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Wheelchair didn't limit vet's activities

| Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Joseph Anthony Kiren left his earthly tent to be welcomed home by Jesus Christ, his Lord and Savior, Saturday, April 27, 2013.

When he lost a wheel in Schenley Park, Joe Kiren made quick repairs to his wheelchair and finished 989th among 1,100 or so participants in Pittsburgh's first Great Race on Sept. 25, 1977.

“Those were steel wheelchairs with regular wheels,” said his son, Joseph Colin Kiren of Wasilla, Alaska. “Back then, they crashed a lot.”

Joseph Anthony Kiren of Penn Township, the former executive director of the Tri-State Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America, died on Saturday, April 27, 2013. He was 70.

Mr. Kiren lost the use of his legs in a 1972 motorcycle accident in Warren, Pa.

“He was always in a wheelchair but was never disabled,” his son said.

Father and son “did everything that everybody else did,” despite the difficulties of using a wheelchair in the days before ramps and other accessibility features.

“It wasn't easy to go fishing, it wasn't easy to go to Monroeville Mall,” his son said. “But he was at every event.”

Mr. Kiren held various offices with the Tri-State Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America before becoming its first executive director in 1988, a post he held for 11 years.

“He shaped the chapter,” said his wife of 20 years, Anne. “He felt the best way to give the chapter a presence was to be involved in many things.”

That's one reason he joined John Sikora and Rich St. Dennis on a humid Sunday morning 35 years ago to be the first wheelchair participants of the Great Race.

“They wanted to give a presence to the (Pittsburgh) Steelwheelers,” his wife said. Mr. Kiren was a founding member of the wheelchair basketball team.

“I learned from Joe how to listen very closely to the needs of people who use wheelchairs,” said Joe Dornbrock, executive director of the Keystone Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America. “As an ambulatory person, I have a different perspective.”

A 1961 graduate of Gateway High School, Mr. Kiren was an Air Force veteran who served in England and Libya.

After his military discharge, he went to work at Westinghouse Electric Corp.'s East Pittsburgh plant.

In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by stepson Benjamin Heilman of Kittanning; brothers William of Greensburg and John of Vanderbilt; and sisters Theresa Austin of Bowdoinham, Maine, and Frances Lynn Bartholomew of Wyano.

Family and friends will be received from 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday in Monroeville Assembly of God Church, 4561 Old William Penn Highway, Monroeville, where funeral services will be held at 11:30 a.m. Thursday. Interment will be private. John M. Dobrinick Funeral Home Inc. in Trafford assisted with arrangements.

Craig Smith is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5646 or csmith@tribweb.com.

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