$500K gift enshrines legacy of ‘Coach Fred’ at train station project


Photo by Jamie Wiggan

Donor Fred Milanovich Jr. during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Coraopolis Train Station project April 23.

-CORAOPOLIS-


By Jamie Wiggan


After many years away, Fred Milanovich Jr. was recently lured back to his hometown through a “convergence of events” that began in his words with a “moment of insanity.”


That moment occurred in 2006 and did not involve Milanovich – who after leaving the area to join the Air Force in the late 1960s now splits his time between Colorado and Arizona. Instead, it involved former Mayor Shawn Reed, who, along with his wife, purchased the dilapidated Coraopolis Train Station with hopes of restoring its former splendor.


Sixteen years later, Milanovich presented a $500,000 check, which Reed and other project leaders say has finally brought an end in sight to their many years of labor.


“His pledge of support became a catalyst for a lot of other organizations and individuals who have also leaned in to make today possible,” Reed said during an April 23 press conference held at the station.


Milanovich said he first heard about the project shortly after selling his $162 million California-based biomedical science corporation in 2011, and recalled seeing at that time nothing more than a basic website with a few pictures.


The retired scientist who has channeled millions of dollars into various causes was on the lookout for ways to give back to his hometown, and specifically to honor his late father’s legacy. He was unconvinced at first by the station project but felt a certain pull seeing as his lifelong love of trains began there during his boyhood when the Coraopolis Station served as the gateway into Pittsburgh and beyond.


“I was thinking about my Dad, and doing something for him because as you heard here, his whole life was about other people,” Milanovich recalled.

Fred Milanovich Sr. was a longtime coach and teacher who worked at the former Cornell High School from 1945-1960 and later taught in several other area districts before ending his career as a state representative.


Speaking in his honor during the April press conference, retired educator Edward Elder said he became a teacher under Milanovich’s mentorship and attributes his achievements to his former role model.


“I was as successful as I have been because of him,” said Elder, who ended his teaching career as a superintendent.


When Milanovich stumbled upon the station project website after a lapse of several years, he found the assortment of pictures replaced by a coherent vision for a multi-use community space, business incubator and event center.


He flew over to visit the site with his wife in 2019 and returned home ready to invest.


“We walked around the town, and thought, ‘Wow, this could happen,’” Milanovich said. “This is the place to put Dad.”


In return for the gift, building owner the Coraopolis Community Development Corporation has agreed to name the site the Coach Fred Milanovich Center for Community Connection.


“This will be a community gathering place,” said Reed, CCDC vice president. “It will be a place of education, socialization and transformation.”


The Milanovich donation will be pooled with a recent $375,000 federal grant secured through U.S Rep. Connor Lamb’s office to complete most of the remaining exterior work.


Project manager Ken Faux said contractors will be arriving in a matter of weeks to lay out a large concrete patio around the station and into an adjoining lot. By fall, he said, the space could be ready to hire out for weddings and other outdoor events while interior work continues.


Previous grants have already funded a new roof, restoration of the crumbling platform canopies and a thorough gutting of the building’s rotted interior. Faux said CCDC currently has several funding requests outstanding which it hopes will be enough to see the project through.


“There’s a chance that this time next year, not only will work be complete on the exterior but on the inside, too,” he said.


“I think it’s going to be phenomenal.”


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