a solid foundation

Diane Bucco - President of the Buhl Foundation - in the board room of the Buhl Foundation with portraits of Henery Buhl Jr. and his wife Louise C Buhl.
Diane Bucco – President of the Buhl Foundation – in the board room of the Buhl Foundation with portraits of Henery Buhl Jr. and his wife Louise C Buhl. /Photo: Martha Rial

For Diana Bucco, the experience of a Beechview childhood and a Mt. Lebanon High School education were integral to her growth and later success. But the guidance of her parents, and the remarkable story of their lives, made her who she is.

Bucco, president of Pittsburgh’s historic Buhl Foundation, is the daughter of Italian immigrants: Her parents, Tommaso and Angela Bucco, both emigrated from Abruzzi, though they didn’t meet until they were stateside. Love of Pittsburgh came early for Tommaso: Bucco recalls that her father first settled in Oakland, but a cousin gave him a ride to New Castle, where it had been decided he would live.

“He took one look and told his cousin, ‘Take me back with you!’” Bucco says.

After they married, Tommaso and Angela moved to Methyl Street in Beechview, where they eventually had four children. “Tom” worked as a landscaper and then as a foreman with Mt. Lebanon’s public works department. He passed away in 2015. Angela is a seamstress, who worked for many years at  Ruby’s Cleaners on Mt. Lebanon Boulevard.  She was “the mayor of the Lebanon Shops,” Bucco says with a laugh. The kids played basketball in the streets and in city parks.

Life changed in a big way for the family in 1979, when Tom and Angie bought a house on Salem Drive in Mt. Lebanon. “For my parents, part of the American Dream was buying a house in Mt. Lebanon,” Bucco notes. Going from St. Catherine’s Elementary to Mt. Lebanon High School was daunting, to say the least.

“I felt incredibly different,” Bucco recalls. “The way I talked, the way I acted—it was different from the kids in the suburbs. People thought I was from New York City, because I just had that city thing.”

Then there was basketball. “They laughed when I said I wanted to play center. I was only five foot four.  Mr. Finley, the ninth grade coach, used to call me ‘stump,’” Bucco says. “I was too physical and too aggressive.” But by senior year, 1984, she was the captain of the team.

Culture shock aside, her days at Mt. Lebanon High School were a great revelation, Bucco says. “There was an expectation there that you go on to college and you pursue exciting opportunities. It cut a path for me I might not have found otherwise.”

That path led Bucco to the University of Pittsburgh, where she eventually earned a master’s degree from Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. She headed her first nonprofit, Pennsylvania Campus Compact, at age 26. The group, which helped pioneer the idea of volunteer service as an integral part of the college experience, secured commitments to student service from over 50 college presidents, she says.

From there, Bucco went on to become the founding executive director of the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania, and then the founding director of Coro Pittsburgh, as well as president of the Forbes Funds.

In 2013, Frederick Thieman, then Buhl’s president, invited Bucco to join his staff, to help them “rethink the foundation,” Bucco notes. Buhl had invested millions in its 90-year history, on such landmarks as the Carnegie libraries and museums, the old Buhl Planetarium and the Science Center that followed, and many other organizations. But the board was now considering a dramatic change: narrowing its focus to Pittsburgh’s North Side neighborhood, with a mission to invest generously and over the long term.

“The city has turned for the better, but the North Side hasn’t benefitted much from that,” Bucco says. “I thought this was a great opportunity to really make a difference.”

Bucco took the lead in interviewing residents, organizing a census process with local volunteers, and researching similar work done in other cities. The board approved her recommendations, and the One Northside Consensus plan was adopted, with a commitment to invest $5 million a year for 20 years. (More details are at www.onenorthsidepgh.org.)

Last July, Bucco succeeded Thieman as president of the Buhl Foundation. She will guide the implementation of One Northside, while Thieman will continue to serve in a diplomatic role, as the Henry Buhl, Jr. Chair for Civic Leadership.   

“We believe that the kind of fundamental transformation we want to see in the North Side will take 20 years, and it’s important to recognize that we are committed for the long term,” Bucco says.

It’s been (and continues to be) something of a brilliant career for Bucco, who lives in Ross Township with her husband and three children. But when she looks back to her Beechview days and Mt. Lebanon education, it’s clear she knows what gave her roots—and wings.

“My parents taught us that every accomplishment carries a great deal of weight; you’re not just doing it for yourselves.

“I saw a Mt. Lebanon neighbor recently, and she told me how proud she was of me,” Bucco adds. “I told her, ‘you own a piece of this too.’”