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Filed Under: Another Viewpoint || By Jason Togyer

December 28, 2010 | Link to this story

Andy Warhol: Not from McKeesport

Category: History || By Jason Togyer

Andy Warhol was not from McKeesport.

This is not exactly a news flash, but Tube City Almanac is publishing it anyway for the benefit of bloggers, students writing term papers, journalists on deadline and others who will someday Google "Andy+Warhol+McKeesport."

Andy Warhol was not from McKeesport. He was from Pittsburgh.

Sorry to be such a wet blanket, but there you have it.

. . .

I bring this up because Warhol's brother, John Warhola of Beaver County, died last Friday at age 85. In a post on Andi Cartwright's lively and always entertaining "McKeesport Memories" Facebook page, people were wondering if John was from McKeesport, too.

As the old hunkies used to lament, "O, istenem!"

No, John Warhola was not from McKeesport, and neither was his famous brother, Andy Warhol.

Warhol, the celebrated pop artist who died in 1987, often told reporters that he was from "McKeesport." Indeed, a search of the New York Times archives reveals that Warhol was telling journalists this fiction as early as 1968, and the fib was repeated many, many times by other writers, including in an obituary written by the Associated Press and widely distributed to local newspapers.

. . .

But as the Post-Gazette noted in its own 1987 obituary, Warhol had a habit of giving made-up details to reporters for his own amusement. (He also gave out fictional birthdates and told some reporters he was born in Philadelphia.)

According to the Warhola Family Foundation's website, "Andy Warhol was born on August 6, 1928 in the city of Pittsburgh. During his first six years, Andy's family moved and lived in five different houses."

The website notes that in 1934, "Andy's father, Ondreij bought a three story, yellow brick house at 3252 Dawson Street in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. Andy lived on Dawson Street from 1934 until he left for New York City in 1949."

In a 2005 story for the Tribune-Review, art critic Kurt Shaw interviewed Warhol's oldest brother, Paul, and catalogued some of the Warhola family's other addresses. They lived on Orr Street, Beelan Street and Moultrie Street, all in Pittsburgh's Soho section.

(You'll notice there's not a Rebecca Street or Manning Avenue in the bunch.)

. . .

To be specific, the Andy Warhol Museum says that Warhol was born at 73 Orr Street, and that Warhol graduated from Schenley High School --- not Tech High or the "Voc."

A 2001 article for the Post-Gazette by an old classmate of mine, Samantha Bennett, notes that the Warhol family attended St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church at the corner of Saline Street and the Boulevard of the Allies in Oakland.

I wouldn't deny that the Warholas may have kin in McKeesport. They were Carpatho-Rusyn, and there was a healthy Carpatho-Rusyn community in Our Fair City. There still is.

. . .

Maybe Andy visited McKeesport from time to time to visit relatives. He could have walked up to Forbes Avenue and caught a Number 68 streetcar, or even down to Irvine Street to catch a 56. But he wasn't from McKeesport.

Look at it this way: McKeesport can claim a Pulitzer Prize winner (Marc Connelly), a Miss America (Henrietta Leaver), two Olympic gold medalists (Rick Krivda and Swin Cash), the CEO of Lockheed Martin (Robert J. Stevens), a prize-winning fashion photographer (Duane Michals), a French Legion of Honor winner (pianist Byron Janis), the co-creator of "I Love Lucy" (Bob Carroll Jr.), the first female commercial airline pilot (Helen Richey), the first American to become a bullfighter in Mexico (Bette Ford), a Congressional Medal of Honor winner (Franklin J. Phillips), a slew of professional football players ... the list goes on and on.

But McKeesport can't claim to be the birthplace of Andy Warhol. And after all, McKeesport has to let Pittsburgh be famous for something, doesn't it?

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December 27, 2010 | Link to this story

City's 21st Mayor Has Light Touch on Reins

Category: News || By Jason Togyer

He's been mayor for less than a month, but Regis McLaughlin has already been faced with a snowstorm and a big federal drug raid. Despite those minor crises and a whirlwind of year-end meetings with local, county and state officials, the city's 21st mayor says he's not overwhelmed.

McLaughlin, 76, of Grandview says he's got reliable managers to lean on as he acclimates to the city's top leadership position.

"One thing I learned when I was working in the mill is that you've got to have good department heads," he says. "They're all capable of running their departments, and I've told them that if you have a problem, come to me. I've got an open-door policy."

All of those department heads --- including City Administrator Dennis Pittman, Police Chief B.J. Washowich, Fire Chief Kevin Lust and Public Works Director Nick Shermenti --- will remain in place, McLaughlin says.

. . .

McLaughlin has already got the support and well-wishes of city residents. As he stands talking in front of city hall on Fifth Avenue, drivers of passing cars wave and toot their horns; the mayor returns each wave.

McLaughlin is filling the one year remaining on the term of former Mayor Jim Brewster, who resigned this month after being elected to the state Senate. But McLaughlin hasn't yet decided whether to seek a full four-year term on his own.

"I want to get through this month and next month, and then I'll make a decision," he says. "I do have a lot of good people who've asked me to run."

. . .

Like other Pittsburgh-area politicos, McLaughlin is watching the new state government in Harrisburg carefully. Outgoing Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, was generous to McKeesport and other Mon Valley communities, and state money funded a makeover of the city's Downtown Fifth Avenue corridor and reconstruction of West Fifth Avenue in the 10th Ward, as well as the completion of the Marshall Drive Extension.

But Governor-Elect Tom Corbett, a Republican, is preaching austerity, and he's also expected to be more closely aligned with rural and suburban areas than with heavily-Democratic urban communities such as McKeesport.

"It's a new regime, but regardless of who's there, we have to work with them," McLaughlin says.

Brewster's position in the Senate will be an enormous asset to the Mon Valley, the mayor says. "With Jim Brewster there now, it's absolutely going to help us," McLaughlin says. "Jimmy is certainly not going to shun the city."

. . .

A lifelong city resident and graduate of the former Vocational High School, McLaughlin entered politics late in life.

After high school and then a year of college in Wichita, Kansas, McLaughlin took a job at U.S. Steel's National Works as a laborer to help support his mother and brother. He would eventually complete 30 years at National Works, including nine years in management positions.

When the plant closed for good in 1987, McLaughlin retired, opening a bar on Sinclair Street called "Rege's Place," and working part-time for the McKeesport Housing Authority and the city's sewerage authority.

It was former councilman and mayor Joe Bendel --- a longtime friend and fellow high school basketball referee --- who first convinced McLaughlin to apply for a seat on council that had been vacated by the death of Jim Honick. McLaughlin served more than 13 years on council and was the unanimous choice of his colleagues to complete Brewster's term.

. . .

McLaughlin plans a somewhat lower profile than the highly-visible and hands-on approach taken by Brewster. "That's the way I was in the mill, too," McLaughlin says.

That doesn't mean that McLaughlin intends to stay silent; the new mayor is looking for opportunities to boost the city's revenues and to attract new jobs. McLaughlin is working on one proposal to increase the city's income that he expects to announce in a few months.

Rather than the one-time asset sales used to balance the past few budgets, he says he hopes it will provide a permanent, ongoing solution.

There have been other changes, besides the new name on the city directory. A city-owned Chevy Tahoe SUV formerly dedicated to the mayor's use has been turned over to the police department, and McLaughlin has pledged to return $10,000 of the mayor's $70,000 annual salary back to the city treasury.

. . .

A priority remains bringing retail stores back into McKeesport, McLaughlin says, including on the former National Works site, now a business park run by Regional Industrial Development Corp. "I think RIDC has been trying to protect the Waterfront (shopping complex in Homestead), but they can't have it all," he says.

The flyover ramp now under construction at the foot of Coursin Street will make the National Works site more attractive to retailers and other potential tenants, McLaughlin says.

The mill site's largest tenant, a Dish Network call center employing 800, closed in March. A key priority for the city has to be attracting higher-paying jobs to the property, McLaughlin says, including jobs in high-tech fields.

. . .

"Young people are not going to come back here or stay here so that they can make minimum wage," McLaughlin says. "They're going to leave and go find jobs in their fields."

(McLaughlin knows of what he speaks --- his daughter, Deborah Bazzone, lives in Florida, while his granddaughter, Lindsay, is in New Orleans to attend medical school. His grandson Michael went to George Washington University and also lives out of the Western Pennsylvania area.)

The city will continue to market Walnut Street as its new commercial corridor. Progress has finally resumed on a long-planned retail development at the intersection of Walnut Street and Route 48, McLaughlin says, and state Transportation Department officials are expected to install a traffic light at that intersection.

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December 25, 2010 | Link to this story

Merry Christmas!

Category: Announcements || By Jason Togyer

The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!
The heavens proclaim his righteousness; and all the peoples behold his glory.
Light dawns for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!

(Psalm 96: 1, 4, 11-12)

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December 21, 2010 | Link to this story

From the Archives: Santa Visits McKeesport, 1963

Category: History || By Jason Togyer

(This article originally appeared in Tube City Almanac on Dec. 22, 2008.)

Longtime friend, mentor and Alert Reader Clarke emailed me over the weekend. He's addicted to Turner Classic Movies --- and when it comes to addictions, that's not a bad one to have.

If you ever watch TCM, you know that between the features, the network fills time with "short subjects" such as newsreels, "trailers," and advertising and public domain films.

"So I'm sitting here watching a short film on TCM, entitled 'A Visit to Santa (1963),'" Clarke writes. "I wasn't paying much attention until I noticed Santa was on the Gateway Clipper. A few minutes later, he's on a Christmas float going past the Penn-McKee."

Sweet baby you-know-who in a manger. He hit the motherlode. A quick dash around the Internet tubes turned up a copy at the Internet Archive, where you can download your very own copy of "A Visit to Santa."

. . .

It's almost all shot in Downtown McKeesport (except for a brief side trip to Olympia Shopping Center) with plenty of footage of what must have been the 1962 "Salute to Santa" parade.

A quick search found several websites that discussed "A Visit to Santa," and most people called it one of the worst films they've ever seen. ("What the holy hell is this crap?" is one of the kinder comments at Internet Archive, which describes the film as "grueling.")

As a work of art, it's definitely lacking something. Produced by Pittsburgh's Clem Williams Films, the 11-minute short follows two young children (called "Dick and Ann," because "Jane" was copyrighted) as they fly in a "magic helicopter" to the North Pole to visit Santa's workshop ... which turns out to look an awful lot like the toy department inside The Famous at the corner of Fifth and Market.

(At least I think it's the Famous. It's not Murphy's or Green's, and Cox's didn't have wooden floors or old fashioned wooden columns like the store in the film.)

The pace is glacial, the music (Christmas carols played on a chord organ) is insipid, and the narration is one step below story hour at the library.

But boy, check out some of the scenery!

I'm not sure where these shots were taken. It looks to me like it might be the old Point Park in Pittsburgh before the Manchester and Point bridges were torn down, but I wouldn't want to bet on it.

"Every year just before Thanksgiving, he starts the merry yuletide by visiting towns and cities all around the world," the narrator says. "He makes his jolly trip in many different ways. He arrives by riverboat and finds many new friends along the way."

(I must have missed the verse of "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" when Santa needs to take a tugboat down the Monongahela, but I digress. We come not to bury "A Visit to Santa," but to spot the landmarks.)

That's the intersection of Fifth and Market, Downtown. The awning of Kadar's Men's Store is visible to the left, while in the background you can see the old Market Street School (soon to become part of CCAC South Campus), the Elks Temple and the Famous. (All of those buildings burned down in the 1976 fire. The space where the Famous was is currently occupied by the NSOF social hall.)

"In many towns, the marching bands step out and step lively to the merry Christmas tunes," the narrator says.

Says the narrator: "Now, isn't that nice? They even have a big mail box to help Santa collect his letters from the boys and girls!"

That's Market Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues. On the left is Hunter-Edmundson-Striffler Funeral Home. Directly behind the parade float is Market Street School, the Elks Temple (notice the "WMCK" sign hanging out front?) and the Famous.

"The little elves parade, too!" More shots of Market Street. The second view is taken from the corner of Sixth and Market, looking toward the Monongahela River. That's Immanuel United Presbyterian Church on the right.

Between the church and Fifth Avenue you can see a Western Union office, a loan agency (Beneficial Finance, maybe? HFC was in the Peoples Union Bank) and the Market Street exit of the Memorial Theater.

Notice what you don't see in the background --- U.S. Steel hadn't yet begun construction of its electric-resistance weld mill (the present Camp-Hill Corp. plant at the foot of Market Street), but slum clearance had already removed most of the old "First Ward."

At left, the corner of The Famous, and just visible are Ohringer's Furniture and the top of the old Stone's Furniture Store ("Try Stone's for Soft Beds").

In the 1960s, Stone's was occupied by Wander Sales and was used as a warehouse for Schulhof's Tires; I'm pretty sure the building was struck by lightning and burned circa 1963. (The lot is now the site of the state liquor store, check-cashing outlet, Family Dollar and Sherwin-Williams.)

(Incidentally, several people emailed me to say that this year's Salute to Santa parade was nice, but too long. I don't know about that, but I know that this parade seems much longer.)

"With all of the big new shopping centers opening, Santa has to use his new rocket to get around," the narrator says, "but he still uses his reindeer on Christmas eve."

(I'm glad he clarified that, because the thought of an ICBM streaking toward my house on Dec. 24 would make visions of Weird Al Yankovic dance in my head.)

That's Olympia Shopping Center, which was two years old in 1962 (if that's when these shots were filmed). Thrift Drugs --- whose successor, Rite Aid, just recently vacated its longtime corner location --- is visible in the background.

"For Dick and Ann, their visit is almost over, but Santa's saved his pride and joy 'til last," the narrator says, "they'll take his rocket to the super Toy Town trains!" (If Toy Town has a rocket, why does it need trains?)

The Famous burned when I was two years old, but I suspect that's the basement. None of McKeesport's other department stores would have looked like that, except maybe Hirshberg's and Helmstatder's. But I don't think Hirshberg's sold many toys, and I don't think Helmstatder's ever used its basement as a salesfloor.

Ditto for these scenes --- if they were shot in McKeesport, then I suspect they were shot at The Famous, because I don't think any of the other department stores had those high ceilings and wooden floors, nor would they have had the space to dedicate this much room to toys.

That's some stereotypical late 1950s department store scene, though. You can almost envision Jack Benny being confronted by an unctuous floorwalker (played by Frank Nelson).

. . .

And that's about it, except for the moral, delivered by the jolly old elf himself: "Always remember, the entire Christmas celebration commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, hundreds of years ago."

Why was this film made? Who knows? According to a newspaper obituary I found in an online database, Clem Williams died in 2003 in Seminole, Fla., so I can't ask him.

Clem Williams Films was founded sometime before 1945 (the earliest reference I can find) and lasted until at least the mid-1980s. A check of various library databases indicates that the company rented cartoons, popular movies and industrial films to high schools and colleges, but was probably best known for distributing highlight films from the Steelers, Pirates and other sports teams and was located at 2240 Noblestown Road until 1985. The building is now a church called Calvary Chapel.

If I had to make a guess, I'll bet this was designed to be shown at elementary schools to very small children who might be afraid of Santa.

(Every Catholic school kid of a certain age can remember the dreaded "movie day," usually right before the Christmas break, when everyone traipsed down to the cafeteria or gymnasium to watch a scratchy 16-mm film. My friend Steve called them "Scotch tape capers" because so many of the prints broke and had to be patched with you-know-what.)

. . .

This certainly isn't Clem Williams' best work (some Internet critics call it, unkindly, "the worst Christmas film ever produced"), and it sure doesn't hold much interest for anyone who isn't from McKeesport.

But for McKeesporters of a certain age, it's a sure-fire Academy Award-winner, and we can thank Mr. Williams for preserving --- albeit inadvertently --- some great shots of Our Fair City during the holidays!

. . .

(Watch "A Visit to Santa" in all of its grainy glory here. And if you spot yourself in the crowd scenes, post the information in the comments section.)

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December 20, 2010 | Link to this story

Briefly Noted: McKeesport Symphony On Radio This Week

Category: Events || By Staff Report

The 2010 holiday concert by the McKeesport Symphony Pops, "Come Home for the Holidays," will be broadcast on Christmas Eve over Pittsburgh's WRCT-FM (88.3).

The broadcast is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday, Dec. 24 on WRCT, and also may be heard online at

In addition, the Oct. 31 concert entitled "Tricks and Treats: A Swingin' Party" will air at 7 p.m. Tuesday (Dec. 21) over WRCT.

The Christmas concert, recorded Sunday at McKeesport Area High School, features vocalist Billy Mason, violinist Leah Givelber and trumpeter David Anderson, as well as the orchestra under the direction of Conductor Bruce Lauffer.

Mason also narrates Clement C. Moore's poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas," better known as "'Twas The Night Before Christmas."

The broadcast was recorded for WRCT by the non-profit McKeesport-based Tube City Community Media Inc., which owns and operates Tube City Online. This is the second year that Tube City CMI has teamed with WRCT to broadcast select concerts by the McKeesport Symphony Pops.

The Oct. 31 concert, which airs Tuesday, featured trumpeter and bandleader Stephen Hawk, professor of music at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, and a program of big band music made famous by Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Henry Mancini and other greats. That recording is being made available through the courtesy of the McKeesport Symphony Pops.

Owned by the students of Carnegie Mellon, WRCT-FM is staffed entirely by students and campus and community volunteers. Its programming includes all types of music, Carnegie Mellon sports, public-service and educational shows, including the award-winning "Saturday Light Brigade" and "Rust Belt Radio," as well as news from the Pacifica Network.

Broadcasting 24 hours per day at 1,750-watts on the FM dial, WRCT's signal reaches all of Allegheny County and parts of three adjoining counties.

. . .

Financial Aid Workshops Slated: Penn State's McKeesport campus will offer two workshops for parents or guardians whose children are interested in going to college or a university.

The workshops at 6 p.m. Jan. 26 and Feb. 17 are not Penn State specific, but will have general advice for students applying to any college, a spokeswoman said.

The financial aid workshops will be held in the Ostermayer Room of the Student Community Center on the Greater Allegheny Campus. The workshops are designed to provide parents with a greater understanding of the financial aid process, packaging and timelines, according to the spokeswoman.

For more information and to register, call (412) 675-9010.

. . .

Kids' Baseball Class Slated: Penn State's Greater Allegheny Campus in McKeesport will host a baseball camp for pre-teen children from 9 a.m. to 12 noon Jan. 16.

All children ages 6 to 12 are invited to participate, regardless of skill level, experience or ability. The classes cost $50 and will include instruction in the fundamental principles of the sport.

Drills and exercises will be non-competitive and geared to each child's individual style of play, and every child will get a chance to participate.

Kids will meet in the Wunderley Gymnasium at Greater Allegheny Campus. To register or get more information, call (412) 675-9460.

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December 20, 2010 | Link to this story

Statement Regarding Low-Power FM Legislation

Category: Announcements || By Staff Report

Last week, the U.S. House and Senate passed versions of the Local Community Radio Act, which was championed and introduced by U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, a Democrat from Forest Hills whose district includes the Mon-Yough area.

President Obama is expected to sign the legislation, which would lift restrictions on so-called low-power FM, or LPFM, radio stations. These stations, which would be owned by non-profit community groups and governmental agencies, were part of a new class of stations created by the Federal Communications Commission to operate at 10 or 100 watts on the FM band.

But under heavy lobbying from large broadcasting companies and National Public Radio, Congress in 2000 restricted these stations to operating at least four dial positions away from existing full-power stations on the FM dial, effectively blocking LPFM radio stations from being created in the Pittsburgh area and other major metropolitan areas.

A partner organization of Tube City Community Media Inc., Lightning Community Broadcasting Inc., was formed in 1999 to apply for an LPFM license in the McKeesport-White Oak area. Lightning would have created a community-run, non-commercial public radio station serving the Mon-Yough area.

(Tube City Community Media Inc. is the non-profit corporation which operates Tube City Online. The executive director of Tube City, Jason Togyer, is a founding member of Lightning, and remains a volunteer for that group, but is no longer a member of its board of directors.)

. . .

Tube City Community Media Inc. will wait until the FCC announces a filing window before deciding whether to pursue a license, either on its own, or with partner organizations. It has remained in continuous contact with the City of McKeesport, Penn State Greater Allegheny Campus and other interested stakeholders about creating such a station.

We remain convinced that the Mon Valley could support and use a community FM station. Yesterday, for instance, Tube City recorded the holiday concert of the McKeesport Symphony Pops for broadcast over Pittsburgh's WRCT-FM on Friday morning.

There's no reason that a McKeesport-based radio station shouldn't be airing coverage of the symphony, or International Village, McKeesport Area school board and City Council, and other events of interest, including sports and religious programming.

Although there are two stations licensed to McKeesport, they are not covering those kinds of events, and Tube City is not prepared to "buy" or "broker" time to air those events.

. . .

One serious problem that wasn't present in 1999, however, is that many frequencies which could have supported either a 10-watt or 100-watt low-power FM station were sold beginning in 2004 to what are called "translators." These FM stations, with power output ranging up to 250 watts, were originally intended to boost FM radio reception in fringe listening areas.

They are now often used by out-of-state broadcasters (many of them affiliated with conservative Christian churches) to extend their networks. A frequency at 94.1 FM, for instance, that's licensed to Clairton is currently operated as part of the "K-Love" Christian radio network run by California-based Educational Media Foundation.

That would prevent a new 10- or 100-watt LPFM station from serving the Clairton, Glassport and Jefferson Hills area using that frequency. That's unfortunate for Clairton, and for the future of the radio industry, which is no longer attracting new talent or young listeners.

. . .

It could be argued that the FCC, under President George W. Bush, opened a translator application window in 2003 --- and eventually licensed thousands of new translators --- specifically to stop low-power FM stations from taking those frequencies. That's not meant as a partisan statement; it speaks more to the influence of corporate money on regulators and legislators over the past 10 years than to any partisan divide of Republicans vs. Democrats.

The FCC is also now allowing AM stations to translate their signals on FM, which has made those FM translators even more valuable (and more expensive to purchase).

The new legislation specifically protects translators from being bumped off of frequencies by low-power FM stations, making it unclear what frequencies --- if any --- would be available on the FM band for Tube City or any other group.

Preliminary engineering data indicates that at least two low-power stations are possible in the communities served by the McKeesport Area School District, but both would be limited to only 10 watts.

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December 17, 2010 | Link to this story

To Do This Weekend

Category: Events || By Staff Report

Christmas Dance at Palisades: Johnny Angel and the Halos are coming "Dahntahn" to the Palisades ballroom for a special holiday show and Christmas dance. Doors open at 7 p.m. Saturday and admission is $20.

For more information, call (412) 370-2971 or visit the Palisades' website. The show is presented by Triple J Productions.

. . .

Symphony Concert Sunday: McKeesport Symphony Pops presents its 2010 holiday concert, "Come Home for the Holidays," at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the auditorium of McKeesport Area High School, 1960 Eden Park Blvd.

Featured performers include vocalist Billy Mason, violinist Leah Givelber and trumpeter David Anderson.

The concert will be recorded by Tube City Community Media Inc. for broadcast at 10 a.m. Dec. 24 over Pittsburgh's WRCT-FM (88.3).

Selections will include "The Christmas Feeling," "This Christmas," "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," "Silver Bells," "The Most Wonderful Time of The Year," and "Con Te Partiro" (Time To Say Goodbye).

Mr. Mason will also lend his voice as narrator for "'Twas The Night Before Christmas."

Rounding out the program are holiday favorites such as Leroy Anderson's "Christmas Festival," "White Christmas" by Irving Berlin, "The Polar Express Concert Suite," and "Winter" from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," featuring Givelber.

The McKeesport Symphony Youth Orchestra, under the direction of Kevin King, will perform following intermission.

Tickets are $18 for adults, $15 for seniors and $10 for students, with children 6 and under admitted free.

For more information, call (412) 664-2854 or visit the McKeesport Symphony's website.

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December 16, 2010 | Link to this story

Goulash's On! (Again)

Category: General Nonsense || By Jason Togyer

Whenever he's too busy to write, Mark Evanier posts a picture of a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup. It's an old Internet tradition that he apparently made up.

Since I'm half-Hungarian, I post a photo of Scandia's delicious canned goulash instead. At least I assume it's delicious. I've never had any --- but why wouldn't greasy globs of canned pork be delicious, right? It even sounds delicious.

I still think you should be able to buy instant chicken paprikas in McKeesport. Maybe the new grocery store on Walnut Street will carry it, but some how, I doubt that.

We'll be back on track next week, I promise.

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December 12, 2010 | Link to this story

Letters to the Editor, New Comment Policy

Category: Another Viewpoint || By Jason Togyer

In the interest of fairness, here are two emails I received in the past few days. I have slightly edited them.

I originally had posted a rebuttal to them, but I decided they didn't require responses. Instead, you can take them for what they're worth.

The background is this: I have incorrectly deleted comments from someone who calls himself "Shadango." At least one of those comments came in from the same IP address as a former city councilman who is running for mayor.

That former city councilman is currently banned from commenting, and has attempted to comment here under multiple aliases, using several different computers with different IP addresses.

"Shadango" has now come forward. Based on the email address he sent me, he is not that city councilman. Tube City Almanac regrets the error and I apologize for deleting his comments.

In answer to the accusation being made that I'm either stupid or a liar, it is possible that two different people, both in McKeesport, both using the same Internet service (in this case, Comcast), could wind up posting comments here with the same dynamic IP address. It's unlikely, but it is possible.

To prevent any future confusion or misidentification, I am now banning all anonymous comments.

Beginning immediately, you can withhold your name from publication at Tube City Almanac, but you have to give me a real name and a real email address and/or phone number. If I don't know who you are, I will ask for your real name before making your comment visible.

This is a similar policy used by most newspapers that accept letters to the editor, and which require verification before publishing those letters, but will withhold names upon request.

And I will continue to delete or remove comments and to ban commenters for any reason, especially when the same handful of people are monopolizing this forum.

Emails after the jump.

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December 09, 2010 | Link to this story

Gabauer: Students, Not Numbers, Tell District's Story

Category: News || By Jason Togyer

(Second of two parts)

Evaluated strictly using the raw numbers --- standardized tests as mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act --- McKeesport Area School District is struggling. According to state Department of Education reports:

  • 64 percent of students in grades 3-8 and grade 11 were ranked "proficient" or better in mathematics. The statewide average is 75 percent.

  • 56 percent of students were ranked "proficient" or better in reading. The statewide average is 72 percent.

  • 83 percent of students are graduating. The statewide average is 90 percent.

The educational differences between white students and students of color are also striking. While 73 percent of white students district-wide are ranked proficient in math, and 66 percent of white students were judged proficient in reading, only 52 percent of black students were ranked proficient in math and 43 percent in reading.
(McKeesport Area does better than many peer districts statewide where the achievement gap is much more severe --- across Pennsylvania, students of color lag white students by 23 points in reading, and 19 points in math, according to PDE reports.)

Last year, the Pittsburgh Business Times ranked the district 100th out of 105 Western Pennsylvania school districts, based on the same standardized test scores.

. . .

Poor Districts Score Worst: But the numbers look somewhat different when placed in context. The Business Times' list of "top public school districts," for instance, is also practically a list of Western Pennsylvania's wealthiest suburbs --- the top spot was held by the Upper St. Clair school district, followed by North Allegheny (Marshall Township, McCandless, Bradford Woods and Franklin Park), Mt. Lebanon, Hampton Township, Peters Township and Fox Chapel.

While 65 percent of McKeesport Area students are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches, only 3 percent of students in Upper St. Clair or North Allegheny qualify, and only 6 percent in Mt. Lebanon.

Norwin, which abuts the McKeesport district, was ranked 10th best by the Business Times. Only 17 percent of Norwin students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. In the district ranked dead last by the Business Times --- Duquesne City --- nearly nine out of 10 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

. . .

District 'Making Progress': The McKeesport Area School District is making progress, according to the state Department of Education. During the 2009-10 school year, the district met all of its targets for graduation, attendance and test scores.

While the numbers are moving in the right direction, there's more work to be done, says Tim Gabauer, who has taught in the district since 1994 and was appointed superintendent in September.

No Child Left Behind and standardized testing have led to "some very positive changes," he says. "It's always good to look at a program and see what's working and what isn't."

. . .

'Well-Rounded' Students: For one thing, districts, including McKeesport Area, have put new emphasis on teacher training, Gabauer said. (All of the district's teachers are now rated "highly qualified," according to the state Department of Education.)

And the focus on moving the standardized math and reading test scores upwards has to be balanced against other aspects of the curriculum, he said. "Ten years ago, elementary schools in particular started to get focused on large reading blocks and large math blocks," Gabauer said. "You definitely saw a shift away from teaching social studies and science."

With the new statewide Keystone Exams, which will test on subjects such as literature, biology and chemistry, attention has returned to "making sure you graduate a well-rounded individual," he said.

. . .

Cross-Training Students: To that end, Gabauer said, McKeesport Area thinks it's got its priorities straight by offering strong career training for high-school students in fields such as building trades, culinary arts and vehicle technology. "We need to make sure that when our students leave --- whatever their interests may be --- that we've offered them as much as we possibly can," he said.

All of the programs also provide opportunities for classroom lessons to be reinforced with practical examples --- building construction draws heavily on mathematical formulas, for instance.

"It makes it a much more powerful experience," Gabauer said.

. . .

Carnegie Mellon University photo21st Century Technology: Although vocational programs were always a strong point of McKeesport Area School District, this isn't your dad's "Voc High."

For example, through a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, McKeesport Area has a robotics team that competes in challenges sponsored by For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, or FIRST.

FIRST is a worldwide consortium of private companies, government agencies and educational institutions that develops lessons in computer science, electrical engineering and related concepts for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

McKeesport Area's "Team 1708" qualified for the national championships in its very first year, 2005. Although the team didn't advance past the Pittsburgh regional contest this year, it was given the "Gracious Professionalism" award.

. . .

New Buildings to Boost K-6: The three new buildings will help boost education for the elementary and middle school grades, Gabauer said. The district envisions creating a music and arts academy at the expanded and renovated Francis McClure, a math and science academy at the new Cornell school, and a language academy at the unnamed third school.

That school will likely be built on a parcel of vacant land near Renziehausen Park and Penn State Greater Allegheny campus, Gabauer said. The logistics of which children will attend which school have yet to be decided, he said.

Each of the buildings will have math and science labs the existing K-6 schools lack, will keep younger pupils separate from older children, and will encourage students and teachers to work together in small groups, Gabauer said --- something the existing Centennial and former Cornell schools couldn't accommodate.

. . .

Poised for Future: The target completion date for all of the buildings to come online is 2013. Along with the district's existing emphasis on early childhood intervention --- necessary to prepare children to enter school, especially when one or both parents is working or not at home --- Gabauer said the district is planning beyond the next set of test scores.

"We're hoping that we're setting ourselves up for the future," he said. "When you're looking at the long term, you're hoping that you're going to continue to provide a quality education today and 60 years down the road."

As the Business Times survey shows, however, the district faces a big challenge in turning around public perceptions, both in McKeesport and beyond.

"Right now, everyone looks at one test score and uses that to determine whether you're a success or a failure," Gabauer said. "It's not really reflective of what you do, and who you are."

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December 07, 2010 | Link to this story

New Schools Chief: McKeesport 'Becomes a Part of You'

Category: News || By Jason Togyer

(First of two parts.)

Plenty of McKeesporters past and present were distressed to see the demolition of Cornell Middle School, once known as McKeesport Technical High School. The reduction to rubble of the "White Castle on the Hill" also was bittersweet for former Cornell teacher Tim Gabauer.

Gabauer, 41, the new McKeesport Area superintendent of schools, began his full-time teaching career at Cornell in 1994, and like many others, he had "an emotional tie" to old Tech High.

But the demolition of the school, which opened in 1916, also clears the way for a new building that he said will make a tremendous difference in the way students learn and work together.

. . .

"The days of the teacher standing up at the lectern have really come to an end," Gabauer said. "Our students wake up every day and their entire world is surrounded by technology. The last thing we want them to do is come to school and make them slow down."

A 1986 South Allegheny High School graduate and life-long Mon-Yough area resident, Gabauer said the construction of two new schools and the expansion of White Oak's Francis McClure positions the district for "the next 60 years" in a way that renovating Cornell couldn't.

"As one of our board members said, 'If we renovate that building, in 25 years, we'll have a 125-year-old building,'" Gabauer said. "In terms of technology, electrical systems, heating systems, it was simply not a building that was conducive to another renovation."

Gabauer earned bachelor's and master's degrees from California University of Pennsylvania and a doctorate in education at the University of Pittsburgh.

Named superintendent in September, he's taken over a district that's trying to transform itself in ways beyond new school construction. In 2009, the district was placed on "corrective action" after students failed to meet goals set by state standardized tests; it's now listed as "making progress."

. . .

McKeesport Area, which includes the city and neighboring Dravosburg, Versailles and White Oak boroughs and South Versailles Township, has also changed rapidly in another way --- leadership.

Gabauer is McKeesport Area's fourth superintendent in a four-year span. Previous superintendent Michael Brinkos lasted only 13 months before resigning to take a job paying less money at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit. Brinkos had spent most of his professional career at McKeesport Area, and his surprise resignation "for professional growth" reasons raised eyebrows locally.

"It's something you think about when you take this job," said Gabauer, who started with the district in 1994, teaching middle school and high school social studies.

"But I couldn't let that deter me," said Gabauer, who has also served McKeesport Area as a dean of students, principal and associate principal, also coached baseball in South Allegheny and McKeesport. "You have to take that out of the equation, and ask yourself, do you think you can make a contribution? Do you think you're an appropriate fit? Do you understand the needs of the community?

"People know who I am and what I stand for," he said.

And Gabauer has no intention of leaving McKeesport or looking for another job any time soon, he said. "Once you're here, there's a draw here that compels you to stay here," he said. "McKeesport becomes a part of you. As far as I'm concerned, if all things remain as they are, this is where I'd like to finish my career."

. . .

In some ways, the McKeesport Area district mirrors the larger Pittsburgh Public School district.

Both welcome students from a mix of struggling urban neighborhoods and better off enclaves; both also serve a large proportion of African-American students. Nearly 1,900 of McKeesport Area's almost 4,000 students identify as black or multi-ethnic. (By comparison, in the neighboring Norwin school system, only 70 students out of nearly 5,100 report being black or multi-ethnic.)

And in both the McKeesport Area and Pittsburgh districts, about 65 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches, because their families are near or below the poverty line.

The mix of students is not a disadvantage, Gabauer said. In fact, it's a strong positive in McKeesport Area's favor, he argued.

. . .

"We have students experiencing everything across the spectrum," Gabauer said. "Not only are they getting an education, they're getting a terrific life experience. Some students come from very well-off families, and some are really struggling. And here they are, walking down the halls together. It's a powerful thing to witness first-hand."

He called McKeesport Area students "resilient and welcoming." "These students support one another regardless of race, ability, income --- they band together," Gabauer said.

Although Gabauer said he's not blind to community perceptions that urban school districts, including McKeesport Area, are troubled, he argued that many of perceived "problems" exist only in the minds of people who don't have any contact with the school district.

"There are perceptions, and then there are realities," Gabauer said. "One of the things I encourage people to do is actually come into the buildings and take a look."

. . .

Next: Identifying McKeesport Area's strengths and weaknesses

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December 03, 2010 | Link to this story

25th Annual Festival of Trees Underway

Category: News || By John Barna and Jason Togyer

John Barna photo

McKeesport's 25th annual Festival of Trees is underway through Monday at Jacob Woll Pavilion in Renziehausen Park. Hours are 12 to 9 p.m. daily. Parking is free and local choral and musical groups will perform each day.

Admission for adults is $2, while children are admitted free with a canned good for donation to area food banks. Roving photographer John Barna was there last night and presents some snapshots from this year's event.

John Barna photo

But John says you'd better behave, because the guy shown above knows when you've been bad or good. (We think he works for the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security.)

Click the "More" link to see additional photos.

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December 02, 2010 | Link to this story

McLaughlin Named Mayor; McCall Rejoins Council

Category: News || By Jason Togyer

MP3 file downloadAllegheny County's second-largest city has a new mayor.

At Tuesday's meeting, city council unanimously elected Council President Regis McLaughlin to fill the remaining year on the term of former Mayor Jim Brewster. Brewster officially resigned Tuesday night.

McLaughlin, 75, has served on city council since 1998, when he was first appointed to fill a vacancy left by the death of Councilman Jim Honick.

Brewster, 62, was elected in November to the state senate seat vacated by Sean Logan, a Plum Democrat.

. . .

Retired from U.S. Steel's National Works and the owner of the former Rege's Place, McLaughlin has been a member of the board of the city's sewerage authority since 1991 and currently serves as its chairman. He is a resident of the city's Grandview neighborhood.

Brewster's resignation is bittersweet, McLaughlin said.

"If you think it's sad for him to leave, it's sad for me to see him leave, because I won't have anyone to fight with," McLaughlin joked.

. . .

Reading aloud from his resignation letter, Brewster thanked council, department heads and employees for saving the city from possible Act 47 municipal bankruptcy.

(Listen to former Mayor Jim Brewster read his resignation. MP3 file, 30 minutes.)

When Brewster took office in 2003, city council was sharply divided and engaged in open battles with former Mayor Wayne Kucich, who earned the enmity of several different political factions by firing and demoting department heads and shuffling employees. Thirteen police officers and firefighters who claimed their demotions by Kucich were politically motivated sued the city, winning $600,000 in damages.

Brewster cautioned council and his successor not to allow that type of factionalism to return.

. . .

"The leadership that elected officials must provide, the image that you project --- is it to be one of chaos, disagreement, vindictiveness and anger?" he said. "Or is it going to be one of vision, harmony, unity and balance?

"You have the answer to these questions in the palms of your hands," Brewster said.

While acknowledging that much work needs to be done to reduce the city's crime rate, demolish vacant buildings, pave roads and attract new business, Brewster said the city's future remains bright "if the right path is taken."

"Put your personal feelings aside, put your personal agendas aside, and do what's right for the City of McKeesport and the people who live here," he said. "It's a great city with a great history, great resources and great people."

. . .

Also Tuesday night, the new senator put to rest a potential controversy over $83,500 in wages and compensation that were deferred during his time as mayor.

Brewster asked that the money owed him instead be divided equally and donated to two dozen local charities and civic organizations, including the Carnegie Library of McKeesport, the McKeesport NAACP, the planned Noah's Ark Community Center, Auberle and the Womansplace shelter.

"The money will be used to help the youth, families and disadvantaged of McKeesport," he said, adding that he would work with the organizations to "determine how the money will be used."

Despite leaving the mayor's office, Brewster remains an important figure in city politics, retaining his chairmanship of the McKeesport Democratic Committee and keeping his district senatorial office in McKeesport's city hall.

. . .

Former city councilman Dale McCall was appointed to fill the year remaining in McLaughlin's term. A retired guard at the Allegheny County Jail, McCall served on council from 2001 until 2009, when he lost a bid for a third term.

One councilor suggested that instead of appointing McCall to the seat, resumes should be taken from interested applicants.

Instead, McCall was selected by 4-2 vote, with Councilmen Darryl Segina and A.J. Tedesco dissenting.

. . .

City council also approved the 2011 municipal budget. The $19.5 million spending plan includes no tax increase, but does call for increasing the municipal fee for garbage collection and other services by $20 per year.

In addition, the budget will require the city to refinance debt to close a $750,000 shortfall, city officials said. The budget passed 5-2, with Tedesco and Councilwoman V. Fawn Walker dissenting.

McKeesport expects to end the year with about $500,000 cash on hand, said Dennis Pittman, city administrator.

(Download a summary of McKeesport's 2011 budget. 2.1 MB, PDF reader required.)

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December 01, 2010 | Link to this story

City May Refinance Debt to Balance Budget

Category: News || By Jason Togyer

City officials will consider refinancing up to $31 million in debt to close a $750,000 hole in the 2011 budget.

The move comes after the Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport told administrators that it's unable to pay a so-called "host fee" for its sewage treatment plant in the 10th Ward, which would have left the $19.5 million spending plan unbalanced.

Council is expected to vote on the budget at tonight's meeting. The session --- at which state Sen. Jim Brewster is expected to formally tender his resignation as mayor --- is slated for 7 p.m. at the public safety building.

. . .

Councilors are also expected to appoint an acting mayor to complete the remaining year of Brewster's term, though that action isn't on the preliminary agenda presented at Tuesday's council work session.

Although Council President Regis McLaughlin is believed to be the favorite, McKeesport's home-rule charter allows council to appoint any registered voter who has lived in the city for at least one year. If McLaughlin or another council member is appointed to the vacancy, the remaining members have 45 days to fill the vacant council seat.

. . .

The bonds to be refinanced were first issued in 2005 to satisfy city pension obligations and replace old debts. But those bonds were issued when investors were flocking to the stock market, said Dennis Pittman, city administrator.

With the economy struggling, municipal bonds are more attractive, and because interest rates are lower, the city would save money and could balance next year's budget, he said.

"We don't know, specifically, the amount yet," Pittman said, "but there should be enough of a spread to make it worthwhile." Not all of the bonds need to be refinanced at the same time, he said.

. . .

The bond refinancing is a one-time-only fix and doesn't address the city's declining revenues. Expenses have already been cut nearly a million dollars since 2008 (the 2009 budget was $20.3 million) in part through layoffs and early retirements, while delinquent payments and assets such as the city's sewerage system have been sold to balance previous budgets.

And any bonds touched next year couldn't be refinanced again for another five years, Pittman said, which puts the 2012 budget into question.

The preliminary spending plan holds real estate and wage taxes at their present rates, but increases the municipal service fee for garbage collection, street lighting and other services by $20 per year to $280. Senior citizens pay a discounted rate of $220 annually.

. . .

In Other Business: Council is expected tonight to ratify a decision by the city Planning Commission that clears the way for a new supermarket at the corner of Eden Park Boulevard and Walnut Street.

The 18,000-square-foot market and a more than 100 car parking lot will replace the former S&S Taxi Co. garage and vacant Keystone Auto Parts, along with a machine shop and a fitness studio. The site also once held an Eat 'n Park drive-in restaurant and Paul Jones Dodge.

Demolition of the existing buildings is expected to begin early in 2011, said George Haberman, senior project manager at Civil and Environmental Consultants of Robinson Township, local engineers on the project.

. . .

Although both the developer and the city remain under "non-disclosure agreements" and are unable to release the name of the tenant, Tube City Almanac on Nov. 18 reported the store is one of the first in a series of planned "Bottom Dollar" discount supermarkets. The chain is a recently created division of Salisbury, N.C.-based Food Lion.

Published reports in the Tribune-Review and Post-Gazette indicate Food Lion has also purchased a former Foodland location in Penn Hills, apparently for use as a Bottom Dollar store.

Haberman said Tuesday the developers are awaiting approval from the state Department of Transportation before construction can begin.

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