Leechburg man dedicated to spreading his mother’s ‘timeless idea’
Loving kindness is an old — but still good — idea, Hank Commodore and like-minded people believe.
So good, in fact, that in 2018 the Leechburg Area School District wove it into the fabric of the district’s curriculum. They made it a mission for students when dealing with peers and staff: Treat everyone with loving kindness.
The idea was brought to the schools by Commodore, a Leechburg resident and retired guidance counselor from the New Kensington-Arnold School District.
But Commodore doesn’t take credit for the idea.
Instead, Commodore says the notion of treating everyone with loving kindness was taught to him by his mother, Mary Commodore, whose faith in the Bible’s Golden Rule was sorely tested about a quarter of a century ago.
That’s when one of Mary Commodore’s sons, Kirk, was murdered in Ford City.
Despite being in the depths of sorrow over the senseless loss of her child, Mary Commodore turned not to hate but to kindness.
“She said, ‘You cannot fight evil by returning evil with evil. Only returning good for evil works.’ It’s loving kindness,” Hank Commodore said.
He continues to share that message wherever he goes.
So, when he brought the idea to Leechburg schools, it was far more than the slogan on the T-shirts he gave to the seniors at the inaugural event to kick off the program.
After talking with Principal Doug Rodgers and Superintendent Tiffany Nix in 2018, a plan was made for the seniors to wear the loving kindness shirts and then for several of the seniors to visit all of the district’s first-graders.
“There was an opportunity for our kids in K-12 to talk about the same message. Seniors talked with the younger ones about reasons for treating everyone kindly,” Rodgers said.
Since then, loving kindness has become a vital thread woven into the school district’s plan.
“My mother would be happy,” said Commodore, who has taken his loving kindness message back to New Kensington-Arnold, Allegheny Valley and other districts.
Mary Commodore died in February at age 92.
She still is remembered for her upbeat, positive attitude at Armstrong County Memorial Hospital, where she was a nursing aide, and at home.
“She practiced what she believed,” said son, Ken Commodore, now a pastor in Ford City. “She was very nurturing and very loving,” he said.
Race didn’t matter to her. Caring about people did, he said.
Karen Paul, a nurse manager, worked with Mary in a medical/surgical unit.
“I remember her smile. Patients and staff always felt at ease with her. She treated them like family,” Paul said.
All of this left an impression on Hank Commodore.
“All lives matter,” he said. “And don’t talk about it — be about it.”
Commodore remembers his friends in the 10th grade who stood up for him when he tried out for the high school basketball squad and was initially met with resistance. He was, after all, black. In the 1960s, even following desegregation of public schools, black students often had trouble joining sports teams that included white players.
He had skill, but he hadn’t played for the school before. When the others stood up for him, though, Commodore was able to play.
In fact, he became one of the best basketball players to play at Ford City High School.
Commodore was MVP of the Roundball Classic in 1967 and starred at Northwestern Oklahoma State University.
He was then drafted by the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the ABA’s North Carolina Cougars.
Commodore signed with the Cougars before being drafted into the Army. Later, he became a national ping-pong champion and was nominated to try out for the Olympics.
After returning home from the Army, he eventually settled in as guidance counselor and basketball coach at Valley High School.
It was those experiences, he said, coupled with his mother’s influence, that built into him, even in retirement, an urgency to share the idea of loving kindness.
It’s a timeless idea, he said.
Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck at 724-226-4711, [email protected] or via Twitter .