the art of making friends

photos by george mendel

For nearly four decades Ellie Hohman, left; Julie Underwood, center; and Kathleen Simpson have treasured their mutual interests, including antiquing. Frequent visits and meals together, where they share their experiences, keep them close


What does it mean to be a true friend?  How do you make good friends?  How do you keep them? As we transition from one life stage to another, do our expectations change when
seeking out new friends?

MTL talked with a few residents who have something to say on the subject of friends.  Here’s what they have to share.

Walking helps Beth McKendry Santore and her husband, Pete, stay connected to their neighbors. Inset: After working together as nurses for 10 years, Beth and her good friend Mary Jane share a tight bond.
Walking helps Beth McKendry Santore and her husband, Pete, stay connected to their neighbors. Inset: After working together as nurses for 10 years, Beth and her good friend Mary Jane share a tight bond.

Beth McKendry Santore, McConnell Mill Lane, describes herself as “rich in friends” she can depend on for support and love. Keeping in contact requires effort, but the rewards are great. Beth has lived in Mt. Lebanon most of her life, perhaps making it easier for her to keep in touch with old friends than people who have moved around a lot. Her friend, Ann, who lives in Bridgeville, was her best friend in third grade at Jefferson School. They may only see one another once or twice a year but feel connected because they were fixtures in each other’s homes during their childhoods.

Beth worked as a nurse for 20 years, and still gets together four times a year with her nursing school friends. One of her best friends is Mary Jane, a nurse she worked with for 10 years who was in Beth’s wedding to husband Pete Santore. The women spend a lot of time laughing, Beth says.

Another dear friend is Amy Siersdorfer Leasure, Ruth Street. “When I need help, Amy seems to know what to do and always comes through. [A few years ago,] I was cleaning out my mother’s house to get it ready to sell. Five days a week for six months, Amy worked by my side. I don’t know how I could have done all that work without her,” recalls Beth.

Beth and Pete have an active social life with other couples—co-workers (Pete works at Laughlin Memorial Chapel), Rotarians, neighbors and fellow parishioners at Mt. Lebanon United Methodist Church. They have also developed friendships through Markham  and Jefferson Middle schools through their son, Trevor, now in ninth grade. In addition, the Santores like to walk for exercise. It gets them out in various neighborhoods, where they often see folks they know.


Millard and Julie Underwood, Mohawk Drive, moved to Mt. Lebanon 38 years ago from the Midwest, and raised their now-grown children, Kim and Jeff, here. Though they keep in touch with a few old high school friends, their best friends are nearby.

Soon after moving here, Julie met Kathleen Simpson, Ordale Drive, at a Brownie meeting. They discovered that they were not only neighbors but shared the same birthday, had children the same age, and loved to cook, garden and antique. Their favorite pastime became scouting for antiques for Kathleen to sell at her booth at the Antique Junction on Route 19. Kathleen’s neighbor Ellie Hohman (now of Academy Avenue) joined the hunt. As the three became close, they celebrated each other’s birthdays with special breakfasts usually followed by more antiquing. Over nearly four decades, sharing their experiences, particularly as mothers and grandmothers, has deepened their bond.

Millard and Julie, both now retired, make a point to see friends each week:  Julie treasures phone calls, visits, coffee, lunch and walks with her friends; Millard has a weekly lunch date with a close friend and also plays poker with guys who have lived on his street as long as he has.

The Underwoods take classes through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and share many interests: theater, travel, wine, art, hiking, biking, skiing, canoeing and photography.  Their hobbies have led to enduring friendships with people of all ages, some younger than their own children. “It is such fun to get to know couples who are younger than us,” says Julie.

Friends and Family

Katelynn and Scott Metz, Sleepy Hollow Road, moved to Sunset Hills two years ago from Washington D.C.

“We picked Mt. Lebanon because it’s family friendly,” says Katelynn. They enrolled Grace in kindergarten at Howe (they have since bought a home on Seminole in the Markham area) with others who had kids the same age. The families enjoy lunches at kid-friendly restaurants, play dates at someone’s home and visits to playgrounds and parks.

“Socializing without our kids is a little awkward,” says Katelynn, who works evenings for WPXI-11, does freelance photography for mtl and views spare time as family time.

Making new friends is nothing new for the Metz family. Earlier in their marriage, they were transferred to Minnesota. “I was going crazy with babies at home, facing that long winter,” Katelynn recalls. “I knew I had to get out and meet other young mothers.” So a co-worker told her about a group at her church for new moms. The programming included aerobics, Bible study fellowship as a large group and then split into small groups, all with free child care.

“We became really close because we shared the major stuff we were going through…like the death of a parent, a cancer diagnosis and divorce.”

Now 35, Katelynn feels that “this is when friendships get real.” She says she is comfortable in her own skin; her priorities have changed, and she is pickier about the qualities she values in a real friend.


Jean O’Connor and her husband, Kevin, moved to Cherokee Drive from Hudson, Ohio, near Cleveland, in August 2012. Previously they lived in Cincinnati. Jean—mother to Mary, a MLHS junior, and Patrick, an eighth grader at Jefferson—says the family has made friends everywhere they’ve lived. “People in Mt. Lebanon have been very friendly,” she says. “We’ve found the schools welcoming. The transition for us has been easier than we expected.”

The O’Connors have returned to Hudson several times so that Mary and Patrick could visit friends.

When they moved here last year, the O’Connors’ real estate agent advised Jean to join Mt. Lebanon Newcomers. She also joined a knitting group at the Mt. Lebanon Public Library.

Jean appreciates Newcomers’ casual “come if you can” philosophy and has met “transplants” of various ages in the club. She was surprised to find that Mt. Lebanon draws new residents ranging from young people to middle-aged couples to retirees. “It validates our decision to choose this community,” Jean says.

Single Guy—Sorta
After moving to Mt. Lebanon from Virginia, J.W. Stehle, pictured with girlfriend Andrea Bosco, stopped in the public information office and asked what opportunities existed for him to get involved in the community.
After moving to Mt. Lebanon from Virginia, J.W. Stehle, pictured with girlfriend Andrea Bosco, stopped in the public information office and asked what opportunities existed for him to get involved in the community.


J.W. Stehle is one of those avid runners we see on Washington Road regardless of the weather. He is a regular at Martha’s Run 10K, winning the race in 2001 and 2002. Martha’s Run is one of the things that enticed J.W., who grew up in Eighty Four, Pennsylvania, to move to Mt. Lebanon, where he rented a home on Parkside Avenue.

Though having relatives in the area influenced J.W.’s decision to move back to Pittsburgh from Charlottesville, Virginia, where he was a sport anchor for the CBS affiliate, it was Mt. Lebanon’s sense of community that reeled him in. J.W. likes the way Mt. Lebanonites support events like Martha’s Run and Relay for Life. Soon after moving here about three years ago, he stopped in at the public information office and asked what he could do to get involved with the community and meet some people. When PIO Susan Morgans learned he preferred working behind the camera to being in front of it, she asked him to join the Veterans Memorial Committee to make a professional fund-raising video.

“It was not only rewarding doing a video for the project, but I met some great people. I wanted to do more. So I signed on for the Brew Fests,” says J.W. Today, he is director of business development at On Motion Media, a video production company in the Strip District and works part-time for Pitt as a camera operator for sporting events and freelances for mtl. Though he arrived here single, it didn’t take long for him to meet his now longtime girlfriend, Andrea Bosco, the senior editor of Whirl Magazine. Their first date was at The Saloon.They recently bought a house together on Carnegie Drive.

Though their work lives are hectic, both Andrea and J.W. keep up with friends near and far through Facebook, texting and phone calls. Says J.W., “It’s important to stay in touch with friends who have made a difference in my life.”

Good Sports

When Renee Palmieri Very was in her 20s, she joined the Pittsburgh Ski Club and made friends who liked to ski and socialize. Acquaintances grew into lasting friendships.

It was through the ski club that Renee, a lifelong Mt. Lebanon resident, met her husband, Tom, who grew up in Castle Shannon. Several other members of the club “coupled up,” and besides skiing, the group would meet in the warmer months to hike, bike, kayak and play tennis. “We still get together to watch Steelers games and go to dinner,” says Renee.

Renee and Tom, now parents of Katrina, 26, Adriana, 24, and James, 20, participate actively in the community. Rene has been active with PTA. Tom has enjoyed coaching baseball.
Among Renee’s close friends are her high school classmates turned book club buddies Jacinta Synnott, Layton Avenue, and Pam Virgi, Longridge Drive. Renee also has three close friends from her first nursing job at Mercy Hospital—dating back to the days before cellphones and emails, she points out.

Renee attributes the value she places on friendships to her late mother, who was the only member of her family to come to America. Here in the states, her mother forged incredibly close relationships that lasted a lifetime. “She was an exceptional role model,” says Renee.

Renee and Tom still enjoy downhill skiing and other sports, as do many of their friends. Though some people find it hard to become empty nesters, the Verys found a plus side when their youngest, James, went away to college: they can meet up with friends more frequently.

A Fresh Start

Megan Feeney King grew up in Mt. Lebanon in the Hoover Elementary neighborhood. She and her now ex-husband moved back here from Baltimore 15 years ago. Their children Will and Katie, both now in high school, were attending St. Bernard School when their parents got divorced.

“At the time, getting divorced as a Catholic was unusual. It was a frightening time for us,” recalls Megan. Making matters worse, there was a noticeable shift among their friends when she and her husband split up.  However, “the really true friends never left,” she says, pointing to Holly Rudoy, Mayfair Drive, as one of them.

After the divorce, Megan went to nursing school at CCAC. “I have an amazing set of neighbors,” she says. “When I was gone all day at nursing school, the neighbors stepped in like they were my family to see my kids off to school and tuck them in bed.” She says she never could have graduated and accomplished what she’s done without her “Mt. Lebanon family.”

Today, in addition to her job at The Center for Compassionate Care at Canterbury Place in Lawrenceville, Meghan stays involved in her kids’ schools, in Mt. Lebanon Junior Women’s Club, and volunteers at St. Bernard’s Lenten Fish Fry.

She is friends with many people she met through her children. “You gravitate towards people who are in the same boat,” Megan says. “And when kids are young, you socialize with the parents of their little friends.”

Recently, Megan has made friends through sports and exercise, an environment she says is conducive to meeting other active women. She got back into tennis, took lessons and joined a league. Before heading for work, she kick-starts her day with a women’s fitness class taught by friend and neighbor Tami Russell, Inglewood Drive, who owns Training by Tami on Cochran Road. Megan and Tami understand each other’s priorities and time constraints, but are creative about making time for each other.

Generations of Friends

Dimperio-3Joe and Zee Dimperio have lived in Mt. Lebanon more than 50 years. Two of their three daughters, Natalie King and Emily Gustave live here, (Daughter Stephanie lives in Florida.) They share the pleasure of watching their grandchildren grow up in the town where they raised their family. A lawyer, Joe is the retired superintendent of West Mifflin Schools and a former interim Superintendent at Peters Township. He just finished two terms on Mt. Lebanon’s Historic Preservation Board. Over the years, the Dimperios made many friends through work, volunteer work, in their neighborhood and through their children, but times have changed.  “Most of our friends have downsized. And some have moved on to warmer climates…” says Joe, “so at this point, Zee and I cherish each friendship.” Joe and Zee especially value their relationships with other empty nesters who might enjoy an evening dining out or playing cards—one of their favorite pursuits. When they moved to this community, “everyone who was anyone played cards,” says Joe. “Today you don’t find too many folks that are bridge players.”

If it’s true that everything old is new again, perhaps the Dimperios will be lucky to find that bridge is the next big craze!  If not, good friends will never go out of style.

What are the qualities of a true friend?  Marla Paul, author of The Friendship Crisis:  Finding, Making, and Keeping Friends When You’re Not a Kid Anymore (Rodale), defines a friend in an online interview in Parents Magazine, as  “somebody who is really present, who really pays attention. Somebody who is a good listener, who doesn’t try to give advice. Someone who’s willing to be supportive and not tell you what to do and or how you should feel. I think that’s extremely valuable. ”

That’s advice to live by. So…be good to yourself and call up an old friend.

Want to Meet People? Get Out and Get Busy.