A newsmaker you should know: Being a history nerd has its advantages

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Ron Baraff is a self-proclaimed "history nerd" -- a "proud" history nerd at that.

Mr. Baraff is director of museum collections and archives at the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area. As part of that job, he oversees the Carrie Furnace site, the preserved historic steel furnaces located on a 168-acre brownfield along the Monongahela River that extends into Pittsburgh, Swissvale, Rankin, Munhall and Whitaker. The two blast furnaces produced iron for what became U.S. Steel Homestead Works for almost a century.

Mr. Baraff is now getting ready for public tours at the site, which opens for the season April 27.

"It is the perfect career for me. There is something new every day, I don't have to sit behind a desk and I love history," he said.

Even though he says that he has always enjoyed history, it wasn't Mr. Baraff's first choice of a college major.

"Once I had ruled out being a baseball player or a Beatle, I thought maybe I would like to be a vet so I studied veterinary medicine," he said. But when he had to take some time off from school due to an illness, he realized it was his history electives that he had enjoyed the most.

"So when I went back to school and decided I wanted to work with people and share history."

After he finished undergraduate studies, Mr. Baraff worked for the Oregon Historical Society and decided he would need a master's degree if he was going to stay in the field.

"By that time, I was already married and we had my older boys. And, my wife -- who is from Pittsburgh -- really wanted to move nearer her family," he said.

The couple relocated to Pittsburgh and Mr. Baraff began his graduate studies at Duquesne University. Halfway through the program in 1998, he was hired by the Heritage group.

Christy Baraff is a third grade teacher at Concord Elementary School in Carrick.

One of Mr. Baraff's favorite projects is overseeing the tours and programming at the Carrie site, including working with filmmakers who have used it in films such as "Out of the Furnace" starring Christian Bale and Willem Dafoe. He also recently worked with rapper Wiz Khalifa, who filmed a video there for his song "Work Hard, Play Hard."

There are self-guided and guided tours, both with their strengths, Mr. Baraff said. And, many of the tour guides are former steelworkers who can speak firsthand about the workings of the furnaces.

Mr. Baraff also oversees the museum, the exhibits, the bike tours and the interpretive panels.

"I'm not a desk kind of guy, so doing all these diverse things is perfect. ... I haven't worn a tie to work in years," he said.

Details: www.riversofsteel.com or 412-464-4020.


Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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