Obituary: Irene Shiring Keyser / Wilmerding tax collector for 44 years

Nov. 29, 1912-July 12, 2007

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Chances are if Irene Keyser couldn't help you, she knew someone that could.

Mrs. Keyser was a fixture in Wilmerding, serving as the borough tax collector for 44 years and living in the house she was born in for 90 years.

Mrs. Keyser, who has lived the last four years in Lauderdale by the Sea, Fla., died Thursday. She was 94.

Mrs. Keyser's life is intimately connected to the Mon Valley. She graduated from Union High School in nearby Turtle Creek, and her family was one of the first to move into Wilmerding, a tiny town that grew up around the Westinghouse Air Brake factory.

Mrs. Keyser's family moved there at the urging of George Westinghouse, who wanted the workers in his new factory to be nearby.

The house her father built in 1898 has survived the ebb and flow of generations, as well as a move to make way for the Tri-Boro Expressway in the 1960s.

When construction of the expressway reached Wilmerding, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation picked up the house, with all its furniture inside, and rolled it across the street, where it remains.

It has remained Mrs. Keyser's home, and today family members will erect a banner across the front that reads: "Irene Keyser, Queen of Wilmerding, has moved to a new home."

When Mrs. Keyser was elected tax collector in 1950, she already had years of experience assisting her father, Charles Robert "Bob" Shiring, who had held the post since 1930. Mrs. Keyser stayed in office until 1994, when, at age 82, she was defeated by a challenger.

When Mrs. Keyser married her husband, Norman, in 1937, the couple took over Shiring Agency, a real estate and insurance business started by her father, who was also a squire -- the equivalent of a magistrate -- as well as the borough's tax collector and an air raid warden during World War II.

Under their care, the agency became a place where people could send and receive money through Western Union, apply for liquor, hunting and fishing licenses, and get help preparing taxes.

"It was a full-service agency," said Mrs. Keyser's daughter, Norene K. Damico, of Lauderdale by the Sea. "If you had a problem, you went to see Irene."

For the past four years, Mrs. Damico has lived near her mother in Florida.

More than anything, she said she is going to miss her mother's sense of pride in her heritage and the respect she had for Wilmerding.

"She gave me a tremendous wealth of heritage, and I hope I can continue that tradition," she said.

In addition to Mrs. Damico, Mrs. Keyser is survived by another daughter, Marjorie Daniele of Moon; seven grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be today from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at Alfieri Funeral Home, 201 Marguerite Ave., Wilmerding.

A funeral home service at 9 a.m. tomorrow will be followed by a Mass at St. Colman Church, 547 Hunter St., Turtle Creek.


Nate Guidry can be reached at nguidry@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3865.


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