Scholarship created for Norwin students honors graduate who died this year in traffic accident


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When Tami Kunst, of North Huntingdon, died in a car accident Feb. 3, her community lost a promising Saint Vincent College graduate as well as an honors graduate of Norwin High School.

But those who knew Ms. Kunst, 24, and her commitment to education took on a new mission: to keep her memory alive by endowing a scholarship in her name for a college-bound Norwin student.

Katie Aiello, 24, considers herself one of Ms. Kunst's closest friends and said she and their mutual group of friends are still in shock.

"It really hasn't set in yet," she said, adding, "but right from the first, I knew we wanted to try to do something original to honor her."

Ms. Aiello, who acts frequently in the area, hit upon the idea to produce and star in a benefit production of the 1950s Catholic school comedy, "Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?"

Volunteers lined up to help, and Norwin School District Superintendent Jack Boylan and high school Principal Edward Federinko agreed to allow the performances. They will be held tonight through Sunday at Norwin Middle School.

Ms. Aiello performed in "Black Patent Leather Shoes" in December at Trafford's Theatre Factory. She is receiving assistance on the benefit performances from that production's director, Erin Stetor, as well as from many of the cast and crew.

Ms. Kunst's friends Taylor Cole, Megan Sieber, Kristen Tayne, Melissa McManus and Krystal Kuftrall -- all fellow Norwin graduates -- also have helped with the show. Ms. Kunst's family has produced and distributed fliers and signs.

Ms. Aiello owns Bella Amici Tanning Boutique and works at Salon Surreal, both in Irwin. She said despite all the help, producing and acting in "Shoes" is proving to be a real labor of love in Ms. Kunst's memory.

"I've always been more interested in the business side of performance," she said. "But this experience is very overwhelming, a little scary."

Still, she said, it was worth it to help another Norwin student reach for their dream the way Ms. Kunst reached for hers. Ms. Aiello hopes the scholarship benefit performance will become an annual event.

"She was an honors student at Norwin and graduated early from Saint Vincent," said Ms. Aiello of her friend. "She was very determined to succeed and education was so important to her."

Ms. Aiello noted that Ms. Kunst was working late at an Arby's restaurant in Cranberry the night she died, in an effort to pay off her student loans.

Ms. Kunst's car went off the road in Penn Township and hit a tree. She was found by police the following morning.

"They think she fell asleep at the wheel," said Ms. Aiello. "She never woke up."

Ms. Kunst's younger sister, Jodi, 22, said Tami's sudden death left the family with the desire to found a scholarship in her name, but without the ability to do so.

"That's why we're so relieved that Katie and her friends have stepped up the way they have," said Jodi, a North Huntingdon resident and a student at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg.

Tami also is survived by her father, David, of Greensburg; her mother, Sheri, of North Huntingdon; and her brother, D.J.

Jodi Kunst said despite their grief, the family has been cheered to see so many others committed to remembering Tami.

"It really helps to see other people working to keep her spirit alive," she said.

"Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?" will be performed at Norwin Middle School, 10870 Mockingbird Drive, North Huntingdon, at 7:30 p.m. today through Saturday and at 6 p.m. Sunday. A $10 donation is suggested, with all funds going to the Tami Kunst Scholarship Fund.

Donations to the scholarship fund should be sent to P.O. Box 664, Irwin, Pa. 15642.

Freelance writer Kate Luce Angell can be reached in care of suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

When Tami Kunst, of North Huntingdon, died in a car accident Feb. 3, her community lost a promising Saint Vincent College graduate as well as an honors graduate of Norwin High School.

But those who knew Ms. Kunst, 24, and her commitment to education took on a new mission: to keep her memory alive by endowing a scholarship in her name for a college-bound Norwin student.

Katie Aiello, 24, considers herself one of Ms. Kunst's closest friends and said she and their mutual group of friends are still in shock.

"It really hasn't set in yet," she said, adding, "but right from the first, I knew we wanted to try to do something original to honor her."

Ms. Aiello, who acts frequently in the area, hit upon the idea to produce and star in a benefit production of the 1950s Catholic school comedy "Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?"

Volunteers lined up to help, and Norwin School District Superintendent Jack Boylan and high school Principal Edward Federinko agreed to allow the performances. They will be tonight through Sunday at Norwin Middle School.

Ms. Aiello performed in "Black Patent Leather Shoes" in December at Trafford's Theatre Factory. She is receiving assisstance with the benefit performances from that production's director, Erin Stetor, as well as from many of the cast and crew.

Ms. Kunst's friends Taylor Cole, Megan Sieber, Kristen Tayne, Melissa McManus and Krystal Kuftrall -- all fellow Norwin graduates -- also have helped with the show. Ms. Kunst's family has produced and distributed fliers and signs.

Ms. Aiello owns Bella Amici Tanning Boutique and works at Salon Surreal, both in Irwin. She said despite all the help, producing and acting in "Shoes" is proving to be a real labor of love in Ms. Kunst's memory.

"I've always been more interested in the business side of performance," she said. "But this experience is very overwhelming, a little scary."

Still, she said, it was worth it to help another Norwin student reach for his dream the way Ms. Kunst reached for hers. Ms. Aiello hopes the scholarship benefit performance will become an annual event.

"She was an honors student at Norwin and graduated early from Saint Vincent," said Ms. Aiello of her friend. "She was very determined to succeed and education was so important to her."

Ms. Aiello noted that Ms. Kunst was working late at an Arby's restaurant in Cranberry in an effort to pay off her student loans.the night she died.

Ms. Kunst's car went off the road in Penn Township and hit a tree. She was found by police the following morning.

"They think she fell asleep at the wheel," said Ms. Aiello. "She never woke up."

Ms. Kunst's younger sister, Jodi, 22, said Tami's sudden death left the family with the desire to establish a scholarship in her name, but without the ability to do so.

"That's why we're so relieved that Katie and her friends have stepped up the way they have," said Jodi, a North Huntingdon resident and a student at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg.

Tami also is survived by her father, David, of Greensburg; her mother, Sheri, of North Huntingdon; and her brother, D.J.

Jodi Kunst said despite their grief, the family has been cheered to see so many others committed to remembering Tami.

"It really helps to see other people working to keep her spirit alive," she said.

"Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?" will be performed at Norwin Middle School, 10870 Mockingbird Drive, North Huntingdon, at 7:30 p.m. today through Saturday and at 6 p.m. Sunday. A $10 donation is suggested, with all funds going to the Tami Kunst Scholarship Fund.

Donations to the scholarship fund should be sent to P.O. Box 664, Irwin, PA 15642.


Freelance writer Kate Luce Angell can be reached in care of suburbanliving@post-gazette.com .


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