Dedicated to the arts
Pat Kasuda created a Facebook page for her cousin Virginia Niccolai in 2010.
Within a month, the retired Charleroi Area art teacher had 600 students following her.
“When she did paintings, we would post them,” Kasuda said. “The students would share their art and tell her how meaningful her class was to their lives.”
One of Niccolai's former students sent her a computer so she could be online to communicate with them. Niccolai kept three 3-inch binders in which she kept all of their emails and Facebook notes, having copied them and pasted them onto Word documents for keeping.
On Niccolai's 90th birthday on Aug. 1, 2011, hundreds of her former students sent Niccolai birthday cards.
“Her approach to art was that she felt art was a way of expressing things that people couldn't express in words,” Kasuda said.
On Oct. 20, Nicolai passed away. But her spirit will live on in a part of the school she so treasured. On Dec. 7, the art room at Charleroi Area High School will be named for Niccolai. At the event, set to begin at 3 p.m., members of Niccolai's family and people who knew her along with a current student will speak.
“It will be a salute to Virginia Niccolai and the importance of the arts,” district Superintendent Dr. Brad Ferko said.
“We're really excited about honoring Virginia Niccolai for her dedication to art education and her love of students. The ability to name the art room after her demonstrates that in a teacher's life they touch so many people, so many lives and their impact on kids is never forgotten. This is the least we can do for Virginia Niccolai, who gave so much for the kids of the Charleroi Area School District.”
Niccolai taught in the Charleroi school system from 1943 to 1982. She initially taught special education students before becoming an art teacher in the junior high school and eventually the high school.
Kasuda, who was born and raised in Belle Vernon, was very close to her elder cousin. Kasuda's mother and Niccolai's father were brother and sister.
Kasuda often spent time at Niccolai's house, calling it “my summer vacation.” She described what art and teaching art meant to Niccolai.
“It was beyond love for her,” Kasuda said. “It was a passion for her. She had such love for her students.”
A 1939 graduate of Charleroi High School, she earned her teaching degree from California State Teachers College.
She lived in Charleroi for 78 years. While residing in Charleroi, she was very involved in the community. She was president of the board of the John K. Tener Library, and president of the board of directors of the Mon Valley Health Center in Monessen.
A school sponsor for the classes of 1962, 1971, 1982, 1983 and 1984, she was so attached to her students that when she planned her funeral, Niccolai chose former students to serve as pallbearers.
She moved in 1999 to the Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville, Md. There she introduced art to people who had never had that talent.
“It brought out a part of their personalities that they did not know they had,” Kasuda said. “One person told her she was only teacher who could teach him to draw a straight line.”
Never married and with no brothers or sisters, Niccolai's Charleroi students were her family, Kasuda said.
“She called them her children,” Kasuda said. “When these students would write to her, she would say ‘I remember him. He was that ornery kid, but he never gave me a bit of trouble.' ”
Kasuda said Niccolai would be proud to learn of the honor, saying it is fitting because teaching art was her life.
Chris Buckley is a reporter for Trib Total Media.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- West Penn to test ‘balloon pill’ in weight-loss trial
- Cubs’ 3-run, 9th-inning rally upends Pirates
- Westmoreland County hopes to fill 3 departments head positions soon
- Watch out for fraud, elder abuse
- Discord between Westmoreland commissioner, controller draws 2nd criminal inquiry
- Starkey: Vanilla Mike too polite on officiating
- $3.5M glass sculpture’s story begins, ends in rural community of Dunbar
- Georgia pair accused of jury duty phone scam in Pittsburgh likely behind attempted ones in Westmoreland
- New initiative to improve, develop ‘grand corridor’
- Need to vote on rules for rentals in Jeannette called ‘dire’
- Renewable energy shows growth in employment