Obituary: Peggy Kent Sebak / Woman of many talents, mother of documentary maker

May 21, 1926 -- April 23, 2011

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A sense of history can echo through a family in unexpected ways.

In 1943, Peggy Sebak -- granddaughter of immigrants, daughter of a steelworker from Hazelwood's Scotch Bottom, the first in her family to dream of college -- earned a scholarship based on need and academic excellence. The Buhl Foundation paid $180 for two semesters at Carnegie Institute of Technology.

She interrupted her studies to put her husband, Charles, through school but eventually earned a bachelor's degree in communications from Carlow College in 1985. Today, one of her four children is WQED's Rick Sebak, whose popular documentaries are funded by that same Buhl Foundation.

"We were so proud of her. She took a trip to Boston with all these girlfriends, who were much younger than she," Mr. Sebak recalled of his mother's graduation trip 40 years in the making.

Bethel Park resident Peggy Kent Sebak, 84, died Saturday of cardiac arrest at ManorCare in Whitehall. She had broken a hip a month to the day before she died.

Befitting a baby baptized in Pittsburgh with water from Lourdes, Mrs. Sebak followed paths conventional and unconventional.

She worked in personnel for the U.S. Steel National Tube Works in the Frick Building and remembered when Helen Clay Frick would come in and inspect the premises, so to speak. Long before celebrities explored their ancestry on TV, she traveled to Ireland to see a barn -- housing a donkey -- that once served as her grandmother's home.

It had been an after-school job at Boggs & Buhl department store that earned her a spot in Mr. Sebak's "North Side Story." She took three streetcars to get to her post at a glass counter near drawers of handkerchiefs.

She was past president of St. Valentine Christian Mothers in Bethel Park and a founding member of Stage 62.

She did publicity for the theater troupe and appeared on stage at the old Bethel Park Junior High School in "The Tender Trap."

"It's the story of a playboy and when the curtain went up on Act One, she was making out with that guy on the couch. We thought that was hilarious," Mr. Sebak said.

She graduated from Allderdice High School and spent a couple of years at Carnegie Tech before meeting her husband as both saw a fellow Hazelwood resident off to war at the train station where Station Square is.

"She saw my dad and said, 'Who's that?' " and a friend replied, 'That's Chuck Sebak, I can introduce him to you.' " Mr. Sebak said. Her husband, who often joked "Is that really true?" also joined the service and the pair married in August 1949 and moved to Bethel Park.

In the late 1960s, Mrs. Sebak started to cover borough news for a local newspaper and developed an appetite for politics. That led to a stint as Republican committeewoman and, from 1989 to 1997, as a member of the Bethel Park school board.

In 1979, she became executive secretary to the Rev. William R. Headley, newly appointed provincial of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, or Spiritans. The regional governing office for the religious order was being moved to Bethel Park when the newspaper junkie spotted a classified ad for the job.

Father Headley, now in San Diego, remembered her as the ultimate professional, efficient, confidential, attentive to detail and "both welcoming and warm to everyone who came into her life and our offices."

Mrs. Sebak's husband died in 1992 and she lost a son, Charles W. "Skip" Sebak in 1998. She is survived by sons Rick Sebak of Regent Square and Paul "P.K." Sebak of Jamestown, Pa.; daughter Denise Sebak of Delaware, Ohio; a brother, William Kent of Brookline; three granddaughters; and one great-granddaughter.

A Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. today in St. Valentine Catholic Church. Arrangements were handled by David J. Henney Funeral Home, South Park.

Donations may be made in Mrs. Sebak's name to WQED, 4802 Fifth Ave., Pittsburgh 15213.

Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632.


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