McKeesport natives kick off annual weekend reunion
McKeesport natives exchanged hugs and hellos as they walked into the Palisades on Friday night for the seventh annual McKeesport Past and Present reunion.
The three-day weekend of food, fun and fellowship opened with a Friday night banquet that included dinner and dancing. Festivities continue Saturday with a noon picnic and children's activities at Moran Field in Harrison Village. The reunion will close with Sunday services at Christ Temple AME, 937 Rose St.
Drawing McKeesporters home year after year, the reunion brings together old friends, some of whom haven't seen each other in decades.
“Everybody sitting at this table has gone different places and met new people, but they never lose the friends they have back home,” retired Westinghouse engineer Ed Henderson of Hampton, Va., said. Having worked on transportation projects as far west as San Francisco and stretching as far down the Atlantic as South America, Henderson said there is no place like McKeesport.
Martin Vaughn, whose finance career has taken him from Wall Street to international business ventures, spent Friday afternoon driving around the city before heading to the Palisades.
“It feels like home,” he said. “I looked around and, really, I saw all the places that aren't there now ... but it didn't feel any different.”
When Vaughn noticed Creighton W. Lee Sr., he swore the two hadn't sat down to talk in nearly 30 years.
“This gives me a chance to reacquaint myself with elementary school and high school friends,” said Lee, a retired IBM sales executive who lives in Danbury, Conn. “It also allows me to show support for the community that had so much to do with my success.”
Lee's sister Roberta Lee-Powell is a physician in Gwynned Valley.
“When people in the Philadelphia area ask me where I'm from, I don't say, ‘Pittsburgh,'” she said. “I'm from McKeesport.”
The McKeesport Past and Present reunion is a tribute to Barbara Jean Price Spencer, a McKeesport Area graduate who moved to the nation's capital, where she became an esteemed educator. Spencer, who passed away in 2006, did not live to see the hometown reunion she envisioned.
“When I think about Barb, I think about friendship. I think about being a strong black woman,” McKeesport Past and Present committee secretary Christina Preston said. “And I think about education ... Education empowers.”
Every year, the McKeesport Past and Present committee has recognized accomplished members of McKeesport's black community. This year, they reached out to the youth by offering two $500 scholarships through the Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania's Prince Hall Grand Lodge to McKeesport Area graduates Bryant Harper Jr. and Domonje Walker. The committee also provided membership dues for five children who belong to the LaRosa Boys & Girls Club.
“The reunion is not all about fun and games,” chairman Cornell Johnson said. “It's been our mission as we've grown to give back to our community, to our youth.”
Mayor Michael Cherepko, who taught in McKeesport Area schools before taking his seat at city hall, praised the McKeesport Past and Present committee for creating a program that allows city residents and those who moved away to celebrate their hometown.
“I see the faces of so many people who are part of our great city today and those who grew up here to fulfill their dreams in other places,” Cherepko said. “But for everyone here today, it's all about McKeesport pride. When someone is from McKeesport, the city is always a part of them. It's something they never forget.”
Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or firstname.lastname@example.org.