Seton Hill student crafts tribute to philanthropist
Artist Saige Baxter never met Greensburg philanthropist Jennings Womack, but as she spent 10 months preparing a sculpture in his honor, she gradually got to know him through the recollections of those close to him.
“Every design meeting, I got to hear a new story about Jennings,” said Baxter, a Pittsburgh native and studio art student at Seton Hill University.
Her sculpture was unveiled Tuesday outside the Jennings Womack Fitness Center at Greensburg Salem High School. It was the finishing touch on the $200,000 renovation to the center Womack began before his death in January 2015.
“It is a great day to be a Golden Lion,” said high school Principal David Zilli.
Before the renovation, the fitness center was filled with outdated equipment, mostly hand-me-downs from The Aerobic Center nearby, according to athletic director Lynn Jobe.
Womack got involved with the school district about five years ago, volunteering as an assistant football coach.
“He and I became fast friends. I mean I adored the man,” Jobe said.
It was his idea to make the fitness center a state-of-the-art facility, but his suggestions were initially met with skepticism, Zilli said. Nobody was sure he'd be able to raise the donations required.
But Womack got on the phone with the long list of friends and associates he had curated over years of philanthropic work. Many of them donated without hesitation.
“People trusted him so much when he asked them to contribute,” Zilli.
After Womack's death, Greensburg's Ray Charley led the efforts to raise the remaining funds to finish the center in Womack's honor.
“He always sought to go the extra mile in his efforts to make our community better than it was,” Charley said. “Jennings adopted the school, becoming a football coach and a mentor to students.”
Though Womack made his living as an executive at Sears Roebuck & Co., he made his legacy with his many contributions to Westmoreland County. He served as president of the Westmoreland Trust, the Westmoreland/Frick Hospital Foundation and the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County. He helped establish Excela Health in 2004.
His influence can be felt all over the region, not just in the form of the large public initiatives for which he is best known but in the small personal gestures he extended to those that needed him, Jobe said.
As a football coach, he always saw the best in everyone, she said.
“He took underprivileged kids and gave them a helping hand. He trusted kids nobody else trusted,” she said.
Baxter said coming up with a sculpture concept that could encapsulate Womack's life was a challenge.
“He was a man of many things, and he did everything and touched many people, and so it did take dozens and dozens of designs before finally deciding on something that was simple and strong,” she said.
The abstract sculpture is meant to evoke the sight of a mountain, recalling Womack's position as a bedrock in his community, she said.
It stands just outside the entrance of the fitness center that bears his name.
“Every kid who comes through here will be reminded of his legacy,” Jobe said.
Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.