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Superhero dads: Secrets are out, identities revealed in Father's Day tributes

| Saturday, June 15, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Larry Richert (green shirt) with (from left) his dad, Kenneth Richert,  sister Nancy, and brothers Pat, Dave and Ken on Father's Day 2011.
Larry Richert
Larry Richert (green shirt) with (from left) his dad, Kenneth Richert, sister Nancy, and brothers Pat, Dave and Ken on Father's Day 2011.
Dad illustration by Mark Brewer
Mark Brewer
Dad illustration by Mark Brewer
Becky Utech Gaugler's father, Frederick Utech, former curator of botany at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Becky Utech Gaugler's father, Frederick Utech, former curator of botany at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Jim Krenn and his dad, Terry.
Jim Krenn and his dad, Terry.
Janis Burley Wilson and her father, Tom Burley
Janis Burley Wilson and her father, Tom Burley
Playwright Tammy Ryan
Playwright Tammy Ryan
Bill Sarris
Mike Mancini | For the Tribune Review
Bill Sarris
Fawzi Haimor with his parents as a boy in Saudi Arabia.
Fawzi Haimor with his parents as a boy in Saudi Arabia. Submitted
Frank Sarris, the late owner of Sarris Candies
Frank Sarris, the late owner of Sarris Candies
Otto H. Chu (left) with father John Wen-Djang Chu, mother Helen Yu Li Chao Chu and sisters Patricia P. Chu and Lily L. Chu in Pittsburgh, 1963.
Otto H. Chu (left) with father John Wen-Djang Chu, mother Helen Yu Li Chao Chu and sisters Patricia P. Chu and Lily L. Chu in Pittsburgh, 1963.

Good Dads know that with great grilling power comes great responsibility. They're faster than a speeding bullet when it comes to mowing the lawn. And when there's an icky bug in the house, they take care of it with a “Bam! Fwap! Ka-Pow!”

They're our very own superheros, no matter what special powers they possess.

Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a Pittsburgh-based family physician and author of two parenting books, who shares tips at, says there are a few reasons behind our tendencies to see our pops as larger than life. For starters, it's common for dads to literally be the largest family member.

“Part of it has to do with the physicality of being a guy,” she says. “Little kids can't lift things, can't reach things. Men have great physicality to lend.”

Dads also have a knack for figuring out tricky situations, a key trait of any superhero, Gilboa says. And they're great at one thing every kid considers a matter of utmost importance: play time.

“They like to roll on the ground, lift you up high, teach you physical skills — like hitting a ball, tying a knot,” Gilboa says. “Dads have their fingers on the pulse of fun.”

Of course, moms can pull all this off, as well, but it's more their nature to always be thinking ahead to whatever's next on the day's to-do list.

“Guys have different boundaries than women,” Gilboa says. “They live more in the now. That's a great superhero trait.”

Finally, pop culture has countless examples of father serving as their families' protectors, much like any costumed guardian-of-all-things-good does for residents of his city.

“They're the ones who, if there's a weird noise in the middle of the night, are going to check it out,” Gilboa says.

In honor of Father's Day, we asked some notable Pittsburghers to tell us what superhero traits their dads possess.

Super Giving Man

During his lifetime, Bill Sarris' father certainly had the widespread popularity of a superhero. Frank Sarris, founder of Sarris Candies in Canonsburg, was known as much more than a purveyor of delicious sweets. The philanthropist, who passed away in 2010, held many causes close to his heart and generously supported them.

“He was definitely someone to look up to,” says Sarris, president of the candy company. He remembers his father being active in his upbringing, playing softball and tennis with his son. Later in life, his father also became his mentor when the two began working together.

Sarris says his father was never afraid to let his son make a mistake, acting as a constant safety net for his ambitious progeny.

“He had struggled when he was young. He started with nothing and was very conservative. I was the opposite. I would say, ‘Let's try this!' Maybe we would lose some money, but he gave me the chance to succeed.”

Super Handy Man

At some point in your adulthood, you realize that your parents might actually know what they've been talking about all these years. For Jill Weimer, an attorney for Littler, that realization became blatantly obvious the moment she and her husband, Jeff, became homeowners.

“I'd trade the cape or ability to fly for my dad's skills any day. Since (we) bought our first home, we have turned to my dad for advice more than ever. I had always known my father was “handy,” but I had no idea just how talented he is until we got started on projects: wood-working, plumbing, roof repair, heating, cooling. ... He's also already converted a coat closet into a powder room, and we haven't even been there a year!”

The talents of Weimer's father, John Albrecht, aren't exclusively reserved for the home-improvement arena. His pearls of wisdom are easily strung together into a valuable resource in almost every other aspect of her life.

“If I need a level-headed answer, I call my father,” she says. “Questions about career approach, navigating friend and family relationships or my golf swing: Ask dad.”

Outward talents are easy to identify, but for Weimer, it's her father's character that has served as the ultimate inspiration. “At the core, my father is selfless and dedicated — two traits one finds in all the best superheroes. ... I am so lucky to have him as a father.”

Super Cool Cat Man

“His word is his bond and he is the coolest cat on Earth,” says Janis Burley Wilson, vice president of education and community outreach for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

Burley Wilson probably is best known as the planner of jazz events the Trust presents, a professional side she seems to have inherited from him. Tom Burley was the manager of a jazz club, the now-closed Crawford Grill at Station Square.

“My dad is my hero because he is responsible, loves and protects his family, has charisma, has integrity, is highly respected and revered.”

They all seems like reasons for him to be a hero, right? Oh, there's one more thing: “(There's) no one like him,” she says.

Super Supportive Man

Talented children don't deserve more love than others, although a loving parent will be sensitive to each child's interests. And while stage mothers often carry it way too far, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's new assistant conductor Fawzi Haimor knows a parent who finds the right balance is a special kind of blessing.

“My dad has been supportive of me my whole life but went even further than what the ‘father' job entails,” says Haimor of Said Haimor. “He went beyond the call of duty and learned about my profession and fell in love with my passion. His dedication enabled me to become what I am today.”

Haimor lives in Upper St. Clair with his wife, Houda, and daughter, Aleena, 2. Before long, it will be time to apply his father's example to raising his own daughter.

Super Tenacious Man

For Otto Chu, CEO of Chu Financial Management Corporation in Pittsburgh, the stories that his father, John Wen-Djang Chu, shared were nothing short of fascinating.

“His ancestors in the Chu family ruled China during the Ming Dynasty,” he says. “My father was a graduate student at Peking University when Japan invaded China during the Second World War. (He) completed his master's degree, and then spent eight years as a colonel in the army fighting against an invading Japanese army during a difficult and troubling war.”

After the war ended, Chu's father came to the United States to pursue a doctoral degree at the University of Washington upon the advice of his own parents, who encouraged their son to settle in America. Teaching positions at Yale University and the University of Pittsburgh helped paved the way for his three children to attend Yale University and Ivy League graduate schools.

For Chu, the tenacity of his father and mother became a solid foundation for him and his siblings to build upon.

“In the history of a family, every generation faces its own challenges,” Chu says. “My father and mother were the bridge generation, the ones who learned a new language and a new culture, and helped build a life for our family in the United States. They lived through a depression and a world war. They were born to aristocratic lives in China, but built entirely new ones in America. They were the ones who overcame extraordinary adversity to help provide us with the tremendous opportunities that we enjoy here in the United States. We always will be enormously grateful to them.”

Super Mental Millionaire Man

His father's ability “to make us feel safe in any situation made him seem bigger than life to us,” says Larry Richert, a co-host of the KDKA-AM (1020) morning show, of the late Kenneth Richert.

Richert admired his father's self-discipline the most.

“He used to say, ‘If you don't discipline yourself somebody else will, so...' He created a sewn patch that read, “Master self-discipline. Become a Mental Millionaire,” for all his children and grandchildren. We all posted them in places we frequent. He told us you can overcome a lot of life's challengers if you discipline yourself.”

His dad, a car salesman, was kind to others and loved his family, Richert adds.

“He set a great example for us by the way he treated people. He would always tell us to be pachydermous (thick skinned). Let others' negativity roll down your back. Have a positive attitude, set your goals, enthusiasm, self-discipline were words he had stuck to our bathroom mirror for all five children to read every day.”

“He told us, ‘Happiness is a choice no matter what your circumstances, choose wisely!' My dad was so right about that. Be joyful and help others.”

Richert was pleased when he saw his dad's patch on his daughter Emma's dorm room mirror.

“I hope some of that sinks in,” he says. “I try to set an example for my children in the way I treat others. This I observed in my parents, and this is the best legacy of all.”

Super Good Guy Man

Jim Krenn is one of Pittsburgh's best-known voices, a stand-up comic, radio host who hosts a comedy podcast “Jim Krenn: No Restrictions” (

He says his dad, Terry Krenn, has two qualities that could qualify him as a superhero.

“My dad qualifies as a superhero because he's a good guy,” says Krenn. “The first rule of thumb of a superhero is they have to be someone who tries to do good things for people, and he's definitely the epitome of that.

“My dad's super power is belching. After two Iron City's, the length and loudness of his burps mesmerized me as a child and as an adult. It's a super-human power that could put out fires and start one when needed. After three Iron City's, I'm pretty sure he would be able to produce one that could stop a speeding bullet!”

Super Wise Man

Drummer Roger Humphries says his dad gave him something more important than money.

“Wisdom,” he says. “I guess you could call it the road to wisdom. You hear about dads leaving their kids lots of money, but he did something more important than that. He taught us how to work and have ethics.”

Lawrence G. Humphries had a shoe-repair shop on the North Side. He didn't have a lot of money, the famed jazz drummer says, but that didn't matter. He found a way to make sure his wife and 10 children had all they needed, that the kids got through school, and to become adults.

“He put us all on the right track,” Humphries says. “He taught us all how to work. That was the most important thing to me.”

Super Thrill Man

“My dad had three superhero powers which amazed me and my five siblings growing up,” says playwright and Shadyside resident Tammy Ryan of her father Roger Ryan, who lives in Melbourne, Fla:

1.) He had eyes in the back of his head.

2.) He could predict the future: He knew what his kids were going to do before they did it.

3.) He could fly.

True story, Ryan says: “He told my mom that he could fly over the dining room table. ... So with my little sister on his back, he took a few steps backwards — we had a small house — and then ran toward the table with his arms out Superman-style and ‘flew' over the table, of course, coming crashing down and breaking the Early American dining room table, which he fixed the next day. But it was quite thrilling to watch him take the dare, almost convincing us he could do it.”

Super Nature Man

Becky Utech Gaugler, an assistant curator of education for the Carnegie Museum of Art, calls her superhero dad a “masterful teacher” who taught her a lot about science, math and the natural world around her.

Gaugler, of Lawrenceville, recalls summer days driving down unlabeled dirt roads with her father, Frederick Utech, for many years a curator of botany at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. They'd stop to wander the woods and collect plant specimens. When she went camping, she watched her dad carefully press plants into newspaper and dry them overnight, while he made meticulous notes on maps and ledgers. When Gaugler was in school, Utech helped her with trigonometry and chemistry and imparted his love for history and geography. Utech would make holiday gifts, like snowmen magnets, with his daughter, and taught her patience, she says.

“Quiet, patient, humble, and passionate — my father taught me to appreciate the natural world, to be observant, thoughtful, to ask questions about how things work, and perhaps most importantly, to love learning and be passionate about what I do,” Gaugler says. “Even now, I love watching my dad get excited about a subject that interests him and he wants to share — as much as I love sharing the things that have made me passionate.”

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