site itself is comprised of five different individual pieces of land, according to a survey map on file with the Allegheny County Recorder of Deeds.
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No formal proposal for incorporating the Palkovitz site into Renzie has yet been developed. But Brewster, who was elected to the state Senate and will resign as mayor at the Dec. 1 council meeting, said one preliminary plan calls for extending the existing fitness/hiking trail through the Palkovitz property, and adding a covered dog-walking area along Main Street at the end of Easler Street.
As part of its construction of the gas well, Brewster said, Penneco has agreed to help the city develop access roads into the site.
"In fact, they would help put that trail in throughout the whole wooded area," he said, "so I think it's going to be a very nice addition to the park."
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Lions Bandshell Designated: In other Renzie news, the city will formally name the park's bandshell in honor of the McKeesport Lions Club, which donated the money to build the structure in 1952.
The move came at the suggestion of Lions Club President Dan Carr, owner of the Viking Lounge on Versailles Avenue. This year's summer concert series, operated by the Lions Club in conjunction with the city's parks and recreation department, was a "huge success," Carr said.
Instead of the usual five concerts, 12 were held this year, and an attempt was made to book a wider variety of acts to appeal to younger people, he said, including The Smicks and Scott Blasey of The Clarks.
"People who came in from out of town couldn't believe how nice things were," Carr said. "They said, 'This is McKeesport?' I said, yes, it's McKeesport."
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Raffles held by the Lions during the concerts raised more than $2,800 for city recreation programs, he said. In addition, Carr said, the Lions also want to erect a covered pavilion and take over maintenance of the bandshell, if an agreement can be reached with Teamsters Local 205, which represents city public works employees.
"We want to raise the visibility of the Lions Club, and Renzie Park is a project we think we can really sink our teeth into," he said.
Carnegie Library of McKeesport is raising money by hosting a "non-event" on Friday night --- and visitors are invited not to attend.
Admission --- or rather, non-admission --- to the "non-event" costs $25, and while any donations will be accepted, donors who purchase a ticket at the suggested price will be entered into a raffle, a library spokeswoman said.
Although the library is busier than ever, state budgets cuts of $50,000 (a 21.9 percent reduction) and major unexpected repairs to the main library's roof, tower and air conditioning system have depleted the institution's savings.
In addition to the 108-year-old main library, a registered historic landmark, the Carnegie Library of McKeesport operates branches in Duquesne, Elizabeth Township and White Oak.
Contributors are being asked to "provide (their) own entertainment," according to the library: "Have a glass of wine. No complaints about the weather, the music or how much you 'hate these things'! Enjoy yourself by staying home while thinking of and being thankful for this treasure we know as the library ... We hope you see this as a fun way to raise some emergency money so that we can face 2011 feeling a little more confident."
Official hours for the "non-event" are 6:30 to 8 p.m. Friday, and the raffle will be held at 8. To participate, donate online at the library's website , or send a check plus name, address and phone number to Carnegie Library of McKeesport, 1507 Library Ave., McKeesport 15132.
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Local Student Wins $600 on 'Let's Make a Deal': A student at Penn State's campus in McKeesport is $600 richer after a trip to Hollywood and an appearance on the TV game show "Let's Make a Deal," hosted by comedian Wayne Brady.
Katie Walos, a senior majoring in corporate communications at Penn State Greater Allegheny, made the trip in August with her best friend, Vicki Wargo, as both were celebrating their 21st birthdays. The two attended the Aug. 20 taping at the Sunset Bronson Studios in Los Angeles dressed as playing cards.
Although both women were interviewed by a show screener, only Walos was selected to play a game. According to a Penn State press release, Walos had to promise not to reveal her participation until the show aired Nov. 10 over CBS stations nationwide, including KDKA-TV (2) in Pittsburgh.
Walos told a Penn State spokeswoman: "I'm glad it's out in the open now and I can talk about it with my family and friends. It was a great experience. A once-in-a-lifetime experience."
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Social Workers Honor Gergely: State Rep. Marc Gergely has been named one of two "legislators of the year" by the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.
A spokesman said Gergely, a Democrat from White Oak and former McKeesport Area school director, was selected for his "ongoing efforts to enact public policies that would make social workers as effective as possible."
Gergely is the author of legislation that would require social workers, marriage counselors and other therapists to be licensed in Pennsylvania. Currently, unlicensed therapists are allowed to treat patients in Pennsylvania.
Although the bill passed the Democratic-controlled House, it stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The NASW represents 150,000 therapists, counselors and social workers in the United States and more than 6,000 in Pennsylvania. Gergely was recognized by the group during a luncheon Oct. 22 in Pittsburgh.
(History, Mon Valley Miscellany, Shameless Horn-Tooting)
(Note: Opinions expressed on Tube City Almanac are not those of the G.C. Murphy Co. Foundation, McKeesport Heritage Center or any other organization.)
Your primary editorial voice has been extremely busy this week readying displays for the lobby of downtown Pittsburgh's Market Square Place building.
The mixed-use condominium and retail complex was carved last year out of the old G.C. Murphy Co. store between Forbes and Fifth avenues, near Market Square. The store --- known as "Number 12" in the parlance of the McKeesport-based G.C. Murphy Co. --- was considered one of the largest and busiest five-and-10 stores in the world, along with F.W. Woolworth locations in New York and San Francisco.
The three displays will tell the story of the G.C. Murphy Co., the Pittsburgh store and the primarily female clerks who staffed Murphy counters.
Once the nation's fifth-largest variety store chain, the Murphy Co. was founded in McKeesport in 1906. In 1985, after attacks by corporate raiders, the company was taken over by Connecticut-based Ames Department Stores. The Downtown McKeesport headquarters, or "Home Office," closed in 1989, and the warehouse in Christy Park was closed four years later.
Store 12 opened in October 1930. It was sold by Ames, along with other Murphy variety stores, to a competitor, York, Pa.-based McCrory Corp., in 1989, and closed in 2001.
The displays are being provided by the non-profit charitable arm of the G.C. Murphy Co., the G.C. Murphy Co. Foundation, which was founded in 1952 and remains based in McKeesport. The Murphy archives are at the McKeesport Heritage Center in Renziehausen Park.
These images aren't the complete displays, which will have additional memorabilia attached to them. Click any image to enlarge.
The above map, courtesy of McKeesport Mayor Jim Brewster, shows the proposed new walking and hiking trail that could be constructed on the city-owned property adjacent to Renziehausen Park. The yellow area represents a proposed covered dog park, while the gray area indicates a suggested parking area.
The predicted location of a gas well to be drilled by Penneco Pipeline Co. of Westmoreland County is shown in blue. Eden Park Boulevard cuts through the center of the map. (Click to see a larger view.)
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Pardon the Interruption: Due to circumstances beyond our control, updates at Tube City Almanac are slower than usual this week. Your patience is appreciated.
There's no crisis, but your primary editorial voice is very busy with work and other projects. (Here's another pitch seeking additional writers for Tube City Almanac. Contact me for details.)
Suspense at MLT: McKeesport Little Theater presents Frederick Knott's "Wait Until Dark" through Nov. 21. A blind girl is terrorized in her apartment by three thugs searching for a doll stuffed with heroin.
Twists and turns drive the plot as the victim tries to outwit her tormentors. Showtimes are 8 p.m. tonight at 2 p.m. Sunday. Call (412) 673-1100 or visit the MLT website for details. The Little Theater is located at 1614 Coursin St., near the Carnegie Library.
Also, the MLT 2nd Stage Players will host a dinner before next Saturday's performance. The menu consists of stuffed cabbage, mashed potatoes, corn, tossed salad, bread and butter, coffee or tea, and a variety of desserts. Cost of the dinner is $10, and tickets to the play are sold separately. Reservations must be received by Wednesday.
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Daylight Saving Time Ends: Remember to turn back all of your clocks by one hour before going to bed tonight. Daylight Saving Time ends at 2 a.m. Sunday morning.
State Fire Commissioner Ed Mann says all Pennsylvanians also should replace the batteries in their smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.
"Every firefighter is heartbroken when people are hurt or killed in a building that has alarms or detectors that are not in working order," Mann said. "They're not expensive and they save lives. Make it a habit to change batteries when you change your clocks."
Whether battery-powered or hardwired, alarms and detectors also should be replaced every eight to 10 years to ensure reliability, he said. In addition, smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors should be regularly tested by pushing the test button.
Information about how to prevent fires and prepare for emergencies is available online at www.ReadyPA.org.
"You can take the kid out of McKeesport, but you can't take McKeesport out of the kid," Duane Michals said Thursday night, after the laughter died down.
Before a standing-room crowd in the theater at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Art, Michals had just referred to hand-tinting pictures using a seven-letter word ending in "job."
"I'm sorry," said Michals, 78, a 1949 graduate of McKeesport Technical High School and a member of the school's Alumni Hall of Fame. "If I've offended anybody, I meant to."
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Michals, whose critically acclaimed portraits and photo sequences have been featured in the world's top magazines and art galleries, delivered the third in a series of talks called "What Are Museums For?"
During a wide-ranging conversation with Lynn Zelevansky, director of the Carnegie Museum of Art, Michals discussed his childhood in McKeesport, his early friendship with Pittsburgh native Andy Warhol, and his own creative process.
And to the many art students in the audience, Michals said one secret of achievement is repeated failure.
"If you become a success too soon, you become trapped," he said. "So fail --- please fail. You have to be ambitious. The Hindus say you have to want success just enough. If you want it too much, you end up becoming a Republican and moving to California. If you want it too little, you wind up living in a cold-water flat on the Lower East Side."
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Michals grew up in McKeesport, son of a steelworker at U.S. Steel's Duquesne Works. As a boy, he rode the streetcar from McKeesport to Oakland to take Saturday art classes at the Carnegie Museum. Walks through the museum's galleries of painting and sculpture inspired what he called a lifelong love of beauty.
"When you grow up in a steel mill family, there isn't much to read," Michals said. "We had the phone book, maybe, and that's it. And that's the thing about museums --- for people who have ordinary lives, museums are repositories of amazement."
(One of his classmates during those Saturday sessions, Michals said, was a gifted teen-aged artist named Edgar Munhall: "I thought to myself, 'How rude is that? Not only is he talented, they named a town after him.'" Munhall later became the first curator of New York's Frick art collection.)
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Funny and precocious, Michals earned the childhood nickname "Sonny" and the enmity of other kids whose parents lectured them, "Why can't you be like Sonny?" "I was a nice kid," he said, "which was the kiss of death."
Though Michals dated girls throughout high school, he gradually came to the realization that he was gay. "In those days, being gay was the worst thing that could happen to you," he said.
"For a lot of people, it still is ... but you have to learn that the world does not come in one kind, 'White,' and one size, 'Regular.' Being gay is just part of the sexual spectrum." Michals this year celebrated his 50th anniversary with his partner.
Upon graduation from Tech High, Michals applied for scholarships to Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), an art school in Cleveland and the University of Denver. The Colorado school accepted him.
"I thought, 'Wow! Colorado! Out west! Cowboys!" Michals said. "My domestic situation at home wasn't that great. One thing my father later said to me, that I thought was very sympathetic, was 'I understand why you would to go to school a thousand miles away.'"
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After receiving his degree and serving a two-year hitch in the Army, Michals went to New York to pursue a career in advertising and commercial design. There, he became friends with another displaced Pittsburgher, Andy Warhol, whose illustrations were getting rave reviews.
"Andy in those days was the best example of a nerd," Michals said. "Plenty of zits, losing his hair, fey --- the last person in the world you'd expect to become an icon. But he was very nice, and very easy to talk to."
Michals became friends with Warhol's mother --- thanks to his own grandparents, Michals could speak Slovak with her --- and when Michals lost touch with Warhol, he was planning to open an antique store.
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Several years later, after Michals had begun his photography career, he received an assignment to profile several "up-and-coming artists" for Mademoiselle magazine.
One of the subjects was Warhol. "I said, 'Andy Warhol? Really?'" Michals remembered. "He had completely reinvented himself. He was dressed in black, wearing that wig, had rock music blaring, and as he became famous he became less and less accessible."
Michals had first begun taking pictures as a lark. A friend who owned an early 35-mm camera taught him a few basic tricks: "He said, 'If you're outside and it's sunny, set this dial to 16 and this dial to 500.'" Acquaintances saw Michals' work, were impressed, and began hiring him for jobs.
"Little by little, I learned on the job by doing assignments," Michals said. "Luckily, I didn't know anything, because if I did, I would have been too scared to try."
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In the 1960s, Michals held his first gallery exhibition. Some people were offended by his early work. Rather than using the gritty, realistic style then in vogue, Michals was staging photos to tell stories, doing trick exposures, and writing sentences and paragraphs to explain what was going on.
"I have a very literal, 'See Dick, See Jane' mind," he said. "I'm not an intellectual." When other photographers wanted to illustrate stories about death, Michals said, they would take arty photos of cemeteries or women crying. "I wanted to take a picture of someone's soul leaving their body," he said.
Michals continues to take photo commissions --- his most recent session was a series of photos with comedian Michael Richards, who played Kramer on "Seinfeld" --- and describes himself as a voracious reader, art collector and museum patron. "I really need beauty now, in my old age," he said. "It sustains me."
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Michals is also working on his memoirs, incorporating letters he wrote to friends in McKeesport while he was in the Army.
The most important lesson he can give students, Michals said, is that they need to become passionate about something.
"When you graduate from school, no one's going to give you assignments," he said. "You've got to energize yourself. The world is animated by this huge ball of creative energy. We've got to tap into that energy --- we are the energy."
KDKA-TV personalities and two executives from the Homestead-based Eat'n Park Restaurant chain will be the headline attractions at the city's annual "Salute to Santa Parade."
Brenda Waters and Jon Burnett of the Pittsburgh CBS affiliate and Brooks Broadhurst and Bill Bates of Eat 'n Park will serve as the celebrity guests, parade coordinator Dorothy Kuharski announced Tuesday.
City officials have said Broadhurst and Bates were instrumental in retaining the Eat 'n Park on Lysle Boulevard, Downtown, which was threatened with closure because of a new access ramp being built into the RIDC Industrial Park. The ramp's construction means that Eat 'n Park is losing part of its parking lot.
In September, the chain announced that it had reached an agreement with the city to renovate the Downtown location; stay in McKeesport for at least 10 more years; and expand its parking lot on the opposite side from its present entrance.
Broadhurst is senior vice president of Eat 'n Park, while Bates is the chain's vice president of real estate.
The parade begins at 12 p.m. Nov. 20 at the Palisades Ballroom, Fifth Avenue and Water Street, Downtown, and continues up Fifth Avenue past city hall. Before the parade, visitors are invited to have coffee and refreshments.
A free Christmas luncheon at the Palisades will follow the parade, Kuharski announced.
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McKeesport Native Michals to Speak at Carnegie: Critically acclaimed photographer Duane Michals closes a new series of lectures at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh's Oakland section.
Michals, 78, a city native and member of the McKeesport High School Hall of Fame, will deliver a talk entitled "One Artist's Journey, Told in the First Person" at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the museum's theater. The lecture is free and open to the public, and a reception will follow.
The talk is the last in a three-part series of lectures at the Carnegie called "What Are Museums For?"
As a child, Michals attended art classes at the Carnegie Museum as well as classes at neighboring Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University). The Pittsburgh museum currently has more than 350 of his photographs in its collection.
After graduating from McKeesport High School and the University of Denver, Michals studied at the Parsons School of Design. A self-taught photographer, he had his first show in New York City in 1963. Michals went on to photograph celebrities and news events for magazines such as Life, Esquire, Mademoiselle and Vogue.
Instead of taking highly stylized studio portraits, Michals became known for putting his subjects into their natural environments. In 1968 he was hired by the government of Mexico to photograph the Summer Olympics.
Michals talked about his youth in McKeesport in the 2004 documentary "Duaneland," directed by Steve Seliy and Joe Seamans.
The more the debate is focused on Rendell --- whose popularity is so low, you'd need sonar to detect it in wide pools of the state --- the harder it becomes for Onorato to establish his own identity before Election Day ...
Rendell does no favors for his party's nominee, said pollster Berwood A. Yost, director of the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin and Marshall College.
"Rendell would have made life hard for Onorato just given his eight years in office and his record and how people are feeling about his job performance," Yost said.
"That's exacerbated by the fact that Rendell continues to stay in the spotlight," Yost said, "and we don't hear that much about Dan Onorato." (The Philadelphia Inquirer)