Retired teacher helps establish music scholarship for Thomas Jefferson high schoolers

| Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

The generosity of retired teacher Joseph Matteo will keep good music in the air for years to come.

Matteo, 81, of Forest Hills, pledged $15,000 to TJ Arts to create and endow a new music scholarship for Thomas Jefferson High School students who will study music in college. Each scholarship will be $1,000.

Music brings satisfaction to performers and audiences alike, said Matteo, who taught in the district for 30 years and comes from a musical family.

His father, Joseph, an immigrant from Italy who arrived in 1905, worked for Westinghouse Electric Corp. in Turtle Creek and played clarinet in many bands. He performed on KDKA's first radio broadcast in 1920, Matteo said.

Also on the family's musical chart is Matteo's brother Ernie, who played saxophone.

Later, Ernie Matteo became a band director in the Pine-Richland School District and played with the Benny Benack Band known for jazz in Pittsburgh during the 1960s and 1970s. Also, their sister, Violet, played piano and was Penn-Trafford School District's music director for 30 years.

Joseph Matteo said he approached Karen Suszynski, founder of TJ Arts, to help the organization. “I never really thought about money for a scholarship,” he said but thought it was a great idea when she made the suggestion.

Both taught at Thomas Jefferson. Matteo was an industrial arts and technical drawing teacher from 1960 to 1993, and Suszynski was a theater/communications/English teacher before she retired in 2008.

“I had no idea of the nature of the gift, but I was shocked at the amount of the gift,” said Suszynski, 63, of Jefferson Hills.

She said she started the group in 2009 “to promote and enhance performance arts, especially fine arts.”

Matteo's donation and other TJ Arts' investments will be managed by The Pittsburgh Foundation.

Suszynski hopes to raise $25,000, and add it to the existing $50,000 to endow scholarships in theater, art and music.

These will be in addition to the school district's two performing-arts scholarships, which both give $500 to seniors who qualify.

The Kathy Cecotti Memorial Scholarship assists a student who has been involved in theater productions for two years. Cecotti taught at Thomas Jefferson from 1994 to 2009.

The Founders Award commemorates the beginning of the district's theater program. It is given to a senior who has spent two years in good standing in International Thespian Society Troupe 2333. The recipient must be a leader in performing arts and a role model for others and carry a minimum 3.0 grade-point average.

“Joe was profoundly affected by the arts,” Suszynski said. “This has just the feeling of giving back we wanted to create in West Jefferson Hills School District.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5803 or

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