The stories of McKeesport Area High School’s people will soon appear on TV screens.
At last week’s meeting, the school board voted to approve two projects that will showcase local students, staff and families.
The first, a docuseries titled “The Road to the Ring,” will follow the McKeesport Tigers Varsity Football team and its quest to win a state championship. Produced by Teall Properties Group, LLC, the 10-part series, will chart the end of the Tigers’ season — the team is currently 9-1 — and begin streaming in January on Teall’s YouTube channel.
James Companion, Teall’s EVP, National Sales, told the board the docuseries will provide viewers a perspective from “behind the curtain.”
By focusing on athletes and coaches, “this is a chance to show the country one of the top programs,” Companion said.
In her report to the board during Wednesday’s meeting, McKeesport Area Superintendent Tia Wanzo spotlighted students and staff across the district.
Wanzo described various acts of kindness undertaken by those at Francis McClure Elementary School and Founders’ Hall Middle School, as well as recent achievements by McKeesport Area High School’s band and color guard.
Wanzo’s presentations culminated in more than 10 students receiving certificates and rounds of applause.
After the final student was celebrated, Board President Mindy Lundberg told the nearly 50 attendees at Wednesday’s meeting, “Ladies and gentlemen, that's what this is all about.”
Apart from celebrating student success, however, board members heard about various challenges in the district.
Shalay Williams, founder of Care Heart CPR, conducts a training course. The building and other tenants were displaced when a natural gas explosion heavily damaged a small-business incubator on Ninth Avenue, Downtown. (Submitted photo courtesy Care Heart CPR, via Facebook)
For business owner and licensed nurse Shalay Williams, saving lives is the top priority.
“If I can train one person to save another, I’ve done my job,” Williams said.
Shalay Williams is a practical nurse with 13 years of experience. She graduated from UPMC St. Margaret School of Nursing, located in Pittsburgh. She opened Care Heart CPR, an emergency-training service, in July 2021.
Until Aug. 2, the business was located on Ninth Avenue in McKeesport, at Penn State Greater Allegheny’s small-business incubator, the Mon Valley LaunchBox.
That morning, a devastating natural gas explosion heavily damaged several businesses supported by the LaunchBox, including Care Heart, Painting with Rissa and The Fry Bar.
CORRECTION: This article has been corrected. The wrong figure was given for the number of teachers in the district.
Inside Dr. Tia Wanzo’s office are plants, a few photos and a mounted placard with a quote once uttered by the late basketball hall of famer Kobe Bryant.
The nearby windows in Wanzo’s office allow a fair amount of natural light to enter. The sunshine illuminates a desk, conference table and plenty of places to sit, but McKeesport Area School District’s newest superintendent doesn’t love using the roomy space.
“It's really hard for me to just sit in here and be behind my desk,” Wanzo said. “I am not an office person by any way, shape, stretch or form.”
The self-described “visible leader” would rather be inside a classroom, joining others in a hallway or walking the track.
Board members and employees of McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center watch as McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko, Heritage Center board chair Matt Gergely and state Sen. Jim Brewster ceremonially break ground on a new annex to the facility in Renziehausen Park. (Tube City Almanac photo)
Local officials and representatives of McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center broke ground Wednesday evening on an annex that will roughly double the amount of exhibit space available at the Renziehausen Park museum and archive.
Construction of the 3,500-square-foot wing is expected to begin within a few weeks and, weather-permitting, will be complete in late spring or early summer 2023, said Branden Kucich, owner of Kucich Construction, general contractor on the project.
The expansion is a reflection that the heritage center has increasingly become a regional asset that serves not just the McKeesport Area School District, but surrounding communities as well, said state Sen. Jim Brewster.
“There is an abundance of items that have been stored that people haven’t been able to see” on display, Brewster said. “The heritage center really has become a destination point, along with the rose garden, here in McKeesport. People come here from all over the country, including people who grew up in McKeesport as well as the surrounding areas.”
For owner Stephanie Smalls, opening a business in McKeesport was unexpected.
“Even I was shocked to be there,” Smalls said. “But I asked, ‘Which way should I go, Lord?’ And that’s where I ended up.”
In 2013, Stephanie Smalls decided to leave her job in the corporate world and start her own business. That’s when she and her daughter, Jazmine, opened YOUnique Boutique, located in the Masonic Building at 522 Walnut St. They are not originally from the McKeesport area, but the location was affordable.
Whether YOUnique Boutique can survive much longer, however, is a question. Smalls said the store took a big financial hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I worked for 25 years in the corporate world,” Smalls said. “But this is what I always wanted to do. I’ve always appreciated thrift shopping.”
A team of investigators is still working to determine the cause of an Aug. 2 blast that heavily damaged the former YWCA of McKeesport on Ninth Avenue.
Allegheny County spokeswoman Amie M. Downs said Tuesday that city officials and the county fire marshal’s office will arrange a meeting at the scene with building tenants, the state Public Utility Commission and representatives of Peoples Gas to examine the structure and determine what parts are safe to enter.
According to witnesses and emergency officials, a contractor was using heavy equipment at the rear of the building to dig up a portion of the parking lot shortly before an explosion occurred.
The contractor, who has not been publicly identified, was working to construct a wheelchair-accessible ramp.
State Rep. Summer Lee, who represents the 34th Legislative District was the keynote speaker for the McKeesport Unit NAACP’s 60th Anniversary celebration. (Photo by Vickie Babyak for Tube City Almanac)
A race riot in Abraham Lincoln’s hometown in 1908 led to the organization of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
In Springfield, Ill., during the summer of 1908, a white woman alleged a Black man had attacked her. The woman later admitted before a special grand jury that, in fact, she actually was beaten by a white man but wouldn’t disclose his name.
But in the meantime, an angry mob of around 5,000 surged through the streets in violence. Eight Black men were killed, more than 50 men, women and children were beaten, and their homes and businesses were burned down forcing 2,000 Black residents to abandon their city, losing their livelihoods and wealth.
Remembering that history — and celebrating the hard work done over the past century to overcome racial discrimination and prejudice — members of the McKeesport Unit of the NAACP came together this month to celebrate their own 60th anniversary at the group’s annual Freedom Dinner.
Family of the late McKeesport Mayor Joe Bendel gathered Sunday morning with Mayor Michael Cherepko, state Sen. Jim Brewster and others to re-dedicate the Bendel Lighthouse at McKees Point Marina. (Tube City Almanac photo)
Family and friends of the late Joe Bendel gathered Sunday morning to re-dedicate a lighthouse at McKees Point Marina to the former mayor’s memory.
First erected in 2008 following a fundraising drive, the Bendel Lighthouse was heavily damaged in a storm two years ago. McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko said repairs to the lighthouse — which is a scaled-down version of a full-size coastal lighthouse — were completed by Vegely Welding in the city’s Third Ward and paid for by insurance.
Bendel, who served on city council and then as mayor from 1995 to 2000, died in 2003. Cherepko and others credited Bendel with working to slow a long period of decline in the city that began in the 1980s with the loss of U.S. Steel, G.C. Murphy Co. and other large employers.
The lighthouse symbolizes the “vision that Joe Bendel had of the marina and bike trail,” Cherepko said. “He saw all of this happening long before we ever imagined it.”