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Former McKeesport Mayor 'Jack' Pribanic dies in Ohio

| Friday, July 17, 2015, 5:16 a.m.
John Pribanic, who was elected mayor of McKeesport in 1973, died this week at the age of 82.

McKeesport's last pre-Home Rule mayor passed away two days after his 82nd birthday.

Family members traveled to Sandusky, Ohio, to remember John Edward “Jack” Pribanic, who died there on Tuesday. The Democrat was elected mayor in November 1973, then had to run again two years later because of the charter. He was defeated by Republican Thomas J. Fullard III in 1975.

Family and friends gathered Thursday night at a funeral home in Sandusky. Pribanic's McKeesport area friends will be received from 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday at Striffler's of White Oak. A funeral Mass is scheduled at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Angela Merici Church in White Oak.

“He had so many memorable qualities,” said the eldest of his 11 children, McKeesport attorney Victor Pribanic.

“If he had the four years, I think you would have had more positive things come out in the city,” said D. James Heatherington, who was elected to council the same year Jack Pribanic became mayor.

“He went through so many different things in his life,” Victor Pribanic said. “When we were very young, he was an air traffic controller (in Cleveland), then he came back and worked at the Allegheny County Airport.”

Victor Pribanic recalled how, in those pre-9/11 days, he and his 10 siblings could spend time at the West Mifflin airport watching their father.

After that, Jack joined his brother Carl Pribanic in the real estate business.

“Then he went into politics,” his eldest son said.

Jack Pribanic won a two-year term on council in 1971, then defeated Councilman Harry P. Helmstadter and former mayors Albert Elko and Andrew Jakomas in the May 16, 1973, Democratic primary.

On Nov. 6, 1973, Pribanic defeated another former mayor, Republican Charles A. Kinkaid, who was 83.

“He was elected by a pretty good majority,” Heatherington recalled. “He had a lot of ideas that were for the betterment of the city.”

Heatherington served as chairman of the fire department in his two years on council. He remembered getting the mayor's support for programs ranging from bringing a Penn State University training program into the city to the purchase of a self-contained breathing apparatus and new radios for the fire trucks.

“I had a pretty good working relationship with him,” Heatherington said. “I didn't always agree with him, but you could go into a caucus with him and argue about something and when it was over, it was over, and we'd all go to lunch together. There was nothing carried over. I always thought he was a pretty good guy.”

Two free rock concerts bringing thousands of fans to Renziehausen Park were among the other highlights of Jack Pribanic's brief tenure as mayor.

The first was on Oct. 27, 1974, when Pittsburgh radio station WKTQ-1320 (known as “13Q”) brought Aerosmith, Brownsville Station and Diamond Rio to Renzie Park.

“The county and several other municipalities denied concert organizers use of facilities, fearing riots and vandalism,” Gerry Jurann wrote in a 2006 “Bygone Days” essay. “Pribanic and councilmen Nicholas Skezas and Andrew Jakomas gave permission despite numerous calls from concerned citizens.”

WKTQ brought the rock band America as headline act for an Aug. 27, 1975, concert in Renzie Park. Both went off with relatively few problems.

“A bill was sent to 13Q (owner Heftel Broadcasting) for the amount of money spent in preparing and policing the concert,” Jurann wrote. “After each concert, the park crews quickly returned Renziehausen Park to its pristine and quiet atmosphere.”

“I thought he was a progressive mayor,” said retired councilman Darryl Segina, who lost the Republican primary for mayor in 1975 to Fullard. “Jack and I always had kind words together.”

Per the charter, Jack Pribanic was demoted to a councilman in the first post-charter city government, but was allowed to continue getting a mayor's salary.

“Jack wasn't too pleased with that. One day he was a mayor, the next day he was a councilman, but he still got paid as that,” Heatherington said. “I served for two years after that as a part-time councilman. Jack lost after two years.”

Jack Pribanic moved the family to Sandusky in 1976, where he was a businessman.

Victor Pribanic said his father “started a whole new entrepreneurial thing in Ohio” and lived there except for the summers when he would go to Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.

“When I was a very young boy he was still attending classes at the University of Pittsburgh,” Victor Pribanic said. “He studied the Russian language and had an interest in the Slavic places,” as well as such historical American figures as Abraham Lincoln.

“When (my brother) Michael and I were young, he made sure that we had an appreciation for good music and literature and things like that,” John Pribanic's eldest son said. “At 4 or 5 years old, he would have us listen to classical music for hours on end and have us recite poems that I still know by heart today.”

He said his father was ahead of the times in one way — never letting any of his 10 sons play football.

“The only thing you boys have going for you are your brains,” Pribanic's sons were told. “And he would be darned if anyone knocked our brains out playing football,” Victor Pribanic said.

He said his father “was also a big audiophile,” fascinated with high-fidelity and stereo.

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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