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Entrepreneur served food fit for The King

| Monday, June 21, 2004

When people arrived at Allegheny County Airport with an appetite, Myrna Kalkbrenner was there.

She was there for Elvis Presley, Robert Kennedy, Rod Stewart, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Bill Clinton, who sent her a personal thank-you note from the campaign trail in 1992. She ran Myrna's Catering, based in Pittsburgh's South Hills, for three decades.

Mrs. Kalkbrenner, formerly of Baldwin Borough, died Saturday, June 19, 2004, at Northside Hospital & Heart Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., after a brief bout with pancreatic cancer. She would have turned 71 on Thursday.

"She was a colorful lady," said one of her daughters, Sharon Lavery of Prosperity, Washington County, who delivered the food to Elvis. "We have pictures of her parasailing, horseback riding and hot-air ballooning. She even catered the Goodyear Blimp."

Mrs. Kalkbrenner was born June 24, 1933, in Bethel Park, Allegheny County, to Homer and Mary (Chamberlain) Conn, and attended Bethel Park schools.

"There were 10 of us children all together," said Charlotte Conn of Wilkins Township, Allegheny County. She came up with a little cash and some S&H Green Stamps that allowed her sister to buy equipment for her fledgling catering business.

"She started out on a shoestring, and it just got bigger and bigger," said Conn, who worked with her sister for 10 years before Mrs. Kalkbrenner retired in 1993.

She was working as a waitress for another caterer during a party when she struck up a conversation with some pilots for Gulf Oil Corp.

"They said something about the 'terrible' food they were being served on the airplanes," Lavery said.

That was all her mother needed to hear. Soon she was delivering snack trays to the hangar at Allegheny County Airport; then she was taking orders from executives at H.J. Heinz Co., PNC Bank Corp., Alcoa Inc., PPG Industries and others.

"The big thing for them was not just the quality of the food, but the fact that she was available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year," Lavery said. "They would give us two hours to make 20 steak dinners or 20 omelets. We used to run down to the A&P in Caste Village to buy stuff and make it."

During some events, such as a letter carriers' picnic sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service, she served thousands of people.

"It really was quite a production," Lavery said.

Before starting her own business, Mrs. Kalkbrenner managed The Moo Shop, well-known in the South Hills for hamburgers and ice cream.

In the 1980s, county officials persuaded her to reopen the airport's Propeller Lounge.

That's where she met Frederick "Ted" Kalkbrenner, a Port Authority bus driver who used to stop in for lunch. They married Aug. 15, 1986.

In addition to her husband, daughter and sister, Mrs. Kalkbrenner is survived by another daughter, Debbie Civik, of St. Petersburg Fla.; a brother, retired Air Force Lt. Col. John Conn, of Bethel Park; sisters Florence Conrad and Ruth Miller, both of McMurray, Washington County; a grandson, Sam Lavery, of Boston; and a great-granddaughter, Danielle Koval, of Castle Shannon, Allegheny County.

She was predeceased by a grandson, Kenneth Koval.

There will be no visitation. A private graveside service will be held at Jefferson Memorial Park, Pleasant Hills, Allegheny County.

Arrangements are by the Patrick D. Lanigan Funeral Home, 700 Linden Ave., East Pittsburgh.

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