GROWING UP 'GREEN'
David Roy Pencoske
On Wednesday, October 10th, 1951, Leroy and Margaret Pencoske celebrated the birth of their first child, David Roy Pencoske. The proud parents were residents of the Steel Valley. David's father was a lifelong employee of U.S. Steel and worked as a motor inspector at the Dorothy 6 blast furnace in Duquesne. To help make ends meet, David's mother was hired as a cashier at the Giant Eagle grocery store near Renziehausen Park. A few years later, the Pencoske's welcomed their second son, Edward to the family. Before the boys were old enough to attend elementary school, the family had relocated several times. The Pencoske's moved into homes in McKeesport and Duquesne before finally settling in White Oak. At the time, no one realized that the house on Jack's Run Road would ultimately help to sculpt young David into the man that he would become. David spent the better part of his childhood roaming the wooded hillside and playing in the creek bed near the family's home. Almost immediately, he developed a curiosity for all things in nature. His enthusiasm for the outdoors continued to grow with him through the years. It really became noticeable to family and friends after the Allegheny County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation purchased an old farm on the ridge above his home. The area was to be used as a game preserve and White Oak Park. For David, it was a whole new plot of land to explore. By the time he became a student at McKeesport Area High School, David was seriously considering a career with the U.S. Forest Service as a ranger. Much to his dismay, the mathematics requirement for that degree proved to be insurmountable. The young man soon realized that he would have to consider other options. By his graduation in 1969, David was still undecided on a career.
A GARDEN OF KNOWLEDGE
Mr. Pencoske, Shop Instructor
Upon finishing high school, David, or Dave as he preferred to be called, furthered his education by attending classes at Community College Of Allegheny County ( CCAC ). It wasn't long before he obtained an Associate's degree in Art. Still wanting to achieve more, Dave enrolled at California University of Pennsylvania to pursue a career as an industrial arts instructor. In 1974, Dave graduated from the university with a Bachelor Of Science in Education degree. Unfortunately, the weeks that followed would reveal that there were very few full time teaching positions available to him. Despite the discouraging news, Dave was able to find work as a substitute teacher. However, even the part time teaching jobs would soon start to disappear. Dave eventually found himself having second thoughts about the career path that he was on. He opted to return to CCAC for a few years to work toward earning a Bachelor Of Science in Business Administration degree. Once he reached his goal, Dave established Acme Lawn Service and used the lawn care business to support himself. He was also hired as a seasonal employee for UPS during the holiday season when additional personnel were needed. Once the holiday rush was over, Dave found another temporary job as a census taker. At the same time, the young man continued to better himself by enrolling in numerous classes in the construction field. He trained in carpentry, masonry, ceramic tile installation and telephone repair. He even signed up for a meat cutting class. It did not take long before Dave had acquired a total of eighteen certificates in various areas of home repair. Despite all of this education, a full time job continued to elude him. It wasn't until 1987 that Dave's luck would finally change. On a day that seemed like any other, the young man received a phone call from the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding a resume that he had mailed to them. Dave's spirits lifted when the individual on the other end of the telephone informed him that he had been selected to fill a position as a office clerk. Knowing that he could not pass up the opportunity, Dave soon found himself moving to Washington DC for the job. Unfortunately, the excitement surrounding the new job would not last long. In less than a year, Dave realized the a clerk's salary was not nearly enough to cover the high cost of living in the metropolitan area. Rather than see himself in bankruptcy, Dave made the difficult decision to resign from the job and head back to Western Pennsylvania and the lawn care business.
The Old GMC Pick-Up
In his spare time, photography became one of Dave's most enjoyable hobbies. He was also an avid collector of political campaign and advertising badges. Somewhere along the line, Dave found a passion for woodworking. Time would allow Dave to develop this skill and become an accomplished craftsman. Simple projects like wooden birdhouses gradually evolved into impressive works of art. Some of these pieces included musical instruments like the Appalachian Mountain Dulcimer and Hammered Dulcimer. When Dave was not standing at his workbench, he could be found volunteering his time at the food bank in McKeesport or at St. Angela Merici church in White Oak. He attended services at the church regularly and often stayed for spiritual enrichment classes. Dave was also part of an organization called The Knights of the Classroom. Members of this group traveled to regional schools to educate students on life during medieval times. Dave always enjoyed setting up the displays and participating in the demonstrations. Of course, Dave's most recognizable pastime involved his GMC pick-up truck. It was said that a lot of Dave's time and money went toward keeping the truck running for over thirty years. Dave would have most likely kept the truck longer had the replacement parts been easier to find. In between all of his hobbies and volunteer activities, Dave secretly kept a hopeful eye open for a lasting and meaningful relationship. To his disappointment, one never materialized.
THE DEFINING MOMENT
By the time that he reached his mid-forties, Dave's unwavering interest in the environment and conservation efforts had him following a story that was making headlines in the local newspapers. The news was spreading about a scientific study being conducted in a heavily wooded plot along the Youghiogheny River. The research, titled The Allegheny County Natural Heritage Inventory, identified an area known as Dead Man's Hollow to be one of the most ecologically significant areas in all of Allegheny County. This information was then forwarded to a nonprofit land conservation organization called the Allegheny Land Trust. After reviewing the findings, the group determined that there was very little protected land in the region. In addition, the area in question was located on land that was needed for the development of the Great Allegheny Passage 'Rails to Trails' project. With that, the Allegheny Land Trust announced plans to convert Dead Man's Hollow into a nature conservation area. Despite all of the proposals and promising suggestions, Dave remained skeptical about the situation. His uncertainty was based on prior visits to Dead Man's Hollow. Since the end of its days as an thriving industrial hub, the hollow had become a place littered with old tires, broken appliances, and household trash. Dave felt that this particular wooded valley was not the kind of place that most people would consider preserving. He also believed that the plan would soon be dropped. However, the Allegheny Land Trust remained adamant about saving Dead Man's Hollow, especially since the threat of landfill development was looming over the property. The group's unshakable devotion to this project began to inspire Dave. Because of this, Dave made the decision to volunteer to be a part of the clean up efforts. He began to attend meetings that the Allegheny Land Trust had scheduled with local municipalities. Dave was quick to established a good relationship with the representatives of the ALT as well as another volunteer who shared his interest in Dead Man's Hollow. The volunteer's name was Karen Frank. With the help of a few others, Karen and Dave formed a small grassroots volunteer group. The group referred to themselves as The Friends Of Dead Man's Hollow. These individuals began meeting at Frank's home in Lincoln Borough to discuss projects and organize their efforts. It wasn't long before the group became the driving force behind the hollow's transformation process. A growing number of volunteers were soon found in the woods assisting members of the ALT. However, the group's greatest achievement came on a rainy Saturday in September of 1997. On this day, over 80 volunteers from all across the region showed up to complete the work that ALT had set out to accomplish.
THE HOLLOW'S BEST FRIEND
Once the initial work was complete, the excitement that the Allegheny Land Trust had generated throughout the surrounding communities gradually diminished. Once again, Dead Man's Hollow slowly faded from the public eye. Many of the individuals that had helped with the volunteer efforts began to move on to other projects. Eventually, the hollow fell quiet again. However, the presence of one individual remained. Dave Pencoske's positive experience with ALT was very influential on his decision to continue supporting the group's efforts. Not long after, Dave became one of the first individuals to be appointed by ALT officials to help monitor and maintain the Dead Man's Hollow preservation area. He was given the title of Site Steward. In order to be a good steward of the land, Dave felt that he needed to expand his knowledge. He immediately took correspondence courses in Agriculture from Pennsylvania State University. Some of the subjects included the propagation of plants, farm management, and soil management. In addition to these courses, Dave also completed a correspondence course in general forestry from the University of Maryland. In the years that followed, Dave worked closely with the Allegheny Land Trust and developed a strong bond with some of its members and volunteers. Whenever possible, he would educate visitors to the hollow on the ALT's mission and conservation practices. He even started referring to these lectures as the 'Gospel Of Green '. Dave was also very knowledgeable on the plantlife and wildlife native to Western Pennsylvania. He could often be found walking along the trails removing invasive plant species from the property. It was as if Dead Man's Hollow had become Dave's home away from home.
A DEDICATED STEWARD
Another visit to Dead Man's Hollow
For the next decade, Dave never tired from his role as site steward to the Dead Man's Hollow conservation area. It was said that he paid a visit to the hollow almost everyday. In fact, he had become a recognizable figure to the locals. Those who frequented the hollow on a regular basis had come to expect to see Dave at some point during their visits. On certain occasions, he could even be found 'preaching' to anyone who was willing to listen. Then, without warning, tragedy struck. On Saturday, July 3rd, 2010, David Pencoske suffered a stroke at his home in White Oak. A short time later, the news of Dave's passing quickly traveled from family to friends and finally to the office of the Allegheny Land Trust. Those at the ALT that had built a professional relationship with Dave were speechless. Not only had the organization lost a devoted volunteer, they had also lost a dear friend. David Pencoske was fifty-eight years old.
A few months after his untimely death, Allegheny Land Trust was presented with a generous gift in honor of David Pencoske and his legacy of community service and stewardship. With the charitable contribution, ALT was able to update and repair the signs and information kiosks located near the entrance to Dead Man's Hollow along the Youghiogheny River Trail and at the Catfish Pond in Liberty Borough. To help complete the memorial project, Boy Scouts from Troop 99 were appointed to handle the kiosk maintenance. Almost one year later, ALT officials and a small group of volunteers gathered at the entrance to the Catfish Pond of Dead Man's Hollow for the sign dedication. This event was made possible through funding from a grant from the Environmental Fund for Pennsylvania. The new sign, which featured an updated map of the trail system, detailed information, and QR code technology for Smartphones, was set in place. After a few words about David Pencoske and the impact that he made with his efforts, the volunteers participated in a clean-up and trail maintenance event. Before the activities had concluded, one member of the group commented that David Pencoske would undoubtedly be very happy to see people following in his footsteps.