two women look at book

While students explore campus, a parent makes a discovery of her own

While her son was attending orientation, Michelle Doonan made an interesting discovery.

Freshman Jonathon Doonan attended orientation this fall at Penn State Greater Allegheny, along with his mother, Michelle. Jonathon got to experience some things new to him on campus – he learned about his classes, some academic programs, and even clubs and athletic teams.

Meanwhile, his mom was off discovering something on her own. The parents who were on campus with their children were invited to take a tour of the McKeesport Heritage Center, in Renziehausen Park, located adjacent to the campus. While there, Michelle made an exciting discovery.

Michelle was speaking to one of the volunteer tour guides, Pat Begandy. In conversation, they learned that Pat’s husband, Pete Begandy, and Michelle’s grandfather, Tony Martin, grew up together as friends in the Christy Park area, just a few minutes from the campus, and later served in the Navy together during World War II. Tony was on the USS Franklin when it was bombed on March 19, 1945, according to a journal that Pete kept during the time he was stationed on the USS Stockholm. Pete was on the Stockholm when it picked up the survivors from the Franklin – one of them being his old friend, Tony. They did not realize they were on the same boat until they got to port.

book on table

A Penn State Greater Allegheny student's mother and a volunteer at McKeesport's Heritage Center made a connection through a World War II-era journal belonging to the late Pete Begandy. 

Image: Penn State

“I couldn’t believe it! It was a wonderful coincidence that I would happen to meet this woman at the center, and she knew of my grandfather,” said Michelle.Pat, years ago, had donated Pete’s journal to the Heritage Center. The first entry in the journal was made on April 20, 1944, and the last on December 21, 1945. The last journal entry listed some popular songs that Pete was listening on the radio. The journal was put onto microfiche and the original returned to Pat.  

Robert Hauser, a former professor of history at Penn State Greater Allegheny, became a member of the board of directors at the Heritage Center after his retirement and works on several committees. He enjoys it when connections like this one are made. He said, “It's rewarding when people come into the center and find links to their past by seeing pictures, reading documents or talking with our many fine volunteers."

The two women plan to look at the journal more closely to examine their ancestors’ entries, and see what else they can discover. Pat said, “It is quite a coincidence, and very interesting when you look back.  The journal is such a treasure to have.”