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McKeesport Mayor Mike Cherepko and city council this month honored another group of local residents for living the "McKeesport Message" of "Respect, Dignity, Hope and Love."
Biographies of the winners, written by Jennifer Vertullo, assistant to the mayor, follow.
Living the Message awards are intended to showcase these individuals and give the community an opportunity to share its good news. Awards are given quarterly.
Using 250 words or fewer, describe how the individual of your choice embodies one of the four words.
For more information, contact the mayor’s office at (412) 675-5020, ext. 605. Nominations can be mailed to Jennifer Vertullo, assistant to the mayor, City of McKeesport, 500 Fifth Ave., McKeesport, PA 15132, or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
The deadline for the next round of nominations is Feb. 15.
Respect: The McKeesport Lions Club is best known for its Summer Concert Series in Renziehausen Park, and for the last three years, that series has closed with a patriotic display.
McKeesport’s Patriotism Parade celebrates the spirit of America while solemnly remembering the events of Sept. 11, 2001. It opens with a procession of public safety and military personnel, allows for public officials to speak about our nation, features a patriotic concert, and ends with fireworks.
“All of our Lions feel it’s important to pay respect to local military personnel, because without them, Americans simply would not be free,” concert chairman Dann Carr said. “We hope that this event continues to grow in years to come.”
This year, the parade had an impressive showing of children from the McKeesport Area School District who walked in the parade carrying American flags and wearing patriotic T-shirts.
The Summer Concert Series isn’t just about entertainment. It’s about community service. Because LIONS stands for “Liberty, Intelligence and Our Nation’s Safety,” the event is a fitting display of enthusiasm and pride in a nation that continues to be built each day by military and public safety personnel.
“This celebration ties into our year-long support for military personnel,” McKeesport Lions secretary Annette James said.
Last year, the McKeesport Lions Club partnered with American Legion Post 361 Cmdr. Bobbie Billsborrow and the City of McKeesport to promote a veterans banner program banner program in the city.
“Many military members are also Lions Club members,” James said. “Banners hang along Eden Park Boulevard, which the McKeesport Lions Club has adopted in partnership with Allegheny County. The Lions show their pride by displaying banners there and by keeping that stretch of roadway clear of litter.”
The McKeesport Lions Club distributes American flags during its Summer Concert Series, and members collect old flags to be recycled throughout the year. Flags can be dropped off at City Hall throughout the year and on Sundays in Renzie Park during the concerts.
Dignity: Althea “Ciss” Warman has a special place in her heart for the homeless.
Whether she’s cooking meals, giving away clothing, or finding toys for disadvantaged families, Warman is always doing something to make sure others have a better life.
“I’ve never been homeless, but I understand what these people are going through,” she said. “I’m not here to judge anyone. Any one of us could be in their position, and my faith has taught me to love everyone the same.”
In her youth, Warman was one of 11 siblings. Her parents pulled her out of school at just 11 years old to help care for her family. She helped around the house and handled all of the family meals.
As an adult, she went back to school to earn a GED and a certificate in restaurant management. Until her retirement eight years ago, Warman worked in the restaurant and catering business. Today, she uses her kitchen skills as a volunteer.
Every Friday, Warman can be found in the kitchen at Judah Ministries at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Market Street in McKeesport. She cooks hot meals for homeless people in the McKeesport community. For years, she did the same with Kiesell Kitchen on Fifth Avenue.
She also volunteers with Judah’s annual community Christmas dinner and Cheyenne’s Project Christmas.
When Warman’s children were young, she recalled, she would have a dozen kids sleeping on her living room floor. Her children would invite friends and acquaintances to spend time at their house because times were tough at their own homes. She would give them food, clothing and a warm place to sleep.
“We all deserve a chance,” Warman said. “It’s not about gender, race or where you come from. Whether you’re rich or poor, clean or dirty, you should be given a chance.”
Warman said food insecurity is a major issue, not only in the McKeesport community, but across the United States.
“Nobody should wonder where their next meal is coming from,” she said. “Those of us who can donate our money, food, or time need to come together to help the less fortunate.”
Even when we have nothing to give, Warman added, we can choose to treat people equally when society does not.
Hope: After eight years as president of the NAACP McKeesport Unit, Ocie Paige has retired at 78. The local unit meant something special to Paige, as it was founded by his aunt, Mary Lee Truss, in 1960.
While the national organization began in 1909, she was inspired decades later to move for activism within the City of McKeesport when she heard a speech by the NAACP’s regional director Calvin Brooks at Bethlehem Baptist Church.
As an adult, Paige noticed that the unit had withered from Truss’ original assembly.
“I’d seen the condition that the NAACP was in here,” Paige recalled. “It didn’t have a great name or reputation. My idea was to join the group bring it up to what it could be, to what my aunt’s vision was.
“I didn’t have any ambition to be president, but I was talked into it. When I won, I set out to build a great reputation, and I made a promise to the unit’s members.”
Through a great deal of hard work, most of which Paige attributes to his wife Alease, the NAACP McKeesport Unit grew exponentially.
The group now hosts two popular events, the annual Black History Month Pancake Breakfast in February and the Human Rights Dinner in the fall; issues annual scholarships in the amount of $500 to graduating seniors who are pursuing higher education; welcomes voters to Meet the Candidates debates for local elections; and takes part in community-wide events such as the Festival of Trees, McKeesport Rib Fest and many more.
Paige never hesitates get involved in the McKeesport community. He was the first black president of the McKeesport Area School District’s board of directors, and he has worked hard to keep local politicians involved in their neighborhoods.
Paige moved to McKeesport as a child, when his family relocated from Birmingham, Ala., for work. He attended school here before enlisting in the U.S. Army for a 20-year career.
As a sergeant first class, Paige was stationed for two tours in Vietnam and in Korea, Italy and various bases throughout the United States. In retirement, he returned to McKeesport with his family.
Love: Lifelong McKeesporter Sandi George, a Grandview native who now lives in Haler Heights neighborhood, is all about helping others.
Friends and family describe George as someone who always puts others before herself, and she never hesitates to reach out to those in need.
As a local volunteer for Allegheny County’s Snow Angels program, she cleared driveways and sidewalks of ice and snow for elderly and disabled residents in the McKeesport area. And now with the Snow Angels program taken over by an organization that only works within Pittsburgh city limits, George took it upon herself to maintain this service for the people of McKeesport.
Over the summer, George began the Love Thy Neighbor initiative by banding together local volunteers who could cut grass, trim hedges and perform other light yard maintenance for homeowners who can’t do these jobs on their own.
While other organizations offer similar one-time service projects, George wanted to start something that would ease residents’ minds as they struggle to keep their properties looking nice while also making ends meet.
“I thought it would be a great way to help those in need and help spruce up the neighborhoods here in McKeesport,” she said.
“There are a lot of folks who can't afford to put a lot of money into yard maintenance. So many people are on fixed incomes, and they typically have to spend what little funds they do have on other things. Their lawns and yards are often overlooked, because and paying a landscaper to do it can be costly.”
With very few volunteers, George was able to help a handful of homeowners this summer and fall, and she’s looking to do more as winter comes. She also participated in city-organized events, including a downtown cleanup around the former Penn-McKee Hotel in partnership with Pitt Make a Difference Day.
Anyone looking to volunteer their time with Love Thy Neighbor can email George at email@example.com. McKeesport homeowners who may need assistance through Love Thy Neighbor can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (412) 675-5020, ext. 605.
Living the Message
The McKeesport Message Committee, a subgroup of McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko’s Select Committee on Crime and Violence, invites the public to nominate community members who exemplify the words, “Respect, Dignity, Hope and Love.”
McKeesporters of all ages – from youth volunteers to senior citizens – display characteristics of Respect, Dignity, Hope and Love on a daily basis in our community. Whether through organizing community activities or offering a helping hand to those in need, everyday people are doing their part to make our city a better place. If we look within our schools, our neighborhoods, our churches and our service organizations, we will find acts of kindness for which we all can be proud.
Originally published January 23, 2017.