a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Monday, May 30, 2011

Cool grave marker

Observer-Reporter writer Barbara S. Miller found this creative grave marker while working Memorial Day 2011 at St. Patrick Cemetery in Canonsburg, Pa.

Obviously the late Carmine Pacano, an Italian immigrant, had a talented mosaic artist as a friend or relative, either of whom spent hours putting together this memorial to him. The tablet is level to the ground, Miller said.

It also is in need of some restoration work because this one is too cool to fall to pieces.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Commercials, lately - how gross can you get?

By Denise Hart

I admit, I’m just back in the swim of the commercial sea, after having been too poor and too proud to have cable for the past six years.

I was shocked at how easily I fell into the reality TV pit - I’m finding that there is practically no show too stupid or banal to mesmerize me:  Real Housewives of Virtually Any Town, “Hoarders” (although I could not watch the one where the guy bred the pet rats and there were literally thousands in the house), “Top Chef” (kind of an upper echelon reality, so there!), even, God help me, those Bethenny shows where it’s really just one long episodic swilling of her low-cal tequila cocktail mix.

What can I say - I love her baby’s Dominican nanny, Gina - Gina is sick. 

I choose to watch those silly shows - I find them funny and über relaxing.

OK, almost coma-inducing.  But the commercials are so disgusting I can hardly sit them out.  The worst offenders, for me, are the toilet paper and floor-wipe categories.

I’ve never liked the commercials where the bears poop in the woods and leave their used (though amazingly soft!) toilet paper behind. Although I see recently they’ve been upgraded to a house.

Somehow, the new toilet paper issue has become the pieces of lint from the paper that might stick to your ass after wiping.  I’ve never had that particular problem.  I’ve almost always lived in an old house with bad plumbing that could barely handle paper at all.

So it’s always been slick paper Scott for me—no lint, no butthole mess.

But now, we’ve got to look at the baby bear’s bum when he comes out of the bathroom.  Yep, lint and pieces of paper all over it.  Gah!

There’s another t.p. product where (although I wouldn’t swear to this) there are some middle class women having tea and this issue comes up.  The tagline is “Enjoy the Go.”  Gag.

The floor-wipe commercials are not the only ones guilty of this putrid sell move: close-ups of dirt and microbes that they wipe up from our floors.

Toothpaste and mouthwashes use this tool, too; but somehow the floor-wipe ones get to me more.

I don’t mind the microbes so much, actually, because they’re more like little cartoons.

But the dirt and hair and lint shots, to quote Roseanne Roseannadanna, “Mek me SICK!”  (I just realized hardly anyone recalls Ms. Roseannadanna anymore.  In addition to having a sensitive gag reflex, I’m getting old.)

There are cuter ones now, showing dirt and mud characters all dolled up waiting for a date only to connect with the soft attractions of the floor-wipe, but damned if they don’t show the close-up dirt shots too.  For some reason, the same one that makes me incapable of emptying the sink drainer thing myself (that’s Paul’s job), this kind of thing makes me want to hurl.

Oh, there are other puke-inducing ads out there.

One is a cartoon of babies trying to get their diapers full—the fullest one wins.

And silly ones—the one advertising bikini razors that has women striding by differently shaped bushes makes me laugh.

I am aware that I really need to turn off the sound or walk away—but I’m often in some Bravo induced state of watching.



Watching other people live their lives.

Watching these damn commercials.

Somebody throw me a line!  I need help, I think.

(Denise Hart is a writer in Minnesota.)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The sky ISN'T falling

The sky looks beautiful this morning over my little community in southwestern Pennsylvania
By Scott Beveridge

Sometime during eighth-grade in 1969 I heard students saying the world was supposed to come to an end the approaching summer.

I was a gullible 13 year old kid from a poor neighborhood when the rumor circulated at Rostraver (Pa.) Junior High School, and the story probably had something to do with the crazy musings of serial killer Charles Manson. He had predicted to his followers that Helter Skelter would begin Aug. 8, 1969, and ordered his followers to carry out the Tate-LaBianca murders that day to get the end-of-the-world ball rolling.

So after hearing the prediction in school I went home to warn my family.

"Oh don't worry about that. The sky has been falling since the beginning of time," my mother said. "The world was supposed to end when I was in high school, too, and we're still here," she added.

Thank God some of us had intelligent, rational thinking mothers. 

I say this on the day of the rapture proclaimed by a California minister, when some folks have been praying for forgiveness as a spate of earthquakes were to begin at 6 p.m. and bring with them doomsday. According to the 89-year-old prophet who started this apocalyptic nonsense, Harold Camping, nonbelievers were to survive for a few days longer to suffer any number of plagues.

Well as I write this, the Associated Press reported it's beyond 6 p.m. in New Zealand and the world isn't ending.

Thank God, too, for clever journalists.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A friend in need

Fifteen-year-old Daquwan plays with Big Brother mentor Anthony Gianettino at Washington & Jefferson College. (Scott McCurdy photo)

By Karen Mansfield

Anthony Gianettino knows a thing or two about unbreakable bonds as a mechanical engineer.

But it’s the strong bond he has forged with 15-year-old Daquwan as a mentor in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh program that Gianettino, 29, has found especially rewarding.

When he moved to Canonsburg, Pa., five years ago, Gianettino began exploring volunteer organizations, and Big Brothers Big Sisters, with its one-on-one mentoring, appealed to him.

Since 2007, Gianettino has been a volunteer Big Brother for Daquwan (the Big Brothers organization asks that youths’ last names not be revealed) and has provided a positive, consistent relationship.

“I used to be very shy at times, but whenever I’m with Anthony, I can express myself better. I’m not as shy as I used to be. I do feel comfortable talking with him about anything,” said Daquwan. 

Anthony has taken Daquwan to Pittsburgh Pirates and Penguins games – they met Sidney Crosby at a hockey game two years ago when they sat in owner Mario Lemieux’s private box, courtesy of tickets provided by Big Brothers – Pitt basketball games, movies, plays and the circus. They also spend time talking about school, girls and other issues.

Gianettino, as a Big Brother and confidant, has stepped in as the adult male role model Daquwan’s older sister believed was absent from his life when she signed him up for the program. 

“Daquwan talks about how he’s come out of his shell. Looking back, I’ve definitely seen that. And for me, that’s just more encouragement to stick with it. He comes from a very good home.

"I think it’s pretty obvious that it’s been good for both of us to have this relationship,” said Gianettino.

Big Brothers Big Sisters has been in this area since 1965. In that time, it has matched more than 17,000 youths with adult mentors.

Currently, Big Brothers has about 110 matches in Washington and Greene counties.

The Greater Pittsburgh agency (which includes Allegheny, Greene and Washington counties) is one of 18 agencies nationwide to be named a Gold Standard Award winner in 2010. The honor, awarded by the Nationwide Leadership Council of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, recognizes agencies that have demonstrated revenue growth and an increase in the number of children served in long-term, mentoring relationships.

And research shows that “Bigs” really do have an impact on children.

Sara Thomas, program coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters in Washington and Greene counties, said kids in the program are more likely to graduate from high school, refrain from using drugs and have better attendance records, and  less likely to have discipline problems.

It doesn’t take a huge time commitment, or a special person, to make a difference in the life of a child as a mentor. Big Brothers must make a one-year commitment to mentoring, which involves getting together with the little brother at least twice a month. 

Big Brothers also offers a site-based program where Bigs and Littles share one hour each week, usually at school, during the academic year.

“You just need to be someone who cares about a kid and can make a commitment to be there,” said Thomas.

The average length of a match is 24 months, but matches can last a lifetime.

Bill Bothe of Upper St. Clair has been a Big Brother to Taylor, 18, for 11 years. Taylor’s father was killed in a car crash when Taylor was 2 1/2 years old, and Taylor’s mother, Elizabeth Bush, was looking for a strong male presence in his life.

“We just hit it off, right off the bat,” said Bothe, Pennsylvania’s 2010 Big Brother of the Year and father of two grown children who live out of state. 

Bothe, 79, has kept a scrapbook full of photos, report cards, Father’s Day cards and letters, and ticket stubs that chronicle the experiences they’ve shared. He helped Taylor buy his first suit and get his first passport, and taught him how to invest in the stock market.

But Bothe, the retired president of RTI International Metals Inc., also has helped Taylor deal with difficult real-life issues. When Taylor’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, the first person he called was Bothe. And when Taylor fell off his bike and broke his arm, Bothe accompanied him to the hospital.

Each year, Bothe and Taylor volunteer their time to direct parking for the Race for the Cure.

“Bill has ensured my happiness and I am eternally grateful for having this amazing man in my life,” Taylor wrote in his nomination letter. 

Life will change for Bothe and Taylor this summer, when Taylor graduates from Canon-McMillan High School and the Big Brother program. He plans to attend California University of Pennsylvania and study secondary education. Taylor is an active member of the Army Reserves and has applied for admission to the Army ROTC.

As for Gianettino, he plans to continue his mentorship commitment.

“When I started this, I didn’t have a goal for any length of time, but I think certainly the longer that we hang out and the more our friendship has grown, the less I would even consider ending it for any reason. He’s like a part of my family now,” said Gianettino. “So I think even after he’s 18 years old, I’ll be around. I’m going to make sure he finishes college. We’re going to be friends forever.” 

(Big Brothers Big Sisters needs volunteers. For information, call the Big Brothers Big Sisters Washington office at 724-228-9191.)

Karen Mansfield writes for the Observer-Reporter. This story first appeared in the May/June 2011 edition of its Living Washington County magazine.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The spring robins

A friend shares these cell phone shots of progress in this nest in an evergreen in her yard. 

One of the eggs never hatched. The three babies are developing fast and will be out of the nest soon. After hatching baby robins leave the nest in about two weeks.

Getting ready to fly.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Pennsylvania marks its role in the Civil War

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH – Samuel B. McBride of the 140th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry crouched for his life behind a tree after having survived three solid days of battle in what became the most-successful drive of Confederate forces in the Civil War.

The Union soldier from Canonsburg, Pa., serving the Union Army likely was relieved to see back up troops arrive on the morning of May 5, 1863, during another skirmish along the banks of the Rappahannock River in the Battle of Chancellorsville, Va. 

Then McBride, a young theology student, became counted among the wounded after being struck in the forehead by a Minié ball in the surprise Southern victory that killed more than 17,000 Northern soldiers.

McBride’s story was retold May 7 and 8, 2011, when a traveling Pennsylvania museum marking the 150th anniversary of the war made its first stop in Pittsburgh at the Sen. John Heinz History Center along its four-year tour of the Commonwealth. One of its display cases is left empty to be temporarily filled by local historical groups as the Pennsylvania Historical Society trailer makes its way to each of the state’s 67 counties.

“I think it’s fantastic for a roaming museum,” said John Schroeder, manager of the road show named Pennsylvania Civil War 150. “There is a lot of information but it’s not overwhelming.”

There are kiosks reminding visitors the war was the deadliest on U.S. soil, and that its outcome restored the union, abolished slavery and increased the power of the federal government. It speaks to Pennsylvania’s legacy of having been the location of a major turning point in the war, the Battle at Gettsyburg, and a state where every resident was transformed by the war and affected by its outcome.

For example, Pittsburgh supplied the manufacture of iron, steel and textiles to the war effort. Farmers in neighboring Washington and Greene counties contributed the bounty of their lands to feed the army and also supply it with wagons and livestock. Yet at the same time, thousands of Pennsylvanians fueled by racism chose to serve the enemy forces of the Confederate Army.

McBride kept a detailed diary of his wartime experiences, and some of its most-compelling entries involved the four days he spent around the village of Chancellorsville in Virginia’s Spotsylvania County. The Chancellorsville Campaign gave Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Confederate forces the confidence to launch another raid into the North. His diary, Bible and other artifacts now belong to the Heinz History Center, which chose to feature him in the temporary display case in the traveling museum.

But all McBride had to do was look into a mirror to be reminded of the horrific battle he survived. For the rest of his life he wore a dent in his forehead, a battlefield scar from his near-death experience. Judging by the photo, right, he wore it proudly even long after he was assigned to a Presbyterian church in what would become known today as New Kensington in Westmoreland County, Pa.

(Click here to watch a video of the Wildcats - re-enactors of the 105th Pennsylvania Regimental Band - performing at the Pittsburgh event.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Civil War re-enactors rock the trumpet

U.S. Civil War re-enactors of the 105th Pennsylvania Regimental Band known as the Wildcats perform at the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh in conjunction with a May 2011 visit to the city by the Pennsylvania Civil War Road Show. Most members of the drum and bugle corps are from the Indiana, Pa., area, where the regiment was recruited. (Travel with a Beveridge video) 

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Author unknown

The sound of your voice,
The light of your smile -
These are the things that
Make life worthwhile

The touch of your hand,
The warmth of your cheer -
These are the treasurers
I count most dear

The soul of goodness
The heart of your worth -
I wouldn't give these
For half the earth

(Found on a May 13, 1951, card from the Oder of Owls, Monongahela, Pa.)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A mansion tour of a different sort

This is an old photo of a Monongahela River ferry used in the early 1900s below the downtown area known as the Neck in Brownsville, Pa. The image is among a collection of rarely-seen photographs of the historic Fayette County borough, some of which will be on display in an upcoming mansion tour. (BARC photo)

Talk about an unusual way to welcome the public into a creepy old mansion awaiting a clever redeveloper.

The Brownsville Area Revitalization Corp. is inviting the public to tour an exhibit of old local photographs two days this month inside the rundown Rose Mansion it recently acquired in a donation.

The rarely-seen old photos are part of a collection of more than 1,000 donated by former resident Bill Patterson, a retired educator in Erie. The shot will feature those of Brownsville's historic Northside and of the once-booming downtown district known as the Neck.

The mansion has an interesting history, which was told in the following recent article in the Observer-Reporter:

By Scott Beveridge, Staff writer

BROWNSVILLE, Pa.  – The back door barely hangs on its hinges at the stately and historic Rose Mansion in Brownsville.

Lead paint peels from interior walls and fallen ceiling plaster coats the floors in this landmark built in 1873 along the National Road as Monongahela National Bank.

Yet there is hope the building will be returned to its original luster among members of a local revitalization group, which has received the building in a donation from the Rose family heirs.

"With the right amount of care and money ..." said Kasandra Ward, a Brownsville Area Revitalization Corp. board member.

"It's a worthwhile project because it has a lot of historical value," Ward said in February 2011, when BARC members toured the house to brainstorm ideas on how to open its doors to the public for the first time since 1903.

BARC wants to organize an exhibit of old photographs at the house, timed for Pike Days May 21-22, to show people how the place looks before restorations begin.

"We're doing this so we can actually get people interested in this house ... take a peek inside," Ward said.

The house contains eight large rooms with nearly 20-foot ceilings and an addition in the back with several smaller rooms. The stone and red brick facade boasts 10-foot-tall Italianate windows.

Sam Rose converted the building into a house about a century ago, also he also headquartered nearby his moving company, said BARC Executive Director Dennis J. Cremonese.

It remained occupied until the early 2000s, when Rose's son, Peter, died, Cremonese said.

BARC is seeking bids from companies interested in performing marketing and feasibility studies on the best reuse of the house in Fayette County, just across the Lane-Bane Bridge from West Brownsville.

One option under consideration, he said, is converting the house into a bed-and-breakfast. However, BARC needs a solid plan before it can obtain grants to perform renovations, which are expected to cost between $350,000 and $750,000, Cremonese said.

"First, we have to figure out how we are going to clean it," Ward said. "There is rubbish everywhere."

Blake Fisher, an AmeriCorps VISTA worker assigned to Brownsville Area Revitalization Corp., left, and Maren Meszaros, a California University of Pennsylvania intern, tour the historic Rose House BARC has received in a donation and is about to restore on the National Road. Observer-Reporter

(The house will be open to tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 21, and noon to 4 p.m. May 22. The $5 admission will help BARC in its efforts to pay for community development.)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Barbershop singers

Members of the Mon Valley Chordsmen, a barbershop chorus south of Pittsburgh, perform "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," an historic African-American spiritual. The chorus is shown at Rehoboth Presbyterian Church in Rostraver Township, Pa. Stay with it until the end to catch the "Elvis moment."

Sunday, May 1, 2011

That old college anxiety

The dingy trailer I called home in 1977 during my junior year at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
By Scott Beveridge

INDIANA, Pa. – Normally I return from a trip to the college of my youth feeling a bit sappy, remembering the many good times and friends lost to the passing decades.

That didn’t happen Thursday when I went back to Indiana University of Pennsylvania to speak about the challenges of  modern print journalism, and how the jobs held by reporters and editors are being reshaped by the social media revolution.

That day gave me anxiety as if I had swallowed a big pill of college anxiety while walking around the respected Indiana, Pa., campus, whose cramped dormitories have been replaced with hotel-quality rooms and suites.

It might have been a case of the jitters about speaking in public that made me feel a bit nervous. But the 34 yers that have passed since I attended IUP oddly left me feeling as if I was remembering the student life of someone else.

Sure much has changed since I left the school in the winter of 1977. Other new buildings have been construction, while some of the older halls have been remodeled. A glass atrium now connects the two old theater buildings at the south edge of the Oak Grove.

It lost a few old-growth trees to severe storms a year ago, but the small park hadn’t changed much in the center of the campus.

Except last week a small group of co-eds were fencing on a concrete patio while other students created colorful sidewalk chalk art under the mighty oaks. In my day, it was more common to pass professors there smoking marijuana with their students while campus security looked the other way.

I’ve always begun my journeys to IUP with a drive past Poets Village to revisit my first apartment there in a boring building with paper thin walls. The public housing with light, drab, olive green  vinyl siding was brand new when I moved there in the summer of 1975. Without a car, I would hitchhike to school some days or walk or travel there on my three-speed Huffy Red Baron bicycle.

Nowadays students enjoy the luxury of having shuttle buses to travel the five miles from the college to Poets Village or the hotels and shopping plazas that since have been developed in that area.

I then leave to see if the dingy trailer where I called home my junior year survived time on its concrete blocks behind the Long John Silver’s seafood restaurant on the outskirts of the small town. The white shack with ruby red trim hasn’t changed along a gravel road off Pine Street, but didn’t look this time as if it had current occupants.

A friend remarked in a comment under a photo I immediately posted of the place on Facebook that it “looks like maybe you had to go outside to change your mind.” It was so small that I could park in bed and touch all four walls of my bedroom with my arms and feet.

I was happy, though, to live so close to that fast-food restaurant where, for less than a buck, I often bought for dinner greasy cornmeal hush puppies with extra crisps that fell off the fish in the fryer.

We gave definition to poor college kids. Memories of the poverty and living in a trailer park might have helped to form the basis of my having felt anxious this trip rather than mixed sentiments of happiness and sadness.
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