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Kindergartner Verena Belldina performs during the St. Louise de Marillac School talent show.

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Second-grader Avery Sullivan performs a piano piece.

Agreement paves way for Washington Health System vaccination site in Peters
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Washington Health Systems has the green light to open a COVID-19 vaccination site in Peters Township.

On Monday, township council approved a memorandum of understanding between the municipality and the health system to use a portion of the gymnasium at the Community Recreation Center, starting Feb. 22.

According to the agreement, Washington Health System will provide all staffing and equipment to run the clinic, and will be responsible for “malpractice liability insurance that covers the services that the staff will provide.”

“The relationship between the parties to this agreement to each other is that of independent contractors,” the memorandum further states. “The relationship of the parties of this contract to each other shall not be construed to constitute a partnership, joint venture or any other relationship.”

Township manager Paul Lauer elaborated for the benefit of local residents.

“We are simply landlords. We don’t control who gets a vaccine. We haven’t gotten a lot, but we’ve gotten a few calls into the building asking to be able to register,” he said about requests fielded by municipal staff members, “and that’s not our role.”

According to the Washington Health System website, individuals who are eligible to make appointments for vaccinations must live in Washington or Greene counties, or be an established patient of the health system’s outpatient practice. At this point, categorization in the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s Phase 1A also is required.

The initial phase includes people ages 65 or older, plus those ages 16 to 64 who have pre-existing conditions such as cancer, kidney disease, heart disease, Down Syndrome, diabetes and obesity.

“Please remember to be patient through this process,” the website states. “We have a team reviewing all requests to confirm eligibility, and therefore it could take up to several days to receive an initial confirmation reply.”

Washington Health System has a vaccine clinic in operation at Washington Hospital, and scheduled to open are locations at WHS Greene in Waynesburg Feb. 15 and Washington Crown Center, Feb. 18.

The Peters Township Community Center served as a vaccination site Jan. 24, with staff members from Hilltop Pharmacy in Pittsburgh’s Allentown neighborhood inoculating 1,000 Phase 1A-qualifying individuals. Lauer told council another event with Hilltop, the owner of which lives in Peters, could take place at some point.

“As best I can tell, we are the only municipality that has partnered with a health system for the purposes of trying to facilitate their residents receiving vaccines,” Lauer said.

For more information, visit whs.org.

‘Shared experience of widowhood’: Losses help form bond for Peters couple
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When describing his reaction to his first substantial encounter with his future wife, Peters Township resident Brian Ritter often references “The Godfather.”

He specifically recounts the scene in which Michael Corleone first sees Apollonia and is struck by what Sicilians call – according to the movie, at least – “The Thunderbolt.”

That’s what happened to Brian with Tatiana.

“It was like a mental double take. I was sitting there looking at her, and all of a sudden I just shook my head,” he recalled. “I looked at her again and I thought, who the hell are you and what did you just do to me? I was just slammed.”

Of course, Tatiana quickly took note of her admirer.

“I do remember sitting down and noticing Brian’s eyes, and I was like, why am I noticing this man? I’m not interested in people,” she said. “Why am I noticing him, and why is it that every time I glance over there, he’s staring at me?”

Tatiana had lost her husband, Albert Savocchi of suburban Chicago, to cancer, the year before. Brian’s wife, Diane, also had succumbed to cancer.

“Neither of us was interested whatsoever in starting another relationship,” Brian said.

Yet the mutual interest that took root during what essentially was a chance meeting in Nashville, Tenn., culminated in Tatiana and Brian being wed Dec. 27, 2018.

Their story actually has a prologue, a brief encounter by way of mutual friends, Bobby and Barbara Holder, who brought a visiting-from-out-of-town Tatiana to a party they organized in 2000 to celebrate Diane and Brian’s 25th anniversary.

“I met her, but I don’t really remember meeting her other than the fact that ‘Hey, Brian, this is Tatiana. This is the friend I’ve talked about,’” Brian said. “And that was the extent of it. But it was kind of cool, just knowing that we had crossed paths once before in the past.”

Fast-forward more than a decade and a half, and Tatiana was in the hospital with a case of pancreatitis. She also was scheduled to fly to Tennessee to help officiate the wedding of the Holders’ daughter, Corrine.

So Tatiana told the people who highly recommended that she stay, “No, I have to go.”

Meanwhile, Brian and daughters Paige and Rebecca also were traveling to Nashville for the nuptials, arriving at the Holder home before Tatiana.

“She comes into the house, and everybody’s saying, ‘Oh, Tatiana’s here! Tat’s here!’” Brian recalled. “She walked in and I’m looking at her, and I said, ‘OK, that’s who that is.’ I had heard her name mentioned as a good friend of Bobby and Barbara.”

Then came Brian’s “Thunderbolt.” And he acted accordingly.

“I kept going back to her and trying to find ways to start conversations with her,” he said. “I followed her around all weekend, like a little puppy dog kind of thing.”

He particularly enjoyed Tatiana agreeing to serve as designated driver for a group of guests taking a day-before-the-wedding visit to the Jack Daniel’s Distillery.

“I wasn’t allowed to drink anything, because I was just out of the hospital. So he got all my samples. That’s why he stuck close to me,” she joked. “I couldn’t drink them, and every time they gave samples, he took mine.”

The two initially bonded, though, on a more serious note.

“Our conversations were largely about our shared experience of widowhood,” Tatiana said. “We both had been married to our soulmates. We both lost them. And that was primarily what we talked about, the grieving process and how difficult it was.”

At one point, she recommended Brian read a book that she had found to be helpful, “When Your Soulmate Dies: A Guide to Healing Through Heroic Mourning,” by Alan D. Wolfelt. In turn, he asked for her phone number so they could make arrangements to mail it to him.

Within a week after they returned to their respective homes, he called her for a second reason: to invite her to attend the musical production “Jesus” at the Sight & Sound Theater in Lancaster County, a show for which he purchased a pair of tickets well in advance.

She agreed to go, asking, when is it?

“I said, ‘It’s in October ... of next year,’” Brian recalled. “And she said, ‘Well, you have plenty of time to change your mind.’”

In the meantime, they began to talk on the phone with increasing frequency, until Tatiana suggested they use the 21st-century innovation of FaceTime. Then the FaceTime sessions became more frequent.

Then they finally decided to get together in person again, and Tatiana chose the town of Wauseon, Ohio, as being equidistant between Chicago and Peters Township.

“She got there after I did. I was waiting for her, and I got down to the parking lot to help her. And I was boasting what a great driver I was,” Brian recalled.

“We got one of those luggage carts and stacked all her stuff on the cart. I go to wheel it into the building, and of course, I hit the curb wrong and knock everything off,” he said. “And she says, ‘I thought you were a good driver!’ She busted me on that one.”

He managed to transport the luggage to her room, where they each had a seat.

“We were talking, or trying to, and everything got so awkward. I just felt funny. So I was trying to talk to her, but instead of looking at her, I’d be looking over there, and my eyes were just moving around,” he said.

“She finally looks at me and she says, ‘Brian, would you like to go over to your room and we can just FaceTime? And I cracked up laughing. I said, ‘No, I’m not going to do that. I don’t know what my problem is, but we’re going to figure this thing out. It probably took another 15 minutes before we got to where it should have been.”

The visit turned out to go well, and when she returned to Illinois, Tatiana confided with friends about what was happening in her life, telling them: “This is weird. I don’t want this. But I am very attracted to this person. There is a mutual experience that we share that draws us together.”

In response, encouragement abounded.

“I had started a widows’ group at my church,” Tatiana said, “and they were like, ‘Hey, you get a second chance at companionship and a good man. Most people don’t find one good man. God’s given you two.’”

So eventually she decided to move east, and she became Mrs. Ritter during a Christmas-season ceremony at their Peters Township home.

Two-plus years later, Brian and Tatiana are doing pretty much the same as everyone else by trying to stay safe while waiting out the COVID-19 pandemic. But they experience something that few others do.

“Our relationship really is a relationship of four people. It’s me and Al, and Brian and Diane,” Tatiana said. “We have their pictures hanging. We talk about them. They are part of our lives, and we feel like they are up in Heaven saying, ‘Yeah, we arranged this.’”

Brian and Diane, who was well-known in the community – she served for eight years on Peters Township School Board, two as president – were married for 40 years prior to her passing.

“There’s no way I’m not going to talk about her,” he said of Diane. “She can talk about Al and things they did together. That doesn’t bother me.”

Now that Tatiana is a Pittsburgher, Brian has made the necessary arrangements for her to switch at least one crucial sports allegiance away from Chicago.

“He kind of forced me into Steeler fandom, which was easy. But I told him I can’t leave the Cubs in my heart,” she said about the 2016 Major League Baseball champions. “My Albert had said, ‘I just want to see the Cubs win a World Series before I die.’ And they won while he was going through chemo. So it was so much joy to see them win.”

Harry Funk/The Almanac

Teacher Kimberly Limberiou addresses her fourth-grade class prior to them embarking on a game of bingo as part of special Catholic Schools Week activities.

‘Racism – In My Neighborhood?’: Let’s look at education
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Editor’s note: This is the last of a three-part series.

While the intent of Black History Month is to celebrate achievements by African Americans and recognize their roles in shaping the course of the United States, Tony Norman isn’t a fan.

“If you have February designated as the time that you will deign to educate Black children and white children about African-American history, you’ve failed,” the award-winning journalist said. “You really should have an integration, a full accounting of American history, which is fascinating.”

He spoke candidly about his views on certain aspects of education as a panelist in the recent program “Racism – In My Neighborhood?” Presented virtually by the Mt. Lebanon-based Denis Theatre Foundation as part of its ongoing effort to promote conversation within the community, the 90-minute program featured insight from Norman and fellow panelists Stephanie Edmond-Myers, Elaine Frantz and Chris Ivey, along with moderator Jon Delano.

In Norman’s opinion, the elements that make the United States’ story interesting aren’t exactly the ones that are imparted to students.

“They get a completely sanitized, propagandistic version of American history that is now boring, and it makes for uncivil citizens,” he said. “They may be law-abiding, but they’re not civil. They don’t really understand or integrate well with people who are not white, and that’s the system that we currently have.”

Edmond-Myers, who lives in Mt. Lebanon, said some local English teachers have been implementing broader lesson plans.

“They are trying to integrate the literature, getting more women authors, more authors of color,” she said, noting a specific reading assignment of “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” by Ibram X. Kendi.

“There have been some individual efforts to start integrating these types of anti-racist teachings in the whole of American history into the curriculum,” Edmond-Myers continued. “But systematically, it hasn’t been done. And we’re hoping – like, say, in the next five years or so – that we can come back and have a really different conversation about how our school system is teaching American history.”

In the meantime, Mt. Lebanon School District has made strides toward a more inclusive administrative team, last year hiring Tenecia Ross as director of human resources and Jocelyn Artinger as principal of Markham Elementary School.

“Things are changing,” Edmond-Myers said, “but there is more to be done.”

Another educational avenue suggested by the panelists is within religious institutions

“A lot of churches in the South Hills, in the suburbs, have really gotten interested in dealing with and addressing these issues,” said Frantz, another Mt. Lebanon resident. “I think that churches are a place where you strive to think about how to be a good person. And a Christian message, taken authentically, would lead to anti-racism.

“That doesn’t mean all churches go in that direction,” she acknowledged, “because they don’t.”

Norman expressed optimism about those that do.

“As a Christian, I am very impressed by churches that understand that they need to make an extra effort, especially if they’re all white,” he said, “because that is, quite frankly, an indication of the spiritual health of the community.”

For his part, Ivey has developed a strong educational tool with “East of Liberty,” his film that chronicles the gentrification of Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood, starting with his being hired in 2005 to document a publicity stunt in connection with the demolition of a local apartment complex.

“At the same time I interviewed some of the residents who lived in the high rises and they weren’t happy at all because of the spectacle that was before them,” he said on the “East of Liberty” website. “Even though in many ways it wasn’t the best place to live, it was all they had, and to see strangers having fun by shooting paintballs at the block left them furious.”

The project drew national attention as the subject of an NPR feature and serves as a teaching tool for courses in subjects such as urban studies, public policy, race, ethnicity and sociology.

But despite such efforts in the name of education, a large segment of the population continues to receive less-than-desired treatment. Edmond-Myers spoke about parents in her community who have taken the matter up with school officials.

“Their children have experienced repeated racial bullying, and what was found was there was no real mechanism for redress for racial bullying,” she said. “It was sort of dismissed as, ‘kids will be kids,’ as regular bullying. And that’s just not enough.”

The situation is being rectified, she said, and she is hopeful of significant progress.

“It really means listening to people of color and to Black people, and actually learning from them,” she said, adding that includes recognizing problems they face from a systemic standpoint.

“Just because you haven’t experienced it,” she added, “doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”