Pittsburgh, PA

Remembering Dorothy Cusick: a Woman Who Did It All

The Homepage, published by Hazelwood Initiative

Dorothy Cusick at age 90 in 2007, in front of her childhood home.Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette

By JaQuay Edward Carter

A red brick building stands at the corner of Elizabeth Street and Second Avenue. It used to be the heart of Dorothy Cusick's Hazelwood. She was born Dorothy Ciaramella, daughter of Italian immigrants who settled in the small steel town of Hazelwood.

In September of 1976, Ms. Cusick made history when she was sworn in as the state president of the American Legion Auxiliary in Philadelphia, marking the first time in state Legion history that a husband and wife held the two highest offices.

Ms. Cusick’s rise to the second-highest position did not come easy. Over 30 years, she supported her husband, who joined the Fort Black Post 534 after his discharge from the Navy in 1946. Dorothy still found time to attend Mt. Mercy Academy and enroll at Duff’s Iron-City College.

She mastered every office in the Hazelwood post, as well as the Allegheny County unit. She was also the historian and vice president of the state auxiliary.

Dorothy was born to John and Emelia Ciaramella on March 30, 1917, in Hazelwood. The Ciaramella Family lived at 5100 Second Avenue. Dorothy was always an organizer. One of her first initiatives was to start a junior lodge of the Italian Sons & Daughters of America.

For years her parents operated a grocery store and later a bar, Ciaramella's Beer Garden a.k.a. Bud & Dot's, on the Second Avenue side of the Elizabeth Street Bridge. Her family's business and their upstairs apartment looked across the avenue at St. Stephen's Roman Catholic Church for many years.

Ms. Cusick’s rise to the second-highest position did not come easy.

Regis “Rege” Francis Cusick, Jr. was born in Duquesne City to Regis, Sr. and Julia on June 12, 1914. The Cusick Family moved to Ladora Way, Down Below, in Hazelwood by the 1920s. Mr. and Mrs. Cusick grew up together and knew each other as teenagers.

"I often used to get dates for Rege with my girlfriends until I figured out he was a great catch and wanted him for myself," Ms. Cusick told Hazelwood native Jerry Vondas for a September 3, 1976 Pittsburgh Press story. She sealed the deal and got her wish. The couple were married in 1939 and had four children: Regis, Jr., Michael, Thomasina, and Dorothy.

As a member of the 15th Ward Chamber of Commerce, Ms. Cusick protested for a new Glenwood Bridge in the 1960s. She also served on the Women’s auxiliaries of the Ancient Order of the Hiberians and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).

When Dorothy turned 80 in 1997, she had a big party that was featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Mrs. Cusick turned 90 in 2007. Her life spanned Hazelwood's heyday and its decline. Despite that downturn, she used her memories to envision the neighborhood as it used to be. Dimperio's Market, which began operating in the 1920s, was still hanging on then. Dorothy described the neighborhood in its heyday as a place “where you could go anywhere at two in the morning and meet your friends.”

She died peacefully at the age of 96 on November 7, 2013, and was buried at Calvary Cemetery.

JaQuay Edward Carter is an award-winning historian, and founder and president of the Greater Hazelwood Historical Society of Pittsburgh.

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The Homepage is a print newspaper delivered monthly to households in Greater Hazelwood, Glen Hazel, Greenfield, Hays, New Homestead, Lincoln Place and The Run. Hazelwood Initiative, Inc., a community-based nonprofit, publishes The Homepage through a grant from the City of Pittsburgh and advertising revenue from local businesses and organizations. The mission of Hazelwood Initiative, as a community-based development corporation, is to build a stronger Hazelwood through inclusive community development. Sonya Tilghman, Executive Director of Hazelwood Initiative, Inc. (she/her) Juliet Martinez, Managing Editor of The Homepage (they/them) Sarah Kanar, Layout and Design of The Homepage(she/her)

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