Duquesne-West Mifflin Rotary Club celebrates 60th anniversary

| Friday, May 24, 2013, 1:36 a.m.

Sixty years ago, a McKeesport businessman, the late Sam Hirshberg, called a Duquesne businessman to tell him he had a check for him — and a proposition.

“We want to start a Rotary Club in Duquesne,” Hirshberg told Dom Toretti.

Toretti said he had no idea what a Rotary Club was, and didn't think he was cut out for it because he was a TV repairman, not a businessman.

But by 1953 Toretti had a business, Dom's TV and Appliance, which still operates in The Village Shopping Center along Homeville Road in West Mifflin.

And that call from Hirshberg was the start of a 60-year relationship that was celebrated by the Duquesne-West Mifflin Rotary Club at a dinner meeting on Thursday night at Westwood Golf Club.

“We were always a very active club,” said Toretti, who turned 87 last week and is the last surviving co-founder.

“He has made this place better for many families, and especially for children,” Joan Mills, program manager of A Child's Place at Mercy said in a message read by current club president Bob Macey.

“I got involved in (what now is the Mon Yough Area Chamber of Commerce) and I got involved in the Rotary because of him,” Macey said, calling Toretti a personal mentor, a community steward, “and a top-notch businessman.”

“(Dom Toretti) welcomed me and I'd visit him over at his shop,” recalled Ken Fair, 69, who was asked in the mid-1990s by his employer, the old West Mifflin General Motors plant, to represent it at Rotary.

“It turned out to be a very rewarding experience,” said Fair, a Penn Hills resident who retired from GM in 2001.

“This is one of the most important events that I want to be at,” said Rotary Club District 7300 Governor Tom Fallon, who attended the dinner along with governor-elect Walter Sickles.

It was part of an event that also celebrated the club's 60th anniversary — and the union of Dom and Betty Toretti that also dates back six decades.

“Behind this successful man stands his wife Betty, who has shared and supported the ideals and service of Rotary with him these past 60 years,” is inscribed on a plaque presented by club officers.

The local Rotary Club's achievements include what today is the Duquesne-West Mifflin Boys & Girls Club. Pat Bluett, its long-time director, was among those in attendance.

“It did a lot with the kids,” said former Duquesne mayor Melvin Achtzehn, who recalled another Rotary program that adopted children in Germany.

“Being a small club we have done more projects than most,” Toretti said.

Others recalled how, in the mid-1990s, when a community in Argentina needed an ambulance, the Duquesne-West Mifflin Rotary Club was able to obtain one after the merger that produced the former Prism Health Services.

Some of the members engineering that effort included Howard Jessup and Susan Williams Place, two departed members recalled on Thursday by Place's husband Mark, still club treasurer, and Jessup's sister Mary, who runs her brother's Allegheny Valley Transfer Co. in West Mifflin.

Michael Plazewski, now the club sergeant-at-arms, said the ambulance was filled with medical supplies and equipment and sent to a suburb of Buenos Aires. It was a smooth trip, up until the end.

“Customs held it hostage,” current club secretary Alan Schultheis said.

“The dock people are used to getting gifts,” Plazewski said, recalling the bribes needed to complete the donation.

Toretti saw a club evolve but never gain all that many members — its peak of 36 came early.

“This has been small but very, very strong,” said Schultheis, one of several past club presidents in attendance at Westwood Golf Club.

It eventually became the Duquesne-West Mifflin-South Hills Rotary.

However, Toretti recalled, “they (in the South Hills portion) wanted to move it over to Whitehall. I said, ‘No way.'”

Toretti and the club also received proclamations from Allegheny County Council, on which Macey represents Mon-Yough area District 9, and both houses of the General Assembly.

“We also recognize Dom for his unwavering support of the Rotary's cause and ideal of ‘service over self,'” read the proclamation signed by state Sens. Jay Costa Jr., D-Forest Hills, who represents West Mifflin, and James Brewster, D-McKeesport, who represents Duquesne.

Jennifer Halaszynski, chief of staff to state Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Dravosburg, presented a proclamation on behalf of the state House of Representatives.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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