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A Newsmaker You Should Know: Historical Society Chief Links Past to Present

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Marilyn Albitz barely passed high school history — a close call she attributes to a teacher who she said wanted her students only to memorize dates.

“I was an A student, but [historical] dates always turned me off. Rather, I’ve always liked to hear stories about the people, what they did, where they came from,” Ms. Albitz recalled.


AGE: “I’m a senior citizen, that’s all I’ll admit.”

OCCUPATION: Community volunteer

EDUCATION: Dormont High School

FAMILY: Husband, Robert; three children; seven grandchildren

WHAT’S IMPORTANT TO YOU? “My family and my borough’s history.”

PEOPLE WOULD BE SURPRISED TO KNOW: “I was once very shy. Now all I do is talk.”

FIRST JOB: Office supervisor at Prudential Insurance

HOBBIES: Reading and traveling

READING MATERIAL ON YOUR NIGHTSTAND: Romance novels and trivia books

WHAT’S PLAYING ON YOUR TV: “The Mentalist,” “The Good Wife,” “NCIS: Los Angeles,” “Jeopardy!”

GUILTY PLEASURE: Chocolate candy

FAVORITE SPOT IN THE WORLD: Green Tree. “There’s no place like here.”

MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT: “I’m sure there have been plenty, but I can’t think of any to share now.”

PROUDEST MOMENT SO FAR: “I’m proud of my family. And I was very proud being invited to Harrisburg.”

Now, as Green Tree Historical Society president, she is learning history the way she likes it: stories of the people who have lived in her community and the surrounding area.

“People influence other people. Our history is like a puzzle, and with each story, you get another piece,” she said.

Ms. Albitz credits former Green Tree librarian Roberta Antin as her greatest influence.

“She took me under her wing,” Ms. Albitz said. “She was our historian before we had the historical society. She collected stories, photos, newspapers, everything she could.”

Ms. Albitz started Green Tree’s historical society 25 years ago and has since helped other local communities start theirs, including Brentwood, Carnegie, Crafton, Dormont, Ingram, Mt. Lebanon and Reserve.

“I’d just take a folder of information and go talk to people about what we do and how we did it,” she said.

She wanted to help other communities start their historical societies for the same reason she wanted to start Green Tree’s.

“It’s important for you to know what your community is and was and where it’s going,” she said. “It’s important to collect more than Green Tree’s history because all these communities were once connected.”

State Rep. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, hosted Ms. Albitz in Harrisburg last month to recognize her efforts in organizing Green Tree’s 125th anniversary celebration.

“[Ms. Albitz] herself is a community treasure. She is truly the kind of person that makes Green Tree and surrounding communities so special,” he said.

Mr. Smith was a history major at Rollins College and said there was “a huge advantage to preserving each community’s heritage. [Ms. Albitz] does a great job preserving that history.”

But talking to groups interested in forming their own historical society wasn’t easy for Ms. Albitz decades ago.

“I was so shy,” she said. “I took a public speaking class at the community college to help me get past that.”

During the class, she learned a lesson that she still relies on today.

“Just be yourself. You know more about what you’re talking about than the people you’re telling it to,” she said.

A lot of people have benefited from the information Ms. Albitz has shared and she’s been “very valuable to the community,” according to Dave Montz, Green Tree manager.

“People have been able to trace their roots, and she’s worked with children, too. They’ve learned where they live wasn’t always a traffic-congested, busy town. It was actually once farmland,” he said.

Ms. Albitz said she was a natural organizer growing up in Dormont with three brothers and one sister.

Later, she worked as an office supervisor for 13 years at Prudential Financial Inc. in Kennedy before starting a family. She has three children — David, Linda and Jeffrey — and seven grandchildren, ranging in age from 2 to 22.

As a mother, she served as a leader in the school’s Parent Faculty Organization.

In addition to her leadership in Green Tree’s historical society, she is president of the borough’s seniors’ club and belongs to its women’s club.

“People tell me I do too much and that I should learn to say ‘no.’ But you can’t say ‘no’ to stuff that interests you,” she said.

Reading is another of Ms. Albitz’s interests.

“I love romance novels. So many of them take place in different countries, and I love those settings. I skim over most of the romance. At my age, who cares?” she asked with a laugh.

Ms. Albitz does not disclose her age but did offer that she was married in 1953 to her husband, Robert, at St. Bernard Church in Mt. Lebanon.

“Compromise is the key,” she said of her nearly 60-year marriage. She also joked that it might help that she’s rarely home because of her work with social groups and traveling with the seniors’ club.

“I’m not home much, but I love to bake when I am,” she said.

Her favorite recipe is for her mother’s pumpkin pie, and she also likes to bake cookies.

“Grandma always has a can of cookies in her freezer,” she said.

She would spend more time baking if she had the time, she said, but there’s still too much to be done at the historical society.

“I’ve got to find someone to take this over after I’m gone,” she said. “I thought I’d retire this year, but I can’t. I’m still learning too many new stories.”

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633