When you mention the name Art Rooney Sr., you think of Pittsburgh. You think about sports, football and the Steelers in particular. You think about giving back. And you think about faith.
It is that combination, that love for what is close to him, that a passion was born.
Rooney, 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 on with their mission.
It was with that passion that 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 grandsons, Steelers President Art Rooney II still oversees.
"I guess my grandfather would be surprised to know we are still doing it," said Rooney. "I don't think he thought it's something that would have this much lasting power. It's become a great tradition. We are excited to keep the tradition going."
The dinner was held on Monday, April 3 at the Westin Convention Center, 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.
Among the honored was David Morehouse, the CEO and President of the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, 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.
"David has been at the helm at the Penguins for a number of years and has steered them in the right direction," said Rooney II. "It's great to recognize David not just for what he has done for the Penguins, but what he has done in our community. He is a great person and someone who has done a lot for the Pittsburgh community."
Morehouse grew up in Pittsburgh, learning hard-working values from his family in the same manner Art Rooney Sr. did.
"It's a tremendous honor to receive the Art Rooney Award, especially having grown up in the city," said Morehouse. "It's very humbling.
"Art Rooney Sr. showed us all that a kid from Pittsburgh's North Side can do anything he wants and be successful as long as he works hard and treats people well. For a kid like me, from Beechview, whose mother was from the North Side and spent most Sundays there at his grandmother's house, it was an invaluable lesson. Mr. Rooney was an example of someone who never forgot where he came from and treated the janitor as well as the CEO of U.S. Steel, the same. That, to me, was the epitome and essence of Pittsburgh."
Like Art Rooney Sr., Morehouse was a part of building a Pittsburgh sports team into a championship team. During his time as the Penguins President the team has won two Stanley Cup Championships and have sold out every game for nine plus seasons.
"What Mr. Rooney meant to Pittsburgh was that he built a championship dynasty the right way," said Morehouse. "His teams were hard working and tough, like the city where they played. During the decade of the 1970s, with the collapse of the steel industry and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, the Steelers often provided the only good news for the working class people of Western Pennsylvania.
"He left us with a tremendous legacy, that his son and grandson are carrying on today with one of the most successful franchises in the history of sports. All of us here in Pittsburgh owe a great deal to Art Rooney."
Former University of Pittsburgh running back James Conner was also honored, receiving the Bob Prince Award. Conner was diagnosed on Thanksgiving Day in 2015 with Hodgkin lymphoma. He fearlessly battled the disease, and returned to the field for the first game of the 2016 season, making a comeback for the ages.
"James' story has become a national story, what he has been able to do, what he has overcome," said Rooney II. "It's an inspiration to many people. It's an honor to have him as part of the program."
The award is named after Prince, the late Pittsburgh Pirates radio announcer and honors someone who embodies his enthusiasm for Pittsburgh sports.*
"For Art Rooney II to select me for this, he is a legend, it means more than I can say," said Conner. "It's for something I have done right here in Pittsburgh where I played college football. Pittsburgh has embraced me. I gave it all I had for four years and I received nothing but love and support. Any time I am in Pittsburgh it's awesome."*
In addition, Bob Pompeani received the Bill Burns Award and Sr. Janet Vanderneck, Casa San Jose received the John McGrady Award. *
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.