Alumni Bulletin: 2010

Letter from President Ted Crum

Greetings to all Alumni members:

As our president I’d like to welcome everyone to the Spring Summer 2010 Bulletin and hope most if not all of you are able to attend this year’s bi-annual Alumni reunion.  The dates for our Alumni convention are August 6, 7, and 8th.  Fortunately, the school has held costs close to what we’ve paid in recent years, so I remind all Alumni members that the price for a complete weekend including dues will only cost $56.00.  The Alumni board believes the price is reasonable for the weekend’s activities.  While plans aren’t finalized several recreational activities are being discussed.  There may be a possible trip to the Rivers casino on Saturday and committee folks are searching for a guest speaker for Saturday evening. 

Outside contractors are busy at the time of this writing doing a makeover of the school’s bowling alley and the lanes will be available for Alumni to enjoy.  Believe it or not an automatic pin setter will be in place. 

Registration for attending this year will be from 3:00 – 6:00 Friday August 6.  Departure time Sunday the 8th shall be no later than 11:00 AM.  Friday evening will be our Social.  Saturday will begin with breakfast at 8:00 and the meeting at 9:00.  Lunch will be around noon with several options open at this time for the afternoon.  Dinner will be held at 6:00.  Please share this information with other Alumni that we don’t currently have on file and encourage them to attend this year’s reunion.  So, please set aside the weekend of August 6, 7, and 8th to reminisce and swap stories both about the good old days at WPSBC along with experiences life has dealt us all. 

Sincerely President Ted Crum


Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children

Seeing a Difference

School Further Expands Programs and Services

As difficult as it is to fathom, on January 8th, the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children marked the 123rd anniversary of its founding and ongoing support to children and families impacted by vision loss and other severe disabilities.

But the age of our School belies its legacy. From those first days that the School operated, faculty and staff have been highly motivated to afford each student the opportunity to become as self reliant as possible. Each student has been supported by a staff of qualified men and women who make the needs of every youngster their own priority. Thus, our legacy is captured in the accomplishments of children who pass through our halls each day and our outstanding staff who inspire our students to take that next step towards independence.

Already, the 2009-10 School term has been a milestone year in many ways. Some of our initiatives have been building on prior accomplishments and others have been new approaches to address critical needs. This edition of Insights will offer you a few glimpses of the creative responses we offered this year. From our new, innovative vocational opportunities for our enrolled students to the expanding Outreach Services for students with visual impairment enrolled in public schools throughout Pennsylvania, we are proud to continue our legacy of providing exceptional educational opportunities for students who truly deserve our support.

I hope you read with interest this issue of the Insights, and should you like to join us in making real our vision of a bright future for our students – and make your mark on a remarkable institution — I invite you to contact me at 412-621-0100 or email:


Todd Reeves


Addressing Visual Impairment On and Off Campus

The Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children Outreach Programs have continued to flourish.

During the 2008-09 school term, the Outreach Program’s pilot year, more than thirty-eight school-aged children from throughout western Pennsylvania benefited from the School’s more than 120 years of experience educating students with visual impairments. Boys and girls learned how to better travel in their environment and access information by utilizing adaptive equipment, and parents and educators were given resources to make a lasting difference in the lives of their students.

This year, we’ve dedicated a great deal of time and energy into addressing the School’s Strategic Plan tactics focused on the educational implications of students diagnosed with Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI), the leading cause of blindness for students at the School. Approximately half of our enrolled students have been diagnosed with CVI which is a defect in the visual pathways or in the visual cortex.

In October, together with renowned CVI expert, Dr. Christine Roman, we launched our first CVI clinic for non-enrolled students. The clinics provide evaluations and recommendations to students throughout our state regarding their abilities and educational progress. Additional clinics are scheduled throughout the remainder of the school term.

Additionally, staff members are partnering with Dr. Roman to implement of several small CVI-related research projects with our enrolled and non-enrolled students. The School is also partnering with UPMC McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine on an exciting venture to help design a brainport that will offer individuals with visual impairment the chance to “see” through a state-of-the-art electronic device used on the tongue.

Modifications to our campus to benefit our students with CVI have been implemented. To designate each floor, trailing rails in the Instructional Building were painted in vibrant colors, to enhance the contrast for all students

who would benefit from this adaptation while learning to orient themselves in travel, either by walking or by wheelchair. For those children who cannot distinguish color, the bottom of two raised rails has been given a textured paint coat to provide tactile cues for trailing.

Another transformation to the School has been the lowering of the sheen on the flooring surfaces throughout campus. Rather than a high gloss application, a low sheen has reduced the glare that was experienced visually by our students.

Open for Business

Print and Copy Shop Offers Vocational Opportunities

It was a concept, a contest and now a copy shop! At the School for Blind Children, the humming and clicking of printing and copying can be heard at “Lavi’s Paw Prints,” a new print and copy shop. Named in honor of the School’s mascot, Lavi the Lion, this new enterprise is an expansion of the school store, The Lion’s Den, where vocational opportunities for students who are blind or visually impaired with multiple disabilities are king!

The concept of a print and copy shop came to life when School personnel recognized the mutual benefit that students in the Intermediate and Transitional Departments might derive from a center for clerical duties. The idea came to fruition when dedicated members of the Kiwanis Conference of Western Pennsylvania donated $10,000 to upstart the endeavor.

Now business is getting off the ground with several students employed. The jobs at the shop include pick up and delivery of materials to be printed or copied to and from classrooms and offices, and stacking and organizing materials in addition to the actual tasks of printing and copying. Paper shredding is also an essential and voluminous task for students, along with cutting and folding of materials. The duties for which the students are trained are in tandem with their Individualized Educational Program goals. Job seekers are offered positions through an application and interview process mirroring that in the real world.

The equipment for the shop includes a state-of-the-art, multifaceted printer/copier that is adapted with a touch pad for the students to easily access the functions. Through the services offered by Lavi’s Paw Prints, an extra task load for staff is alleviated,

while providing another real work experience for the students right on campus. It is intended that in some cases, this specific training may directly link to employment opportunities in the community post-graduation.

For eleven years, Uniontown High School Cross Country Coach Joe Everhart has organized a field trip for his team to visit the School for Blind Children.

This year, twenty Uniontown students traveled to our Oakland campus to interact and bond with their peers at our School.

“It’s the perfect end to our season. No matter what the team accomplishes throughout the year, we enjoy visiting the School. It gives us a good perspective on life,” said Coach Everhart.

The smiles on all of the students’ faces are evidence of the mutually beneficial relationship that has been established. The students and staff of the School for Blind Children are thrilled to continue this annual tradition and were honored to receive a $1,000 donation from the “Omelet Run” race held this past June. Thanks Team!

Green Thumbs Rule!

What began as a volunteer effort 10 years ago has become a part of the everyday educational programming at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children. Originally, Horticulture Therapist Liza Thornton taught 6 classes to the oldest age group of enrolled students.But now more are digging into the interactive learning, as the number of horticulture classes has expanded to 22 for the 2009-2010 school year and spans across age groups. Furthermore, the horticulture program has been incorporated into the after-school experience for the School’s residential Transitional Academy students.

Horticulture classes are eagerly anticipated by students and staff alike and are held in the School’s garden or greenhouse as weather permits. Liza relishes certain moments like, “seeing a student smile with the feel of the sunshine on his face and being mesmerized by the sensations of the outdoors; experiencing some of the simple joys of childhood, like watching “helicopter” seed pods spin.” Repotting butterfly bush seedlings and taking cuttings from beautifully scented geraniums, are just a few of the lessons learned.

Outdoors is not the only arena in which to be creative! Inspiring indoor lessons are frequently conducted in the food preparation room or in the classrooms. Tasty butters and oils were prepared from “scratch” with fragrant lemon verbena and other aromatic and delicious herbs that were explored in the process.

A new horticulture venture in the form of community enterprise was embarked upon for the November 2009 Election Day. A student plant sale, featuring plants cultivated by the boys and girls in the School greenhouse, was an impressively successful endeavor. Also, students are now proud members of the “Green Thumb” group. Their responsibilities include delivering plants to classrooms, and learning important maintenance jobs like cutting back plants, weeding, watering, and using the shop vacuum in the greenhouse. With ideas and projects growing like weeds, it looks like horticulture is here to stay at the School!

Transitional Academy

After hours learning and fun

During last school year, the School for Blind Children implemented an exciting new after-school program for boys and girls enrolled in the School’s Residential Program. The program, now referred to as the Transitional Academy, provides a home-away-from-home for nearly one-third of our students. Those children who reside far away from campus or have medically related conditions that make it difficult to commute daily to school qualify to stay from Sunday evenings through Friday afternoons. Fully adaptive living quarters, an individualized nutritional program and around-the-clock, qualified staff provide a safe, fun and nurturing environment for the children.

With the start of the 2009-10 school year, the Transitional Academy was further expanded to include day students select weeks from 3:00 – 5:15 p.m. The after-school program for our day students allows the boys and girls to further develop important educational and social goals outlined in their educational plans while participating in recreational activities.

The magic of the Transitional Academy proceeds with group activities that reinforce functional skills taught throughout the instructional day. Practicing skills like choice making, turn taking, utilizing residual vision and honing motor control are incorporated into many age-appropriate recreation and leisure venues. Student Apartment activities, horticulture therapy, a Girls Club and a Boy Scouting group are among the various opportunities offered to the boys and girls. For the youngest children, a volunteer storyteller combines her verbal tales with sensory demonstrations and activities. The program has been wholly successful and beneficial to approximately 40 residential students and 17 participating day students.

Further, the program has now begun to successfully incorporate therapeutic recreational services. Speech and language pathologists pioneered the effort so students can access selected communicative technology throughout the day and residential programs. Likewise, physical therapists and occupational therapists have been adding their own critical contributions. Paraprofessionals are trained by the therapists during direct hands-on activities with the students. Says Diane Maurey, Intermediate Program and Residential Evening Director, “Feedback from parents has been extremely positive. This program gives our students opportunities to participate in after school activities comparable to their peers without disabilities.”

Celebrating Success

In October, seven year-old Early Childhood Department student, Bennett Huibregtse, was awarded the coveted honor. Prior to starting School last year, Bennett spent much of his time at home with his family struggling with health issues. When he enrolled at School, he quickly began to blossom according to his educational team. They discovered that he was very social and motivated by his peers. Bennett worked tirelessly to learn how to use his vision to participate in activities with his friends. 

But, even with all of his successes, Bennett’s attendance fluctuated as he struggled with poor health while waiting for a kidney transplant. This past summer, Bennett received his transplanted kidney and, to his credit, his recovery has been extraordinary. He overcame the hardships of the surgery while continuing to make tremendous progress toward his educational goals. He now easily explores his environment in his dynamic stander and participates more fully in classroom activities. Bennett worked to accomplish so much this past year, he truly deserved the honor.

In November, Jessica Delao, an eleven year-old pupil in the Intermediate Department, was recognized for her outstanding progress in the area of speech and language. Jessie has been at our School for slightly over one year and came to us with very few functional words in her vocabulary. Since enrolling, her expressive language has exploded now she is able to label most common objects and toys in her environment as well as the people in her life.

Jessie has further impressed staff with her ability to now follow both simple and complex directions in addition to making gains to her auditory memory.  She can now remember the lunch menu for the day throughout the morning and can repeat it back when requested. Jessica loves to work one-on-one with instructors and can stay on task for 45 minutes to an hour. Her educational team is extremely proud of her diligence and determination. Congratulations Jessie!

Twenty-one year-old Chelsey Cyprian, a student in the Transitional Department, was awarded the honor in December. Her Orientation and Mobility Instructor, Norm Yeargers, nominated Chelsey because she has made tremendous strides learning to travel in her wheelchair. Chelsey worked intensely, and now controls her travel when being pushed in a wheelchair by activating a switch to “stop” or “keep moving.” 

Chelsey also directs her assistant when to “stop” or “move on” appropriately and without any prompting. Best of all, Chelsey has generalized this skill to travel at a local mall. She can stop and linger at points of interest and then continue traveling to a new adventure. These important skills will serve her well when she graduates this upcoming June. Good job, Chelsey!

Giving Matters

Providing learning that Lasts a Lifetime

The difference between a minimal education and an extraordinary one for the children at our School is due, in large part, to the support we receive from our valued friends and donors. The School for Blind Children receives appropriation from the state and local school districts, but those funds alone do not come close to meeting all of the needs of our special students.

Each child here has a unique story. Collectively, they have all faced unusual odds. Believing that education excellence will bring about many positive changes, our staff members make each day count. It is difficult for these youngsters to learn new skills; but with perseverance and opportunity, even the students who are the most challenged by physical, cognitive and sensory disabilities make inspiring progress.

Your generosity makes an important difference and assures that the School can truly meet the individual needs, interests and abilities of a group of very deserving girls and boys. For more information on how you can help provide learning that lasts a lifetime, please contact the Office of Institutional Advancement at 412-621-0100, email, or visit our website:

Blind Students Making Movies

WATERTOWN – Kevin Bright was going around the table telling each of his film students what he thought of their work on the homework assignment, which was to get comfortable using their new video cameras.

“When you woke up at 2:30 in the morning and started shooting, I thought that was really cool,’ Bright told her. But, he added, “What was the one thing you didn’t do?’

“Turn the light on!’

“That’s right, baby!’ The students burst out laughing.

Here’s why they laughed: They’re all blind.

Bright, the Emmy-winning producer of the smash sitcom “Friends,’ is involved in a groundbreaking partnership with the Perkins School for the Blind. An executive artist in residence at Emerson College, Bright has developed a filmmaking course for blind students, teaching them how to shoot, light, direct, and produce. His students just completed their first short film, “Seeing Through the Lens,’ about the friendship between three teenage girls at Perkins.

“Just because they can’t see the final product doesn’t mean they can’t express their feelings or write a script,’ said Bright, 55, who is thinking about producing a reality TV show by and about Perkins students. “It just came to me: Film and television are unique art forms because they require collaboration. A blind person needs a sighted collaborator. But there’s no reason for there to be any limit to their potential.’

It was serendipity that brought Bright not just to Perkins, but to Boston. Three years ago he was living in Los Angeles – weary, discouraged, and looking for a way to recharge himself after more than 30 years of producing and directing comedy shows such as “In Living Color,’ “Dream On,’ and “Friends.’ In 2006, around the time that his “Friends’ spinoff, “Joey,’ bombed, Jacqueline Liebergott, Emerson president, invited him to spend a semester teaching at his alma mater. One semester has stretched into three years.

Bright, who divides his time between LA and Boston, was at a Celtics-Lakers game at TD Garden a year ago when the choir from the Perkins School sang the national anthem. He was so moved he slipped a $1,000 check into a donation envelope, which led to a thank you call from Perkins and an invitation to tour the school.

Bright was instantly captivated by the school and its students, one of whom astonished him by conducting the tour unassisted. He was intrigued by Perkins’s connection to Helen Keller, who’d studied there as a child, and by a framed letter hanging on a wall that she’d written in perfect penmanship.

“It was a miracle,’ said Bright. “Straight as an arrow! Even line! It never drifted!’

He met Jeff Migliozzi, a visually impaired English teacher who developed a media course at Perkins; his students had produced a TV show about the school, “The Perkins Insider,’ for Watertown’s public access station. Bright offered to drop in on his class – “even if it was just to watch Friends’ with them and annotate an episode.’ But Migliozzi had his own agenda: to find some way the students could use a camera.

He asked Bright to teach a filmmaking course.

To Migliozzi’s delight, Bright agreed.

“But I predicted failure . . . ‘ Bright said. “I didn’t think I could get them excited about it, if they couldn’t see.’

He didn’t have to worry. The class, which started in January, has been a hit. The 10 students, aged 17 to 20, are tech-savvy, and they quickly caught on to the high-definition digital flip cameras Bright bought for them. “Their fingers were all over them, like 10 eyes,’ he said. “One student had it going before I taught it to the class.’

“I thought, I can take a camera? I can make a movie with my classmates? Wow!’ ‘ recalled Sam Robson, 17.

Bright explained the cameras could be a kind of diary for them. “I told them, We’re here to tell our story, to leave something, not to just pass through 40, 50, 60 years and leave nothing behind. You’re here to share your experience with the rest of the world, including the sighted world.’ ‘

Still, there were obvious challenges: How would they know where to point the camera? How could they tell if a room had enough light? How could they visualize a scene?

“But the more I got to know them, the more I got inspired by them, and the more they got excited by film and TV the more I want to teach them,’ Bright said. “I’ve rediscovered the love of [this business] by watching them discover the love of doing this.’

He added: “If Helen Keller could write that letter, I knew a blind person could make a movie.’

There is no textbook for teaching filmmaking to blind people, so Bright has improvised. He figured out that the students’ canes are a useful tool for measuring distances between camera and subject: “If I want to have a wide shot, I have to be a full cane-length away. A close-up would be a half-cane.’

He told them to make sure there’s nothing on the floor they don’t want in the shot. He explained editing by playing video for them so they could listen to it before and after it was edited. He tackled lighting by using desk lamps, and having the students feel the difference between a scene that’s well lit and one that’s overexposed.

“You have to take advantage of the senses they do have,’ said Bright. “Light becomes not bright and dark but hot and cold.’

And he doesn’t wear kid gloves when he’s critiquing their work.

“Sam, I appreciate you saying hello to me on the video, but it’s really about filming Laurie,’ he told Robson.

Bright has high energy, an apparent aversion to shaving, an affinity for hats, and a resonant voice that still bears the trace of his childhood in New York, where his father was an actor and vaudeville performer. The students seem to adore him, and he seems to adore them back, bringing them cake one week, Gummi Bears another. The students talk, a lot, about what it means to them to use video cameras.

“If I don’t have a week with my camera, oh dear lord,’ said Cherry-White. “I feel like a queen when I have the video camera in my hand.’

They explain that even if they can’t see what they’ve just recorded, they can hear it, which helps them remember places they’ve been.

“It makes a cool audio experience as well as video,’ said Ashley Bernard, 17. She talked about a recent encounter she had with a stranger when she was out walking during her mobility lesson. “Some lady drove up in her car, and was, like, you’re walking with a video camera and you’re blind! It makes me feel – honestly? – kind of powerful.’

“I like other people to see who I really am,’ said Michelle Smith, 17.

Recently Bright strode into class with some news: He’d just heard that the Braille Institute, a California-based service agency for the blind, had announced its first film festival for the visually impaired, called Cinema Without Sight. The best submission wins $1,000 and a trip to Los Angeles.

“We’re going to do a film for the film festival,’ he told the class. “We win this, then we’ll figure out how to get you all to LA.’

“Really?’ said Dan Guilbeault, 17. “Awesome!’

With only about two weeks until deadline, he outlined his vision of the film to the students. It would incorporate the theme of the festival, which is “I am more than what I see.’ It would be about the friendship among three girls in the class – Cherry-White, Bernard, and Smith. Smith, who has some vision in one eye, would be the director. The boys would do the shooting. They’d start with a “three-shot’ of the girls looking into the camera and introducing themselves.

Bright’s teaching assistant, Eric Fox, edited the video at Bright’s apartment in a 48-hour blitz and made the deadline – barely. A few days ago Bright showed the finished product to the class, describing each scene and each shot – Bernard, 17, playing piano and singing; Smith at her computer; Cherry-White on Facebook when she was supposed to be in English class; the three girls in the snack bar, entertaining each other with jokes about blind dating.

“Nothing would give me greater pleasure than winning the competition and taking the entire class to California for the screening,’ Bright said. “I want the film to win for them, but I think it’s just secondary to them: I think they’d just say, We’ll get it next year.’ ‘

The Men Who Keep ‘Talking Books’ Talking

By Diane Mastrull, The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA — Christian D. Charron retired from General Electric in 1995 as chief engineer and technical director of a classified program. His work required him to master a variety of intense jobs, including fixing orbiting satellites.

All the more ironic to see him flummoxed one morning last week — by a tape player.

“It works, and then it stops,” said an exasperated Mr. Charron, the machine laid open before him, its amplifier board and other guts exposed.

Why? “I don’t have any idea.”

That he and six other GE retirees were spending a morning laboring with soldering irons and long-nosed pliers was entirely their choice.

Mr. Charron and company spend two mornings a week in a 754-square-foot glorified storage room in an office building, repairing “talking book” tape players.

In all, Mr. Charron leads a legion of 27 fixers — men (though women are welcome) ranging in age from 66 to 92, and with a variety of aches and pains — who are part of a national network of 1,000 volunteers who breathe new life into about 100,000 players a year, said Kevin Watson, equipment-repair officer for the Library of Congress’ National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

The machines are provided at no cost. On average, a typical malfunctioning tape player requires about $20 worth of parts — a quarter of the cost if the repairs were done by a private contractor, Mr. Watson said.

“That’s huge savings,” he said, adding, “Congress is never all that thrilled about giving us more money.”

The repair volunteers are “the backbone” of the lending program, whose first known volunteer, Mr. Watson said, was James Jones, a telephone-company employee in Arkansas who offered his services in 1950.

Back then, the Library Service was providing record players. Cassette players came in 1971, Mr. Watson said. About a year ago, digital devices entered the mix.

But for now, it’s the tape players that keep Mr. Charron and his compadres busy Tuesday and Thursday mornings in a closet-turned-workshop.

The room, with just two narrow windows, is easily overlooked inside a cavernous building where General Electric still has offices, though it sold the property in May 2007 to a New York-based partnership.

The local “talking book” repair chapter was created in 1989. Many of the workbenches and repair tools have come from shuttered GE facilities throughout the region, said David Blake, 82, of Broomall, Pa., as he glued a part onto a cassette machine.

A 40-year GE employee, Mr. Blake retired in 1991 as manager of an aircraft-engine sales office in Center City.

“Until I had a leg problem, I used to play golf three times a week,” he said of his initial years of retirement.

Now, he puts his analytical and tinkering skills to work. It’s not for a paycheck, but for the satisfaction of helping people whom he likely will never know listen to books.

New book tunes into Pittsburgh’s radio history

By Adrian McCoy, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Pittsburgh’s Golden Age of Radio” (Arcadia Publishing, $21.99) is primarily a pictorial history of local radio in its glory days. But author Ed Salamon’s introduction to the book and anecdote-laden captions paint a vivid picture of the city’s place in radio history.

The book is part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series, which document local history, cities and neighborhoods through archival photos.

Mr. Salamon, a radio industry veteran, grew up in Brookline listening to many of the people he writes about here. During high school and college, he was in a garage band that played at record hops around town, where he met DJs such as Chuck Brinkman and Porky Chedwick.

After graduating from University of Pittsburgh in 1970, he got a job doing publicity for KDKA-AM’s 50th anniversary. That launched a radio career for Mr. Salamon. From 1973-75 he worked as a program director at the former WEEP-AM, which was a country station at the time.

He left Pittsburgh to take over programming at WHN-AM in New York, a country station that went from the bottom to the top of the ratings during his tenure.

Along with Dick Clark, Mr. Salamon formed The United Stations Radio Network, where he created “The Weekly Country Music Countdown” and “Dick Clark’s Rock Roll and Remember.” In 1993, he was named president of programming for The Westwood One Radio Network. He teaches at the School of Mass Communications at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.

For this book’s purposes, the golden age of radio spans the beginning of commercial broadcasting in the 1920s to the end of the 1970s, as FM gained dominance over AM.

The book opens with the birth of radio, including the many firsts that happened here: KDKA, the first commercial station to be licensed, its historic broadcast of the Harding-Cox election returns on Nov. 2, 1920, the first regularly scheduled religious broadcast, which came from Calvary Episcopal Church in January 1921, and many more.

National radio networks and live local broadcasts and performances marked radio’s rise to a dominant medium in the 1940s. Photos show KDKA musical director Bernie Armstrong, who worked there in the 1930s and ’40s, and Slim Bryant and his Georgia Wildcats, a country band who performed live during KDKA’s “Farm Report” in the ’40s.

As TVs took over American living rooms in the ’50s, radio had to reinvent itself. The book’s second section deals with the rise of popular music and Top 40 programming, and the creative and colorful personalities who became local radio stars: Mr. Chedwick, Rege Cordic, Ed and Wendy King, Bill Steinbach, Terry Lee, Myron Cope, among others.

“All the people I listened to on the radio in Pittsburgh growing up meant so much to me,” Mr. Salamon says. Compiling the “Golden Age of Radio” gave him “the opportunity to do something to be able to recognize and memorialize them.

“These people are not only important to Pittsburghers, but are important to radio across the nation. They were an inspiration for people across the country. A lot of people in Pittsburgh were influencers of what radio became.”

The final section looks at the rise of FM radio in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Ken Reeth, a WAMO-FM program director, created the persona of Brother Love and introduced Pittsburgh to bands that weren’t getting airplay but would become the staples of rock-radio formats. KQV-FM became WDVE, one of the original album-oriented rock stations. “All of these stations were early in their formats, and their personalities were emulated by stations across the country,” Mr. Salamon says.

Gathering the material for the book was “equally challenging and rewarding,” he says. Radio, with its high turnaround and format changes, doesn’t often preserve its own history, and photos were hard to find.

Still, he managed to gather a rich visual slice of local history — 200-plus portraits, photos from concerts and promotions, including an infamous “cow chip” flinging stunt with then-KDKA personality Jack Bogut and newsman Dave James.

The images came from a variety of sources: photographs from personalities featured in the book, radio station archives and from the collections of Mr. Salamon and others. Singer Bobby Vinton contributed photos of himself with KDKA’s Clark Race, whom he credited with breaking “Roses Are Red” as a hit, and with Bill Powell of WAMO.

The memories and Mr. Salamon’s connections in the business also provided the book with some great inside stories about local radio.

The author will do three book signings this weekend: at 7 tonight at Borders, the Shoppes at Northway, Ross; 1 p.m. Saturday at Barnes & Noble, South Hills Village; and 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Borders, Eastside. Mr. Salamon has invited some of the personalities featured in the book, including Mr. Bogut, to join him at the signings.

Dapper Dan Lifetime Achievement Award: Sammartino ‘wanted to give the fans their money’s worth’

By Robert Dvorchak, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“People used to ask why I never moved somewhere else. But believe me, I would never consider living anywhere else in the United States. Pittsburgh is my home.”Like anyone who has lived in the same house for nearly 48 years, Bruno Sammartino has accumulated his share of memorabilia.

For example, there’s a key to the Italian city of Pizzaferrato, which erected a statue to her native son. There’s a picture with Pope Paul VI, who granted him a Vatican audience in 1966, just 16 years after an 80-pound weakling left for America and returned as a world champion. And there’s an Everlast boxing glove autographed by Jake “Raging Bull” LaMotta.

One cherished photo shows him with Joe DiMaggio. Not only do he and the Yankee Clipper share Italian heritage, they had similar approaches to their professions. DiMaggio said he played all out all the time because there might be a guy in the stands who had never seen him play before, and that strikes a chord with Sammartino.

“If people took the time to leave their homes and bought a ticket with their hard-earned cash to see me perform, the least I could do was give it everything I had every time out,” Sammartino said. “I didn’t care if I was aching or hurting. I wanted to give the fans their money’s worth.”

A two-time heavyweight champion of the world, Sammartino returns to the spotlight one more time Thursday to give his fans their money’s worth. He will receive the Dapper Dan Lifetime Achievement Award, and the only thing he will be wrestling with is his celebrity.

Broadcasting legend Bill Cardille, who witnessed Sammartino’s ascent from construction worker to star of “Studio Wrestling” to the headliner who sold out Madison Square Garden 187 times, said no one is more deserving.

“In his day, he was the hottest ticket in the world,” said Cardille, who has been on Pittsburgh airwaves for more than half a century and who still has a radio show on WJAS-AM (1320).

“Every time he wrestled, whether it was in Japan or Australia or South America or around the corner, he was an ambassador for Pittsburgh,” Cardille added. “He is a man of humility, accomplishment, compassion, strength and, above all, integrity. He is the consummate Pittsburgh guy.”

A grandfather whose blue eyes have softened over the years, Sammartino lives a quiet suburban life in Ross with his wife of 50 years. He and Carol have a standing dinner date Saturdays, and they enjoy listening to Italian operas sung by Franco Corelli.

As a youngster who was new to America, Sammartino built himself up by lifting weights at a Jewish community center in Oakland because other kids picked on him for not being able to speak English.

He still works out six days a week, rising at 5:30 a.m. to begin his days in his basement gym. In his street clothes, he weighs 227 pounds, about 50 pounds below his wrestling weight.

Sammartino can bench press 225 pounds. That’s down from the certified press of 565 pounds in his prime, but he will be 75 in October. He listens to KDKA’s Rob Pratte on his AM radio as he pumps iron three days a week, and he runs three times a week, six miles at a time, up and down the terrain of the North Hills.

If you called him a homebody, he would accept it as a compliment.

“People have no clue how demanding my schedule was back in the day. There were times when I might be home for just one or two days a month,” he said. “So now, I like to spend as much time at home as possible. People used to ask why I never moved somewhere else. But believe me, I would never consider living anywhere else in the United States. Pittsburgh is my home.”

Sammartino has had a well-publicized divorce from professional wrestling over the direction it has taken. He admits that pro wrestling wasn’t all pure in his day because promoters pre-determined some outcomes, and those who didn’t play by the rules were blackballed. But he also said that many matches were real competitions.

“People can say it’s fake and everything’s fixed. Fine, whatever. But lots of guys protected their reputations,” Sammartino said.

To that end, he talked about two matches that stand out from a career that spanned four decades. One made him a champion, and one highlights all the bouts he has had over the years at the Civic Arena before then-Mellon Bank bought the naming rights.

In 1963, after he was shut out of U.S. wrestling shows because he refused to take dives, Sammartino was wrestling out of Toronto as a Canadian champion.

“I was blackballed in the United States,” he said. “I wasn’t going to leave my wife and my job and not be given a chance at winning the championship, and they told me, ‘Who do you think you are?'”

Then promoter Vince McMahon Sr. needed someone to go up against World Wide Wrestling Federation champion Buddy Rogers. It would be in Madison Square Garden, the epicenter of the wrestling universe, on May 17, 1963.

“When we were introduced in the center of the ring, I told Buddy to forget whatever they told him was going to happen. I told him to do his best because I was going to do my best,” Sammartino said.

Seconds after the opening bell, Sammartino scooped up the champion and body-slammed him to the canvas.

Then he hoisted Rogers onto his shoulder and applied a closing hold known as the pendulum backbreaker.

“I told him to give up or I was really going to break his back,” Sammartino said.

Every wrestling fan knows the championship belt can only be won with a pin fall or submission. Just 47 seconds into this match, Rogers submitted, and wrestling had a new king. Sammartino held the title for seven years, eight months and one day — still the longest continuous reign in history. He would later become the first wrestler to win the championship two times.

It was during the first championship run that Sammartino was scheduled to appear in a 1968 bout at the Civic Arena against Hans Mortier, who was billed as Bridget Bardot’s bodyguard. The two wrestlers had already engaged in a series of earlier bouts, and Sammartino was the only man who had ever broken out of Mortier’s signature hold, the full nelson.

The show had been sold out for months. But then, Martin Luther King was assassinated, and an anonymous caller threatened to detonate a bomb inside the arena if the show wasn’t cancelled in deference to the slain civil rights leader.

“In those days, promoters had the arena for a certain date, and if the show didn’t go on, they lost the gate. They’re the ones who made the business decision to go on with it,” Sammartino said.

“They kept the bomb threat quiet, but I found out about it. Let me tell you, I wasn’t too comfortable going out there. But I was in the main event, and I wasn’t going to be the one to back out,” he added. “Nothing happened, obviously, but I can’t say I wasn’t nervous.”

Mortier, a native of Holland, found himself in a backbreaker and submitted.

Sammartino wrestled at the arena for more than 20 years, starting with a match against Moose Cholak of Moose Bay, Wis., shortly after the arena opened in 1961.

“I’ve wrestled in places that were bigger, and I wrestled all over the world,” Sammartino said. “But in all honesty, I loved wrestling at the arena. The shape of it was so magnificent. From the air, it looked like a flying saucer or a space ship.

“But most of all, it meant coming back home,” he added. “There’s nothing like wrestling in front of people you know. It was like coming back home to be with family.”

Spoken like a true Pittsburgh guy.

Tommy James’ Music Success Linked to Pittsburgh and Gangsters

By Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

People sometimes mistake Tommy James for a Pittsburgh artist, and it’s not an unreasonable assumption.

“Everything good that ever happened to me happened in Pittsburgh,” the 63-year-old pop legend said in a phone interview last week.

That line also comes right out of his new provocatively titled autobiography “Me, the Mob, and the Music,” a riveting portrayal of how his hit-filled career on Roulette Records became linked with one of New York City’s most notorious organized crime families.

The autobiography, just out on Simon & Schuster, is a more blood-and-guts version of a book that Mr. James began writing a decade ago, originally intended to focus on how he recorded such hits as “I Think We’re Alone Now” and “Crimson and Clover.”

“It was going to be about the hits and the studio experiences,” he said. “We got about halfway done and realized so much of this is incomplete because we gotta tell the whole Roulette story. We put the book on a shelf for a few years, and then when Vinnie ‘The Chin’ Gigante passed way in December of ’05 in prison, I thought we could probably go ahead and name names and talk about what happened. I had been carrying this around with me for a long time. I was really nervous about talking about it.”

Mr. James’ story begins in Dayton, Ohio, where he was born Thomas Gregory in 1947. Inspired by Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and the gang, he was playing rock ‘n’ roll in clubs by age 13. At 16, though, life was pressing down on him, as his girlfriend was pregnant, marriage was looming and he needed to make a living.

In 1964, he and his band the Shondells used a Niles, Ohio, radio station studio to cut a cover of a song he’d heard in a club. All they knew was the chorus, “My baby does the hanky-panky,” so he made up the rest of the words. It was a smash hit in the South Bend, Ind., area. But nowhere else. Within months, the dejected singer had no Shondells, a job in the Spin-It Record Shop and a colicky baby. For extra money, he picked up gigs with a local band called the Spinners (not to be confused with the Detroit hitmakers).

Meanwhile, over in Pittsburgh, the local dance and radio jocks were in constant competition to dust off older, obscure records and spin them into hits. They would even travel out of town to find them. In late 1965, dance promoter and DJ Bob Mack discovered a copy of “Hanky Panky” and gave it a whirl. The kids went wild for “Hanky Panky.” With the likes of Bob Livorio, Clark Race and Chuck Brinkman spinning it on radio, it went to No. 1 in Pittsburgh in early ’66, back when the industry scouted regional markets. The local label Red Fox/Fenway quickly went to the presses with bootleg copies and sold 80,000 in 10 days.

Although he didn’t get a dime of that, “I got a career out of it,” Mr. James said, laughing. “Pittsburgh had this thriving underground oldies market in the middle ’60s. Nowhere else had that. I suppose maybe Philadelphia had it, but Pittsburgh was such a unique place. Pittsburgh was a great place to have a record take off, because it had a little miniature record business right in the city. Pittsburgh was a talent factory back then.”

One Saturday afternoon, just before heading to a gig in a local dive,” Mr. James said, “I got the call from Pittsburgh that changed my life.”

They had tracked him down at the record store and wanted him to drive to Pittsburgh pronto. By then the Shondells were scattered and disinterested, so the singer came by himself to appear at the dances and radio stations.

“Outside the city limits,” he said, “I’m nobody. As soon as I go through the Liberty Tunnels, I come out the other side, I’m a rock star. I got the No. 1 record. It was like Cinderella going to the ball. Then I leave and go back to playing for 12 drunks again. Nobody knows who I am.”

Mr. James needed a new band to play the White Elephant, Bethel Rolling Rink and other dance spots and found a great one in a Greensburg lounge called The Raconteurs — Joe Kessler, Ron Rosman, George Magura, Mike Vale and Vinnie Pietropaoli — who were doing their own version of “Hanky Panky” but also had their own songs. “It felt so natural to play with these guys, it was amazing,” he said. The Raconteurs would become the Shondells.

The next move would seal his fate in the music business, for better and worse. The singer and Mr. Mack headed for New York City to sell the master to a major label, and, Mr. James said, “We got a ‘yes’ from virtually everybody,” including Columbia, Epic and Atlantic, and “we were feeling so good because we were going to have the pick of the litter.”

The wild card was the last label they visited, Roulette — run by the notorious “Godfather of Rock” Morris Levy (the inspiration for “Hesh” on “The Sopranos”).

The day after those label meetings, Mr. James said, “one by one we got calls from the other labels saying, ‘Listen, we gotta pass.’ Finally, Jerry Wexler at Atlantic leveled with us and said, ‘Morris Levy called all the record companies and said [in a “Godfather” voice], “This is my [expletive] record.” ‘ Everybody was scared of him. Everybody knew he was connected. Morris was an imposing figure, right out of central casting. What we didn’t know was that Roulette Records was a front for the Genovese crime family in New York in addition to being a record company — and pretty good one. Morris and his friends used it as everything from a social club to illegal bank accounts where they could launder money.”

Unbeknownst to Mr. James at the time, he was about to become their top “earner” in the pop music market. With the strong arm of Roulette behind them, in July of 1966 “Hanky Panky” leapfrogged “Strangers in the Night” and “Paperback Writer” to the top of the singles charts. What followed was a four-year string of success that included such beloved hits as “I Think We’re Alone Now” and “Mony Mony,” evolving into psych-pop classics such as “Crimson and Clover” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion.”

The Shondells had a fairly simple arrangement with Roulette: They made the records. Roulette kept the money. When the singer would beg for a payout, he was bullied and threatened. He tells of Roulette’s offices being a mobster hangout and, at one point, during a war between the crime families, Mr. James was whisked away to Nashville in fear that he was a target of assassination.

“Truthfully, we would meet someone up in Morris’ office, and two weeks later, we’d see them on television being taken out of a warehouse in Jersey in handcuffs — doing the perp walk. This happened time after time.”

The record mogul would throw him a small check here or there or help him buy a house, but he and the band had to rely on money from gigs, commercials and other sources to survive. The book dramatically depicts the final blowout that took place when the singer approached Mr. Levy for the $30 million he believed he was owed in royalties.

The fascinating conflict is the shadowy symbiotic relationship between the artist and Mr. Levy, whom he considered a friend.

“We were treated incredibly well at Roulette at a creative level,” Mr. James said. “If we had signed with one of the major corporate labels like Columbia or RCA, there’s no doubt we would have been handed to a producer and lost in the numbers. Because Roulette was an independent label and because they really needed us, we got the run of the place.

“Every time I go to say something negative about Morris, my conscience bothers me because without Morris Levy there wouldn’t have been a Tommy James. That’s the truth. I think it’s quite possible ‘Hanky Panky’ would have come and gone, and that would have been it.”

Mr. James’ anger and frustration toward Roulette further fueled drug problems that were already rampant among pop stars of that era. The Shondells were finished in early 1970 (after stupidly turning down an invitation to Woodstock a few months earlier). The singer had a brief run as a solo artist with Roulette in 1971, and his performing career was revived, for keeps, in the ’80s when the likes of Billy Idol, Joan Jett and Tiffany scored hits with his songs. Around that same time, he also married his second wife, Lynda, a Mars, Butler County, native, in her hometown in 1981.

The eye-opening book and cinematic storyline has sparked new interest in the Tommy James saga. A Hollywood biopic is in the works for late 2011 with two actors, one possibly Val Kilmer, to play the singer, and a Broadway production is also in development.

Meanwhile, the singer recently reunited with a few of his former Shondells (Mr. Vale, Mr. Rosman and later member Eddie Grey) in the studio for a Christmas record and also to record a new, more dreamy version of “I Think We’re Alone Now” that will accompany the movie scene of Mr. Levy dying of cancer in 1990.

Mr. James admits that among his regrets is that he never got to reconnect with the convicted record mogul before he died.

“With everything that happened, the guy still was a mentor and a bit of an abusive father figure, I guess you could say. I had this whole thing I was going to say to him and I never got the chance because he died 12 hours before I could get back. Morris and I stayed friends. We respected each other in the end. It’s amazing that it ended that way because it got very scary at Roulette. We were very lucky to get out of there in one piece.”

BVRS to Participate in UPMC Artificial Vision Study

BrainPort deliver images to the tongue and brain

Can a series of mild electronic signals that tickle the tongue like soda bubbles actually help a blind person see?

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but researchers at the Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center are hoping one day to do just that with the BrainPort – an experimental device that sends images to the brain.  BVRS has been chosen as a study site.

“This study could eventually lead to medical and scientific breakthroughs that may someday allow mankind to conquer the challenges presented by blindness,” said Stephen Barrett, BVRS President and CEO.  “I’m very proud that our agency has been selected to participate in this study.”

Researchers will collect data about what happens in the brain when BrainPort is used, including how the brain interprets the images and if there are any discernable changes in the brain after use, said lead researcher Dr. Amy Nau director of optometry and low vision services at the Eye Center of UPMC.

Ken Wojtczak, staff director of BVRS’ Low Vision Clinic, and Amy Rebovich, NVRS occupational therapist who will work with Dr. Nau, will recruit participants among BVRS’ clients.  An obstacle course will be built at BVRS that study participants will walk through while using the BrainPort.  The Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind will also be a study site.

The ultimate goal is to replace lost sight with a functional alternative, but the BrainPort isn’t there yet.  Researchers hope this study will provide a foundation for a series of advancing investigations.

The BrainPort, manufactured by Wicab Technologies of Wisconsin, delivers messages in the form of shapes on the tongue.  So far participants have been able to identify shapes, discern whether objects are in front of them, and navigate around obstacles, said Dr. Nau.  Participants have also been able to perceive that a face is in front of them, but cannot process facial details, she said.

The BrainPort consists of a tiny camera that is mounted to a pair of glasses.  It has a handheld control system about the size of a cell phone that is used for zoom and contrast.  An electrode array that consists of 625 sensors, delivers fine-grained spatial information to the tongue and through the tongue to the brain.

The tongue is used because it is sensitive and covered in nerves.

Summer 2010

Necrology August 2008 through April 2010

The following members and immediate relatives of Alumni, who have passed away since our reunion in 2008.

If I have missed anyone it is only because I was not notified.  Often I am not made aware of a death until time has passed, please let me know immediately if you hear of a passing as we would like to do the memorial then.

Neil Schulman, a former student, died October 3, 2008.

James Nornhold, class of 1958, lost a sister October 3, 2008.

Earl Beddell, a former student, died November 23, 2008.

Alden Fingerhoot, class of 1957, lost his wife December 20, 2008.

Robert Callahan, class of 1948, died December 29, 2008.

Terry Stang, class of 1974, lost his father January 3, 2009.

Richard Stevenson, class 1951, lost a brother January 15, 2009.

Carmen Matesic Deems class of 1966, lost her mother February, 2009.

Evelyn Kaufman, class of 1937, died February 19, 2009.

Margaret Shaul Zaleewski, class of 1969, died April 15, 2009.

William Troyer, a former student, died April 15, 2009

Virginia Wolozyn DePerio Linhart, class of 1946, died in April 2009.

Jeanne Kaufman, class of 1970, died May 19, 2009.

Marjory Vuksanovich Wagner, class of 1975, died August 29, 2009.

Robert Bennett, class of 1959, died August 31, 2009.

Richard Meckler, class of 1975, died November 12, 2009.

Etta Lockhart Burge, class of 1951, died in November 2009.

Louis Zasadni, class of 1948, died April 12, 2010.

Tom Sweeney, class of 1965, died May 2010.

Please call me if you hear of any Alumni members or family members passing at: (724) 282-2263

Louise Flanigan

2010 Alumni Convention Registration Form






Graduated/Left school in 19

Preferred format of bulletin:




I plan to stay at the school during the reunion

I am bringing a guest

I will be accompanied by a guide dog

I would like to room with

Fees per person (guests do not have to pay dues):

Membership dues only $6.00

Entire Weekend room, meals and activities $50.00

Friday night only $10.00

Breakfast/Lunch Saturday per meal $5.00

Saturday Night Banquet $20.00

Total Check or money order enclosed

(please add $6.00 to whatever events you are attending for dues.) 

Please make checks or money orders payable to WPSBC Alumni and send back in the enclosed self addressed envelope by July 15th to Joanna Berkovich.  Any questions call Joanna at (412) 683-1798. Those responding by email can send their check or money order to Joanna at 375 North Craig Street, Apt. 210,  Pittsburgh, PA  15213.