ou know that old one about “Find something you love to do and you’ll never work a day in your life?” Ever meet anyone like that? Recreation Center Manager Bob Hlebinsky comes pretty close.
“This was my dream job since college,” he said. This month, Hlebinsky puts the cap on 43 years of working in and managing a building that he wanted to run since before it was even built.
While still a recreation management student at Penn State, Hlebinsky took a tour of the under-construction ice center and thought it would be a pretty great place to work. He started working part-time at the rink after graduation in 1977, pulling in $3.50 an hour. He was hired full-time in January 1978 and, with the exception of a six-month stint running an indoor soccer facility in the North Hills in the early ’80s, has been here ever since.
“Over the years I have heard people use the expression, ‘____ has been here so long that I think they came with the building,’” said Municipal Manager Keith McGill. “In this case it’s true! While I am confident that we will find someone to fill the position, I know that we won’t ever find someone to replace Bob.”
Hlebinsky started playing hockey relatively late, after a high school career in football and track. He began skating in his senior year of high school, while rehabbing a foot injury. The rehab didn’t go according to plan (“I didn’t know the boot locks your foot in,” he said with a smile), but he fell in love with the sport and played club hockey at Penn State.
The biggest perk of the job was meeting a skating instructor named Susan Mathay, whom he married in 1982. The couple has two children, Rob and Ashley. Part of Hlebinsky’s retirement plan is to spend more time with Rob in Michigan and Ashley in Arizona. He also has a long list of house projects he’d like to get done, hasn’t skied in several years, and may eventually pick up some part-time work to keep his hand in.
“I’ve been doing this for so long, I have to adjust to having free time.”
Hlebinsky said the decision to retire was a tough one. “It was a bittersweet moment,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed living and working here. I’ve had opportunities to leave, but I didn’t see any point in going anywhere else.”
He will miss the job and the people. He won’t miss the middle-of-the-night calls when the fire alarm goes off, or the 6 a.m. calls when someone is sick and can’t make it in to work. He will not miss his phone vibrating while he’s in line for communion.
Not that those things happened often, but they happened often enough that “my blood would run cold when the phone rang.”
“Rarely does someone like Bob Hlebinsky come along,” said Recreation Director David Donnellan. “He is hard-working, dependable and a wealth of knowledge. He is also just a genuinely good person. You can always rely on him to help you out, no matter the issue. ‘That’s not my job’ is not in his vocabulary.”
In Mt. Lebanon Treasury Manager Mary Abbott’s 43-year career, her tools have gone from pen and paper to computer and printer, but one thing remained more or less the same: She credits Mt. Lebanon with always offering a work environment that allowed her to develop professionally as much as she wanted. “Mt. Lebanon has been so supportive,” she said. “I always felt encouraged to push myself.”
Abbott came to Mt. Lebanon as an account clerk in October of 1977 after working five years at Standard Savings and Loan in Wilkinsburg. In the pre-computer days, tax collecting was more labor-intensive. “Everything had to be done by hand,” she said. “It was tedious work. We’d send everything to Jordan (Tax Services) and it would be three months before we had a record of who paid and who was delinquent.”
When John Ferguson was elected tax collector in 1984, his full-time job with Highmark meant that the tax office needed someone to manage the day-to-day workings of the office, and Abbott moved into the position.
Her professional development has put her expertise to use not just in Mt. Lebanon, but on regional and state levels. She has testified before the House Finance Committee in Harrisburg, has chaired the Allegheny County Southwest Tax Collection Committee since its founding in 2010, served a term as president of the Pennsylvania Earned Income Tax Collectors Association, from 2007 to 2011, and has served as secretary/treasurer for the Allegheny County Southwest Tax Collection District for 25 years, a role she hopes to continue for a while.
“What an asset the region is losing!” said Finance Director Andrew McCreery. “Her length of tenure has not inhibited her growth. Mary is always looking to improve the tax paying process. But it’s not just her professionalism I will miss. I genuinely enjoy Mary as a person. There aren’t many places where people who are paying taxes come in angry and leave with a smile.”
Abbott values most—not all, but most—of her interaction with the public.
“You get kind of used to the complainers, which makes it so much nicer when we get positive comments.”
Abbott plans to travel and spend time with family across the country, “although maybe not right away,” she said with a smile. “Do some volunteer work, and just relax and enjoy life.”
Municipal Manager Keith McGill hopes she doesn’t go too far. “I am reserving the right to reach out to her for when we inevitably hear someone utter the phrase ‘I don’t know, Mary always handled that,’” he said.
“While Mary’s role has changed over the years, her service and dedication to the residents of Mt. Lebanon never did. She was always available to answer a question or assist a resident facing a challenge.”
Any advice for her successor? “Be patient. Don’t be afraid to express your ideas. I’m pretty set in my ways, but I’m sure there are a lot of things that can be improved.”
Most important? “Appreciate the people you work with. It’s the people who work here who have made 43 years seem like no time at all.”