Local residents share their family holiday traditions
By Natalie Beneviat
Published: Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, 8:52 p.m.
Thanksgiving is associated with traditions, gratitude and sharing.
In recognition of the holiday, some local residents are sharing what's important in their day.
“Sports are a big part of our family,” Murrysville Mayor Bob Brooks said.
It actually is a big part of family life, as Brooks is part-owner of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins American Hockey League team, and his sons, Jim and Rob Brooks, are full owners of the Adirondack Phantoms American Hockey League team in Glen Falls, N.Y.
So there's a lot of hockey talk happening, Bob said.
Needless to say, every Thanksgiving, he and his family are doing or watching something sports-related. And because the Pittsburgh Steelers don't play football on Thanksgiving, Bob said, they usually catch the game with either the Detroit Lions or the Dallas Cowboys after dinner.
They also enjoy playing the Baggo beanbag game or bubble hockey or taking shots at their mini indoor basketball hoop, the mayor said. It's something to help keep his grandchildren occupied.
In between sports activities, there's the food. With one frozen turkey in the fryer and one fresh turkey in the oven, Bob said, they “love turkey sandwiches,” and the family members all contribute to the menu, including sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, pecan pie and pumpkin pie.
This year, he and his wife, Sue, also known as the “world's best grandmother,” are going to spend Thanksgiving at Jim's house in Allentown, about five hours away on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
They also enjoy the holiday with their daughter, Karyn Brooks, who teaches at Seneca Valley School District and also lives in the Pittsburgh area.
Now entering his fourth year as mayor of Murrysville, Bob, 69, said his community also is important to him on Thanksgiving. He said he is proud of the strength and support of the community during the holidays, as demonstrated through various Thanksgiving church dinners and food drives throughout the town.
But when it come down to it, Bob said, it's time to just “sit down and say grace and thank God for everything we have and everybody is healthy and well, and what more can you ask?”
A log cabin tradition is starting in Jackie Blash's household. When the former Gateway School District student was in fifth grade, she made a log cabin at school and even was featured in The Times Express.
Now, in time for Thanksgiving, she is making another one with her daughters, Elise, 7, and Lydia, 5. She said log cabins remind her partly of Thanksgiving and early-American living.
The Monroeville resident is hosting Thanksgiving for the first time this year and expects “quite a few” with close and extended family. Blash, 35, who is a Spanish teacher at Gateway High School, said her daughters help out with the cooking but paused when asked if they did well at cleaning up.
“They're good assistants,” she said.
Spending Thanksgiving in a German prison isn't a traditional holiday memory.
However, Irwin Mayor Dan Rose, 91, a World War II veteran, is one who does think of those days when he was a prisoner of war.
It was July 2, 1944, when Rose got shot down flying a plane over Hungary at the age of 22 during World War II. He said all 10 on the plane jumped, but the enemy was waiting for them when they reached the ground. They then spent 10 months as prisoners of war, including over the Thanksgiving holiday.
“I remember thinking, ‘Oh, all that wonderful food … boy, wish we had some of that turkey and chicken,” said Rose, of Irwin.
Though they weren't starving, he said, the POWs often still were hungry.
Rose has been the mayor of Irwin for 25 years and prior to that he spent 10 years on the council. He said he loves his community and all the people in it.
This year, Rose expects to Thanksgiving with his family, including his son, Daniel Rose of North Huntingdon, and daughter Suzanna Rose of Coral Gables, Fla., His wife, Isabella, died in 1985.
Being a former POW, Rose said, gives him the opportunity to appreciate his family and what this country has to offer.
“Thanksgiving has always been important in my life,” he said. “We've got to think how fortunate we are to be in this country.”
Tom Wilson of Monroeville has a Thanksgiving like many people in the United States, as, he said, he usually spends it with family, eating dinner, relaxing and watching football.
The former board member for the Gateway School District in Monroeville, who now is president of The Gateway Foundation, said he looks forward to his favorite holiday, which he usually spends with his two daughters and four grandchildren.
They usually watch a football game, and they might even throw in a couple of crossword puzzles to pass the time.
But mostly, spending time with his family is what makes the holiday important to him.
“We love every minute of it. It's so much fun,” said Wilson, 70.
His wife, Rozanne, 65, usually is the cook, but this year, they are spending the holiday with a friend, Kasey Paini.
Typically, “I have to do the dishes,” said Tom — but no pots and pans.
Thanksgiving for Tim Blasko, a teacher at Gateway Middle School in Monroeville, is focused on sharing the holiday with his family, girlfriend and students.
He spends half the holiday with his family and the other half with the family of his girlfriend Molly Weaver, 32, of Irwin, who is a gifted-education teacher at West Hempfield Middle School.
“So, I'll have a lot of food,” said Blasko, 29, of Monroeville. Both of their families reside in North Huntingdon.
He also tries to teach his students about Thanksgiving traditions. In his seventh- and eighth-grade social studies classes, he teaches an interactive holiday history lesson, this year focusing on what happened that very first Thanksgiving.
As far as cooking goes, he likes to try to bring a new creation. Last year, he cooked homemade cranberry sauce and crême brûlée. This year's Thanksgiving cooking challenge is a recipe he found for making mustard using mustard seeds.
Roy and Melanie Lenhardt
For the Lenhardts and their growing family, Thanksgiving is a two-day affair.
Roy and Melanie Lenhardt of North Huntingdon are relatively new parents with Brooke, 2, and Kenley, only 7 months old.
Roy has five brothers and sisters, and the six siblings have a total of 15 children. So the Lenhardts split the holiday up for sanity's sake.
While they visit Melanie Lehnhardt's side of the family, who all live in the Pittsburgh area, on Thanksgiving Day, they do Thanksgiving with Roy's side the next day. With the same dynamic of “The Brady Bunch,” Roy said, they rotate hosting duties with his two brothers and three sisters every year.
And with the addition of invited friends, they usually gather approximately 30 people each year, said Roy, 45. It's the host's job to provide the turkey, and the guests provide the rest, he said.
And because the Lenhardts already are accustomed to having little ones around during the holidays, Roy and Melanie, a stay-at-home mother who used to work in human resources, aren't worried too much about dealing with a toddler and baby on the holiday. The only change, Roy said, is they aren't able to socialize as much while watching the two young children and obviously are not able to enjoy too many “adult beverages.”
“There's a lot more to be thankful for, but you have a lot less time,” agreed Melanie, 37.
She said this year, she is most thankful for her family, two children and husband. And now that her older daughter, Brooke, tries to help in the kitchen, she looks forward to future Thanksgivings when she gets to share the cooking and baking traditions with her children.
“It's going to be fun as years go on,” Melanie said.
Roy, who works as a telecomm-expense-management adviser, said another big tradition with the Lenhardt males is hunting shortly after the holiday every year. They have a family-owned cabin in the “heart of the Allegheny National Forest,” where they'll stay, hunt and enjoy the outdoors for several days, Roy said.
“Thanksgiving is all about great family and friends, great food and great hunting. It's a time-honored tradition that has been handed down for generations, and we all look forward to it every year,” Roy said. “Perhaps the women are more excited than anyone else because the men head to camp.”
Rabbi Barbara AB Symons
Rabbi Barbara AB Symons of Monroeville, who is the spiritual leader at Temple David, also in Monroeville, spends Thanksgiving with her husband, Ron, who also is a rabbi, and their three children.
“We try and go around the table and share with the family of why we're thankful,” she said.
But what's different for Symons and her family, is they have to make sure their meal is kosher, made according to Jewish dietary laws.
She said they usually go to the homes of other families for the holiday dinner every year, and what's important to her is everyday gratitude, not just on Thanksgiving.
“I think we need to be thankful on a daily basis,” said Symons, 47.
Some other faces aside from those of family members greet Joe Utterback during the holidays. As a chairman of the Plum Food Pantry, he sees people coming in for food supplies to use for Thanksgiving.
Last year, 122 families came for food assistance.
“I assume this year will be higher,” said Utterback, 82, who's married to Florence, 77.
Joe, of Plum, is spending Thanksgiving at his daughter Donna Allhouse's home, also in Plum.
This is after he helps distribute food for a holiday meal the Saturday prior to the holiday at the pantry. The menu includes green beans, corn, potatoes, peaches, turkey gravy and more. Families also receive turkey vouchers.
“It makes you appreciate what you do have to a greater extent,” Joe said.
The Rev. Frank Kurimsky
The Rev. Frank Kurimsky, pastor at Saint Irenaeus Catholic Church in Oakmont, starts his holiday at 9 a.m. celebrating a special Thanksgiving Day Mass with his parishioners. There, he said, he reminds his congregation to express gratitude during the holiday.
During this year's Mass, parishioners also are recognizing parishioners who volunteer with the St. Vincent de Pauls Society, which helps those less fortunate.
“It's a reminder for all of us to be grateful for what we have,” said Kurimsky, who lives at the rectory on church grounds.
He then will go to his sister's home in Penn Hills for a Thanksgiving feast. He said with so many everyday tragedies, it's important to appreciate his family and their blessings.
And, he said, he also is thankful he doesn't prepare any of the meal.
“If I cooked, then people would have to take Pepto Bismol for dessert,” he said.
Natalie Beneviat is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.
All photos were submitted.
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