Photos by Sonja Reis
Volunteers James Abramowicz, Sandy Kaczmarek and Marty Caledonia dig holes Sept. 19 in preparation for replanting rose bushes at the intersection of Chartiers Avenue and Furnace Street in McKees Rocks.
Local activists reclaim shrubbery from grounds to beautify town
By Elizabeth Perry
Prior to the demolition of the McKees Rocks McDermott Funeral Home site on Chartiers Avenue, local activists worked together with public officials to mount an effort to salvage some of the site’s landscaping for use in beautifying other parts of the town.
The funeral home building was taken down to make way for a new Dollar General grocery concept, with demolition at 1225 Chartiers Ave. in full swing on Sept. 19 .
“The folks [demolishing] the building have graciously agreed to dig out the remainder of the plants we plan to salvage and replant throughout the Rocks,” said Sandy Saban, member of the McKees Rocks Women’s Alliance and the historical society.
Tim Wilt, owner of McDermott Funeral Home said they decided to sell the business because of decreased traffic at the location. Half of people now choose cremation, with that number increasing every year, which made the space for viewing bodies much less necessary.
“All of the pre-arrangements we’ve had over the years, we’re just fulfilling them out of our Kennedy Township building,” Wilt said.
"Consolidating the business made sense, and the other location is only five minutes away from the McKees Rocks building," said Wilt.
Wilt said he’d likely helped with the burial of nearly every family living in McKees Rocks over the years.
The McDermott funeral business originated in Carnegie in 1886 and moved to McKees Rocks in 1915. The former McKees Rocks home had been on Chartiers Avenue near where Dietz Floral used to be, Wilt said.
Cheryl McDermott, a Stowe Township commissioner whose family by marriage once owned the funeral home, said her daughter Bridgette’s great-grandfather used to wear a “big white hat,” and would transport caskets in a horse-drawn carriage.
During the Great Depression, Bernard and Viola McDermott would help feed people in need, making the funeral parlor an “anchor” of the community at the time, said McDermott.
A new Dollar General concept is going in at the site of the former funeral home and is expected to sell produce, frozen foods and other groceries at the location.
“It's hard to see a business that thrived and made this town, it's hard to see that go down, but it's good for the Rocks. It's something positive coming into the Rocks,” McDermott said.
Dollar General said via email the store was expected to break ground in the coming weeks after finalizing some details. Referring to the Kennedy location, the email also said the company's first Dollar General Store went into the McKees Rocks area in 1992.
McKees Rocks Council 's Nick Radoycis wrestles with a rose bush Sept. 19.
According to a document provided by McKees Rocks Borough, some lighting designs have to be finalized before construction can commence.
McDermott said the contractors for the project allowed her and her daughter to tour the building prior to demolition and they were grateful to have rescued some personal memorabilia.
The transfer of greenery from the McDermott site began on Sept. 15. Council’s Nick Radoycis and Archie Brinza, as well as members of the McKees Rocks Road Crew, were on hand to move the plants from the grounds of the funeral parlor.
On Sept. 19, two employees from MSP General Contracting, the firm demolishing the building, dug out Japanese maple trees with heavy backhoes.
Those trees were relocated to a green space on lower Chartiers Avenue.
“It’s a beautiful old building,” Nick Sheehan, an MSP employee, said.
At the time, a reporter was allowed to go through the structure and tour the empty rooms. Crystal chandeliers still hung from the ceiling and a few items were scattered around including photographs.
The mood was brighter across the street from the Shoppes at Chartiers Crossing, where five of the rose bushes from the grounds were transplanted. A group of about a dozen people came out to help save the flowers, including Radoycis and Mayor David Flick and his wife Mary Sue Noble-Flick.
Saban, who is a member of several groups celebrating the history and beautification of McKees Rocks, put out word via social media requesting help with the project.
Many who came out to help save plantings from the landscaped beds surrounding the funeral home site were known to Saban, even friends, yet some were newcomers.
She was pleased her "Facebook post" request attracted so many volunteers.
One of those newcomers was Danielle Zwikl. The Kennedy Township resident said this was the first event she’d helped with, but wanted to lend a hand.
Diane Knight, a Sheraden resident, also came to help.
“I live in the city, but this is my town, too,” she said.