• July 11, 2023

    Growing up and growing older together
    – a 30-year story of celebrating friendship

    USCHS retireesOnce a month, a vibrant group of women descend upon the OTB Bicycle Café in Bridgeville for their regular luncheon of mostly Upper St. Clair High School retirees. While the venue has changed from time to time, the friendship and camaraderie have remained steadfast long before the gatherings began in 1993. 

    “It is a great story about lifelong friendships, meaningful retirements, and making a difference in the world a little at a time,” Kristin Scott Pardini, school counselor and the youngest member of the friendship group, said. “These are teachers who literally built our school district and are still beloved by generations of graduates. I am proud to have worked with them and to be a part of their friendship group. They have mentored, and continue to mentor me, throughout my life for more than 25 years.”

    At its inception, the monthly get-together served as a way for these teachers and others to better connect with one another beyond the busy school day.

    “The thought was that even though we taught in the same building, we didn't see each other very much,” said Susan Hughes, former social studies teacher who retired in 2004. “Monthly birthdays seemed like a good idea. We've been celebrating since our 30s! Growing up and now older together.”

    USCHS retirees - 25 years agoFor 30 years, these ladies have held their monthly lunch date to celebrate birthdays and life’s milestones as well as to endure its challenges together.

    “These friendships have been a source of joy, love and especially support for all of us. We have helped each other through marriages, divorces, the birth of children, loss of parents, loss of spouses, illnesses etc.,” Mrs. Hughes said. “The group is an extension of our philosophy about care and concern for others as seen in our profession.”

    Kathy DeBlassio, retired social studies teacher and high school counselor, cherishes the time, memories and friendships created through this monthly gathering.

    “It has been a source of strength through some of life's hardest times and also a chance to celebrate the magic moments – the birth of our children and grandchildren, our marriages,” Mrs. DeBlassio said. “We all have so many shared memories and know so much about each other. It has been a constant source of support through the good times and the bad.”

    Initially, the women purchased small gifts and cards to celebrate birthdays before transitioning to a $5-$10 donation, which is given to a charity selected by consensus of all the birthday celebrants that month.

    “Someone thought we should do something with the money rather than presents,” Mrs. Hughes said. “Lots of organizations have been chosen by the person whose birthday we were celebrating – Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Brother’s Brother Foundation, Samaritan’s Purse, associations for children, etc.”

    The group estimates that more than $22,000 has been donated over the last 30 years.

    In total, there are approximately 20 women in the friendship group.

    “When we meet, we talk about family, politics, books, movies…no topic is off-limits,” Mrs. Hughes said. “The size of the group varies from month to month depending on who is in town etc.”

    Group members include Theresa Avick, Carol Brosnahan, Barbara Carney, Beth Chadwick, Kathy DeBlassio, Mary Lou Einloth, Ann Gladden, Susan Hughes, Kathy Kirsch, Mary Muffley, Pam Palmieri, Kristin Scott Pardini, Noreen Pikutis, Judy Reilly, Susan Rosetti, Rita Toth, Trudy Wagner, Jan Zahurak and Patricia Zapp.

    In the last few years, the group has had to say goodbye to a few friends who passed away, including Jane Hollman, Addie Sommer and Karen Thompson.

    The group welcomed its youngest member, Mrs. Pardini, when she was just 25 years old. As a school counselor at Upper St. Clair High School, she is the group’s only non-retiree.

    “I began working with these wonderful women when I was 25 years old. I celebrated my 30th birthday with them – that was 25 years ago,” she said. “They literally helped to build the Upper St. Clair School District and those of us who are still working there stand on their shoulders every day.”

    Mrs. Pardini deeply values the friendships and mentorship she has gained from her longtime connection with this group of women.

    “They have always been the greatest example of professionalism, kindness, tenacity and resilience. They may not realize it, but I have been learning from them for more than 30 years. They have taught me how to be a good parent, a devoted educator, a true friend, and most of all, courageous and resilient in the face of all of life's challenges,” she said. “They are the world's greatest problem solvers, no matter what they encounter, and I have so much admiration and respect for them. What we can all learn from them is to keep giving, to keep engaging, and to keep rising after falling.”

    There were 22 retirements in the Upper St. Clair School District during the 2022-23 school year. Mrs. DeBlassio encourages these new retirees to make the effort to maintain relationships.

    “Stay involved and find something that allows you to be your best self.  And most of all, stay connected even when it takes a lot of effort,” Mrs. DeBlassio said. “We still stay connected to our friends from this group who are far away.”