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Two strong regional
leaders died on same day

Letter No. 105 | May 4, 1999

Jon,

I thought it would be worthwhile to introduce viewers to two men who played major roles in our native area. It was certainly a coincidence that their passing occurred on the same date, April 21, 1999. These two prominent figures were active in the political, business, and industrial development of Cambria County and Johnstown.

The first of these two men was Mr. Joseph P. Roberts, Sr., who died at the Altoona Hospital at the age of 85. He was a native of Cresson who became Cambria County Commisioner in 1960 and served in that role until 1992. Prior to that, Mr. Roberts served as chief county detective, 1948 (as a youngster I remember my father, Michael Charney, being a Cambria County detective in the early '40s); chief deputy sheriff, 1952, and county treasurer, 1956. Mr. Roberts was instrumental in implementing many county services to introduce new industry, assist patients with mental health problems, provide elderly care, and promote senior citizens' programs. He was also a member of numerous community and religious organizations.

The second gentleman was Mr. Frank J. Pasquerilla, a Johnstown native, whose fabled life reads like that of Horatio Alger. Mr. Pasquerilla, Chairman and CEO of Crown America, passed away at the age of 72 at the Johnstown Memorial Medical Center. He began working for the Pennsylvania Department of Highways at Holidaysburg, 1946-50. He joined Crown Construction in 1951, the same year the company was founded. In 1953, he became President, and purchased the Company in 1961. In 1963, Crown built its first enclosed shopping mall in Altoona. At the same time, the Company got into the hotel business by purchasing a hotel in Indiana, Pa. Looking for further diversification, Crown American in 1979 purchased the Hess Department Store chain of Allentown. In 1989 Crown American built a landmark headquarters in Johnstown, whose architecture duplicated a Roman Temple.

At last count, Crown American's holdings include 31 shopping malls (Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, New Jersey, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia). Besides, Crown owns 26 hotel properties and 73 department stores called May Department Stores or Bon -Tons (the successors to Hess Stores).

The philantrophic contributions of the Pasquerilla family should also be noticed: Three buildings at Notre Dame University bear the family name; a facility at the Georgetown University Medical Center; a Performing Arts Center at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown; the Pasquerilla Library at St. Francis College, Loretta, and a spiritual center at Penn State University. The family was also involved with plans to build a new Cambria County War Memorial Conference and Convention Center.

One recipient of Mr. Pasquerilla's generosity stated, "He's very interested in giving to Roman Catholic causes, but is also interested in giving of the interfaith nature [such projects as the Penn State chapel]." Both Mr. Pasquerilla and Mr. Roberts were awarded honorary degrees from colleges, were trustees, and headed committees for businesses and organizations.

From humble beginnings, both men certainly are to be lauded for their vision, strong religious convictions, and outstanding lifetime accomplishments. What's remarkable is that they didn't relocate elsewhere to achieve success.

Frank Charney

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