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Valley public transit pioneer honored for years of service

| Wednesday, March 4, 2015, 12:51 a.m.
Chris Buckley | Trib Total Media
Mid-Mon Valley Transit Authority Chairman Rik Pankiewicz, left, presents a certificate of appreciation to former board member John Lignelli on Tuesday, March 3, 2015, at the Residence at Hilltop in Carroll.

John “Chummy” Lignelli recalls the first meeting of elected officials from the Mon Valley to discuss public transit.

It took place 30 years ago in Donora, where Lignelli was borough council president. He was elected mayor in 1993 and remained at the post until he retired last year.

Lignelli said he planned the meeting at a time when two private contractors, 88 Transit and 70-S, provided the only transit services in the area.

The closest public transit service was in the South Hills.

In 1985, the Mid-Mon Valley Transit Authority opened its first office in Donora.

On Tuesday, transit leaders honored Lignelli at the Residence at Hilltop in Carroll for his service to the authority.

Lignelli left the authority board when his term expired at year's end.

Lignelli was appointed to the transit board in 1999, but had been involved since its inception. Lignelli said he does not recall ever missing a meeting.

“Transit is very important to every community,” Lignelli said. “Without transportation, we're in bad shape. The transit authority always tried to get everybody in every community involved.”

Authority Chairman Rik Pankiewicz said Lignelli paved the way for the authority to move its vehicle storage and maintenance facilities from Speers to the Donora Industrial Park.

Transit Authority Executive Director Marc Roncone said the move saved the authority more than $100,000 annually in rent.

Roncone said Lignelli is sadly missed on the board.

“Chummy was very important to the agency, even before he was on the board,” Roncone said. “We wanted to make sure he understands how much we appreciate his support and his friendship.”

“I was glad to serve, privately or officially,” Lignelli added.

Pankiewicz said Lignelli served a key leadership role in transit.

“We always were able to find easy pathways by knowing Chummy,” Pankiewicz said. “His expertise in dealing with Harrisburg can never be replaced.”

Donora Mayor Don Pavelko said attorney Devlin Fisher, the son of Donora Borough Manager Dennis Fisher, is now Donora's representative to the authority board.

“Hopefully, the gentleman who has been put in Chummy's seat can live up to some of Chummy's high standards,” Pavelko said.

Pavelko said he plans to attend authority board meetings to learn more about transit services.

He said following Lignelli as mayor has been challenging.

“He's left a legacy in Donora that would be hard for anyone to try to come close to,” Pavelko said. “He did so much for Donora and the Mon Valley.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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