McKeesport honors its late mayor's vision
Establishing the Marina at McKees Point was what many consider the signature achievement of the late Joe Bendel's mayoral administration.
McKeesport showed its gratitude on Saturday by renaming the marina's main thoroughfare in his honor.
Family and friends gathered near the Palisades to rededicate Water Street as Joe Bendel Way.
“This particular area is something special to the city, and we're really looking to take this a lot further,” Mayor Michael Cherepko said. “Joe had a vision ... this marina. This is truly a destination point for the city of McKeesport, and we have Mayor Bendel to thank for that.”
Jim Bendel said that the street's new name is an appropriate tribute to his brother.
“Anytime you talked to Joe it was always ‘Bendel's way,'” he said.
The late mayor's daughter Beth and his grandchildren Rhyley Bendel, Amanda Rose Bendel and Blaise Venturini revealed the new street sign.
Bendel served as mayor from January 1995 through Jan. 3, 2000.
He promoted public libraries and was a staunch advocate of the pro-life movement.
He died on Oct. 24, 2003, at age 72.
Joe Bendel Jr. said his father often would talk about becoming mayor.
“He was entrenched in the city,” Bendel Jr. said. “He could have lived anywhere. He was a very successful guy in business. He decided he wanted to come back to his roots and use his vision and make this city the best he possibly could. He put his heart and soul into it. It meant the world to him.”
Bendel Jr. said his father might have joked about the new street sign had he been there to see it.
“‘Every letter in my name should be bigger than the Way,'” Bendel Jr. said, imagining his father's reaction. “He'd have a little fun with it because that's the way he was. He was great at disarming people. He'd come here and look at the sign and he'd give about three or four people a hard time about it then he'd walk away. He was a humble man in a lot of ways. He worked hard at what he did, but he'd walk away and I know how proud he'd be.”
The marina is filled to capacity with 200 boat docks and has a waiting list.
Cherepko pointed out Gergely Park, upcoming renovations to the Palisades, the bike trail and other improvements at the marina.
“We truly have a gem,” Cherepko said. “It is one of the best kept secrets. Out of 200 boat slips that are rented, 90 percent of them are out-of-towners, and they do nothing but rave about this marina.”
State Sen. James Brewster, another former mayor, recalled returning from a business trip when Bendel approached him at Greater Pittsburgh International Airport. Brewster, who was an executive at Mellon Bank, did not know Bendel at the time.
“I didn't know whether he was a street person sleeping in the airport or whether he was somebody important,” Brewster said. “He said, ‘Are you going back to McKeesport?' ‘Yeah.' He says, ‘I'm riding home with you.'
“That was Joe. From that ride from Greater Pitt to here he convinced me I should run for council.”
Brewster said Bendel ended all his conversations with a blessing.
“He goes, ‘Alright, have a good night. God bless,'” Brewster said. “Every time — same start, same finish.”
“I think when you heard all the testimonials about him, to me that's authentic, genuine reaction to who he was and how he went about his business,” Bendel Jr. said. “It could be from any level of person. From a high level of politician to somebody just getting started. They all kind of had a great reaction to him because he resonated with them.”
It was the second time this year that a street has been renamed for a former mayor.
Marshall Drive Extension is now Lou Washowich Way. He served as the city's chief executive from January 1980 through Jan. 3, 1995.
Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1965 or firstname.lastname@example.org.