The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Eric Heyl column
Feb 15, 2013 (The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Nearly 60 years ago, John Minadeo sacrificed his life on a Hazelwood street corner to save children in the path of a runaway car.
On what would have been his 74th birthday Thursday, a Pittsburgh elementary school and one in his Italian hometown joined forces to mark the heroic deed. Communicating from their respective auditoriums via Skype, students at Pittsburgh Minadeo in Squirrel Hill and Scuola Elemntare Giovanni Minadeo in Montagano, Italy, also exchanged information about their schools and cultures.
The schools began corresponding in November, after kids in Montagano expressed curiosity over their school's name. No such inquisitiveness exists at Pittsburgh Minadeo, as a plaque honoring the school's namesake has hung for years near the main entrance.
Pittsburgh Minadeo principal Melissa Wagner said that having the two schools connect provided a unique opportunity to reflect on a "responsible and brave leader" who lost his life amid "chaos, danger and a split-second decision." Minadeo and his family had been in America for just four years when he died in October 1954 while manning his Gladstone Junior High School safety patrol post at the busy intersection of Hazelwood and Second avenues.
A car traveling down steep Hazelwood lost its brakes and headed straight for a group of children at the bottom of the hill. Minadeo pushed several students to safety, but the vehicle struck and killed him and classmate Ella Cornelious.
The students in Montagano, a small town of about 1,200 in the Province of Campobasso in southern Italy, paid tribute to Minadeo via a seven-minute video that recounted his heroism via drawings and song. Pittsburgh Minadeo students performed a song for their Italian counterparts before engaging in a question-and-answer session focused mostly on the differences between the two schools.
The event drew about 50 students, Minadeo's niece, school superintendent Linda Lane, school board member Theresa Colaizzi (who is fluent in Italian and served as a translator), and Sue Evans of Leonardtown, Md. She survived the accident that claimed Minadeo and Cornelious.
"There's very little I can tell you about what happened," she told students of both schools. "One minute I was walking down the hill, the next thing I knew I was in a hospital. Most of what I learned about the accident, I learned from the newspaper, my mother and my father."
She might not be able to recall the accident, but she remembers Minadeo's compassionate, generous spirit.
"John was so proud to be a safety patrol, he even performed patrol duties as he worked at the fruit market (near the accident site)," she said. "If he saw a kid waiting to cross, he would walk out of the shop and help. Sometimes, he would treat us to a plum or some grapes."
Minadeo's last act saved students by pushing them out of harm's way.
On Thursday, that deed's impact pulled together students from two different continents who have little in common save for buildings that bear his name.
He couldn't have received a better birthday present. Six decades after his sacrifice, his legacy endures.
Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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