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Professor, born in Pittsburgh, fueled growth of arts throughout city

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By Adam Smeltz
Monday, March 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

English wasn't his first language. But by his 11th birthday, first-generation American citizen Daniel L. Kuruna had read every volume in the Hill District's Carnegie library, his son said.

“He always said everybody in the world can teach us something,” said Daniel L. Kuruna III, 68, of Middleburg, whose father earned three college degrees, fought on both fronts of World War II and became a celebrated Pittsburgh artist and college professor. “He looked at being born in the United States as an opportunity. That drove the whole family.”

The elder Kuruna, most recently of Selinsgrove, died Tuesday, March 5, 2013, as a result of a brief illness. He was 93.

Born in the Hill District, Kuruna spoke his family's native Ukrainian until he enrolled in first grade, said Kuruna III.

He studied art education in Carnegie Technical Schools — now Carnegie Mellon University — where he earned his bachelor's degree, and at the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State University, where he received master's and doctoral degrees, respectively. He married the late Virginia (Zeher) Kuruna in the early 1940s. They met at a Hill District community center where both volunteered.

His military position as an information specialist in a combat engineering battalion ended with the war, his son said. “Because he was in the occupation of Japan, I was 2 years old before he ever saw me,” said Kuruna III.

He worked as a Carnegie museum curator in the 1950s, led the Pittsburgh International Art biannual exhibition and became a well-known painter and sculptor. A Kuruna lithograph featuring trees won an art invitational in 1947 at Pebble Beach, Calif.

Kuruna III further credited his father with helping fuel the artistic side of the post-war Pittsburgh Renaissance, which invigorated the region's scholarly and cultural institutions.

But Kuruna's work as a teacher will probably be his primary legacy, his son said. Kuruna taught art education in Mansfield University and was chairman of the West Chester University and Western Illinois University art departments before retiring in Pittsburgh.

In addition to his wife, who died in 2009, he was preceded in death by a sister, Dorothy.

His survivors include his son and daughter-in-law, Christine; two daughters, Tina Lipkin of Philadelphia and Darya Kuruna of Worcester, Mass.; a sister, Katherine Kiray of Upper St. Clair; six grandsons; and one great-grandson. Visitation and a memorial service are scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Thursday in John E. Slater Funeral Home, 4201 Brownsville Road, Pittsburgh. A military burial is planned in St. Vladimir Ukrainian Cemetery.

Memorial contributions may be sent to The Salvation Army, 8020 Frankstown Ave., Pittsburgh, PA., 15221.

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or

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