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The tradition continues

Posted Apr 9, 2018

The Art Rooney Awards Dinner continues to be a Pittsburgh staple.

The tradition of Steelers football is one that has been passed down through the years in the Rooney family, from Art Rooney Sr., to his son Dan Rooney, and now his grandson Art Rooney II.

The tradition of giving back to the community has also been passed down through the years in the Rooney family, filtering through the generations without ever faltering.

That tradition is one that the Catholic Youth Association is very familiar with. Art Rooney Sr., whose Catholic faith was in the forefront of his life, saw that a local organization, the Catholic Youth Association (CYA), was struggling financially back in the 1970s. He knew he needed to step in and help one of his favorite charities, ensuring that they would be able to continue their mission.

It was because of that passion the Art Rooney Award Dinner was born, an annual event that benefits the CYA. It’s an event that has embodied what Art Rooney Sr., lovingly known as “The Chief,” believed in and one his son Dan, and now his grandson, Steelers President Art Rooney II, still oversees.

“It’s amazing that we still are able to keep it going,” said Rooney. “It was important to my grandfather to get it started, and it was important to my dad to keep it going. We are still keeping up with it. It’s a great event and it benefits a great charity. We are happy to be a part of it.”

The dinner was held on Monday, April 9, at the Omni William Penn, bringing together Pittsburgh’s leaders in business, education and sports to combine efforts to help the CYA serve the most vulnerable in the community…children and the elderly. The dinner honors “Pittsburgh’s Champions,” those that have made a difference in the community and have a passion for Pittsburgh.

This year’s dinner took on additional meaning, remembering Dan Rooney, who passed away almost one year ago.

“For most of us, Dan Rooney was football, the Steelers,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington via a video message. “I remember when he invited me to go bless Heinz Field. The work was still going on, the hard hats were out, and as we entered onto the field you could hear among the workers, ‘Mr. Rooney is here.’ They all wanted their picture with him. He was the Steelers.

“Then I think of his Catholic faith. It was bedrock in his life. He stood on that platform of faith and devotion all his life, and it sustained him. I think one of the reasons we all feel so close to Dan, and why we have such admiration for him, why he looms large in our imagination and hearts, is because he was truly one of us. He was a Pittsburgher. In fact I think he was the best of us.”

This year’s dinner also honored several individuals, including Morgan O’Brien, the President and CEO of Peoples Natural Gas Company, who received the Art Rooney Award, presented to an individual who is a 'Pittsburgher' and is devoted to the community and Pittsburgh the way Art Rooney Sr. was.

“I am incredibly humbled and excited to receive this award,” said O’Brien. “Having Mr. Rooney’s name on this award, having the Rooney family associated with this recognition is incredibly meaningful. Everyone recognizes how much Mr. Rooney meant to this community, how much he has made a difference in this community. I will call it a bar of what others can measure themselves against.”

O’Brien, who is from Pittsburgh, takes his caring, compassionate approach to the boardroom as well as the community. He is on the board of many organizations, including the Pennsylvania Energy Association, The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, The Pittsburgh Foundation and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Western Pa. Chapter.

“Morgan is remarkable. He is everywhere,” said Rooney. “Whenever you go to a community meeting or event, Morgan is there lending his time, energy and talents. In the past we have had some great leadership in this city by corporate CEOs, and he has picked up on that. He has followed in some important footsteps in that regard.”

He is also very active as a board member for the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, where his impact has been felt in many areas.

“Morgan’s ideal as a corporate leader who gets involved with our community,” said Bob Nelkin, President and CEO of United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania. “He has been the leader of our board, he headed up the 2-1-1 program. He is constantly creating ways we can help people more effectively and efficiently. When you think about a business model, it’s about effectiveness, efficiency and value and Morgan brings that to nonprofits like United Way and others he supports. He is a great role model for young professionals to think about, how to have the special business sense to help nonprofits do an even better job.”

Pittsburgh Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan, who led the team to back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships, received the Bob Prince Award, named after the late Pittsburgh Pirates radio announcer and honors someone who embodies his enthusiasm for Pittsburgh sports.

“I was humbled when I learned I was the recipient of the Bob Prince Award." said Sullivan. "I have quickly recognized the class and dignity that the Rooney family brings not only to sports, but to the city of Pittsburgh. Their work in the community and commitment to making Pittsburgh a better place for everyone, makes me proud to accept this award.”

It hasn't taken long for Sullivan to get a feel for what Pittsburgh is all about, especially when it comes to sports and giving back to the community.

“Mike is somebody that is relatively new to Pittsburgh, yet everyone appreciates the way he has come into the community,” said Rooney. “His whole attitude to winning, and winning championships, is easy to see. He is a humble guy. Somebody I am sure the players love playing for. He is a great leader and a great coach.”

Sullivan is in his third season as the Penguins coach and is only the second coach in NHL history to lead his team to Stanley Cup Championships in his first two seasons at the helm.

“What he brought to the table for the Penguins organization is his enthusiasm and his energy,” said David Morehouse, CEO and President of the Penguins. “He is a positive guy. He is always looking for new ways to motivate people. His qualities as a leader for the team and in the community are first and foremost his enthusiasm. He likes to help people.

“One of the first things he noticed is how important sports are to the people of Pittsburgh. He saw that early in his coaching career and it’s been part of his enthusiasm. Having the people of Pittsburgh so enthusiastic about sports keeps him motivated.”  

In addition, Dr. Stanley Marks received the John McGrady Award and Lynn Hayes Freeland received the Bill Burns Award.

Marks is the chairman of the UPMC Cancer Center, the largest network of outpatient cancer centers in the tri-state area. He is the Director for Clinical Services and Chief Medical Officer of the UPMC Cancer Center, and is innovative in the care of cancer patients. The recognition and awards he has received throughout his career are too many to count, as are the thank you messages from patients whose lives he changed. Marks brings caring and compassion to every patient, including one of his most famous ones, running back James Conner.

Hayes-Freeland, who was honored for her excellence in journalism, has been a staple at KDKA-TV since 1977, wearing multiple hats from the producer of KDKA’s Free Care Fund to benefit Children’s Hospital of UPMC, to the director of the station’s community affairs program, bringing to Pittsburgh the “Waiting Child’ feature, which has resulted in 67% of children featured being adopted. She currently is a reporter, who counts an interview with South African President Nelson Mandela as a highlight of her career. But bringing news into the homes of her fellow Pittsburgh residents is what she gets the most passion out of, carrying on the message from Bill Burns that local television can make a difference.

The Nick Cardello Senior Award was presented to a group, the CYA Meals on Wheels delivery team. This group doesn’t just deliver hot meals to the elderly, but also delivers love, companionship and hope for those who need it most.

About the CYA: The CYA is a true neighborhood community center, operating in five sites and providing social, educational and health-related programs. Among the programs are a summer residential camp for over 200 boys and girls ages 7-14; Meals on Wheels; health and wellness activities for seniors; transportation programs for the elderly; and an intergenerational program that brings seniors and pre-school children together to form a bond.