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Online group celebrates New Kensington, Arnold roots

Mary Ann Thomas
| Monday, Sept. 19, 2011

Never has a grammar mishap spawned so much popularity locally as the Facebook page "You Know Your (sic) From New Ken When" with 1,600 friends.

"You know you're from New Ken when you spell 'you're' wrong," says Debbi Wojciechowski, 53, of Lower Burrell, who grew up in New Kensington and graduated from Valley in 1976.

Apparently, the number of former or current residents who know they are from New Kensington and Arnold has skyrocketed as they saunter down memory lane chatting about remembering Isaly's, or their favorite pizza shop or the most popular Valley High teacher.

The Facebook page has seen so much activity that Wojciechowski and other New Kensington and Arnold natives decided to throw a Social in the Park on Sunday at Memorial Park along Route 56 to meet and greet and raise money for new park bathrooms, which were destroyed last year by arsonists.

"I was on (Facebook) one day and chatting with someone," says Rob Greb, 51, of Allegheny Township. "I asked 'who's going to organize the picnic for this?' "

It turned out that Greb and an informal committee charged themselves with the task.

Word of the picnic got out, and, before they knew it, Greb was inviting the mayor of New Kensington and making flyers to alert everyone to the park social.

Anyone can show up for the picnic, but organizers are keying on New Ken and Arnold natives.

"People have high-school reunions and stuff like that, but that's just your class," Greb says. "This is like people who are just getting together who know each other. Some are five, seven years apart. It gives people a chance to come and reconnect."

There will be music and food vendors. People are invited to bring their own lunch or provide a potluck entree, but no alcoholic beverages.

And Greb and others thought that they should do more than just socialize.

Among a slew of memories, Memorial Park loomed large.

"My dad used to take me there every Sunday," Greb says. "We would pile half the neighborhood in his car to go."

Since an arsonist destroyed the park's rustic-looking but modern bathrooms, the picnic committee thought the event should contribute to the fund to restore them.

"The park is kind of like the only thing left in New Ken where you can take your kids and still have a good time and be safe," Greb says.

And it is the changes in the twin cities of New Kensington and Arnold, increased crime and urban blight, that is at the heart of people's desire to reminisce, according to Greb and Wojciechowski.

"It not the way it was back in the day, and I feel that we missed having those days," Wojciechowski says. "We missed that part of our past, and there's the fact that these ideas are coming into Facebook -- things you haven't thought about for 40 years."

Greb likes to remember the 1960s and 1970s when New Kensington was a thriving metropolis.

"Every Saturday, the stores would have sidewalk sales, and the sidewalks would be packed with people," he says.

Greb also likes to reminisce about restaurants like The Melody on Fourth Avenue where he would get a burger and fries.

"Our parents, when we were downtown, would always take us down to the Rustic Inn that everyone remembers."

The memories come easy, and the Internet is a comfortable place for people to open up, Wojciechowski says.

"They feel more comfortable communicating and they don't have to get dressed up to go out the door to make a class reunion," she says.

The origins of the Facebook page are nebulous at best. Greb and Wojciechowski don't know who started it. It is rumored that a California man who grew up in New Kensington started the page and removed himself from it when it took off, according to Wojciechowski.

Maybe no one wants to claim the grammar mistake.

Regardless of how the Facebook page got started, the common denominator is that "we are very proud of where we grew up," Greb says.

And pride in the town now• "There doesn't seem to be that anymore."

At least, until now.

Social in the Park

What: NK/Arnold Social in the Park

When: Noon-5 p.m. Sunday

Where: Pavilions A&B, Memorial Park, New Kensington, Route 56

Admission: $1. Open to the public but mainly for former and current New Kensington and Arnold residents

Details: To register for the social, e-mail and indicate the number of people attending. To donate to restore the Memorial Park bathrooms, contact Rob Greb at 724-689-5852.

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