Italian pupils contact Pittsburgh to learn about school's namesake Minadeo
Fifty-eight years ago, 15-year-old patrol boy John Minadeo died in the act of saving several of his classmates by pushing them out of the way of a car careening out of control near Gladstone Junior High School in Hazelwood.
Soon, students from the Squirrel Hill school that bears his name, Pittsburgh Minadeo pre-K-5, will be discussing his heroism with students from his hometown of Montagano, Italy, where a school also carries his name.
"This is really unusual, but we are very excited about it," said Minadeo principal Melissa Wagner.
A connection between the schools was forged within the past week when a Connecticut man researching his family's history in Italy came into contact with a Montagano man helping a journalist research John Minadeo.
The Italian school was badly damaged during an earthquake several years ago and had been closed. It was recently rebuilt and reopened, but at a dedication ceremony students started to ask who John Minadeo was and why the school was named after him.
While students at the Squirrel Hill school know well the story of their school's namesake and commemorate him with a talent show each year, apparently John's story was lost over the years at the school in Italy.
The students' questions led some in Montagano to turn to the Internet for answers. There they found an article from the Sept. 18, 2011, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that told John's story and provided an image of the Post-Gazette front page from Oct. 8, 1954, the day after John lost his life while saving his classmates. The headline read: "Runaway Auto Kills 2 Children."
Lucio Zampino of Montagano was one of those helping to look into the background of John Minadeo. Mr. Zampino was also assisting Anthony Giannaccio of Middlebury, Conn., in researching Mr. Giannaccio's family history in Italy. Mr. Zampino asked Mr. Giannaccio to find a way to connect the two schools. Mr. Giannaccio then contacted the Post-Gazette, asking how to get in touch with the Pittsburgh Minadeo principal.
The process was complicated by the language barrier, so the two sides used Internet translating services to communicate their messages.
Mr. Giannaccio called Mrs. Wagner to explain the situation and pave the way for Mr. Zampino to make contact. Then Mr. Zampino followed up late last week with an email to Mrs. Wagner explaining that students at the Italian school did not know the story of John Minadeo until recently and asking if students at the two schools could teleconference on Feb. 14, which was John Minadeo's birthday.
Mrs. Wagner said she isn't sure the teleconference will happen on that date. But she is working to put it together for some point in the near future.
Her first goal is to get an interpreter so organizers can talk live about plans for the event. They would also use the interpreter on the day of the teleconference so the groups of students can understand each other. She said the event will give both schools the opportunity to revisit John's story and his act of heroism.
John Minadeo moved from Montagano at the age of 11 with his family as "displaced persons" following World War II. His father, Antonio, worked as a laborer at a cemetery, and John helped with the family's finances by working after school at a fruit market.
When he entered ninth grade, his dependability and good behavior got him elected to captain of the school patrols. Two weeks after becoming captain, he was at his patrol post at the busy corner of Hazelwood and Second avenues when a motorist who had lost his brakes came barreling through. John was warned of the oncoming motorist by his blaring horn and by an adult crossing guard who was blowing her whistle and screaming for children to get out of the way.
John jumped into action, pushing several classmates to safety. But John and classmate Ella Cornelious were hit by the car and died. More than 7,000 people attended John's funeral at St. Stephen Church in Hazelwood, including patrol captains from around the city.
His picture is on a plaque inside of the school and the school website tells his story. In 1955, the Carnegie Hero Commission cited John Minadeo for his heroism. In 1956, Vice President Richard Nixon visited Gladstone and awarded John Minadeo a posthumous Lifesaver Citation. In 1957 Pittsburgh Public Schools created Minadeo elementary school.
Minadeo, which serves Squirrel Hill, Homewood and Hazelwood, still uses student safety patrols, and currently 37 students are members.
"What I want them to take away from this is a sense of pride in our school. To know that heroes are not defined by age or how famous you are and that the acts of kindness that we do for each other should not be overlooked," Mrs. Wagner said.
First Published December 4, 2012 12:00 am