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Boys & Girls Club a North Side haven under 'Mr. P.'

| Tuesday, April 30, 2013, 10:49 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Manuel Smith, 12, of Sheraden comes close to defeating Stan Pittman, Sarah Heinz House executive director, in arm wrestling during an after-school program at the Boys & Girls Club.

As executive director of Sarah Heinz House, Stanley Pittman Jr. did not let turf wars on North Side streets come through the doors of the after-school program.

“We're kind of like that gym in ‘West Side Story,' ” said Pittman, 63, of Monroeville. “There was no fighting in the gym. That's kind of the way I looked at us here.”

The man known as “Mr. P” will retire on Wednesday after 27 years at the helm of the Boys & Girls Club tucked next to the 16th Street Bridge and on-ramp to Route 28, beside the Heinz Lofts.

Jennifer Cairns, a former litigation partner at McGuireWoods LLP, will replace him.

Tori Prettyman, 17, of the North Side met Pittman when she started classes and activities at Sarah Heinz House at age 3.

“He's like that guy you can be friends with no matter what,” said Prettyman, a junior at City Charter High School, Downtown. “He can be strict when he needs to, but the fact he's so genuine and kind, you don't hate him. He punishes you in a light way.”

Howard Heinz built a boys club in 1901 that was the predecessor to Sarah Heinz House. In 1903, the club began admitting girls, a novel practice at the time. He built the stone-and-brick structure with stained-glass windows in 1913 and named it for his mother, Sarah. It became part of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in the 1930s.

Pittman grew up in West Deer, the son of an officer with the union at Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. and a homemaker mother. He graduated from Slippery Rock University with a bachelor's degree in health and physical education and dreamed of becoming a high school football coach.

He held teaching jobs and worked for YMCA branches in Sewickley; Canton, Ohio; and Wilmerding before taking the job at Sarah Heinz.

“He's got this calm, warm, gentle, approachable demeanor, coupled with this strong sense of value that I believe has really led to the major transformation at the Sarah Heinz House,” said Margaret M. Petruska, a board member.

“He's taken a very good after-school program and with determination and patience and vision has really grown it into one that has national and regional visibility and one that is the largest, single-site Boys & Girls Club in the United States.”

Petruska is senior director for the Children, Youth and Family Program at The Heinz Endowments, which provides about half of Sarah Heinz House's $2.2 million annual operating budget.

In 2007, Sarah Heinz House completed an $11.4 million expansion, including a swimming pool, fitness room, dance studio, gymnasium and cafe. The addition was certified for environmental friendliness. The original house has a game room, gymnastics room and classrooms.

Pittman said the building does not define his legacy — that, he said, lies with the staff.

“Ingrained in them is that, no matter what, the kid comes first,” he said.

Bill Zlatos is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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