On April 13, 2017, Northsiders lost a great neighbor and lover of his community. Many know Mr. Dan Rooney as the heir to the Steelers football dynasty but we Northsiders knew him as a man who took walks in the park with his lifetime love Patricia. A man who picked up garbage laying around the park. Most of all, a man who loved his Allegheny/Northside roots. I have heard many great stories about Dan and his father, Art, passing out money to neighborhood children, buying ice balls for them at Gus & Yia Yia’s, and actually too many stories to name. However, I will speak on my personal experiences and interactions with him and Mrs. Patricia.
Around 1992, myself and my wife Kimberley managed an apartment building at 911 Beech Avenue in Allegheny West. We always took walks in the park where we encounter Dan and Patricia on a constant basis. They always spoke and we would have a short conversation and go about our way. I thought it was slightly unusual behavior for a man of his stature to just stroll through the neighborhood but I also thought how down to earth that was.
We eventually moved away from Allegheny West and ventured into other states for many years. Homesick, we moved back about 7 years ago and decided to replant ourselves on the Northside. We were always passionate about our neighborhood so we began collecting history and sharing it online. It was the early stages of the Allegheny City Historic Gallery.
About 4 years ago, myself and my children, Willy James and Syd, were walking from Allegheny West where we saw Mr. Rooney walking by himself. We asked if we could take a picture with him and he said, “sure.” After we walked away my son asked, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we were able to work with a man like Mr. Rooney?” I told him about Mr. Rooney’s book that he was writing with architectural historian Carol Peterson called “Allegheny City.” I then said, “It may be possible to work with him one day because we are both into neighborhood history.” “Plus we’re both Northsiders.” At the time I was saying this I could not see a clear path on how this would happen.
As we progressed the gallery online, we decided to start producing videos featuring Northside historians like John Canning, photographers like Bob Rathke, Betty Muschar, and collectors like Terry Mowrey & Bob Blackham. We then decided to ask architectural historian Carol Peterson. She said yes. At the same time councilwoman Darlene Harris took interest in our activities and agreed that the ACHG needed a physical location to display our history and as a Mecca for former Northsiders to visit their pasts. I asked Carol if she and Mr. Rooney would do a book signing at our upcoming gallery and she said that they would be glad to it.
With the help of Northside born councilwoman Darlene Harris we were able to eventually get a physical location for the Allegheny City Historic Gallery at 433 East Ohio Street. Thanks to Carol, we were able to contact their book agent Maria and set up a date. We felt that it would be a great launch. The 1st date was scheduled for May 27, 2015 but was cancelled by Mr. Rooney due to other pressing matters. This was a slight relief because gallery construction was behind schedule and the space was in very raw form with no bathroom.
The next date was scheduled for July 8, 2015. That date appeared to be difficult for us because they were scheduled to be signing books at another close by Northside institution the week prior. We wondered if we would be able to draw a crowd. A day or two after, I contacted Maria to see how it went. She told me that it didn’t go too well and hardly anyone showed up. So she felt the pressure to deliver a good event. This information posed a new set of challenges because we didn’t want to let her down, and we felt that the signing deserved an audience. We were already pushing it heavy on social media so we decided to include printed posters and increase word of mouth.
The day of the event came and we were slightly nervous about the outcome. The gallery’s carpet had not been installed yet and the floor was very dusty. We used a throw rug under the spot that Dan & Carol would be signing books. We also created make-shift wall displays from large photos provided to us by the Allegheny City Society. When we opened our doors, people (mostly Northsiders) began streaming in. This was a good sign.
A short while after, Carol Peterson & Dan Rooney arrived. Mrs. Patricia Rooney and Maria are also with them. I gave a short introduction and a brief history and then Carol and Dan spoke. The event went very well and many books were signed. When the event was near an end, I took the opportunity to speak with Dan Rooney directly. He told me about how he was pleased with the turnout and how the ACHG was a great idea. I told him how I believe that Northside & Allegheny history should be kept alive and that I would like to submit future plans for his consideration. He then said, “Call me.” Feeling slightly displaced from reality, I replied to him, “How do I call you?” He said down the stadium. A few days later, I contacted his personal secretary, Rebecca. We talked about some of his future projects as well as the future of the ACHG. He wanted to write a book about the Native Americans of Allegheny and I was being considered as a co-writer. He opened the door for me to submit my upcoming projects and plans.
Later in the year Kimberley & myself started planning reunions at the ACHG for Northside neighborhoods that no longer exist. The 1st Ward, where the Rooney’s grew up, was one of those neighborhoods. One day a woman named Nora came into the gallery with her father “Rege”, who was from the 1st Ward. I told her about the Reunion and she told me that they are still in contact with many of the people who used to live there. Together, we were able to invite many of the people who grew up with Dan Rooney as friends and neighbors. I wrote Dan Rooney and invited him & Mrs. Patricia to the reunion. He said that he had other pressing matters that day but he will try to make it.
So on April 9, 2016 we hosted the reunion at the ACHG. Many people showed up as well as all of the local news outlets (Channels 2, 4 & 11). The Post Gazette was also in attendance. About 30 minutes into the event, a couple of the news cameras left because Dan Rooney had not appeared. About 10 minutes later, I was in the back of the gallery having a conversation and my son taps me on the shoulder and says, “ Mr. Rooney is here.” I walked to the front to greet the Rooney’s and left them free to mingle amongst old friends. I saw many hugs, lots of laughter, and old neighbors sharing photos and stories. It was a beautiful event with no talk of business involved. A couple of days afterwards, he told me that it was a beautiful event and that they had a great time. I continued exchanging e-mails up until this year. His health was failing but I can tell you this, he worked on his ideas until he could work no more.
His passing was surreal to myself and my family. We attended his funeral, which was also surreal and a testament to his reach. President Obama, Joe Biden, as well as too many current and past Steelers and NFL representatives to name were also there. I hope some of his greatness and humility rubbed off on me so I, too, can help create positive changes in the world. There are two things for sure: we will carry his book at the ACHG and I will honor him by pursuing some of the goals that we spoke of.
Bill Gandy– Founder of Allegheny City Historic Gallery
This story is from our newsletter “Allegheny City Times”. These Northside establishments helped make it possible…
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