Category Archives: Looking Back

Remembering Belle

Belle Cherry, a catnip enthusiast, sleep specialist and Fancy Feast connoisseur who despised dogs and nurtured feral-turned-house cats, died Sept. 15, 2020, at home. She was 17.

The cause was complications from thyroid disease.

With her mostly snowy white coat and sparkling eyes, Isabella Christmas Cherry, known by all as Belle, caught the eye of her human companion Bobby on Sept. 18, 2003, at a pet store inside the Millcreek Mall in Erie. At about eight weeks old, Belle had snagged her tiny claws onto Bobby’s hoodie. It was love at first sight.

Belle was named to honor Bobby’s love of “Days of our Lives” and Christmas. She did not receive a name for several days as Bobby worked to find the best name to capture her energy and the spirit of those interests.

The first several months of her life were lived mostly in secret, breaking on-campus college housing rules to live with Bobby. Masking tape was used on the blinds to keep her from wandering onto a windowsill to lazily gaze at the city life that passed by, and, of course, the birds in nearby trees.

It is in this Erie apartment where Belle grew to enjoy using the bathroom sink as a napping spot, sitting on the bathtub ledge to catch water falling from the shower, stealing lunch meat from already made sandwiches on the kitchen counter, playing with Christmas village pieces, and, best of all, snuggling in warm blankets in a cool room with Bobby.

She eventually grew out of her interest in scooping water out of glasses before knocking them onto the floor.

Ultimately, though, the masking tape was no match for a young and curious Belle. Her mischievous behavior to sneak into the window led to her being discovered by a maintenance worker.

When Belle embarked on her new life at the Cherry family estate, she quickly became the Belle of the ball, making friends with Snowflake and Midnight, and being chased by Mindy, whom she detested.

She had a love/hate relationship with housemate Rocket. Simply put, she loved to hate him. On very rare occasions, such as when the house was cold, the pair could be spotted near one another.

Most of the time, though, the pair dueled. Belle always came out victorious in her quest to be the best cat of the house — the true Belle of the ball.

She disliked all dogs and had mild interest in other cats. She is survived by her human companions, including Bobby and his parents and Ryan and Robin, and by four-legged creatures she didn’t really care for — Rocket, Kaci, Anne, Macy, Quiver and Tuffy — and by her close four-legged friends Boo and Charlotte. She was preceded in death by Noel, Max, Sidney, Mindy, Midnight and Snowflake.

Some cats are independent, only seeking attention when they desire it. Belle could be described this way, except that she always sought out the companionship of humans. She craved a warm lap, a chest to knead, an arm to snuggle — however close she could get to a human is what she preferred.

Her infectious love of cuddling was like no other. Belle was a regal companion who could turn a moment of sadness into one filled with happiness and love just by purring, kneading or meowing in her soft and inviting tone.

In her waning months, as the disease progressed, her energy and love remained strong. Belle still found the drive to climb to the top of the cat tree house to gaze out the window, and somehow jumped down from the tallest perch.

Belle’s 17 years and a few months will live on in memory — a memory filled with all sorts of little moments to keep close and remember in times of sadness and joy.

In lieu of cardboard boxes and sparkly toys, Bobby requests you hug your furry little animals and remind them how much they mean to you.

Looking at local journalism as the Sewickley Herald marks 116 years

Happy birthday, Sewickley Herald!

For 116 years (Sept. 19, 1903), the Sewickley Herald has served as the record keeper, fact checker and voice of the Sewickley Valley.

I played a small part in the storied history of the Sewickley Herald, serving as a reporter and then editor of the venerable weekly publication for about 11 years.

To say I loved that newspaper is an understatement. The Sewickley Herald and its core mission of providing quality news and information meant such a great deal to me.

I knew my role as a steward of that newspaper was important. Things don’t last that long without passion, pride and commitment.

In a 2013 story celebrating the 110th anniversary of the Herald, I wrote: “Founding publishers J.L. Kochenderfer and James Stinson likely had little idea of the legacy the Herald would carry with it more than a century later.”

By nature of the business, I was part of some pretty big stories impacting the Sewickley Valley — just in my short part of its legacy.

Community journalism sometimes gets a bad rap. Too often, I had then-colleagues snicker at the thought of covering hyperlocal journalism. They didn’t see the value in covering local school board meetings or road paving projects. To them, journalism was about big news in big areas with big crime.

And yet, there we were at the Sewickley Herald, covering bank robberies and business districts, middle school musicals and council members violating state ethics laws.

Thankfully, I’m bad at math, because I would not want to know how much unpaid time I put in at the Sewickley Herald (and in later years at The Signal Item in Carnegie and the South Hills Record — two papers I later became editor of at the same time as I was editor of the Sewickley Herald … doing more with far less).

As time went on, our staffs were slashed. I began with the Sewickley Herald in 2007. At the time, there was an editor (Dona Dreeland), two reporters, a sports editor and a photographer. I was a part-time reporter early on, splitting my time with the Herald and Signal Item (the two papers I would close out my Trib career as editor of).

By the end, we were a staff of an editor (me!), plus a photographer who was split in a million different directions … and a group of freelancers who I owe so much to for helping me look like I had it all together.

And somehow, we still put out quality work, covering school board meetings, student achievements, asking the tough questions and getting in all those local events and briefs.

And somewhere in there we managed to have some fun with (and win several awards for) our online presence/community, photo, news stories, feature stories and sports stories.

Stepping away from the Sewickley Herald was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But as much as I love the Herald, I knew it was time.

In my farewell column, I wrote, “As one of the oldest community newspapers still in operation in the region, the Sewickley Herald has documented quite a bit of change across the Sewickley Valley over the years. After all, change is news. And things always are changing.”

I’ve known and understood the role of a community newspaper for years, but I didn’t find quite the right way to articulate it until I was nearly done:

In my 2018 Herald Citizens of the Year celebration speech, I described how the role of a community newspaper is much like the role of a mother.

“The Herald is there to comfort when there is pain, question when there is conflict, and celebrate when there is joy,” I explained at that celebration. Mothers get to the bottom of disagreements between children, can tell when someone isn’t telling the truth, and know everything that happens at home even if they didn’t witness it.

– Sewickley Herald, Aug. 2, 2018

I miss local journalism. And, sadly, locally and nationally, local journalism has drastically changed just in the last year, as more companies seek to squeeze every last penny out of the success of decades old community newspapers.

I ended my 2018 farewell column with a quote from a musical (“Avenue Q”) that I think of every single day: “Everything in life is only for now.”

Sewickley Bridge marks 108 years

We tend to take bridges for granted in Western Pennsylvania. That is, until the span is closed.

Next year should be interesting for people who use the Sewickley Bridge, as PennDOT (finally!) will rehabilitate the span.

But until then, let’s celebrate the Sewickley Bridge, which turns 108 years old on Sept. 19. The current bridge that’s standing is not 108 years old. The second Sewickley Bridge opened Oct. 21, 1981.

And, as I documented in a 2011 story for the Sewickley Herald, the bridge almost didn’t make it into the 1980s. PennDOT wanted to tear it down following the recent opening of the Interstate 79 Neville Island Bridge.

But Sewickley Valley residents, led by Gloria Berry, campaigned and the bridge was saved.

A tugboat crashed into the new I-79 span, leaving no crossing along the Ohio River for miles.

“When they closed the bridge, it was like big red letters — emergency,” Berry told me for the 2011 Herald story. “There was no crossing the Ohio River from McKees Rocks to Ambridge.”

The bridge is an important piece of the culture of Sewickley Valley and the Moon Township/Coraopolis area, too.

“Both sides of the river are connected economically, medicaHy, through education, religion and socially. It was a lifeline for so many people on both sides of the Ohio River,” Berry said.

At the time, PennDOT said about 19,000 vehicles cross the bridge daily.

Read more about the Sewickley Bridge in this 100th anniversary story I did in 2011 for the Sewickley Herald. You can search the Sewickley Herald archives on the Sewickley Public Library website.

Note: I worked at the Sewickley Herald from about 2007 through August 2018.

Kennywood to bid farewell to Log Jammer after 42 years

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like an unpleasant head-banging on the old Steel Phantom, Pittsburghers received a jolt Thursday when Kennywood Park announced it would remove the popular Log Jammer water ride.

After 42 years, the Log Jammer will glide down its massive 53-foot chute one final time on Sept. 17.

What becomes of the space is anybody’s guess. (A quick internet search offers some rumors.)

“While no final decisions have been made regarding what will replace the Log Jammer, Kennywood is committed to enhancing our guests’ experiences while preserving our signature balance of modern thrills and traditional family favorites,” Kennywood General Manager Jerome Gibas said in a statement.

The park’s PR guy Nick Paradise said, “…in order to truly move towards the future, you have to leave some things behind.”

Log Jammer has long been one of those first rides children did in a transition phase from Kiddieland to bigger rides throughout the park. It’s exciting and pleasant for any age.

So it’s no surprise Pittsburghers didn’t take too kindly to news of its demise.

Perhaps Pittsburghers also are attached to Log Jammer because it seemed like one of those iconic attractions — like the Jack Rabbit and Thunderbolt — that would remain with the park for generations to come even though it held no records, made no “best of” lists and wasn’t nearly as unique as Thunderbolt.

But, oh, those Kennywood memories.

It’s one of the few rides I remember sharing with my grandmother when I was young. You’d get just enough wet to cool you off, but not soaked to your underwear wet like the Raging Rapids, so it was perfect for grandmas and grandkids!

Of the park’s three water rides (Raging Rapids and Pittsburg Plunge are the other two), Log Jammer was the Goldilocks ride: it wasn’t too hot; it wasn’t too cold; it was just right.

Log Jammer was Kennywood’s first ride to cost $1 million. It opened May 22, 1975. The 1,650-foot course meanders mostly through the trees in a back corner of the West Mifflin park’s property and features two drops — a 27-foot drop in the middle of the ride and a 53-drop to end the ride before turning into the station. It was designed by Arrow Dynamics — the now-defunct company that also constructed the Steel Phantom.

Hearing the news that Log Jammer would be gone was pretty stunning. Knowing my sometimes ridiculously obnoxious love of Kennywood, several friends checked in to get my reaction.

It’s too bad the park waited until just before the final two summer operating days (Sept. 16 and 17) to make the announcement. A proper farewell to a much beloved ride would have been a wonderful end to such a memorable part of the park.

Also, if you’re wondering, I won’t be that yinzer.

 

With food, every day is a Good Friday for meatless eaters

Growing up, I remember wondering what was so “good” about Good Friday.

I couldn’t eat meat, and Good Friday always happened to fall on a Friday (funny how that works), which meant Pizza Friday, which meant no pepperoni, which meant WHY EVEN HAVE PIZZA.

No meat on Good Friday became a carryover family tradition from older generations in the family who were far more religious than my family.

Fast forward a few decades to a time when I no longer eat meat on any day of the year.

I laugh thinking of how I felt so put out that I couldn’t have pepperoni pizza or chicken tenders.

Not having meat with a meal was unthinkable then.

Want a salad? No bacon. WHY HAVE SALAD!

A burger? No way! WHAT IS THE POINT OF LIFE!

So I recall a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches and cheese pizza — two otherwise excellent options EXCEPT WHEN MEAT WAS NOT AN OPTION!


What a minor sacrifice it was for that short period. It’s similar to how I see those who forgo something for Lent. A huge deal is made for something such as coffee or pop or candy.

Today, I only consider meatless options — of which there are plenty to choose from — for meals.