Obituary: Diane Battiste Zinkham / Captain, coach of Steelerettes, one of NFL's first cheerleading troupes
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Diane Battiste Zinkham was captain, then coach and finally den mother to one of the NFL's two original sets of cheerleaders, the Steelerettes.
For the past seven years, that last position meant herding fellow grandmothers, keeping the scrapbooks, holding dear the oft-forgotten history and maintaining contact information for the women who were the more tastefully dressed foremothers to the sideline dancers of today.
Mrs. Zinkham regularly coordinated the roughly 50 women remaining from the 1961-70 troupes that waved pompoms and wore knee-length skirts around Forbes Field and Pitt Stadium, joining the Cleveland Browns cheerleaders as the NFL's firsts.
She died of cancer Thursday at her home in Indiana, Indiana County. She was 62.
"I think she always has been ... the real organizer," said Barb Kruze, of Moon, who cheered with her at McKees Rocks High and with the Steelerettes.
"She was the one who said, 'OK, we haven't gotten together for lunch for a while. ... ,' and she'd pick a place and we'd all go meet somewhere," said Lynn Moran, of Robinson, who was a Steelerette alongside Mrs. Zinkham in 1965 and under her when Mrs. Zinkham became the squad's coach in 1966.
"And she was always up, always encouraging everybody," Ms. Moran said. "That was the thing, even if you looked a little bit down. ... Last November, my dad passed away. I went to lunch with the girls, and she was the first one to come over, put her arms around me and give me a hug."
Ten or more of the ex-cheerleaders, a self-proclaimed "Rah Rah Sisterhood," still plan to continue the event she founded three years ago, a weekend gathering at the Stonewall Resort in Roanoke, W.Va., although they say it won't be the same without her.
"'Cause we cheered one year apart on different squads, I didn't really know Diane until I launched the [Steelerettes.com] Web site 10 years ago. She was the first one to find it," said Dianne Rossini, '63, chief deputy treasurer of Fayette County.
Mrs. Zinkham contacted her and soon after started helping to reunite the cheerleaders, first for a television news story when Heinz Field opened in 2001, then every few months for lunch.
"I just can't imagine the world without her," she said. "Diane was our cornerstone."
"She was our beacon," added '64 teammate Norreen Mercer Modery, of Bethel Park.
In her 1964-68 days, the longest tenure of any Steelerette, Mrs. Zinkham and the squads also cheered at Dapper Dan dinners and Steelers charity basketball games, shows for organizations ranging from the Home Builders Association to Sears, and even at an Andy Williams concert in the then-Civic Arena -- though ladies taller than the 5-foot-6-inch singer didn't qualify.
Mrs. Zinkham marshaled together a crew of Steelerettes last fall for an Oct. 2 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story and photos, including one where she dropped into a split beside middle-aged women building a human pyramid. She spoke then about their recruitment from the student body of the former Robert Morris Junior College, the tryouts, the football-rules exams.
"If I wouldn't have made it, who knows what would've happened to me?" she said then.
Born in 1945, Mrs. Zinkham graduated from McKees Rocks High School and in 1965 from Robert Morris. She worked in dentistry as an assistant, office manager and, most recently, an independent software consultant.
She was a past president of the Junior Women's Civic Club of Indiana and the Indiana Hospital Auxiliary.
"Hope they build pyramids in heaven," Mrs. Modery said, "and never fall."
In addition to her husband, Kenneth, Mrs. Zinkham is survived by two sons, Jeffrey, of Creekside, Indiana County, and Ryan, of Frederick, Md.; her mother, Orly Dorazio Battiste, of Monroeville; one brother, Daniel Battiste, of Long Island, N.Y.; and one grandson.
Visitation is from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. today at the Bowser-Minich Funeral Home, 500 Ben Franklin Road S., Indiana. A service will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow in the funeral home. Entombment will be in the Oakland Mausoleum.
First Published July 27, 2008 12:00 am