It's a permanent exhibit that's constantly changing.
"To Honor Those Who Served," unveiled this month at the McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center, is a video tribute to veterans from throughout the Mon-Yough area that also includes stories and thank-you messages from local schoolchildren.
More than 70 veterans' names and photos are currently featured, says Robyn Tedesco, executive director of the museum and historical society located in Renziehausen Park, and she's hopeful that new ones will be added every month. Already, another 20 are ready to be included in the next update, she says.
"Anyone who served in the military is welcome to participate," Tedesco says. "And people who are still in the service are also eligible."
And the display is intended to reach beyond McKeesport's borders. True to the Heritage Center's stated slogan, "Your Mon-Valley Museum," the display is open to anyone from the Mon-Yough area.
Veterans from Duquesne, Homestead, Munhall and Pittsburgh's Lincoln Place neighborhood are among those already included.
"Once the word gets out, we expect that we'll have a lot more," Tedesco says.
The display was the idea of Robert Hauser, a member of the Heritage Center's board of directors and a retired assistant professor of history at Penn State Greater Allegheny. He saw a display of veterans' photos while visiting a retirement community north of Pittsburgh and wondered if something a bit more high tech could be brought to McKeesport.
"We have a lot of veterans' memorials that have been set up around town, but they tend to be concrete or bronze structures with names on them," Hauser says. "The names don't have the same impact that faces do."
Staff at the Senator John Heinz Regional History Center in Pittsburgh's Strip District suggested the video equipment being used at the Heritage Center, Tedesco said. Hauser was part of the committee who put the display together, along with Tedesco, Heritage Center archivist Michelle Wardle-Eggers, and volunteers Anne Bell, Bonnie Stern, Pat Begandy, Peg Luketic and Sharon Soles.
"To Honor" includes two video screens. The top screen displays the veterans' names and photos, while the bottom screen includes the messages and pictures from kids.
Currently being featured are drawings from teacher Jacquelyn Potter's third-grade class at Twin Rivers Elementary School. Tedesco hopes the Heritage Center can include a new batch of messages from school children every few months.
"I thought it was important to get young people involved," Hauser says. "I knew they wouldn't have lengthy responses, but I thought (their messages) would add a simple eloquence to the display."
The Heritage Center has set up a small desk with paper and drawing materials for any visiting school children who want to contribute to the display. A binder collects longer written messages, mainly from older children.
"To Honor" is being sponsored by Mon-Yough Community Services and the Kiwanis Club of McKeesport, but Tedesco says additional contributions will be needed to maintain and improve the display in the future.
In addition, Tedesco and Hauser would like to purchase several portable digital tablets that visitors could use to search through the names and photos at their own pace. Those tablets will cost $600 to $800, and the Heritage Center is looking for sponsors for those.
Any person who wants to include their own name, or a family member's name, in "To Honor Those Who Served" should send the Heritage Center the following information, Tedesco says:
- Branch of Service
- Years of Service or Era of Conflict
- Rank Achieved
In addition, Tedesco says, the Heritage Center needs a high-quality digital photo or a good scan of a paper photo, preferably showing the person in uniform. Photos can be scanned at the Heritage Center, but should not be sent through the mail to prevent them from being lost or damaged, she says.
For more information, call the Heritage Center at (412) 678-1832 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published November 29, 2017.