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Vandergrift library to have Heritage Gallery

| Sunday, April 28, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Nick Mitrakos | For the Valley News Dispatch
Kathy Chvala stands at a Trolio family photo in the Vandergrift Library Reading Room. Chvala is a descendant. The photo is the first in the library's Heritage Gallery of Family Portraits exhibit.
Nick Mitrakos | for Valley News Dispatch
Jackie Vigna (left) and her mother, Kathy Chvala, with a Trolio family photo in the Vandergrift Library Reading Room. Chvala is a Trolio descendant.
A portrait of the Trolio family, from whom Kathy Chvala is descended. The portrait is included in Vandergrift Public Library’s Heritage Gallery of Family Portraits.

Public can sharetheir history through family portraits

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a new Vandergrift Public Library program aims to combine words and pictures in a way that organizers believe will prove priceless.

The library's Heritage Gallery of Family Portraits exhibit will offer a glimpse into the family histories of those in and around Vandergrift.

Anyone with family portraits shot between 1850 and 1950 is welcome to contribute. The cost to participate is a $50 donation that will benefit the library.

“This project pays respect to our ancestors that settled here from their homelands, honors them in a special way with a beautiful memorial picture at their home library for others to see,” says Kathy Chvala, president of the library board of trustees.

The project, she says, was a combined effort that developed over time.

Chvala's daughter, Jackie Vigna, was working on finding a way to memorialize her grandfather and his family. When they approached Charlene Hoffer, director of Vandergrift Public Library, the idea was born.

After discussing the possibility of purchasing books or donating a historical picture of the borough, mother and daughter hit upon the idea of enlarging an old family photo and displaying it at the library.

Hoffer suggested they create a heritage exhibit for family portraits.

“All three of us were very excited about this,” Chvala say. “Jackie had a high-resolution copy enlarged and then found the perfect frame to compliment the picture. I went to Tees-N-Tops, which engraved the plate and attached it to the frame for us.”

The family photo from Chvala is the first in the heritage gallery, which is in the library's first-floor reading room.

The sepia-tone portrait of adults and children is accompanied by a summary of its history. The photo includes members of the Trolio family, from which Chvala is descended.

The family, she says, settled in Vandergrift in 1924, coming from Putignano, Italy. All but one member remained in the borough.

For Hoffer, the historical value of such a display is a multilayered one that shares that past in any number of ways.

“Too many family portraits are kept in a box without identifying information. Along with this, their stories are not being told,” she says.

“Some families do pass down the family stories to each new generation, but what about those who don't?

“A public display of the portraits and their stories will help visitors to appreciate and value what went on in our local towns.”

The early residents of Vandergrift — notable in its own right, being the first planned community for workers in the United States and designed by Frederick Law Olmsted — had a chance to see history taking place at the turn of the last century, Hoffer says.

“Family history is important, because the knowledge of it helps us to know ourselves better,” she says. “And, the stories of the immigrants are rich in strength, courage and character. Their stories of sacrifice and hard work paved the way for so many freedoms and privileges that are ours today.”

Julie Martin is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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