ShareThis Page

Atmosphere bittersweet around Penn Hills train display this year

Patrick Varine
| Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011

The Penn Hills Holiday Train Display brings joy to children throughout the area each December, but this year its operators will run the trains with a tinge of sadness.

Retired officer Domenic Slebrich Jr., 74, who began the display in 1984, died the day after Thanksgiving, and he leaves a legacy of community service behind.

"Dom was a unique individual," police Chief Howard Burton said. "He could be very gruff and people wouldn't know how to take him at first, but you'd see very quickly that he was just joking. He was a real people person."

Sometimes people got the wrong impression, though.

Both Burton and Officer Duane Yenchik, when asked about their favorite story involving Slebrich, told the same one:

Slebrich was one of the department's first K-9 officers, and his dog was named Satan. Burton said Slebrich always worked the midnight shift, and late one night, dispatchers began getting calls from residents in the area of Mt. Hope Cemetery.

"They were saying, 'You better send the police up here, there are devil worshipers in the cemetery,' " Yenchik said. "So dispatch radios to Dom for his location, and he's already in the area. Turns out, he'd let Satan out to do his business, and the dog ended up chasing some deer. So there's Dom, yelling through the police-car public-address system, 'SATAN! SATAN! GET OVER HERE!' "

Giving back to the community was also a large part of Slebrich's life. He started what is now People Helping People Daily, which started as Police Helping People Daily. The group does community projects, including providing turkeys to needy families during the holidays, giving toys to kids at Christmas and a golf outing.

As a secondary project in 1984, the holiday train display sprang to life, with several Penn Hills police bringing their own train sets to create a miniature version of the town.

Detective Bill Trogler said that when he first came on the force, he would occasionally be drafted into PHPD service.

"Dom would say, 'Son, you're not getting any calls.' He'd give me a list of addresses and send me out to drop off turkeys," Trogler said.

Yenchik said Slebrich was willing to help whenever and wherever he could.

"He had a heart of gold," Yenchik said. "If somebody needed help, he was there. I started as a paramedic, and one time we got a call about a girl whose arm was stuck in a floor drain. Dom arrived at the same time as our ambulance, and he and his partner took turns with a sledgehammer trying to break through that floor.

"He had a gruff exterior, but if you needed help, he was there for you."

He served with the Penn Hills Police Department from 1967 to 1993.

Additional Information:

Getting on track

The Penn Hills Holiday Train Display will operate in the municipal building through Jan. 1, from 5 to 9 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 1 to 9 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

The cost to attend is a $1 donation, which goes toward People Helping People Daily, or PHPD, a charity that members of the Penn Hills police department operate.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.