From left: Tony Riggs, Ty-Meer Brown and Brian Evans were honored this month for living the "McKeesport Message" of "Respect, Dignity, Hope and Love." (Tube City Almanac photo.)
Four people were honored this month by McKeesport Mayor Mike Cherepko and the McKeesport Message Committee for upholding the values of respect, dignity, hope and love.
A subgroup of the mayor's Select Committee on Crime and Violence, the committee accepts nominations from the public and makes the selections four times per year.
Citations were presented at the Oct. 4 council meeting to Brian Evans, Tony Riggs and Ty-Meer Brown. Another citation was issued to Linda Brewster, who was unable to be present.
Tony Riggs is a lifelong McKeesporter who goes above and beyond his neighborly duties to keep his part of the city’s Seventh Ward in order.
Riggs, 64, is a jack of all trades – having worked in every field from carpentry to steel production to public transportation. But when he retired from the Port Authority of Allegheny County two years ago, Riggs started spending more time in his neighborhood.
“About a year ago, I welcomed a new dog into my home,” he said. “We go for walks every day, and I’ve started paying attention. To be honest, there are times when I don’t like what I see.”
Rather than complaining about the decline of his neighborhood, Riggs took it upon himself to turn negative emotions into positive action. Not only did he continue to maintain his property at a standard of which he can be proud, Riggs sought to help his neighbors do the same. He began mowing lawns for elderly and disabled neighbors, and he went on to trim grass and shrubs around abandoned homes and vacant lots.
“It means something to me,” said Riggs, who grew up on the 1800 block of Beech Street and now maintains his own home in the 1400 block, where he looks after his 88 year old mother. “I do this on my own to make things easier and to make things better in my neighborhood – to show people what you can do in your small corner of the world.”
During the winter months, Riggs shovels paths for his neighbors – even paying close attention to rough spots in the road where snow plows can’t quite navigate effectively. He tries to help when he can, and he sets a good example in his neighborhood.
“That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” he said. “When I came up, my mother and grandmother instilled in me to love and respect everybody. I can’t make a person do what they don’t want to do, but I will help anyone when I can.”
In his spare time, Riggs enjoys horticulture and jazz music. He has grown up to 75 varieties of plants in his home and yard, and he is learning to read music while sharpening his skills on the tenor saxophone.
“You’re only as young as you feel,” Riggs said. “If you keep it moving, keep it real, and keep it honest, you will last a long time.”
In his youth, Ty-Meer Brown was a star McKeesport Area athlete who excelled on the football field and basketball court, as well as in the classroom. Today, he has returned to his home district to serve the community that helped to build his character.
When he graduated from McKeesport Area High School in 2010, Brown went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology at the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in sports administration at Boston College. He played football at both schools, and even joined the coaching staff in Boston.
“That was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life,” Brown said. “I commuted from Rhode Island seven days a week – waking up at 4 a.m. to go work 16 hours a day. I used to look forward to a 12 hour day, which felt like a break. I knew I had to stay dedicated and keep pushing toward what I wanted to accomplish, and that was to get my master’s (degree).”
Upon completing his education, Brown knew he wanted to return to his hometown to work with children and teens in his community. He presented an idea to the school board and athletic committee with a vision to mentor student athletes and kids enrolled in other extra-curricular programming.
“These activities make students more well-rounded people,” Brown said. “Different activities bring out different qualities. Playing football focuses on discipline. It develops hard work and determination. Playing an instrument works a different part of your brain. It inspires creativity.”
As the Student Affairs assistant and a leader in the high school’s new mentoring initiative, Brown works on personal development with his students. He attends games and events, and he is supportive of extra-curricular activities. He also monitors academics – making sure incoming freshmen understand the weight of their high school grades in terms of pursuing higher education.
“A lot of kids quit when things get hard, but I want to tell them that it’s not going to be hard forever,” he said. “You have to push through it, and that’s when you become successful.”
Brown can relate to McKeesport Area students on a personal level.
“I can show kids that being present is half the battle,” he said. “If someone from a different place comes in and reads them a rule book, it’s different than someone who walked these halls telling them how it is.”
In her role as president of the McKeesport Trail Commission, Linda H. Brewster is an advocate for the growth of McKeesport in terms of recreational and economic development.
When the Great Allegheny Passage was developed as a hiking and cycling trail connecting Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., initiatives began to highlight destinations along the way. Brewster, along with city officials and trail volunteers, worked hard for McKeesport to earn its designation as a Trail Town – capitalizing on its beautiful location at the confluence of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers and developing amenities to serve trail-users.
“If we move forward with plans to develop this riverfront, we could have everything from a hotel and restaurants to retail businesses or industries that want to be close to the great things happening in McKeesport,” Brewster said. “There’s a great future ahead for our city, and it starts with what we can offer along our trails downtown and in Christy Park.”
With DuraBond Industries having purchased a former U.S. Steel facility adjacent to the RIDC Riverplace Industrial Center of McKeesport, the city will gain easements to develop the confluence into a recreational destination – something Brewster and city officials have envisioned for decades.
She organized the conversion of an old concession stand along Joe Bendel Way (formerly Water Street) overlooking the Marina at McKees Point. Using grants as well as funds raised through McKeesport Trail Commission events, the hostel is now a fully operational facility that can provide overnight accommodations for up to three guests any day of the week during their travels along the Great Allegheny Passage.
“We get a lot of notoriety for our trail and our hostel,” Brewster said. “A lot of people come through here, and we are always proud to hear what they say as they pass through McKeesport. They love everything – the scenery along the river, the marina, the café.”
In addition to her work on the McKeesport trail system, Brewster is involved in numerous community activities and organizations. She is the treasurer and past president of the McKeesport/White Oak Kiwanis Club, a member of the McKeesport Lions Club, a member of the American Legion Post 361 Auxiliary, and a committee member/gate coordinator for International Village.
Years ago, while working for McKeesport Area School District, Brewster organized Mini-Olympics for the 11th Ward Elementary School. Brewster currently is employed at McKeesport Ambulance Rescue Service as a secretary/bookkeeper. She is the wife of state Senator James R. Brewster, and together they have three daughters and six grandchildren.
Brian Evans is sharing his love of athletics with future generations by standing alongside his children and their peers – coaching them through involvement in a variety of sports organizations.
“I’m using my love of the game to give back to my community,” he said. “I have a true passion for giving back to my community.”
Evans, 41, is a lifelong McKeesporter who graduated from McKeesport Area High School in 1994. In his youth, he played a variety of sports for the White Oak Athletic Association and McKeesport Area School District.
By day, Evans drives buses for the Port Authority of Allegheny County, and on evenings and weekends, he dedicates his spare time to teaching kids the value of sportsmanship on the basketball court, as well as softball and soccer fields. He has coached in the McKeesport Metro traveling league, White Oak Athletic Association, and McKeesport Area Lady Tigers Athletic Association. He serves on the boards for WOAA and MALTAA.
“I love the game, and I love teaching kids about the game,” Evans said. “It’s not only about improving their skills. It’s about sportsmanship. It’s about teamwork. You learn early on that it’s not always about winning or losing.”
Evans has coached age groups up to eighth grade. He said he loves teaching children to apply themselves and push toward their goals. He wants kids to have the patience to make good choices.
“As a coach, you are helping young people build character,” Evans said. “You are teaching them to respect others – their teammates and the opposing team. Any team in any sport will experience adversity. Overcoming that in a game gives you the experience you need to face the obstacles in your life.”
Evans said the hardest part about being a coach is treating your own children fairly. He pushes his daughters Brianna, 15, and Brooke, 11, to be strong and respectful players. He can’t wait until his son Brady, 23 months, is ready to play.
“I feel like I’m so much harder on my own kids than the rest of the team,” Evans said. “I know what these kids are capable of, and I want my own children to set a good. Somehow, my kids actually enjoy working with me as a coach. It gives us an opportunity to spend quality time together doing something we all love.”
Evans said he looks forward to coaching for years to come and finding new ways to be involved in the McKeesport community.
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.
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 the mayor’s assistant Jennifer Vertullo, 500 Fifth Avenue, McKeesport, PA 15132, or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for the next round of nominations is May 31, 2017.
Originally published October 12, 2017.