Hello to all Alumni and friends:
The school has given us the green light to resume our Alumni convention so as a result we will meet this summer August 7th, 8th, & 9th. I’m happy to announce that costs for attending the convention will remain the same as they were in 2012. Please remember that pricing includes $6.00 for your membership dues. Members who attend for the entire weekend pay $56.00. That’s $50.00 for all weekend activity and includes the $6.00 dues. Members joining us for Friday evening only pay $10 including dues of $6.00 thus your total is $16.00. Members who join us for the dinner Saturday pay $25.00 along with $6.00 for dues making the total $31.00. Some who attend Saturday meeting and lunch pay $5.00 along with the $6.00 dues. The information cost breakdown should eliminate any confusion. Please make checks payable to WPSBC Alumni and send them to Joanna Berkovic, 375 N. Craig St. Apartment 210 Pittsburgh Pa 15213.
As you continue reading this bulletin Alumni will see that members from social planning have put together a trip Saturday afternoon for an approximately 2 hour tour of spots in Pittsburgh and that information regarding additional costs to members who join us will be explained. The trip will involve a ride on Molly’s trolley and we won’t have to concern ourselves with additional transportation since the trolley will pick us up and return us to the school.
While no plans have been finalized yet folks are busy trying to establish contacts for us to have a speaker for Saturday evening’s dinner. I hope all of you enjoy the content we put in the Alumni bulletin as it is filled with school news keeping us informed of their happenings and current events. Along with these items there are several human interest stories you should find entertaining.
I would like to take the time now and thank board members for their meeting attendance participation and contributions throughout the year and their work in planning and organizing what we all look forward to another successful convention. Enjoy the bulletin let’s have a good representation at this year’s convention August 7th through the 9th. Have a wonderful summer in the meantime.
President Tom Hesley
Saturday, August 8.
We have decided to take a two hour tour of Pittsburgh on Molly’s Trolley’s. We will be picked up and dropped off at the School, eliminating transportation cost and organization. We will travel though downtown, the strip district, North side, South side, and an optional ride on the Duquesne incline. The cost is $25.00 per person. The trolley can hold a maximum of 30 people, so it will be a first come first serve basis. We are encouraging you to secure your reservation for this event as soon as possible. The Alumni had to pay a 50% deposit to hold the trolley. Therefore, if you decide to cancel, the Alumni will not be able to refund your money. So you may send the money for the event separately to make it more affordable. If you have questions concerning the event please contact Janice Miller at 412-881-0262.
Now for some articles on the school and other subjects of interest.
On Sunday afternoon, Van Dauler passed away after waging a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Joining the Board of Trustees in 1989 and serving as President from 2000 through this past year, his dedication to our School was obvious and extraordinary. But a Board President stepping into the role of Interim Executive Director in 2007 was a leadership decision that I had never known to occur in the education field at that time or since. It was my first awareness that this School is comprised of special people that do remarkable things for students and families. Van epitomized that and so much more.
I’ve attached the obituary that will soon be published in the newspaper. He will be greatly missed.
Van V. Dauler, Jr.
June 13, 1943 — April 19, 2015
Businessman and Philanthropist
Van V. Dauler, Jr., known as “Van” to his friends and colleagues, died Sunday, April 19, 2015 from complications of pancreatic cancer. He faced his two year struggle with the disease with strength, grace and humor.
Mr. Dauler was Chairman of Neville Chemical Company, a hydrocarbon resin producer founded by his two grandfathers in 1925. He became a Director in 1979, Chairman in 1987, and President 1989 through 2005. He was well respected by his employees for his leadership, thoughtfulness and friendliness.
Prior to returning to Pittsburgh in 1988, Mr. Dauler was a Vice President at Merrill Lynch in the Municipal Finance Department. In his early career he was a health care management consultant for Coopers & Lybrand and Peat, Marwick, Mitchell. He was a graduate of Yale (Class of ’65) and the Wharton School of Business (MBA 1968).
Mr. Dauler was Board President of the Western PA School for Blind Children from 2000 to 2014, serving on the board since 1989 and becoming the school’s interim executive director for six weeks in 2007. He served on the board (since 2004) and executive committee (since 2008) of the PIttsburgh Symphony Orchestra and chaired two committees during his 11 year tenure. He served in various board capacities for Shadyside Hospital and UPMC since the early 90s, and most recently was a member of the UPMC audit committee.
Through his family foundation, Mr. Dauler directed grants to organizations in the Pittsburgh region, including the W. PA School for Blind Children, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Glass Center, Pittsburgh Public Theater, Carnegie Science Center, National Aviary and UPMC Cancer Centers. Ironically, Mr. Dauler was supporting the pancreatic cancer research of Dr. Herbert Zeh prior to being diagnosed with the disease himself.
Just recently, Mr. Dauler achieved a longterm goal of being the first person to participate in 50 consecutive Good Friday Shoots, an invitational trap-shooting event. His recent medical challenges made the achievement all the more remarkable.
In addition to trap-shooting, Mr. Dauler loved computers, astronomy, cooking, playing backgammon and cheering on the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Memorial gifts may be made to the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.
Rising to the Challenge: Curriculum Development
Everyday our instructors and therapists are challenged with how to customize and adapt instruction to meet each child’s needs, so that every WPSBC student achieves success. All of our classrooms have boys and girls with unique abilities, challenges and sensory deficiencies. Customized Individualized Education Plans are prepared to outline specific, student-centered goals and objectives. Specially designing an educational program for our students has always been a complicated equation.
Recent education reform has created an even more complicated calculus. Adoption of Pennsylvania’s Common Core Standards demands a change in educational policy, strategy and practices. Pennsylvania’s Common Core Standards offer a set of high-quality academic expectations in English, Language Arts and Mathematics that all students should master by the end of each grade level. Matching the expectations of these standards with the challenges confronted by children with profound multiple disabilities is itself a profound challenge.
Moreover, for a student who is blind, learning from traditional sources such as textbooks is woefully insufficient. To fully understand these functional concepts and subjects, and to eventually live as independently as possible, students who are visually impaired must learn an additional set of skills known as the “Expanded Core Curriculum.” Essential life skills including orientation and mobility, social interaction, independent living and communication modes such as braille, are to be taught alongside basic academics.
To meet new regulations and stay on the forefront of educating students who are blind or visually impaired, WPSBC began a review of our current curriculum in the summer of 2013.
The committee, comprised of a variety of WPSBC professionals with instructional, therapeutic and administrative backgrounds, evaluated our current curriculum and researched other existing commercially available models. The new curriculum will have to incorporate the life skills components from our current programming, as well as the Expanded Core Curriculum and the academic components.
Following their review, the group voted to pilot the Unique Learning System (ULS), an online, interactive, standards-based curriculum specifically designed to support the English Language Arts and Math standards for students with special needs. Each unit contains 30 special education lesson plans and downloadable materials that teachers can readily implement into classroom learning activities. The unit lesson plans define three levels of differentiated tasks to accommodate the diversity of learners with significant disabilities.
“The reason we considered ULS is that their lessons are aligned with Common Core Standards and they are working meeting PA Standards now,” said Curriculum Committee member and Teacher of the Visually Impaired Kathy Buclous. Buclous is one of the six instructors piloting ULS with our students and has already seen positive results, while noting the challenges with curricular implementation. Considering ULS is not designed specifically for students with visual impairment, our Certified Teachers of the Visually Impaired will be challenged to creatively adapt the lessons so that each of our children has access to the materials.
In addition to piloting ULS, the committee has worked diligently to adapt the Expanded Core Curriculum to match the needs of our student population. Committee Facilitator Brenda Egan, a retired WPSBC administrator and educator who is acting as a consultant on this project said, “We want to be all-encompassing in student instruction, no matter what the students’ levels of functioning are.” She continued, “From life skill instruction, functional academics to transition readiness, the committee has done an impressive job really looking at the needs of all of the kids and their families.”
Following the completion of the pilot program and adaptation of the Expanded Core Curriculum, the committee will formally vote whether or not to present the various curriculum components for Board consideration. Pending Board of Trustees approval, staff will begin implementation and training, starting September 2015.
The standards and expectations for both our educators and students are high, but we know with the support of our families and community partners, the opportunities for new levels of growth and success are limitless
For all students
- English language arts
- Mathematics science
- Health, physical education
- Social studies
- Economics, business education
- Vocational education
The Expanded Core Curriculum
Specific for students with visual impairment
- Compensatory or functional academic skills, including communication modes
- Orientation and mobility
- Social interaction skills
- Independent living skills
- Recreation and leisure skills
- Career education
- Use of assistive technology
- Visual efficiency skills
Gaining from Giving Back
Food Drive Teaches Life Lessons
Our students are often the recipients of others’ goodwill, thanks to the giving nature of WPSBC donors, volunteers and supporting community. But a recent school project to collect donations for the local food bank taught our students a greater lesson in the benefits of giving back to those less fortunate.
Long-time educator and AARP founder Ethel Percy Andrus said, “By giving of ourselves to others, we truly live.” The young men and women ages 16 – 19 in Instructors Katie Krause and Ryan Reagan’s classrooms experienced this firsthand, while organizing a food drive and collecting more than 285 pounds of grocery items for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
To help the students have a wider concept of the project, Krause and Reagan taught classroom lessons about healthy foods and nutrition, how to serve your community and local emergency resources such as warming centers and food banks. Students were then assigned various tasks like sending notices to family and friends of the food drive, greeting donors, accepting collections and even writing thank you cards — all the while working on Individualized Educational Plan goals such as improving proficiency on their communication devices, social interaction etiquette, and reaching and grasping skills.
After the food drive concluded, students and staff packaged the haul into different food groups and categories, readying it for the Food Bank. The donations were loaded onto two buses and the group set off for a field trip to the Food Bank facility for a memorable day of touring and volunteering.
“The educational tour was hands on and amazing for our students,” said Krause. Together, with the assistance of the Food Bank’s Hunger Education Coordinator Ivy Ero, the students, staff and some family members learned all about the inner functions of the Food Bank and the impact hunger has on our region. Students were then invited to help bag apples that would make their way directly to local families who might not otherwise have access to fresh fruits.
“They really made an impact and did a phenomenal job packaging bins of apples for over an hour,” said Ero. The group’s enthusiasm and spirit made a mark on her. “I didn’t see the students’ challenges, I saw really positive, joy-filled human beings who knew they were coming here today to do something important,” said Ero. J. B. Diamond, father of student Jimmy, had the chance to attend the field trip and was impressed with his son’s eagerness to participate in bagging the apples. “I could tell he was enjoying the whole thing,” Diamond said, “I know he was, because we were one of the last ones to quit.”
“Thanks to everyone who donated food and offered their encouragement, the students really benefited from this life-affirming lesson,” explained Reagan.
Student Scott Becker summed it up perfectly. When asked about the experience, he said, “I felt good because I helped people.”
A Level Playing Field
Accessible Sports Turf for the Meadow
Few of us can imagine the challenges our boys and girls of the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children confront on a daily basis, while overcoming profound physical and cognitive disabilities in addition to their visual impairment. And to a lesser degree, few of us have had to endure the frustrations associated with simply moving on soggy grass.
Imagine a slugger, young or old, planting himself in the batter’s box — in the hitter’s stance — and instantly uncoiling when the pitcher hurls a fastball, sending a long fly ball over the left field fence…only to become stuck in the grass on the trot to first base.
The 9,000 sq. ft. enclosed area of the School’s Oakland campus, known as the “Meadow,” is where students play Beep Baseball, hold outdoor picnics and participate in other special and school-wide events.
Unfortunately, the Meadow is plagued by constant inadequate drainage causing excessive moisture and swampy grass. For the 75% of our 190 students who use wheelchairs or other assistive devices to travel, the Meadow is often very hard to navigate across. The space becomes unusable up to a week after precipitation.
In order to make the Meadow more accessible for our students, the School is committed to installing a Synthetic Sports Turf.
The new surface will truly make it a level playing field for all boys and girls, no matter what ability range or assistive device they use.
Benefits of the New Sports Turf
- Increase the overall play space
- Cultivate confidence
- Instill independence
- Provide an accessible area for team sports experience
- Increase the overall usability of the Meadow
The project is being spearheaded by the architects of Hayes Large and is slated to begin in the summer of 2015, while the students are on summer break. With a total project cost estimate of $375,000, the School is fundraising to offset the expense of transforming the area and making it truly accessible for all students.
For more information, or to support this project, please contact the School at 412-621-0100 or email email@example.com.
Many students at WPSBC have been playing Beep Baseball for nearly five years now, which is an adapted form of the sport for children with visual impairment. The game teaches more than just how to take turns, become a team player or listen to the coach. Often times, it’s the first team sports experience for some of the students. By just hearing their name announced before a cheering crowd, the experience becomes more than just a game, but a source of pride.
COMCAST BRINGS VOICE GUIDED TELEVISION TO WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA SCHOOL FOR BLIND CHILDREN
Comcast today demonstrated the company’s new voice guidance technology at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children. The “talking guide” is a feature on the X1 platform that reads aloud selections like program titles, network names and time slots as well as DVR and On Demand settings, giving users the freedom to independently explore and navigate thousands of shows and movies.
“The students and staff of the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children appreciate Comcast’s efforts to broaden opportunities for television consumption for consumers with visual impairment,” said Superintendent and Executive Director Todd S. Reeves. “The X1 platform’s technology helps to assure our students have access to the same information and entertainment as their peers do.”
Comcast launched a national campaign during the 2015 Academy Awards called “Emily’s Oz” that is intended to spark an even bigger conversation about how people with disabilities enjoy entertainment.
“We want to create opportunities for people who love film and television, but who might not have the opportunity to experience it to its fullest,” said Tom Wlodkowski, who was hired as Vice President of Audience at Comcast in 2012 to focus on the usability of the company’s products and services by people with disabilities. “By bringing the talking guide to as many people as possible, we can help to bridge that gap and make entertainment just as compelling, captivating and fun for people with a visual disability as it is for anyone else.”
Comcast is working with the following Pennsylvania organizations and evaluating additional groups within the company’s service area:
“Emily’s Oz” features a seven-year-old girl who was born blind and highlights her description of what she sees when she watches her favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz™. Some of Hollywood’s top directors, set designers and make-up artists then went to work to bring her vision to life. The voice over for the commercial is provided by two-time Academy Award winner Robert Redford.
The talking guide is the latest in a series of innovations created in the Comcast Accessibility Lab. In addition to voice guidance and one-touch access to closed captioning, Comcast created an online help and support resource for Xfinity customers looking for information about accessibility-related topics.
Obituary: Edward Ozimek / Dedicated teacher of blind children, WWII vet
Jan. 18, 1926 – Oct. 7, 2014
By Mark Belko / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
No task was too big for Edward Ozimek in his service to students at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children — whether it was a ski trip to the Laurel Highlands or securing sand for beach parties.
“Everything he did was so that they had the same opportunities as kids with sight,” said Christine Kennedy, a former educational supervisor at the Oakland school. That was the case whether he was selling Christmas trees on campus during the holidays to help raise money for the school or arranging to bring in a pony for rodeo week or a cow for farm week.
“He was totally dedicated to the kids. He would do absolutely anything to maintain and improve the school environment,” said Janet Simon, former executive director of the school. “When he was in the classroom, he went the extra mile to give the kids authentic experiences.”
Mr. Ozimek of Bellevue died Tuesday of congestive heart failure. He was 88 years old. In all, Mr. Ozimek spent more than 30 years at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children as a teacher and an operations supervisor. In the classroom, he taught Braille, history and English. He also was in charge of many after-school and weekend activities.
While teaching and as operations supervisor after that, he didn’t mind stretching himself for the good of the students, whether it was in shepherding them on a winter ski trip, procuring animals for special events at the school, or advocating for them at the state level.
In addition to those roles, for 23 years, he coordinated the Downtown Lions Club Christmas tree sale on campus, one that helped to raise money for the school for the blind. He even engaged the students in the fundraising effort. “He would direct students who would help people with the trees. It would amaze people that their Christmas tree was being carried to the car by two blind kids,” Ms. Simon said.
Even when he retired, it didn’t last for long. The school asked him back to lead a residential program, and he gladly complied, she noted. “He had such an uplifting spirit,” Ms. Simon said. “Nothing was ever a burden for him. He did everything with such joy.”
Born on Jan. 18, 1926, Mr. Ozimek grew up in Polish Hill and graduated from Schenley High School.
A World War II veteran, he served with the 76th Infantry Division in Gen. George Patton’s Third Army in the Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge), Central Europe and Rhineland campaigns.
During his service, Mr. Ozimek, a member of the communications unit and an excellent swimmer, volunteered to swim the Rhine River as part of a covert operation and returned safely, said his daughter, Christine Bolton. He was buried with full military honors.
After returning home, Mr. Ozimek graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and married his wife, Ruth.
Even before starting his career at the school for the blind in 1960, Mr. Ozimek had a penchant for helping those in need, a trait he carried with him throughout his life. He worked for the American Red Cross and Catholic Charities, where he advocated for kids who ran into trouble with the law. At times, Mr. Ozimek would bring some of the teens home with him to spend a week with his family before they were sent elsewhere or began military service, said Mrs. Bolton of Edinboro. While working at the school for the blind, Mr. Ozimek also taught basic skills classes at Western Penitentiary. “If you knew my dad, he was just always willing to help the underdog. That was just part of his being,” Mrs. Bolton said.
One of Mr. Ozimek’s most cherished professional achievements was being named the first chairman and a lifelong member of the state’s Bureau of Mental Retardation Task Force.
The work not only meant a lot to him professionally but personally as well, since his late son, David, had Down syndrome.
“He was a longtime advocate for people with disabilities, anybody who needed help,” Mrs. Bolton said.
In addition to Mrs. Bolton and his wife, Mr. Ozimek is survived by another daughter, Catherine Novak of Shaler; three sons, Thaddeus of Surf City, N.C., Thomas of Brentwood and John of South Park; 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. A Mass was said Saturday at St. Aloysius Church in Reserve. Memorial contributions may be made to the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children, 201 N. Bellefield Ave., Pittsburgh PA 15213, or the University of Pittsburgh Adult Down Syndrome Center, UPMC Montefiore Hospital, Suite 933W, 200 Lothrop St., Pittsburgh, PA 15213.
Blind players battle for chess championship
By Mandy Fields Yokim
Friday, Oct. 24, 2014, 7:14 p.m.
Joe Wassermann, an 80-year-old chess player from Pittsburgh, still uses the same chessboard he’s been playing on since he was 10. This weekend, he’ll be using it as he participates in the U.S. Blind Chess Championship in Robinson.
The official tournament is sponsored by the U.S. Chess Federation and co-sponsored by the U.S. Braille Chess Association.
Al Pietrolungo, 66, of Pittsburgh, is president of the U.S. Braille Chess Association. He was Wasserman’s first opponent in the tournament when it kicked off Oct. 24 at the Holiday Inn Express in Robinson. Pietrolungo and Wasserman sat at one of four tables in the hotel conference room, where six other legally blind chess players from across the country prepared to compete for the championship title.
“We have players who traveled here from California, Massachusetts, New York and Kentucky,” Pietrolungo says. Of the roughly 60 members in the U.S. Braille Chess Association, Wasserman is the oldest over-the-board player in the group, but Pietrolungo says there are a couple of correspondence players who are in their mid-90s.
The first blind chess championship was held in 1977, and it has been held consecutively every year since 1982, although only in Pittsburgh for the past few of those. In prior years, the tournament has attracted nearly 25 players, but, for a variety of reasons, including that tournament competitors pay their own airfare and hotel costs, numbers have dwindled in recent years.
“It’s expensive to travel, but some still like the interaction you get when you play in person,” Pietrolungo says.
Plus, there’s a certain amount of prestige in being named the national blind chess champion. Alex Barrasso, a former winner of the blind chess championship, represented the United States at the world blind tournament, held in Greece this past May, Pietrolungo says.
This weekend’s tournament in Pittsburgh was coordinated by Rick Varchetto of West Virginia. An avid chess player, Varchetto has helped organize the tournament for the past 10 years, ever since he read about it in Chess Life magazine. Mike Holsinger, vice president of the Pittsburgh Chess Club, serves as the official tournament director. He constantly walks around the room, checking in on each game to monitor the play and ensure a fair tournament.
Each competitor plays with his own specially designed board. Players differentiate color by the raised dots on the tops of the white pieces, while the black ones are smooth. Unlike sighted players, blind players are allowed to touch the pieces, but a move must be made when a piece is picked up. The rows and columns on the chessboard are represented by a combination of letters (A to H) and numbers (1 to 8).
“It’s really amazing, because they don’t let the fact that they’re visually challenged keep them from playing the game,” says Kimberly Myers of McKeesport, who has volunteered with her family at the tournament for the past six years.
Myers cooks the food so that the players don’t have to worry about going for meals during the tournament. Her son, Sterling Myers, learned to play the game through the Pittsburgh Chess Club. Now, at 15, he is able to assist the blind players if they need it by keeping notations during the game.
“My kids learn so much from watching the players. It’s rewarding and a real blessing to be there,” Kimberly Myers says.
Joan DuBois, affiliate relations associate with the U.S. Chess Federation, has helped to coordinate tournaments across the country for 46 years. She says the goal of the federation, which just recently became a nonprofit, is to extend sponsorships and provide even more financial support to the blind championship so that additional players can travel and compete.
Although blind players may be up against a variety of financial and physical challenges, they do not let that keep them from enjoying the game they love.
“Many of us look forward to accepting those challenges,” Pietrolungo says.
The tournament continues Oct. 25 with matches at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Express.
Hello Alumni members.
The Golden Triangle Council of the Blind will be holding its annual Christmas party at the Western PA School for Blind Children in December, 2015. Since the party will be at the school, we wanted to invite members of the alumni association to participate in this party.
We don’t know certain details such as what the cost will be. So, if you are interested in receiving an invitation, we can inform you about the details when this information is available. If you are interested in more information about the party, please contact Al Pietrolungo at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (412) 605-0571. We look forward to celebrating the holiday with you.
Pedestrians with disabilities struggle in some sections of Pittsburgh
By Corinne Kennedy
Thursday, June 5, 2014, 10:05 p.m.
Intersection improvements, such as countdown walk signals and audible crosswalks, have improved pedestrian accessibility in Pittsburgh, but some areas remain difficult for pedestrians with disabilities, say some of those who sometimes struggle to get around.
Ted Crum, 53, of Kennedy is blind and uses a cane. He said he feels confident in most parts of Downtown and Oakland, but has more difficulty in areas such as Market Square, where obstructions such as flower pots and tents can pop up.
Pittsburgh was recently ranked the second-safest city for pedestrians in the United States by “Dangerous by Design 2014,” a report produced by Smart Growth America, a national organization advocating for improved urban planning.
The study did not include traffic accidents involving people with disabilities because of insufficient data, said Craig Chester, spokesman for Smart Growth America.
Pat Hassett, assistant director in the public works department, said the city is working to install curb ramps at intersections, adding as many as 400 a year.
“It’s a continual work in progress,” Hassett said.
He said the city installs curb ramps, countdown clocks and audible crosswalk signals at new intersections.
Of 610 signalized intersections in Pittsburgh, 80 are audible, said city municipal traffic engineer Amanda Purcell.
“The auditory signals are good,” Crum said. “You can always do more, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
Disability advocate and power chair user Janet Evans, 60, of Glen Hazel, said difficulties generally occur in older neighborhoods with steps and cracked, twisting sidewalks, like those in Hazelwood and the Shadyside business area.
“I had no desire to go there because most restaurants, most stores, there’s usually some other stores like it” that are more accessible, she said of Shadyside.
She named East Ohio Street and Ross Street as problem areas, saying the curb cuts on Ross Street were insufficient for people in wheelchairs and that there were large potholes the city hasn’t filled.
The Pittsburgh Association of the Deaf advocated for traffic lights at the intersection of Fifth and Gist avenues, Uptown, because of frequent accidents.
Todd Behanna, 44, of Wilkins said easily visible traffic signals and the 30-second countdown clocks have been helpful for deaf or hard-of-hearing pedestrians like him.
Behanna named Fifth Avenue, Forbes Avenue and the Strip District as areas needing work.
Hassett said public works monitors requests to the city’s 311 help line about problem areas that need to be addressed and receives about 30 per year.
Chuck from Uniontown talk show caller and avid baseball fan
A Pirates flag, two crucifixes and framed photos of Roberto Clemente hang above his bed.
A radio — tuned always to the Pirates flagship station — sits nearby; an oft-used telephone is within arm’s reach on the nightstand.
“I try to call almost every night,” he says as he listens to a Pirates game against the Cubs in his Uniontown apartment. “I’ll settle down in bed so there’s nothing to interrupt me. If I don’t call, it’s usually because I fell asleep.”
During the game, he is Charles Conko, 62, son of the late Stephen Conko, who taught his boy to love the sport he would never play.
After the game, he is “Chuck from Uniontown,” a stalwart of Pittsburgh Pirates’ postgame radio shows for more than 25 years.
Chuck from Uniontown is known and loved — even by sometimes surly hosts on FM station 93.7 “The Fan” — as much for his baseball insights as his methodical, halting speaking style. Fans returning home from the game or listening on porches have come to expect to hear perhaps the Pirates’ most devoted fan.
“Sports talk shows are only as good as the callers,” Conko says. “First of all, there is never any need for any profanity. Gentlemen don’t do that. Keep it clean. Little kids listen to that. If I act rude or like a jerk, that’s how people will judge me. I keep it clean, keep it refined, and try to keep it interesting.”
He pauses and turns to the radio: Sean Rodriguez smacks a fly ball to center field. It clears the wall for a home run. Chuck from Uniontown nods.
“I don’t get to too many games because of my condition. So I try to stay involved, to try and participate, to any extent I can.”
As long as Conko can remember, he has loved baseball and the Pirates. But an early diagnosis of cerebral palsy (he has the use of one arm and poor eyesight) and a lifetime in a wheelchair assured he would never play.
His father, known for his positive outlook and devotion to his son, taught him about the game.
“I knew the names of all the players probably before I was in the first grade,” Conko said. “When I was 10, I wanted to be Roberto Clemente. Whenever I would talk to people, I’d start talking like the great Pirates announcer Bob Prince, and my mom would say, ‘all right, that’s enough.’ ”
Night after night, he and his dad sat together, talking baseball. “Back then, you could sit on the porch and, up and down the street, you heard Bob Prince’s voice on the radio,” he said. “Even on nights when there was no game, I’d go to my dad and ask him about every stat. … I’m a Steelers and Pens fan, too, but I’m a baseball fan first.”
Again, he pauses: Gregory Polanco hits a double to score Josh Harrison, and the Pirates, after digging a 4-0 early hole, cut into the lead. It’s 4-2, and Chuck from Uniontown has hope.
Conko misses his dad, who died in 1981.
People who knew Stephen Conko used to joke that if Chuck lived to 100, Dad would find a way to live to 150, so he would be there to care for his son.
He misses his dad, but if dad hadn’t died, Conko might not have found independence. Mom used to say, “What if there’s a fire? What if he falls down? What would he do then?’ ”
So he stayed home. Until dad was gone. “It’s something where you tell yourself, you have to move on,” Chuck says. “About a year after he died, I moved away. Nobody in my family ever thought I could do something like that.”
He became certified as a tax accountant. He prepares tax forms for dozens of loyal clients.
He got his first apartment in Swissvale. His new life was daunting at times, but Chuck told himself “not to conquer everything at once,” to take it one moment at a time, one task at a time.
“Every Saturday morning, my mom would call and I would answer and she’d say, ‘Well, he’s still alive,’ ” Conko says with a smile. Those calls ended in 2000 when she died at 88.
“This is what God gave me,” he says. “I have to deal with it. You have to be positive and do what you can do. Every morning, I go by myself to church, whether it’s raining or snowing or a heat wave.”
Once again, the radio catches his attention: Neil Walker hits a single to score Polanco, and the Pirates come back to win 5-4.
Chuck from Uniontown listens, making mental notes. Then he readies himself to call in and share his thoughts with legions of unseen friends.
Dad would be proud.
Blind pole vaulter Charlotte Brown 3rd at Texas HS championships
AUSTIN, Texas — For three years, Charlotte Brown has been chasing a medal by trying to jump over a bar she couldn’t see.
The senior pole vaulter cleared that bar Saturday, earning a third-place finish at the Texas state high school championships. And proudly joining her on the podium as the bronze medal was draped around her neck — her service dog Vador.
Brown is blind, yet that’s not stopped her quest to become one of the best in an event that would seem next to impossible.
“I finally did it,” Brown said. “If I could send a message to anybody, it’s not about pole vaulting and it’s not about track. It’s about finding something that makes you happy despite whatever obstacles are in your way.” Brown had qualified for the state meet each year since 2013 with Emory Rains High School. She finished eighth as a sophomore and improved to fourth as a junior. At her hotel room Friday night, Stori Brown tried to counsel her daughter that it was important to remember that she was one of the few to make it this far, whether she won a medal or not.
“No,” Charlotte replied. “I need to be on that podium.”
Brown was born with normal vision, but developed cataracts when she was 16 weeks old. That led to the first of several operations, including insertion of artificial lenses. Her vision stabilized until she was about 11 when it started to worsen. By 2013, she still had pinhole vision but couldn’t see color or distinguish shape from shadow. Brown is now blind. While not faced with total darkness, her mother described what remains as a “jigsaw puzzle” of mixed up shades of light and dark. Despite her disability, Brown takes pride in her fierce spirit of independence, born out of growing up in a family with two older brothers who pushed her to help herself in the rural town of Emory, about 76 miles east of Dallas.
“If there’s a way to do something for yourself, that’s a good idea,” she said. “When I need to know if my socks match or not, it’s a good time to ask for help. Can’t find Waldo? Probably need to ask for help.”
Run down a track and hurtle herself more than 11 feet into the air? No problem. Brown first took up pole vaulting in seventh grade because she wanted something a little “dangerous and exciting.” She competes with a combination of fearless abandon and meticulous attention to detail. She counts the seven steps of her left foot on her approach, listening for the sound of a faint beeper placed on the mat that tells her when to plant to pole and push up.
On Saturday, Vador walked her to the warm-up area and stretched out behind the jumpers as they went through each attempt.
Brown missed her first attempts at 10-0 and 10-6 but cleared both on her second try. She cleared 11-0 on her first attempt, then soared over 11-6. She secured a medal when two other vaulters bowed out at that height, leaving Brown among the last three in the field.
She made three attempts at 11-9 but missed each one. She briefly slumped her shoulders and shook her head after her final attempt, then got to her feet to acknowledge the standing ovation from several hundred fans she could hear but not see.
“She came to win,” said her father, Ian Brown. “As parents, we are thrilled she got on the podium.”
Brown medaled in a talented field. Sydney King, who won gold at a height of 12-3, has signed with Oklahoma to pole vault in college.
“I don’t how many people do could that,” King said. “Her story, she’s what keeps me going when things aren’t going right for me.”
Brown is headed to Purdue on an academic scholarship and plans to walk on in track. Her brother Lachlan is a hurdler for the Boilermakers.
“It took me three years to get on the podium, and I finally did it,” Brown said. “This story really wasn’t about me. It was about everybody that struggles with something.”
J. MATTHEW SIMON
1941 – 2015
Age 73, former president of Point Park University, passed away from complications related to multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer, on Wednesday, May 20, 2015. A first generation college student, Simon was one of the youngest college presidents in the United States when he took office at the age of 44 in 1986. He was born in 1941 to Joseph Simon and Mildred White Simon in Reading, Pennsylvania. During summers he worked alongside his father at a metal machine shop to help fund his tuition at Albright College where he studied chemistry. During this time he also played saxophone with his jazz band, the Crescendos, becoming a member of the musicians union, and playing at clubs throughout eastern Pennsylvania to help fund his education while developing a lifelong love of jazz. In 1963, he began doctoral work in the chemistry department at the University of Pittsburgh where he studied analytical chemistry with his dissertation adviser, Johannes Coetzee. In 1969, he received his Ph.D. in chemistry for his dissertation Polarography and Medium Effects in Sulfolane. During this time, he met his eventual wife, Janet DiPasquale, (who would herself be the Executive Director of the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children). He was also involved with the progressive politics of the era, volunteering his time to both the anti-war and civil rights movements. In 1969, he became an assistant professor of chemistry at what was then Point Park College, teaching his first class the afternoon of the day he defended his dissertation. Before becoming president of that institution, he served as both the director of Point Park’s international campus in Lugano, Switzerland as well as the Chair of the Department of Natural Science and Engineering Technology, taking on this role at the age of 32 making him the youngest chair in the college’s history. In this role, he mentored many students who went on to receive their own graduate degrees in the sciences. During his tenure as president from 1986-1995, he oversaw the development of several new programs, an increase in the endowment, and the construction of a state-of-the-art library in Downtown Pittsburgh. At the time Simon became the fourth president of the college, Point Park was experiencing severe financial trouble, which he was able to reverse ensuring the school’s continued existence. Central to his vision of administration was that education should be available to all communities, and that even as Point Park became increasingly prestigious at the national scale that it also needed to reflect the diverse needs of a diverse city. Upon retirement from the presidency, Simon returned to the classroom, teaching undergraduate science at Point Park as well as in the graduate program in the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh. Both during and after his presidency, he served on several local boards, continuing his role as an educator. These included serving on the Board of Trustees of Albright College, the Community College of Allegheny County, the Negro Education Emergency Drive, and Beginning with Books among others. A passionate advocate for his adopted hometown of Pittsburgh, Simon was the longest serving member of the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority board, which has provided financial oversight to local government. Central to his life’s work as an educator and scientist was an abiding belief in both the ability of education to transform the lives of people, but also the basic importance of knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Though a distinguished educator, he always viewed himself as a student and a teacher, and had a passion for the classroom. This manifested itself in a variety of ways, from presenting about ecology at area elementary schools in an earthworm costume on Earth Day to acting as a DJ at WPPJ Point Park with his “President Presents Jazz” radio show. The recipient of several awards and an honorary degree, he was most pleased by the Distinguished Alumni Award from the chemistry department of the University of Pittsburgh, always first and foremost seeing himself as a scientist. Friends and family remember him as a man of intelligence, kindness, and humor who did the right thing without question and without expectation of reward. He is survived by his wife, Janet, of 47 years who acted as caregiver and constant companion during four years of illness; and two sons, Jacob Matthew, who is a lawyer in Pittsburgh and Edward Nathan, a doctoral candidate in English who lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to Point Park University, 201 Wood St., Pittsburgh, PA 15222 or the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children, 201 North Bellefield Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA, 15213.
Richard Stevenson class of 1951 died August 2014.
Kathy Drabik class of 1975 died November 2014.
Jim Kauffman class of 1977 lost his mother in December 2014.
Jim Daly class of 1964 died December 2014.
Ellen Stitler class of 1975 died January 2015.
Sue Pierce Edmunson class of 1973 lost her mother in February 2015.
Sue Etters class of 1970 lost her mother February 2015.
Rose Misceo Matthews class of 1944 died in March 2014.
Dorothy Johnston class of 1941 died in November 2013.
Larry Mahoney class of 1980 lost his father in April 2015.
Jim Rhodes a former student lost his father in May 2015.
Diann and Dave Popoleo are expecting another grandchild.
That completes our bulletin. Hope to see everyone at the convention on August 7th, 8th and 9th. Hope you have a great summer.
2015 Alumni Convention Form
Graduated/Left school in 19
Preferred format of bulletin:
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 $25.00
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 20th 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.