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Wealth of life experiences shape IUP journalism chair

| Saturday, April 28, 2012, 1:11 a.m.

Growing up in a duplex at 200 Market St. in Belle Vernon, Randy Laird Jesick had many influences on his eventual life in writing and journalism.

"Maybe it was destiny," said Jesick, journalism department chair at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

"The building that included our home also housed for a number of years a newspaper called the Belle Vernon Enterprise," Jesick said. "Isabelle Hurley was the editor, and she later became one of the major figures in the newspaper profession in the Mon Valley."

Another legendary newsman, John R. Bunardzya, was Jesick's next door neighbor.

"His home was only about 15 feet away," Jesick said. "I always enjoyed reading his stories and columns and the opportunity to talk with him."

Another neighbor, who lived "right across the alley," was Ruth Frost, the longtime English teacher at Bellmar High School.

"Miss Frost and Connie Croushore, an eighth- and ninth-grade English teacher at Vernon Junior High, had as great an effect on me as any individual," Jesick said. "These two ladies were by far the best teachers I ever had at any level. Miss Frost was my English teacher in my sophomore and senior years. With all of those people in my life at that time, I guess I was surrounded by positive language and journalism influences."

Jesick, 67, the son of the late Maynard Nevin Jesick and Vivian Lucille Laird Jesick, chose to continue his education at Gettysburg College after graduating from Bellmar High School in 1960. He transferred to the University of Pittsburgh the next year.

"He (Bunardzya) suggested that I work for Beano Cook, then Pitt's sports information director," Jesick said. "John actually called Beano to recommend me. I wrote a couple of stories for Beano as my 'audition,' and he hired me."

Jesick worked for Cook for three years writing features on Pitt athletes.

Matriculating at Pitt brought Ann Elaine Roberts of Punxsutawney into Jesick's life.

"We met March 11, 1964, about a month before I graduated from Pitt," Jesick said. "My roommate at Pitt my last two years there was Daryle Ruby, who played basketball at Bellmar and Pitt.

"It was his 21st birthday and we were celebrating at a bar called The Fox in Shadyside. That's where I met Ann, who was a senior medical technology student from St. Mary's College."

Ann was spending her senior year at Allegheny General Hospital doing a medical technology internship in the Singer Laboratory in the North Side facility.

"She told me that someday she was going to medical school," Jesick said. "That someday came a few years later, just a few months before her 39th birthday when she started her first year at the Pitt Medical School. At that time, late summer of 1981, we had three children, ages 12, 10 and 5."

She earned her medical degree in 1985 and completed a three-year residency in family medicine in 1988 at what was then the Forbes Health System in Monroeville. Since then, she has practiced family medicine in Indiana.

Randy and Ann were married June 18, 1966, and are the parents of four children.

Katrina Quinn, 40, is a professor of communications and public relations at Slippery Rock University; Gretchen Brula, M.D., is an anesthesiologist who lives in Peters Township with her husband, Joe Brula, M.D., also an anesthesiologist at St. Clair Memorial Hospital in Mt. Lebanon; Matthew, 33, is a planner in Washington, D.C., whose wife, Melanie, is a planner for Arlington County in Virginia, and Mark, 25, who was born during Ann's tenure in medical school and will resume studies this fall in the Ph.D. aerospace engineering program at the University of Texas at Austin.

Mark worked this summer at the Johnson Space Center. Katrina, Gretchen and Mark all earned undergraduate degrees from Notre Dame, and Matthew graduated from Bucknell University.

Over the years

After receiving his bachelor's degree in geography at Pitt in 1964, Randy Jesick attended West Virginia University and received his master's degree in journalism in 1966.

At WVU, he worked for sports information director Ed Barrett and with Dick Polen, a Rostraver High graduate who was an undergraduate student also working in the Sports Information Office.

The University of Pittsburgh figured in what Jesick calls his 15 Minutes of Fame.

"In 1973, I researched the 1963 Pitt football team for a story in the Homecoming football program that season," he said. "From what I thought I knew, the success of members of the '63 team outside of football might be noteworthy and worthy of a story 10 years later.

"I was right. Summarizing, 66 of 71 players graduated, and 33 of the 66 also earned graduate or professional degrees. The topper to me, though, and the 15 minutes of fame came when three paragraphs from my story appeared almost verbatim in a 1976 book called 'Sports In America' by James Michener."

Because he had been in the ROTC program at Gettysburg College, Jesick had a two-year commitment to active duty after receiving a deferment for graduate school. He began officer's basic training in September 1966 at Fort Benjamin Harrison near Indianapolis and was assigned to the Adjutant General's Corps at Fort Wadsworth, Long Island, N.Y. as an information officer.

One of the most difficult assignments he performed while stationed at Fort Wadsworth was NOK duties -- notifying the next of kin about the death of a family member serving in the military.

"In some strange way, I felt notifying a family member in the proper, respectful, caring way was one of the most important and useful things I've ever done," he said.

Jesick landed a job as assistant sports information director at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill., and later was hired as assistant director of public relations at IUP.

He was hired as a faculty-administrator with responsibilities for news and sports and began his tenure at IUP on June 30, 1969.

Today, 40 years later, he ranks third in seniority among the nearly 800 professors at Indiana.

In 1979, Jesick was offered an opportunity to teach for a year in the new journalism major. As much as he enjoyed the public relations work, Jesick realized he had, "probably serendipitously, discovered a calling."

Jesick offered his gratitude to Sam Furgiuele, the IUP public relations director who hired him in 1969, and Craig Swauger and David Truby, IUP journalism professors who "lured me into" what became the separate journalism department in 1980.

Jesick pulls on a lifelong passion for reading to encourage his students.

"I'm always reading," he said. "I always have a book -- novel, biography, whatever -- with me. I tell my students to read and read and read, especially read good writers and good writing."

Mentors and role models notwithstanding, Jesick said one person needs to be mentioned separately -- his wife.

"It was the luckiest day in my life on that March 11, 1964, when I met her at that bar in Shadyside," he said. "As a result of that great fortune, I'm really the luckiest and richest and happiest person in the world. She's really been my helpmate, always there, always strong, always encouraging and very supportive."

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