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Documentary a family affair

| Sunday, Jan. 21, 2007

Annie Geller wasn't the only member of producer Laura Magone's family assigned to work the videotaping session with Gen. Carl E. Vuono for the" One Extraordinary Street" documentary.

The Pittsburgh teenager's mother, Maria Magone (Laura's sister), a 1968 graduate of Monongahela High School, also was involved.

"We had to do two major equipment setups and interviews in one day, and we needed lots of people to help," Magone said. "We had two camera people, two production assistants and my sister, Maria, who was drafted into being the makeup person. No one on the crew was interested in doing makeup, especially for two four-star generals, one of whom was Colin Powell."

Recalling that family and friends have helped with the documentary over the years -- "even when they're busy" -- Magone said she asked her sister if she would take on the makeup assignment.

"She works at the University of Pittsburgh as a research psychologist, but she also has artistic training in painting, so I figured she was the most qualified among us. She was hesitant but she did the job and was very serious about it. Her work looked great."

Maria Magone kept her maiden name after marrying Clint Geller, a scientist at the Bechtel Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory. She works as a research psychologist in the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh.

In addition to Annie Geller and Maria Magone, the crew for the Vuono session, which also included an interview with Gen. Colin Powell, U.S. Army (Ret.), the former U.S. secretary of state, was comprised of Laura Magone's friend, Sally Snyder, production assistant, and cameramen Dave Hogg and Bill Fuller.

The interview with Vuono, whose distinguished Army career spanned 38 years, capped a goal that began some 10 years ago for Magone.

"My interest in Park Avenue started when I was asked to make a video for a homecoming banquet for an Army general (Vuono) who grew up there," Magone said.

Not knowing much about military ranks, Magone said she realized there was "something special about him" when she saw photographs of Vuono with a variety of heads of state at his mother Rose's home in Monongahela.

"As I visited Rose, she explained politely that she could not give us the photos for our video project," Magone recalled. "Savvy to public relations protocol, Rose called her son's office after I left that night, and at 7 o'clock the next morning, my telephone rang. It was the Pentagon calling to assist with my request. I quickly learned that U.S. Army Chief of Staff meant he was the highest-ranking officer in the Army."

Magone also learned that Vuono, a four-star general, had been appointed Chief of Staff by President Ronald Reagan and served in that post from 1987 until his retirement in 1991. She also discovered that he oversaw the invasion of Panama and played a major role in Operation Desert Storm.

"He is credited as being the leader who re-engineered the U.S. Army into the outstanding organization it is today," Magone said.

Long after the homecoming banquet, Magone nurtured her friendship with Rose Vuono.

"She always spoke very fondly of both of her sons and their families," Magone said.

The older son, John Vuono, is a senior partner in a law firm in downtown Pittsburgh.

"I've always been struck by John's quiet ways, pride in his heritage, appreciation of his roots and deep concern for his mother and family," Magone said. "They are a family with strong devotion to and love for each other."

Magone recalled that Rose Vuono had a reputation for being kind and possessing a keen sense of humor.

"She would delight us with stories about the Italian immigrant homesteads and proudly pointed out where they baked bread in outdoor ovens," Magone said.

And Magone still laughs when recounting a story Rose Vuono liked to tell, a story that has become legendary in Monongahela.

"One day, two strangers came to her door to ask if her home was the home of Joe Montana," Magone said. "Rose said apologetically, 'No, I'm sorry it isn't.' Then she added, 'But my son is U.S. Army Chief of Staff if you'd like to come in and visit me.' The family couldn't believe it. Rose invited these strangers in for tea and homemade biscotti."

Those and myriad similar stories add a special flavor to "One Extraordinary Street," a story of families punctuated with the true meaning of familial closeness.

And Magone is asking others to become part of it by signing the Guest Book that is now part of the documentary's Web site. Those who sign in are requested to leave a message. They can do so at www.OneExtraordinaryStreet.com.

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