Stadium vendor's style captivated fans

Eric Heyl
| Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Kenny Geidel's distinctive, high-pitched cries at Pittsburgh sporting events were virtually impossible to ignore.

No matter what the score of the game, no matter whether fans cared for the lemonade or cotton candy or other product the popular stadium vendor was peddling, they turned their head in his direction.

"Whenever I would hear him walking up and down the aisles, it made me feel happy," said Olivia Piccolo, 12, of Coraopolis, before the Pirates' game on Tuesday night at PNC Park. "When I heard that he died, I felt sad. Hearing him is something I'll miss when I come to the games."

Geidel, a fixture at games for more than 25 years, was working the Pirates-Astros game on Sunday, his calls resonating among the Mother's Day crowd, when he fell ill.

He was rushed to UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland, where he died Monday after surgery for an intestinal ailment. He was 64.

His wife of nearly 40 years, Janice, recalled his disdain for missing games.

"He burned his hands once so badly that he had to get skin grafts," she said. "The day they released him, he went down to the stadium and worked. He did it with gloves on."

Geidel, of Wilkinsburg, was the father of four children and grandfather of three. A graduate of Connelly Vocational School, Uptown, he worked for the Gimbels and Kaufmann's department stores before becoming a Three Rivers Stadium vendor in 1985.

"He really enjoyed what he did," Janice Geidel said. "He loved going down there, interacting with people at all the games."

The unique timbre of his shouts made him, if not quite a celebrity, then at least celebrated by those who witnessed him working Pirates, Steelers, Penguins and University of Pittsburgh games.

"People just loved him at the games," said Jules Ponterio, 57, of Greensburg. "The kids and even adults would mimic him in a good-natured kind of way as he hawked whatever he was selling. You could tell he was a very hardworking guy. I think it's fair to say that, in some ways, we've lost a Pittsburgh icon."

YouTube videos of Geidel hawking lemonade and cotton candy in PNC Park and Mellon Arena attracted more than 55,000 views. A Facebook page devoted to the "Lemonade/Beer Here Guy" has more than 16,000 followers, dozens of whom flooded the site with tributes.

"You've been my favorite vendor since I was a kid and I always made a point to look for you during the games," wrote Tammi Ventura of Bellevue. "I'm sure we'll still hear you at the games shouting from heaven, buddy."

Melvin Washington of Connellsville took time before heading to PNC Park to adorn a placard with Geidel's photo and sentiments marking the popular vendor's passing.

"I made this sign to show him some respect," said Washington, 30, as he entered the ballpark. "I'm a die-hard Pirates fan, and, to me, Kenny represented Pittsburgh all the way. I think a lot of people are going to miss him."

Accolades came from the city's sports teams.

"While all of us fans will remember Kenny's famous vending calls while roaming the stands as far back as Three Rivers Stadium in the mid-'80s, he was also a dedicated family man," Pirates Chairman Bob Nutting said. "He will be missed."

Said Penguins CEO David Morehouse: "The history of Pittsburgh sports is unique because it includes not just great players and coaches, but also memorable vendors and ushers. Ken was part of that history."

"Kenny's love for entertaining garnered him a large following of loyal fans and customers, and his enthusiasm, energy and passion were an important part of Pittsburgh's sporting events experience," said Steve Musciano, PNC Park general manager of Aramark, which employs stadium vendors.

Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. today in the Thomas L. Nied Funeral Home, 7441 Washington St., Swissvale. Geidel will wear his PNC Park uniform at the viewing, family said.

A blessing service will be held in the funeral home at 1 p.m. Thursday.

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