Penn-Trafford's Milovats continues holiday show tradition
Even when he's on a Pittsburgh stage crooning “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” Mark Milovats isn't far from his roots as an educator in the Penn-Trafford School District.
Though the vocalist is the star of the annual holiday benefit concert he has organized for 15 years, the roster of performers skews young — it includes a huge children's choir, high school singers and cheerleaders and the Duquesne University Dukettes dance team. Mix in local Tamburitzan groups and some comedy and it adds up to an evening that Milovats likens to an Andy Williams-style variety show.
For Milovats, 48, it's an opportunity to entertain families and raise money for some of his favorite groups: Latrobe Area Hospital Charitable Foundation, Children's Miracle Network and Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. The most recent show was Nov. 25 at the Byham Theater in Pittsburgh.
“I'm very blessed to do what I do, very fortunate,” said Milovats, a former Trafford Elementary teacher who is on medical leave from his job as an instructional coach for the district. “I think it's enriched my life quite a bit.
“Whether as a performer or a teacher, it's never about you; it's about the audience or the other person. I tell people if you're in it for the ego, you're in the wrong business.”
Supporting hospitals — especially those that provide specialized care for children — is an important cause for Milovats, who suffered third-degree leg burns as an 8-year-old. The injuries forced him to miss half of third grade while growing up in Trafford.
A visit with some children in the intensive care unit at Latrobe Area Hospital inspired Milovats in the mid-1990s to plan a benefit concert. He responded by flying to Salt Lake City to meet with officials from the Children's Miracle Network, which raises money for children's hospitals across the United States and Canada.
Milovats also credits Winnie Palmer, the late wife of golf legend and Latrobe hospital foundation chairman Arnold Palmer, with supporting his mission to open the first show at the Palace Theatre in Greensburg. The shows now are a Christmas tradition in Pittsburgh.
So far, the concerts have raised $20,500 for the Latrobe foundation – and that doesn't include proceeds from last month's show.
“Mark Milovats has been a great friend of our hospital in Latrobe and the foundation that supports it for quite a few years now,” Arnold Palmer said in a statement. “Out of the goodness of his heart, Mark has given of his musical talent to provide some wonderful entertainment at many of our functions and has made generous donations to the foundation through his Christmas concerts.”
Milovats has fostered a lifelong love of performing that began at age 8 as a Junior Tamburitzan in the Pittsburgh area and continued as a member of the Duquesne University Tamburitzans.
As a young teacher, he had stints as an opening act for Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Engelbert Humperdinck and one of his biggest influences — Barry Manilow.
He has recorded three albums, but he turned down an offer of a national recording contract from Curb Records to stick with teaching.
“I don't think my life would have been as rich,” Milovats said of the decision. “I enjoy the two different worlds because it gives you a wonderful, grounded perspective.”
Still, Milovats has been able to entice some of the region's biggest personalities to participate in the holiday concert.
Several years ago, the show included a celebrity choir with then-Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy and surgeon Dr. Freddie Fu.
Another time, Milovats suggested to four-time Super Bowl champion Rocky Bleier that it would be fun to have a chorus of former Steelers. Bleier balked at that idea but later relented to perform a song that the gravelly voiced Lee Marvin made famous in the movie version of “Paint Your Wagon.”
“I got up enough courage to embarrass myself and sing,” said Bleier, who has been the master of ceremony for a couple of shows, including the one last month. “When you sing ‘Wand'rin' Star,' that's really out of your comfort zone, so after that, everything is easy to do. I did it for Mark and for the cause, and it's all good stuff.”
The show also includes volunteers who work closely with children.
This year, the musical added the Little Bells, young dancers who worked with Tammy Croftcheck and Katie Watts of Studio 19 Dance Complex in Cranberry Township.
Jim Mousseau, an elementary music teacher in the Gateway School District, led the 105 children from the 26 public, private and charter schools that made up the Elfin Ensemble.
For Milovats, the most gratifying experience for him is seeing the children have fun with the show.
“That day is Christmas for me because I get to stand on the side of the stage and watch. Really, that's the most enjoyable part. They're so animated and excited and I say, ‘This is Christmas.'”
Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or firstname.lastname@example.org.