Betty LoPresti's students at Pleasant Hills Middle School honored her with a pet name during her 35 years among them. Many years later, "Mrs. Lo" would greet grown-ups on her doorstep, former students stopping by to pay a visit.
The Jefferson Hills native, who had retired in 2001, tutored students in her home until five weeks ago, when she was hospitalized for treatment of a lung tumor that had metastasized to her bones. She died Saturday at age 73.
Her son, Charles "Chuck" LoPresti, also of Jefferson Hills, said his mother decided to go to college when she was 31, when he and his brother, Joseph, of Bethel Park, were in grade school.
"When I was 8 and my brother was 5, my dad and mom were trying to figure out how they were going to pay for my college and my brother's college," he said. She proposed learning to cut hair to earn extra money, "but Dad said, 'Why don't you go back to college?' She said she always wanted to be a teacher, so Dad worked extra shifts to make overtime" to pay for it.
Every morning, after getting Chuck and Joe off to school, she would study at California State Teachers College -- now California University of Pennsylvania -- and drive home in time to be there when the boys got off the bus from school.
"As far as our world was concerned, we didn't notice, though I have a vague recollection of her doing homework late at night after she got dinner for us and cleaned up," he said.
She completed a four-year degree and taught in Clairton and West Elizabeth while taking night classes for a master's degree at Duquesne University.
Her teaching specialties were communications, language arts and reading. She also taught Catholic instruction at her church, St. Thomas a Becket in Jefferson Hills, and worked in its youth program.
"Her former students regarded her as the epitome of what they hoped a teacher would be," said Mr. LoPresti. "I came to know a lot of parents, too, who, when they heard my name at a social event or function, would ask, 'Are you Mrs. Lo's son?' "
It wasn't unusual for her to refuse a dinner invitation because she had a gathering of former students at her house, he said.
After her husband, Carmen, died in 2000, she and her neighbor of 50 years, Arlene Chisick, took trips together -- to England, Paris, Rome, Cape Cod, the Southwest.
"She was always up on everything we wanted to do, and we tried everything," said Mrs. Chisick. "We went over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter, in a submarine in Barbados. She more or less gave me the courage. We laughed a lot and did a lot of goofy things, figuring nobody knew us. She was my confidante and a joy to be around. But she did have a temper."
Her son said she could take a joke "and hang with the best of them," but when she needed to get control of a group of rowdy boys, "all she had to do was raise one finger in the air and give a look and the whole room would fall silent. Me and my brother were the guinea pigs."
Besides her sons, Mrs. LoPresti is survived by three grandsons and two granddaughters.
Visitation will be today from 1 to 9 p.m. at the Jefferson Memorial Funeral Home, 301 Curry Hollow Road, Pleasant Hills. Mass will be celebrated at St. Thomas a Becket Church at 10 a.m. tomorrow, followed by interment at Jefferson Memorial Park.
The family requests donations be made to the West Jefferson Hills Foundation for Education, in care of the West Jefferson Hills School District, 835 Old Clairton Road, Jefferson Hills, PA 15025 or to the parish building fund at St. Thomas a Becket, 509 Gill Hall Road, Clairton, PA 15025.
Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1626.