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2012 rewind: Sewickley Herald reflects on stories that shaped the year

| Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, 8:58 p.m.
Sewickley Herald
An increase in motorists from the Ambridge-Aliquippa Bridge detour created some traffic jams on the Sewickley Bridge coming from Moon Township Tuesday, March 6, 2012. Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Montie and Timothy McCray of Penn Hills look at scrapbooks dedicated to the Tuskegee Airmen during a reception at the Edgeworth Club held to unveil a new design for a Tuskegee Airmen monument to be erected at Sewickley Cemetery Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012. Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Sewickley Herald
Sewickley Academy's Nicholas Wilson, at left, a fourth-grader, and Jackson Paul, a sixth-grader, participate in a game of tug-of-war during Founder's Day activities at the school Friday, Oct. 5, 2012. Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Christopher Horner
The Quaker Valley hockey team hoists the championship trophy after winning the PIHL Class A Pennsylvania Cup final against Bayard Rustin Sunday March 25, 2012 at RMU Island Sports Center. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Sewickley Herald
While the Quaker Valley team is made up of athletes from both schools, Cornell is represented by a 'C' on the back of the players' helmets. Kristina Serafini | Sewickey Herald
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
People enter the South Side Works for the premier of Jack Reacher on Wednesday, December 19, 2012. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Sewickley Herald
For highlights from 2012, see pages XXX. Illustration/ Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald

As we prepare to ring in a new year, let us take a moment to reflect on the news that made headlines in the Sewickley Herald and on throughout this year.

Here, in no particular order, is a look back at some of the stories that shaped our neighborhoods in 2012.

Save or raze? ‘Pink house'stirs debate

In the spring, concern among neighbors in one area grew as The Presbyterian Church, Sewickley, announced plans to demolish the so-called “pink house” at 202 Beaver St. and replace it with a youth center, additional parking and green space.

What sets the home apart from others, some say, are its historical relevance, unique features and craftsmanship, having first been constructed in the 1860s with later additions made in the early part of the 20th century.

The creation of a grassroots group dubbed Save the Pink House, led to several meetings between residents and church leaders.

Church leaders agreed to consider saving the structure as the grassroots group agreed to commit up to $200,000 of the $1.6 million church leaders have estimated would be needed to redo the house.

After Sewickley code enforcement officer Nancy Watts denied the church's request to consider the “pink house” a principal-use structure, zoning board members in November overturned her decision, siding with church leaders.

Zoning board members also granted a conditional use application to allow the church to move forward with the youth center in a single-family residential district.

Despite the decision from the zoning board, church lawyer Michael Parris said he will continue to seek a decision on two separate plans filed by the church — one which retains the “pink house” and another that would demolish the home and create a new structure church leaders proposed earlier in the year.

Quaker Valley buys Leetsdale homes

In what Quaker Valley administrators and board members call an effort to increase student safety and alleviate a traffic problem, district officials purchased two Leetsdale homes earlier this year and have sought to buy a third with plans to construct an off-street, student drop-off area and parking lot.

The school board in May approved the $150,000 purchase of property at 706 Beaver St.

In March the district purchased a home at 704 Beaver St. for $250,000.

Drawings made public in March showed plans for a parking lot with a designated on-campus student drop-off area that could be located next to the high school.

School administrators said the area would allow drivers to unload passengers on campus and off the street — where school officials say parents drop students off sometimes in the middle of the street, creating traffic hazards.

However, school officials and property owners at 700 Beaver St. — which sits adjacent to the high school — have not been able to reach an agreement.

It is the last property remaining between the district's high school and the two recently acquired properties.

A $24,000 traffic study conducted in the spring and made public in October offered various options for school officials, including the parking lot consideration and improvements made to front, rear and side areas of the school.

District Judge Bob Ford, who owns property near Quaker Valley High School, said options presented by school officials won't “guarantee safety.”

He and other residents have questioned the property purchases.

When a traffic advisory committee convenes next month, its members will include district residents, administrators and students.

The committee's purpose will be to submit recommendations to the school board to solve traffic issues at the high school.

Businessescome and go

Sewickley's business district remained in flux as the economy continued to lag but Village Green Partners Kirsten Recker and Jennifer Markus spent a second year marketing the businesses.

And council last month approved giving Village Green $80,000 for additional efforts in 2013 to generate more foot traffic, deliver more information to business owners and customers and sponsor more events to promote the business district throughout the year.

Changes continue to occur in the Village. Jeannette Russell Bridal Couture will become the 12th business to close this year, as owner Jeannette Russell plans to close the Broad Street business before January.

Within two months of opening, Dawn Cosnotti Morris in March closed Lucky Ink — tattoo parlor and speciality items shop — in space formerly occupied by the iconic Gift Corner at the corner of Broad and School streets, which closed in 2010.

Attempting to fill a void left when longtime children's clothing store Monday's Child closed in 2010, Kelsey Rhea's Pink & Blue shop closed in June — about one year after opening at the corner of Beaver and Broad streets.

Rhea said the reason she closed the children's boutique was because it was the wrong direction for her at this point in her life.

A grass-roots office for the local Republican party temporarily moved into the space prior to the presidential election. The storefront and building are listed for sale.

Among the 12 businesses to close storefronts this year include the Naked Grape, which later was replaced by restaurant Lula; Cheers, which now is occupied by The Kitchen Studio, which returned to the business district this year; Little Athens, which was replaced on Locust Place by sports bar Sidelines Beer House; Marino's, which caught fire in June and whose owners have no plans to reopen, according to Sewickley officials; the Bead Store; House of Two Sisters; Busy Bee Boutique Photography, which moved its home base to Edgeworth; Elan Gallery; and Mixsters, which was replaced by Sewickley Sporting Goods.

Santelli said he and his family were tired of running to big-box stores in the North Hills or West Hills for sporting equipment.

In addition to retail changes, plans for a two-screen movie theater in the business district first announced last year to be opened in the early part of 2013 stalled as the year progressed.

The group now is planning a late-2013 opening.

Nearby, a Bottom Dollar Food store opened in Ambridge earlier this year and a Sheetz gas station and convenience store opened in November at the Mount Nebo exit on Interstate 79.

Changes in Leetsdale

In keeping with a campaign promise, four newly elected Leetsdale Council members ousted a borough manager and junior clerk, while restoring a borough secretary to her previously held position.

Paul Scimio and Sandra Bajsec were let go in January after being hired in 2010 as borough manager and junior clerk, respectively.

During a 2011 campaign, four residents — Joseph McGurk, Jeffrey Weatherby, Melanie Dunn and Linda Michael — ran on a pledge to eliminate the borough manager and junior clerk positions and reinstate Elizabeth Petalino as secretary/treasurer.

After a state Ethics Commission investigation, Scimio in May was ordered to repay about $1,078 to Leetsdale as part of a consent agreement, the commission said.

He is barred from holding public office or seeking public employment in the state for five years.

The commission determined he violated the state Ethics Act by using a borough-issued credit card for personal expenses.

The commission found that Scimio did not use his authority as a councilman to secure his job in 2010 as borough manager.

In July, Bajsec settled a lawsuit she filed earlier in the year against Leetsdale Borough, receiving a $37,000 settlement agreement.

Bajsec will not be permitted to return to her position, nor will she be able to apply for positions with the borough. According to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, Bajsec said she was fired because of her connection to her husband, Michael Bajsec, a former councilman.

She was hired in July 2010 as a part-time administrative assistant. Her husband had been appointed to council four months earlier.

Constructionissues abound

Depending on your mode of transportation, getting from here to anywhere involved either longer-than-normal commutes because of a bridge closure, plenty of single-lane traffic or worry over the potential loss of public transportation.

The closure of the Ambridge-Aliquippa Bridge didn't bring as many headaches a some had predicted near the Sewickley Bridge. The Beaver County span was closed from March through much of November.

Work on the Ambridge-Aliquippa Bridge isn't over yet, as PennDOT spokesman Jim Struzzi said rehabilitation work will pick up again in a few months.

Waiting for a bus here almost was a thing of the past as Port Authority of Allegheny County officials placed both the 14 Ohio Valley and 21 Coraopolis routes on the extinction list in an effort to cut costs.

A funding agreement, union concessions and other cutbacks offered temporary solutions to keep buses rolling into and out of the Sewickley Valley and other Allegheny County suburbs.

As threats to stop the local routes continued, Port Authority officials opened the North Shore Connector — a light-rail transit extension — allowing riders on the 14 to take the T from Allegheny Station near Heinz Field into Downtown and destinations in the South Hills.

The Rev. Valentine steps downat St. James

The Rev. Daniel Valentine resigned from St. James Catholic Church “for the good of the parish” after a complaint in May about Facebook postings to a minor.

Bishop David Zubik said, at the time, the diocese asked the Allegheny County District Attorney's office to conduct a forensic audit of parish computers and Valentine's personal computer upon the complaint.

Though investigators did not charge Valentine, saying there was no criminal activity involved in the postings, he left the church on Aug. 15.

The Rev. Thomas Burke, former pastor of Good Shepard Parish in Braddock, replaced Valentine beginning Aug. 27.

Tuskegee monument project advances

A Tuskegee Airmen monument planned for Sewickley Cemetery had to be redesigned because of the increased number of names to be included on its monuments.

The new plans, which feature a plaza with four mourning benches, a monument with a granite Red Tail airplane, another featuring a Tuskegee Airmen mural and two granite towers boasting names of all found pilots, navigators, bombardiers and support crew members from western Pennsylvania, were unveiled in October.

A bid request for the project went out shortly after, but was met with slow response.

However, in November, Crescendo Group Consultants Inc. President Rich Dieter remained optimistic that the first phase of the project still could be completed by the end of January as scheduled.

Sewickley area again chosen for movie shoots

In 2011, Sewickley area residents lined Ohio River Boulevard to catch a glimpse of actor Tom Cruise while he filmed scenes at the former Sewickley County Inn for “Jack Reacher,” which premiered at Southside Works Cinemas last week.

In recent years, more filmmakers have chosen Pittsburgh as the backdrop to their films, and the Sewickley Valley also has been lucky enough to get in on the action.

In June, actors Kristen Bell and Martin Starr were in town filming scenes for “The Lifeguard” at Sewickley Cemetery and in other locations throughout the village.

The movie, which is scheduled to be released next year, follows the story of a woman who returns to her Connecticut home, takes a job as a lifeguard and begins a relationship with a troubled teenager.

A few months later, in October, social media sites were abuzz with Channing Tatum sightings as he filmed scenes in the Sewickley area for a movie that is being referred to as “Foxcatcher.”

Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo also star in the movie about John du Pont, a multimillionaire and member of the du Pont family, who was convicted of killing his friend and Olympic wrestler David Schultz in 1997.

Milestones marked

Many Sewickley Valley landmark institutions celebrated milestone anniversaries in 2012.

Among the iconic locations celebrating a major milestone this year was St. James Church, which kicked off the parish's 150th anniversary and the school's 100th anniversary with a Mass, music, readings and prayers in August.

A historical picture gallery was on display at the church, and a booklet was printed focusing on the church's stained-glass windows. Church members plan to continue the celebration next year.

• At Sewickley Academy, leaders, students and alumni celebrated the private Edgeworth school's 175th year with a Founder's Day event in October.

• Retired Sewickley Valley YMCA board member Luke Ward found data confirming the first local YMCA summer camp was held in July 1912.

To celebrate the anniversary, campers pressed their painted handprints on a 100th-year celebration banner and played old-fashioned games children might have played back then.

• The Senior Men's Club celebrated its 1,000th meeting with a gathering at Robert Morris University's Sewall Center in March.

The celebration included speeches from two longtime members Austin McGrath and Marvin Wedeen and a multimedia presentation of past programs featuring speakers such as former Pittsburgh Pirates Manager Jim Leyland.

• Marking its 100th year, a celebration was held in January to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the old Sewickley post office building, 200 Broad St., Sewickley.

The building, which now is the home of Sweetwater Center for the Arts and the Sewickley Valley Historical Society, almost had been demolished when the post office moved to its Thorn Street location in 1981.

Cornell, QV football co-op begins

For the first time since Cornell School District formed in 1971, the Raiders didn't field a football team to don the school's blue and gold colors.

About 15 Cornell students became members of the Quaker Valley football team under a cooperative signed last year between the two schools.

Early enthusiasm set in as Quaker Valley coach John Tortorea said he hoped the agreement would mean a playoff appearance for the Quakers — whose record in the three years prior to the co-op was 4-24.

“We missed the playoffs by one game (last year),” Tortorea said. With the addition of players from Cornell, we feel our team is significantly improved.”

A playoff appearance never materialized this fall as the team went 3-6.

Off the field, the cooperative agreement meant Raiders fans were forced to root for Quaker Valley, something that Cornell junior Allison Cosgrove said she had to get used to.

While the schools' football and cheerleading programs wore Quakers uniforms, the marching bands remain independent units.

The cooperative agreement was the first between the two schools. Quaker Valley also has agreements with Sewickley Academy for swimming and in the fall approved an agreement with Moon Area for wrestling. Cornell previously had an agreement in place for football with Our Lady of the Sacred Heart High School.

QV hockeywins state title

Within a 24-hour period in March, Quaker Valley's hockey team secured a Penguins Cup victory and claimed its second state title.

Four different Quaker Valley players scored goals in the 4-1 state game against Flyers Cup champion Bayard Rustin.

Kevin Kenny, Clayton Bouchard, Ryan Lottes and Otto Schaefer scored for the Quakers (21-1-1).

A day earlier in March, Quaker Valley defeated Mars 4-2 with goals scored by Ryan Dickson, who had two goals, and Clayton Bouchard and Jimmy Perkins who each had one goal, for the Class A Penguins Cup championship.

Quaker Valley won Penguins Cups in 2006 and 2008 and a state championship in 2006.

May marred by accidents

In less than two weeks time, two people were killed in separate accidents in Edgeworth.

On May 9, Chester Sipes, 47, of Raccoon Township, Beaver County, was killed after hitting a power line while cutting trees on Chestnut Road, near Edgeworth Elementary School. Sipes, who was employed by D.L.S. Tree Service, was working in a bucket truck and tried unsuccessfully to lower the bucket to the ground.

A little more than a week later, on May 20, Melissa Mason, 24, of Aliquippa was killed when a personal watercraft she and a male companion were riding on went over the Dashields Dam on the Ohio River in Edgeworth.

In memoriam

• Terry Brennan of Sewickley, a teacher at Parkway West Technical Institute and member of the musical group Around and Back, died Dec. 6 at age 64.

• Florence Iwler of Leetsdale, a retired assistant superintendent for Moon Area School District and member of Quaker Valley School Board, Leetsdale Council and the Sewickley Public Library board, died at age 89 on Nov. 3.

• Robert Mercer, who served as mayor in Leetsdale and also was a member of Leetsdale Volunteer Fire Department and Leetsdale Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3372, died Sept. 4. He was 93.

• Eleanor “Ellie” Oliver, a portrait artist, community volunteer and tennis and paddle athlete, died Aug. 3 at age 89.

• Tom Pastorius of Sewickley, founder of Pennsylvania Brewing Co., died Sept. 6 at age 67.

• Dr. Robert Sabatelle, of Sewickley, who delivered more than 5,000 babies during his many years as an obstetrician and gynecologist in the Sewickley area, died Jan. 13. He was 72.

• Norma Sproull, chairwoman of the first Three Rivers Cookbook and a Child Health Association volunteer, died Aug. 16 at age 80.

• Kenneth Whitlock, a Sewickley native who became the first black Marine from Allegheny County and was a researcher on the history of the Tuskegee Airmen from the Sewickley area, died Jan. 31 at age 91.

Sewickley Herald editor Debra Utterback and staff writers Joanne Barron, Bobby Cherry and Kristina Serafini compiled this report.

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