Voigt to be honored in Donora
When the Rev. Betty Voigt left the Mon Valley nearly 30 years ago, she assumed the children she mentored in Donora would forget her as time went by.
So when she received a phone call recently asking her to come back to Highland Terrace on Saturday for a tribute in her honor, Voigt was in tears.
“I was just sort of shocked because so many years have gone by,” said Voigt, 72, who created and directed a program called CLASP that provided educational programs for youngsters at the Highland Terrace housing plan.
Voigt began the program in 1970 and continued volunteering there until she and her husband, Dr. David W. Voigt, moved from Carroll Township to Greene County in 1985. Her husband is a retired optometrist who had a practice in Donora for many years.
Many of the kids she mentored, including Diane Taylor and Dallas (Shawn) White, never forgot the impact Voigt had on their lives and decided it was time to honor her.
Taylor said a group of Voigt's former “kids” organized the tribute, which will be held from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday in the Community Room at Highland Terrace.
“When I called her she said, ‘I can't believe you remember me,'” said Taylor, of Pittsburgh, a 1985 Ringgold High School graduate. “I told her, ‘How could we ever forget about you?'”
Through the CLASP program, Voigt spent time with Highland Terrace youths helping them with their school work and bringing in students and faculty from California University of Pennsylvania to mentor them.
But what Taylor and White remember the most are the many field trips she took them on.
“Every Wednesday, she would load 10 of us in her station wagon and take us to the YMCA in Washington for swimming lessons,” said White, of North Versailles, a 1985 Ringgold graduate. “I would've never learned to swim if not for her.”
Taylor remembers Voigt taking them to see shows at the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh and Ohiopyle.
“She gave us opportunities that our parents didn't have the resources to provide,” said Taylor. “This recognition is long overdue.”
Voigt, who now lives in Sycamore, Greene County, where she is a Presbyterian minister, said helping others has been second-nature for herself and her husband.
She said she decided to start the Donora program as a way to give back to the community.
“We were fortunate, we could pay our bills, we were educated and our kids were very advantaged,” said Voigt. “I wanted to do what I could to help those who were hurting or disadvantaged.”
The Voigts have two children, Christopher Voigt of Finleyville and Rebecca Voigt Bentley of Michigan. They have three grandchildren.
Voigt credits Carol Burrows of Monessen for giving her the idea for the program, and Taylor's mother, Helen Taylor, and Lulu Chaney for helping her with the children.
“It was very rewarding for me to be with the children and do what I could for them,” she said. “I loved them and they knew it.”
The Voigts are still devoted to helping others. She founded the Holy Ground Hermitage in Sycamore, which offers guided retreats and spiritual guidance.
Her husband has been on more than 30 mission trips to Central America where he has distributed more than 15,000 pairs of glasses.
“I'm very grateful for the life I've had,” said Voigt. “I'm always going to remember the kids in Donora and I'm looking forward to seeing them again.”
Stacy Wolford is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-684-2640 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.