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Charitable donation honors life of young Plum girl

| Monday, July 17, 2017, 10:10 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
The Hrivnaks, Charlene, Richie, 14, and Richard, who is the mayor of Plum, at their booth to benefit the Sarah A. Hrivnak Memorial Fund during the recent Plum Community Days event.

What started out as a philanthropic idea nearly 20 years ago has grown to an annual charitable donation memorializing a young Plum girl.

The Sarah A. Hrivnak Memorial Fund was established through The Pittsburgh Foundation in 2000.

It was a Father's Day gift from Charlene Hrivnak to her husband, Plum Mayor Rich Hrivnak.

Sarah, a 13-month-old with blue eyes and a big smile, died tragically in a crash along Route 909 in Plum on Nov. 27, 1995, along with her mother, Pam.

“She's really gentle, dainty and beautiful just like her mom, a gentle soul,” Rich Hrivnak said.

Pam, 27, was driving to a bank with their daughter when the accident took place.

“She hit a truck or a truck hit her, and that was it,” Rich Hrivnak said. “There was no fault on anybody's part. It was just an accident. I think about them all the time.”

Charlene Hrivnak said she originally started a fund in response to a motivational seminar a few years prior to meeting Rich.

The speaker asked, “If you could be anything in the world what would you be if money was no object?”

Charlene replied, “I'd be a philanthropist.”

She sold stock in Health America and began the philanthropic efforts with a few thousand dollars. It was later rededicated in Sarah's name.

“I wanted to honor their memory,” she said. “They're part of my family, and to help Rich, too, with his loss.” Rich Hrivnak said it brings some comfort knowing something positive came from the horrible event.

“Charlene has a huge heart, one of the biggest hearts I've ever seen in a person,” Rich Hrivnak said. “We need to be less selfish and more focused on what's good for everybody, and what can lift everybody up. I don't want Sarah to be forgotten, and I want people to know how much I loved her and still do love her with all my heart. It puts a joyous perspective on something that was an absolute terrible time.”

The Hrivnak fund is one of more than 2,000 within The Pittsburgh Foundation.

“It is a tangible means to name something permanent for an individual, and to regularly remember their interests and passions through grants from the fund,” Yvonne Maher, foundation senior vice president for development and donor services, said.

“While most of the funds are established after an individual passes away, some of the funds are set up during the donor's lifetime. Many times, people feel helpless when someone close passes away. Flowers, or a one-time gift don't necessarily have the same meaning as being part of an endowment. For family members and friends, it is a way to remember someone on their birthday, religious holiday or other. The person being memorialized stays in the present.”

The memorial fund has raised roughly $50,000 since its dedication, and its average annual donation is around $1,500.

Recipients have been the American Cancer Society, Make-A-Wish, Plum Food Pantry, Plum Community Library, Pittsburgh Youth Concert Orchestra and the Wounded Warrior Project.

The family chooses who gets the donation on Oct. 17, Sarah's birthday.

Plum Food Pantry Director Joe Utterback said he received a $1,000 donation from the memorial fund, as well as a donation from the mayor and Charlene, last year.

It was in memory of his wife, Verna “Flo” Utterback, who died July 19, 2016, at age 81. The Utterbacks were married for 60 years.

“I really appreciate not only the money, but the gesture,” Joe Utterback said. “It was a nice of them.”

Rich and Charlene's son, Richie Hrivnak, is the fund's main fundraiser.

“I really want to help everyone who needs help,” Richie said. “The thing that really motivates me is the veterans and seeing people who are homeless, and things like that make me realize there are people less fortunate than us. We should do everything in our power to help those less fortunate than others.”

He recently published a children's book, “You Can Change the World,” and refurbishes bicycles for sale with all proceeds from both going to the fund.

The family has a memorial booth every year at the borough's Community Festival in Larry Mills Park.

Richie said he misses Sarah even though the two never met. Rich Hrivnak believes they would have gotten along great.

“They both have the same kind of loving personality,” Rich Hrivnak said. “Richie's a little more outgoing than I think Sarah would have been, both kids with big loving hearts.”

People can donate to the fund online at

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2367,

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