Alumni Bulletin: 2007

From The President

Dear Alumni Members,

As I gather my thoughts to write my annual letter to you, the smell of freshly cut grass and the soft rustling of new leaves gently touched by the warm breeze tell me that the summer season is surely here again. I hope you have all enjoyed lots of good health and happiness during the past year.

My first piece of news, for those of you who may not yet know, is that Dr. Janet Simon will be retiring at the end of this school year. As teacher, principal and executive director she has served the School well for nearly forty years. I have worked with her for many years on behalf of the Alumni Association. She has always been helpful, cooperative and generous to our organization. She has allowed us to use the School’s facilities for our reunions and Fun Days at very reasonable costs. In recent years she has given attractive and useful gifts, decorated with the School’s logo, to those of us who have attended our biennial reunions. We shall truly miss Dr. Simon. We wish her a happy, healthy retirement and we hope she will continue to attend our reunions.

You may also be interested to know that Joyce Teese and Bill Kegg, both of whom have worked at our School for more than 30 years, will be retiring at the end of this school year. We wish them well.

Our next Alumni Fun Day will take place on Saturday, September 15, from noon until 6 pm. in the School’s Early Childhood Center. The address is:

250 N. Bellefield Avenue


There will be lunch, door prizes and bingo. You may also bring board games or play cards if you wish, or just come and visit with friends. The cost for the day is five dollars for each person who attends. Please make your check or money order payable to:

WPSBC Alumni Association


and send it to me by September 10. My address is:

Joanna Berkovic

375 N. Craig St.

Apt. 210

Pittsburgh, PA 15213


Questions? Call me at (412) 683-1798. I always enjoy hearing from you.

I am delighted to announce that all 500 tickets for our June raffle have been sold. For those who helped to sell tickets, thank you; for those who bought them, good luck!

Joanna Berkovic,


Dr. Janet Simon Retires

(The next article appears in the Winter, 2007 issue of Insights, a publication Of the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children and is included herein with permission. A tribute to Dr. Janet Simon for the years she has served the School with distinction, it is well worth reading.)

Simon’s retirement: A look back at an era of change

Janet Simon, Ph.D., has announced her retirement at the end of the 2006-2007 school term, after 22 years as executive director. Those who worked most closely with her note the sweeping changes she brought to the School for Blind Children, affecting everything from the nature of the student body to the structure of the educational program, the physical environment of the school itself, the curriculum, the staff–and just about everything else connected with the institution.

Simon has spent most of her professional career here, beginning with a stint as a student teacher. A 1967 graduate of Carlow College, she went on to earn an M.Ed. degree in the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Special Education and Rehabilitation. In the course of her graduate work, she was a student teacher at the School for Blind Children. When she earned her degree, in 1968, she accepted a job here as a teacher and continued in the classroom for seven years.

While on a leave of absence in 1973, accompanying her husband Matt, who was working in Switzerland, Simon spent time thinking about her future. She says, “I made a lifelong career decision then to prepare myself to work in school administration. I felt that my contributions could be helpful.” When she returned to Pittsburgh, she entered a doctoral program at the University of Pittsburgh, earning her degree in under five years.

Simon’s first administrative post at the School for Blind Children was as Curriculum and Development Director. “I was fortunate to secure a grant from The Buhl Foundation to create a written curriculum for the School,” notes Simon. This work early in her career was perhaps a harbinger of her ongoing success in securing foundation support to further the educational aims of the School for Blind Children.

Simon moved through the administrative ranks doing work that prepared her for almost every aspect of School management, from supervision of students at all ages to overseeing vocational and academic curricula and residential and recreational programs.

When she applied to become executive director in 1984, Simon was the unanimous choice of the board of directors. Board member Ellen Walton said of her appointment: “It was clear that Janet was a star. She could do anything. She was a fundraiser without equal, a terrific administrator, a tireless worker and extremely sensitive to all aspects of blindness.”

When Simon became executive director, the board president was Marcus Aaron II. Aaron recalls announcing to the faculty and staff in late 1984 that Simon would be the new head of the School: “That was met with such spontaneous enthusiasm. It was exciting and gave me a feeling that we had made the right choice.”

Aaron remarks on Simon’s ability to give the board a sense of direction, saying, “She enabled us to do what a board should do—to set the policy and oversee the financial well-being of the School and leave the day-to-day work to the professional staff. She had a sense of direction right from the start.”

Simon has enjoyed a strong working relationship with Treasurer Curt Ellenberg, who shepherds the financial side of the organization. Ellenberg points to several highlights in Simon’s career, especially noting Simon’s skill at fundraising and strengthening the endowment. Ellenberg also praised Simon’s commitment to young children with visual disabilities and their families, as shown through The TODDLER Program and similar outreach efforts over the years.

The current board president, L. Van V. Dahler, Jr., looks at Simon’s accomplishments with a view to the future. Dauler says, “She is an amazing leader. As an educator, she has trained everyone at the School, and the staff is quite capable of moving forward. Our financial situation before Janet’s tenure was rather shaky. It is not now, and that is largely due to her efforts. The Early Childhood Center is part of her vision of opportunities for younger children. It was a gap that needed to be filled. All of that will survive Janet’s retirement. She has made the School self-sustaining.”

Although Simon is looking forward to retirement as a time to do volunteer work and to follow her passion for political action, her husband J. Matthew Simon says, “Janet thoroughly enjoyed her years at the School.” Matt Simon, a former president of Point Park University and currently Distinguished Service Professor there, added, “Her success was not by chance. Janet has the ability to communicate ideas in a straightforward and understandable manner. This, combined with a strong background in special education, and, I might add, a strategic awareness of the way in which that field was changing, allowed her to successfully redirect the institution’s mission at a critical time. In part, this was because she came from the faculty, and she knew what the School faced at the most fundamental level. It was a rare conjunction of ability and opportunity that provided professional fulfillment to Janet and success for the School.”

As Janet Simon looks back, her own perspective is more personal:

“Twenty-two years have gone by in a heartbeat,” she says. “There are a number of things I am proud of. I take great pride in the fact that we were able to refocus the School on students with serious multiple disabilities in addition to blindness.”

“Of course, I was really drawn to the School because of the students,” she adds. “I can remember well every girl or boy who was in my classroom when I was a teacher. Those are great memories. I’ve been fortunate to maintain relationships with many of my former students, and I’m very proud of them as adults. In later years as I moved into administration, I was less directly involved with the students. However, I am always happy when a staff member brings a group of students into my office. A smile and a handshake or a hug can brighten my day. I realize that these youngsters face almost insurmountable odds. Despite everything, they are happy and enjoy the company of the staff who care about them so deeply.

“I also am really proud of the faculty and the staff. They are top-notch. I am gratified that our staff members are capable of developing and implementing sound curricula. Being named a Blue Ribbon school was a triumph. Also I’m delighted that the community still supports this school and its mission. Frankly, it’s hard to leave. I am retiring with the same sense of enthusiasm I had when I first started. It’s a logical time for the School to bring in new leadership and a logical time for me personally to leave.”

Simon’s tenure at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children has also given her a deep feeling for its history and its philosophical underpinnings. She says, “This is a very old school; it goes back to the nineteenth century. Despite all the change, I believe we are still following the original values of the founders.”

Blind Masseur Touched by Greensburg YMCA

(Ever more rare are the people who remain in the same job for more than 10 or 15 years during their working lives. Philip Horrell, class of 1950, is one of these rare individuals, as you will learn from this next article.)

By Patti Dobranski


Saturday, May 12, 2007

During the past 50 years, Phil Horrell has touched the lives of 100,000 people he’s never seen. Blind since birth, Horrell became a masseur at the Greensburg YMCA on May 13, 1957.

YMCA CEO Rick Nedley was born on the same day. “I like to say that when Phil gave his client a slap after his first massage, I was getting my first slap just down the road at Westmoreland Hospital,” Nedley joked.

The YMCA staff marked Horrell’s milestone Friday with a surprise pizza party. The city of Greensburg even declared May 13 “Phil Horrell Day.”

“We made a proclamation in conjunction with his 50th anniversary with the YMCA. He is a first-class guy … a great guy,” said Mayor Karl Eisaman, who’s known Horrell for 25 years.

Small in stature, Horrell’s sturdy, muscular body belies his years: He turns 76 on June 25. “All those years of providing massages have made his body firm. Giving a massage is a workout. He doesn’t even have any wrinkles,” Nedley said.

Horrell keeps his full head of silver hair cropped short in a crew-cut style, which has made for some good-natured ribbing with clients. “They say, ‘You must have gone to the school for the blind to get that haircut.’ I tell them, ‘No, this time I went to the school for the deaf and when I said stop, stop, stop, he didn’t hear me,'” he said.

Born in Cokeville, a coal town just south of Blairsville, Indiana County, Horrell was one of eight children. After the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took over the hamlet for a flood plain project, the family moved to nearby Bradenville in Derry Township. As a young man, there were limited vocations for the blind. Horrell became adept at creating cane chairs, but when the director of the Association for the Blind in Pittsburgh said “working as a masseur” is a career option, he knew it was his calling.

“I just enjoy being around people. That’s why I enjoy my work,” he said. “There’s a lot of security here, too. Today, you see so many spas come and go.”

He is the father of four sons and happily married to his second wife, Sharyn, a former YMCA employee. They reside in Greensburg.

“Phil is one of those rare, nice people,” said Joe Hartman, 70, of Bear Rocks, Fayette County, who’s been making the trek to Greensburg for Horrell’s massages for 30 years. “We’ve had a lot of conversation over the years. I listened when he talked about the death of his brothers and he listened when I talked about my divorce,” Hartman said.

Horrell’s even had a touch of fame in his life. He’s given massages to golf legend Arnold Palmer and the late comedian Bob Hope.

William Mise, of Greensburg, a YMCA volunteer, has been receiving massages from Horrell for 25 years. “He is the most talented man. He gives the best massages. He can make a cane chair that looks like it came out of a factory. He can sing, play the guitar, tune a piano and make musical arrangements,” Mise said.

Horrell said his only regret is not pursuing music more intently. “I don’t have the agility in my fingers. I took piano lessons, I have a clarinet I haven’t touched in a while, and I play some guitar. I love to sing,” he said. Horrell has been a member of the McKeesport Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society for 47 years.

He’s fond of old-time country music legends such as Jim Reeves, Ray Price and Hank Williams. Clients are usually treated to a massage and song during a session. Nedley said Horrell is the reason a lot of people come to the YMCA. “Phil’s been wonderful for the YMCA,” he said.

Alumni News

Recent Deaths

Since the last issue of the Alumni Bulletin a rather large number of our members have passed away. Moreover many of our members have themselves suffered the loss of loved ones, relatives or members of their immediate families. We wish to express our deepest sympathy to all who have suffered this loss. If the list which follows is incomplete, it is due only to the fact that we have not been notified.

Frank Nemeth, class of 1944, died May 14, 2006.

Richard Stevenson, class of 1951, lost his wife on June 21, 2006.

Charles Vidunas, class of 1968, died on July 7, 2006.

John Perseo, class of 1970, and his brother Joseph, class of 1971, lost their mother on July 12, 2006.

Richard Parker, class of 1977, died on July 21, 2006.

Jayne Leone, class of 1964, lost her mother on July 21, 2006.

Raymond St. Claire, class of 1963, lost his wife in August, 2006.

Sam DePiero, a former student and long-time librarian at our School, lost a brother in September, 2006.

Sharon Hollenbeck, class of 1969, lost her mother in September, 2006.

Rose Iocca, a former student, died on November 3, 2006.

Lois Sivits, class of 1948, lost her only sister in November, 2006.

Edwin Kramer, class of 1951 died on December 12, 2006.

Floyd Hostetler, class of 1952, and Eugene Hostetler, class of 1956, lost their half brother, Richard Snyder, on December 14, 2006.

Catherine Soulcheck, class of 1968, lost her father on January 16, 2007.

Ray Lantz, class of 1967, lost a grandson on January 20, 2007.

Martha Osborne, class of 1937, lost a sister in February, 2007.

Kathryn Jones Jeffers, class of 1952 and wife of Robert Jeffers, class of 1956, died on February 15, 2007. Kathryn was a switchboard operator for 32 years at WPSBC.

Sue Ziegler, a former student, died on April 3, 2007.

George Risko, class of 1937, died on April 19, 2007.

Harry Long, class of 1967, died on April 21, 2007.

Mary Winiarczyk, class of 1975, died on April 24, 2007.


We recently received word that Richard Stevenson, class of 1951, has retired after many years of employment at Mid-Town Camera Co.


We are very sorry that some of our members are suffering from long- term illnesses and hope they will return to good health soon.

Jeanne Kaufman, class of 1970, has been battling bad health for some time.

Russell Folckemer, class of 1968, has had one health difficulty after another for the past year.

Maurice Johnston, a former student, sustained a fractured hip as a result of an accident while attending a dinner at a local hotel. We understand that he is mending nicely.

Please contact us if you have news of interest about Alumni members or former students: marriages, births, employment, illness, death, etc. It is very difficult to write this column without input from our readers. Our Bulletin can only be as interesting as you make it.

Louise Flanigan

240 W. Brady Street

Butler, Pa. 16001

Phone (724) 282 2263


Music Teacher Robert Koshen Dies

(Many Alumni members and former students will remember Robert Koshan who taught music at our School in the 1960s. He passed away shortly before our reunion in 2006. Following is his obituary which appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)

Robert Koshan, a music teacher and jazz pianist who in the 1960s and ’70s played Pittsburgh clubs, concert venues and on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” died Monday [June 26, 2006] near his home in Winter Park, Fla. He was 76.

The native of Sharon, Mercer County, attended the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and graduated in 1952 from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. There, he met the woman he would marry three years later, Elizabeth “Ethel” Krehely.

They lived in Florida for several years before moving back here, settling in Penn Hills. In the late 1950s and early ’60s Mr. Koshan — who also earned his master’s degree in music at Duquesne University — taught piano at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children.

Later he taught music in the Quaker Valley School District.

At night, he played area clubs with local bands like Bennie Benack and the Riverboat Six and Roy Liberto and the Bourbon Street Six.

He played solo at various night spots, too, including the Omni William Penn Hotel. He did commercial work and was backup pianist for John Costa on Fred Rogers’ show. He also played for big touring acts, including Frank Sinatra, Luciano Pavarotti and Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme.

His daughter, Kathy Koshan of Winter Park, who still has some of the autographed records he’d bring home for her, said, “He hustled. He really worked a lot.”

She pointed out that some of his prize students, including Keith Stebler and Lou Schreiber, still perform around Pittsburgh.

Mr. Schreiber was in seventh grade at the [Western Pennsylvania] School for Blind Children when Mr. Koshan started teaching him in 1961. He stayed in touch with his beloved mentor, even though Mr. Koshan gave him B’s for not learning classical [music]. Mr. Schreiber, who wanted to learn stuff he could perform, said, “He gave me the nuts and bolts and I started playing jobs in eighth grade.”

Even after Mr. Koshan retired from teaching and he and his wife moved back to Florida, he continued to play around Orlando, both solo and with his trio, the Rhythm Masters.

He and his wife, who died in 2002, also were members of Orlando’s St. James Cathedral choir and traveled with the group several times to perform in Europe, once singing for the pope. It was on a choir trip in Austria in 1995 that Mr. Koshan suffered a brain aneurysm. But his daughter, with whom he lived, said he bounced back, using music as part of his therapy, and was playing piano at home again until recently, classics like Mozart. “He said, ‘I was out playing for money for all these years. Now I’m going to learn the good stuff.'”