Editing M.A. Jackson’s abridged chapters of our Mt. Lebanon Magazine history book, The Way We Were, throughout our centennial year has reminded me of how far Mt. Lebanon has come and how many people have contributed to our progress.
Thankfully, I am not old enough to remember Mt. Lebanon’s 1912 founding, but I have lived here long enough to remember many of the people mentioned in the book as having helped shape a quiet rural town into our thriving suburb now nationally recognized for fine public services, good schools and distinctive architecture.
This month’s excerpt on public safety is my favorite—and not only because I’m a sucker for parades with antique fire apparatus and blaring police sirens. I like the article because it gave me pause to think about the four police chiefs and three fire chiefs I have worked with, all capable, all memorable.
Mt Lebanon residents remember our public safety chiefs for their dedication and professionalism. I remember them for that—and more. Dave Varrelman, the first police chief I worked with, grossed me out describing how as an LAPD detective, he would rub Vicks under his nose to hide the stink of dead bodies at a crime scene. Frank Brown made me dissolve into snorts and giggles at weekly meetings by making funny faces. When I sat next to Tom Ogden, who rarely wore a suit coat, his holstered service weapon magnetized me, making me feel both safe and scared. Ogden also made me feel special, until I realized that was one of his talents—he could make anyone feel that way! I haven’t quite pegged out current Chief Coleman McDonough, who often mutters under his breath and looks like he’s about to laugh but usually doesn’t. His officers respect him and he has a fun, pretty wife, though, so I figure if they like him, so do I.
The first fire chief I worked with was Steve Walther, who died a few years ago. He was a humble man who promoted teamwork and yearned for a better work environment for his department, which then was housed in the municipal building’s basement “dungeon.” Another Steve followed—Steve Darcangelo—a big-picture thinker with a mind so well organized he could dictate a story word-for-word on the spur of the moment, making a reporter’s job easy. Today there’s chief Nick Sohyda, whose daughter and my granddaughter are in the same grade at Howe School. I got to know Nick in 2005, when we were attending separate training courses at the FEMA/National Fire Academy. He was a lot of fun at the pub where we “students” gathered in the evening. Little did I know how seriously Nick would later take his responsibilities as chief and that he would lead our already acclaimed fire department to achieve international accreditation.
I have been lucky to know these chiefs personally. Mt. Lebanon has been lucky that they and the chiefs who preceded them have protected our families and our community so honorably. Because of their leadership, our public safety history is something we can all take great pride in.