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Newspaper is a symbol of owner’s commitment to community, philanthropy

By Marisol Bello
Sunday, December 1, 2002

The River City Brass Band’s 25 brass players and three percussionists jam throughout western Pennsylvania, introducing listeners to their lively repertoire of classical music, popular tunes and marches.

In the Mon Valley during the last 12 years, the Government Agency Coordination Office, an assistance program sponsored by California University of Pennsylvania, has helped small manufacturers to win more than 9,000 government contracts worth more than $445 million and to save or create almost 15,000 jobs in the region.

And in Pittsburgh’s Hazelwood section, the Rev. Marie Jones rebuilt her 15-member Baptist church 10 blocks from her home after vandals burned down the wooden clapboard church she led in Westmoreland County.

Three disparate groups in different parts of the Pittsburgh area. But one tie bonds them together: They’ve all benefited from the Scaife family tradition of community involvement.

“I’ve never seen them, I’ve never met them,” said Jones, who at 75 still preaches from her new church every Sunday. “But they’ve been so kind and merciful.”

The Scaife family tradition of philanthropy has been forged not only through charitable foundations that donate millions of dollars to local causes, but also through one of the region’s fastest growing newspapers lucky alternative to its older, staid competitor.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s meteoric growth from a 1,000-circulation daily newspaper into an award-winning daily with more than 400 employees, four bureaus and three editions, is a testament to the commitment of its owner and publisher, Richard M. Scaife.

Ten years ago, in the wake of a bitter strike that led to the demise of one of the city’s two daily newspapers, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review was born.

Scaife, descendant of a family that helped establish Pittsburgh’s manufacturing legacy, wanted to establish a new legacy as publisher and founder of the region’s No. 1 newspaper. He is adamant that a community with only one newspaper is impoverished.

His impact on southwestern Pennsylvania, however, spreads beyond the newspaper’s circulation.

The charitable efforts of Scaife and his family reach into the most unexpected places, building on a foundation laid in the first half of the last century by his father and mother.

The impact over the last six decades is almost incalculable. While the Scaife contributions for public policy initiatives are well-publicized, the family has donated millions upon millions to little-known causes throughout the Greater Pittsburgh area.

Over the last four years alone, Scaife, through three family foundations, has contributed more than $11 million to more than 50 organizations and efforts throughout western Pennsylvania.

The foundations the Allegheny Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation and the Carthage Foundation have helped groups that participate in everything from sponsoring summer programs at the Boys & Girls Clubs to renovating the historic public libraries in Homestead and Braddock.

The newspaper also has its own foundation. In the last two years, Trib Charities has donated almost $55,000 to six local organizations, including Ronald McDonald House Charities and the Pittsburgh Firefighters Association.

From his 39th-floor office overlooking Downtown’s main attractions the Point, Station Square, Mt. Washington and PNC Park Scaife said his efforts are rooted in a desire for good government for a region with so much to offer.

“It is good government to have a city not about to go bankrupt,” Scaife said. “I want to create an environment where jobs are being created and people are moving into, and not out of, the area.

“Ideas have meaning,” he continued. “I’m trying to give people a choice with ideas and what’s best for this country.”

A tradition that spans six generations

The Scaife family has been an integral player in Pittsburgh history, going back to six generations of Scaifes when Jeffrey Scaife, Richard Scaife’s great-great-great grandfather, opened a tin, copper and sheet metal factory in 1802. The factory became the oldest manufacturing company west of the Alleghenies.

Over the years, the company added steamboat work and other metalwork products as it passed down the line to Richard Scaife’s great-great grandfather, great-grandfather, grandfather and eventually his father, Alan M. Scaife.

Alan Scaife, and his wife, Sarah, strengthened the family’s extensive community involvement. Alan Scaife served on the University of Pittsburgh’s board of trustees and on Magee Hospital’s executive committee.

Sarah Scaife, meanwhile, founded the Sarah Scaife Foundation in 1941 to assist traditional charitable efforts, such as the Children’s Zoo, the Pittsburgh Zoo and tree-planting initiatives throughout the city’s 88 neighborhoods.

The family’s philanthropic bent often placed it in the center of history.

It was the Sarah Scaife Foundation that provided the original risk capital that allowed Dr. Jonas Salk to build his laboratory and conduct his research into a polio vaccine at the University of Pittsburgh. The foundation gave the doctor two grants, totaling $35,000, in the late 1940s and early 1950s that led to the discovery that eradicated polio.

In 1958, Richard Scaife took over the family’s philanthropic reins.

He became chair of the Sarah Scaife Foundation, shifting its focus to public policy organizations and initiatives. He created the Allegheny Foundation, which became the vehicle to do most of the community work that the Sarah Scaife Foundation no longer funded.

During Scaife’s early work with the foundations, the seeds of a partnership that would eventually transform part of the city were planted between him and the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. History & Landmarks’ efforts in urban renewal and preservation complemented Scaife’s commitment to conservation and his love of history.

In the 1960s, History & Landmarks began work on mass urban-renewal programs throughout the city. Swaths of Manchester, the Mexican War Streets and the South Side were rehabilitated.

Scaife’s foundations provided the start-up money for renovations, demolitions and low-interest loans to low-income residents who wanted to buy or repair their homes.

Arthur Ziegler, executive director of History & Landmarks, said it was the first urban-renewal program that did not displace residents. The money provided by the Scaife foundations was integral to their efforts, Ziegler said.

“The grants continued to help us enlarge and expand the projects,” he said. “They provided the first funding for inner-city urban restoration work.”

The successful pairing led to the next big project: recreating Station Square.

In the mid-70s, the Scaife foundations, along with History & Landmarks, became interested in a project to reuse an existing rail station. Station Square was the ideal candidate.

Scaife donated more than $11 million in start-up money to History & Landmarks to develop the project. Today, Station Square is a booming economic generator for the city of Pittsburgh. It is one of the projects Scaife is most proud of.

“Not a dime of federal and state money went into that project,” Scaife said. “And unlike other projects, Station Square pays taxes to the city.”

Since then, the foundations have also provided funding to restore the once-grand libraries in Homestead and Braddock.

The reach of Scaife’s civic involvement extends to the arts and nature as well. Groups funded by the foundations represent Scaife’s interests, including education, the arts, culture and historical preservation.

Continuing a tradition begun by his mother, Scaife donated works of art to the Carnegie Museum. In 1974, he donated a new wing to the Carnegie and filled it with his mother’s art collection.

The Trib celebrates 10 years

In 1970, when the owners of the almost 100-year old Greensburg Tribune-Review wanted to sell the newspaper, Scaife bought it for about $5 million and became its publisher.

Twenty-two years later, a vicious strike hit Pittsburgh’s two competing newspapers, leading to the demise of the afternoon paper, The Pittsburgh Press.

Scaife thought a community with only one newspaper was impoverished, so he turned to the company’s president, Ed Harrell and said, “Start a newspaper in Pittsburgh.”

“I’m a newspaper junkie,” Scaife said. “I think the people of this region need a choice. Compare it to being in a supermarket. How would you like having one choice of ice cream or one choice of soda? Pittsburgh is fortunate to have the choice of more than one newspaper. Most cities don’t offer that choice.”

Scaife’s love of newspapers goes back to when he was 9 years old and recuperating from injuries he suffered after falling off his horse. “I had a lot of time on my hands,” he said.

So he read a lot. He read every newspaper he could get his hands on from all over the country and around the world, comparing the style and content of each one. “It was a hobby. I even named my horse News Girl.”

His passion for newspapers reached its height on Dec. 17, 1992, when the first edition of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review hit the newsstands and began its decadelong challenge to be the region’s dominant newspaper.

It started with a circulation in the city of just over 1,000 copies.

The mostly young staff of about 15 worked out of a converted three-story warehouse in Station Square. At first, they shared the first floor with other businesses, but eventually the paper took over the entire building.

“It was a pioneering adventure,” said Eric Heyl, who began working for the paper a month after it started operating. Today, he is the paper’s nationally recognized, award-winning humor columnist.

“We were doing something that had really not been done before in modern journalism,” he said. “There was no book to fall back on and that was part of the charm.”

The editorial staff consisted of seven reporters and one city editor. There was no copy desk and reporters had no access to wire services and most of the modern amenities journalists take for granted. But the group had heart.

“We practiced guerrilla journalism. The point was to hit them where they aren’t and get the stories they weren’t writing or were too lazy to get,” Heyl said of the competition.

“I could not have envisioned an operation like this,” Heyl said in the expansive North Shore office the Trib calls home today. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I don’t think can be duplicated today in American journalism where newspapers are shutting down, not starting up. ”

Jim Kubus was the paper’s only full-time photographer at the time. He remembers how he and a string of freelancers processed film in a broom closet in the men’s room. Whenever a female photographer worked in there, she hung a homemade sign on the door alerting anyone who wanted to use the restroom, “Woman in darkroom.”

Slowly, the paper grew. Attractive subscription deals for new readers, targeted marketing in the city and suburbs, and aggressive reporting began to cement the paper’s position in the region.

In 1997, the Trib went high-tech with a 13-acre $43 million press facility called NewsWorks in Marshall Township. The new plant was essential to the paper’s growth. The new presses allowed the paper to print color on virtually every page.

Two years later, the Pittsburgh Trib moved to its new newsroom and business offices, the sprawling third-floor office at the old Clark Candy Co. factory on the North Side. It was quite a change from the fledgling operation that bustled in Station Square.

“We went from this penny-in-the-fuse-box situation, where it was like, ‘Let’s do this to get by,’ ” Kubus said. “We went from that to cutting-edge technology. Our paper was the first in the region to be all digital in photography.”

Over the last decade, the Trib built a tradition of journalistic excellence, as more of its writers and editors won local, state and national honors for hard-hitting news stories.

Special investigative reports, such as Pittsburgh’s financial crisis, the area’s unguarded nuclear and chemical plants and the state’s financially troubled lottery, have added to the newspaper’s goal of presenting readers with local, timely, in-depth issues.

Last year’s report on “blood money” investments in questionable foreign companies persuaded the state to re-examine its pension funds. And state lawmakers opened their office expenses to public scrutiny after the Pittsburgh Trib revealed no accounting existed for $1.5 million in state tax money spent by western Pennsylvania House members.

“The biggest challenge faced by the Tribune-Review is habit, but we’re succeeding in home sales, and new people moving into the community are buying the Tribune-Review,” Scaife said. “Ultimately, we want to control this market. We want to be the No. 1 source of news in Pittsburgh.”

Scaife philanthropy today

Today, the Sarah Scaife Foundation is worth about $300 million, the Allegheny Foundation about $40 million, and a third foundation, the Carthage, which funds only public-policy groups, about $25 million. The range of organizations they’ve touched is wide indeed.

Take the North Side’s River City Brass Band, which for 12 years has been a beneficiary of the Allegheny Foundation. Over the last four years alone, the group has received $200,000.

Marilyn Thomas, executive director, said the grants are integral. They help with operating costs and have no strings attached.

As a result, the band is able to perform more than 100 times a year in eight communities, from Homestead to Upper St. Clair, and in cities around the country. The band not only plays old favorites and marches, it commissions new works and has recorded several CDs.

In Hazelwood, the Rev. Jones and her New Hope Baptist Church had little hope for a new church after vandals burned down the white wooden-clapboard building in Westmoreland County where she held services for her 15 parishioners.

The church had no insurance on the building and no money to rebuild it. After the fire, Jones preached in the grassy field where the charred remains of the church smoldered.

But after her plight appeared in a story in the Tribune-Review, the Allegheny Foundation, with Scaife’s urging, gave the church $25,000 to find a new building.

“I opened up the letter saying they were giving us $25,000 and I screamed,” she said. She thought it was a joke at first.

Jones was so grateful that for a number of years she sent the foundation’s staff a Christmas card with $1 inside.

In 1999, the church bought for $15,000 a two-story building in Hazelwood that had been a nuisance bar. Jones used the rest of the grant to renovate and paint the deteriorated building, install a new furnace and buy knickknacks at Goodwill, such as the two angels one black, one white that light up when plugged in and the gold-colored candlestick holders that decorate the church.

To this day, Jones doesn’t know how or why the foundation found out about her, or why it gave her the money.

Whoever told them about the church, she said, “was someone who had a Christian heart. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have helped us.”

In the Mon Valley, a different type of effort is at work. The Government Agency Coordination Office, based at California University of Pennsylvania, has helped area manufacturers recover from the steel decline that began in the late 1980s. The office works with those companies to help them win government defense contracts.

As a result, they’ve created and saved thousands of jobs in the depressed Mon Valley and brought millions of dollars to the region. For more than a decade, the Sarah Scaife Foundation has funded the project.

The group is another example of Scaife’s interest in education and in encouraging programs that promote personal responsibility.

Joanne Beyer, who until recently oversaw the Allegheny Foundation, said, “We support the idea that private action and personal responsibility are the key to a better world.”

Marisol Bello can be reached at or (412) 320-7994.

This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review © Pittsburgh Tribune Review

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