Monroeville's 'Homeless Harry' celebrated in January memorial
Monroeville resident Robb Fishman misses seeing Harry Pasquarelli when he drives under the bridge near the Speedway convenience store on Old William Penn Highway.
He isn't the only one.
Known to most as “Homeless Harry,” Pasquarelli spent much of his time sheltered under the bridge or trudging with his bike up the nearby Center Street hill on his way to the Miracle Mile Shopping Center.
“He was never riding that bike; he was always pushing it,” Fishman said.
Pasquarelli — a fixture on the streets of Monroeville — died just five days before his 70th birthday last month. It was just two months after a community effort led by Fishman had gotten Homeless Harry off the streets and into a rented house, where his body was found Jan. 23. The death is under investigation by Monroeville police.
Some at a memorial organized by Fishman at the end of January suggested Pasquarelli may have died after falling and hitting his head. But it was his life — not death — that was the focus of the memorial attended by more than 20 family and friends.
“Until he died, I didn't realize the outpouring of people who loved and knew him,” Fishman said.
About a year ago, Fishman — owner of Fishman Chiropractic and Massage — began giving Pasquarelli money or bags of food while he was sitting outside of the Speedway.
“We started talking, and he was very articulate, very soft spoken,” said Fishman, 55. “He was very proper and had the kind of voice you want to listen to on the radio.”
Gradually, Fishman started stopping by more often — learning a little more about the man behind the long, scraggly white beard with each visit.
“I watched this man for years, and the curiosity just got to me one day and I couldn't take it anymore,” Fishman said. “I ended up falling in love with this guy.”
Once making contact, Fishman began by getting him cleaned up. After two barbers turned him down, Fishman paid for a haircut and a shave, as well as a membership to LA Fitness in Monroeville, so Pasquarelli could shower when he wanted.
“I never had any kids, so I never had to worry about anybody,” Fishman said. “Then Harry came along and somebody counted on me every day. He called me his lucky star.”
Dave and Colette Newton, who own the juice bar inside the fitness center, always had towels, soap, toothpaste and a toothbrush for Pasquarelli when he needed them.
“We told people that worked for us that Harry gets towels and a smoothie every time he comes in,” Colette Newton said. “I can't believe that Robb turned the whole community around to help Harry.”
Nearly every day after Fishman got done with work, the two would go to Palermo's Pizza and Bar for a drink or the Texas Roadhouse for dinner. Pasquarelli began going to Fishman's home for Steelers games and drinks.
The two began seeing each other so much that Fishman said he started picking up Pasquarelli's mannerisms. Pasquarelli began attending Grace Life Church with him.
“Here I am preaching a sermon right before Christmas and asking people if they want to receive Christ in their life, and sure enough, Harry is back there with both hands up,” said Pastor Bruce “Buck” Shafer.
Shafer said he saw Pasquarelli walking his bike around town for years. He called it a privilege to see him in the church.
Homeless Harry's story
It wasn't until the memorial that people — many who had helped Homeless Harry at some time on the street — learned Pasquarelli's whole story.
Although camping for years in Monroeville after becoming homeless, he grew up in Penn Hills, where he started a family and owned a roofing business. He had two sons, Kevin and Harry Jr., and a wife, Marilyn.
Pasquarelli was putting roofs over people's heads until he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He felt good when medicated, but stopped taking the drugs when he felt good. That formula led to the end of his marriage decades ago. How he ended up in Monroeville more that 10 years ago and when he became homeless is a mystery to friends and family.
“The old man was not a bad guy, but some people choose different avenues to go down and at one point he chose the wrong way,” Kevin Pasquarelli said.
His sons and ex-wife were all at the memorial, speaking of the good times and the bad.
Marilyn Pasquarelli said she wished her children would have known their father during his good years as she once did. But she said raising her children took precedence over trying endlessly to get her husband on the right track.
“He started out surrounded by love in life and was taken care of, and that's how he ended up. For that I am thankful,” she said.
Christine Manganas is a freelance writer.