Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reporter reflects on family heritage in Pittsburgh during G 20

When my great-great-great-great-great grandfather Augustin Fehrenbacher and his family made their way from Germany to Pennsylvania in the 1830s, the landscape that greeted them were vast rolling hills prime for farming.

Farming was something the Fehrenbachers from Kappel am Rheim knew something about.

As more and more of them made their way to Cambria County and other areas and towns outside Pittsburgh to set up farms and begin new lives in America, somewhere along the way their last name would change to Farabaugh, and so would some of their vocations.

All Farabaughs around the world come from one of six Fehrenbacher brothers who came to Pennsylvania in the mid 19th century, at a time when western Pennsylvania, along with the rest of the United States, was about to enter the Industrial Age. Pittsburgh would be a sort of Ground Zero; the manufacturing home of steel that would build railroads and buildings from Youngstown, Ohio to Spokane, Washington and all points in between. With the promise of work and money, Farabaughs from around Western Pennsylvania would migrate to the city to work in the mills, or in other jobs that sprung up as the city grew into an industrial hub. Farabaughs would join other Germans, Poles, Ukrainians, Serbians, Croatians, and dozens more ethnic groups in a wave of immigration that changed the demographic of Pittsburgh forever.

While some Farabaughs would stay on farms and in the rural counties, Pittsburgh would become the city where the largest concentrations of our family would call home.

So when the jobs in Pittsburgh started to dwindle as the cities manufacturing status began to change, Farabaughs dispersed throughout the country and the world. Farabaughs could now be found in Pueblo ,Colorado, St. Louis, Missouri, Los Angeles, California, and other cities that offered the promise of jobs and security that could no longer be found in Pittsburgh.

My own family's migration placed us outside Chicago in the late 1980s.

So when Pittsburgh began to reinvent itself, many of the Farabaughs, including my family, were no longer in the area. Banks, hospitals, and technology firms bought up buildings and real estate downtown, and brought different jobs to Pittsburgh.

And with those jobs came a new wave of immigration. When I returned to the city this week to begin coverage of the G20 Summit, I was surprised to learn that Indians form one of the largest foreign-born populations now living in Pittsburgh. 12,000 Indians now call Pittsburgh and the surrounding communities home, and are the latest ethnic group to make their mark on a city that has long depended on immigrants to fuel its prosperity.

Kannu Sahni came to Pittsburgh in the 1970s as the city was in the infancy of its rebirth. Originally from India, the promise of good jobs and a family-friendly city were attractive qualities that kept him here. Now, as his own sons have left the city to attend college, he hopes that they might return, attracted by the attention Pittsburgh continues to receive not just during the G20 summit, but also from the success of sport teams in Pittsburgh, like the Super Bowl champion American football team the Steelers, and the Stanley Cup Hockey Champions the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sunil Wadhwani came to Pittsburgh in the 1970s to attend the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University. After completing a graduate degree, Wadhwani chose to stay in Pittsburgh where he formed a technology company. Now called iGate, Wadhwani now employs over 6,000 people worldwide, and maintains his company headquarters in Pittsburgh.

These are just two of thousands of stories of the people who now form the backbone of the workforce in Pittsburgh. The transformation from blue-collar jobs to white-collar jobs continues today, and is at the center of Pittsburgh's story to the world that the international media is covering during the G20 summit. The city of Pittsburgh hopes to use the Summit as a vehicle that brings more business to the area, and with them, more jobs.

While there are still manufacturing jobs in the area, the universities and hospitals are now the dominant employment engine in Pittsburgh. Looking at the downtown skyline of Pittsburgh, the names of different financial institutions now mark the tops of most buildings in the downtown area.

The continuing rebirth of Pittsburgh is an attractive quality that is bringing people back to their hometown, a city frequently cited as "The Most Livable City" in the United States. It is a story my own family can relate to.

My parents moved back to the area ten years ago, and both of them work in fields that now define Pittsburgh to the world - banking and medicine.

While the prospect of jobs and closeness to family is an attractive draw, I myself have no plans to return to my hometown of Pittsburgh. I'm happy to return to visit family and to cover news stories like the G20 occasionally, but Chicago is home to my Farabaugh family. But no matter where I live, I will always cheer on my favorite team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, despite even a recent loss the to the team in my new hometown, the Chicago Bears.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

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Ted Kennedy: A lion remembered

In 2006, I was assigned to cover the Connecticut U.S. Senate midterm election race between Democrat Ned Lamont and independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman.

In the course of that coverage, I would have the opportunity to meet Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. He was campaigning in support of Ned Lamont. While the Iraq war was then the No. 1 issue in America, Kennedy used that election as a platform to once again champion universal health care coverage.

Lamont was sweating as he stood outside the Clifford House senior center in Bridgeport, Conn. He was feeling the heat — not just from the sun on this unusually warm October afternoon, but he also was sweating his poll numbers. As Lamont waited for the guest of honor to help him kick-off this latest campaign event, he trailed incumbent Lieberman (running as an independent after losing the Democratic primary to Lamont earlier in 2006) in several polls of likely voters. One showed him down by as much as 10 percentage points in the November election. If Lamont was going to win this hotly-contested election for theSenate seat, he needed some help.

And help was on the way.

As soon as the tan Dodge Caravan pulled up to the entrance of the retirement home, Kennedy emerged from the vehicle and zeroed in on Lamont. Kennedy"s arrival was low-key — no fanfare, no entourage, just Ted. But his presence was commanding, and his endorsement and support was the kind of boost Lamont needed just weeks away from an election.

"We"re going to talk about health care!" were the first words out of Kennedy"s mouth as he shook hands with Lamont in front of the assembled media. "Ned"s got a plan for universal coverage, which is something that hasn"t been on the national agenda, and hasn"t been on the Senate"s agenda."

"It"s been on the back burner for an awful long time," Lamont added.

Kennedy had devoted much of his life crusading for universal health care coverage. For him, it was personal, and present as he walked gingerly towards the podium inside Clifford House.

While everyone stood, Kennedy took his seat until it was his turn to address the crowd, trying to ease the stress on his back.

The pain he felt after standing for long intervals stemmed from a 1964 plane crash enroute to the Massachusetts state Democratic Convention in Springfield. Senator Birch Bayh, D-Indiana — another passenger on the ill-fated flight — pulled Kennedy from the flaming wreckage of the airplane shortly after it crashed.

One of Kennedy"s aides, Ed Moss — and the pilot, Ed Zimny — died in the crash. It was less than a year after Ted's brother President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and just one more incident in a life filled with tragedy.

Ted Kennedy spent months recuperating from the ordeal and the crash left him with permanent back and neck problems. But it was also an event that marked a milestone in Kennedy"s crusade for health care coverage.

But that crusade almost ended before it even really began.

His involvement in the 1969 death of Mary Jo Kopechne in a car accident on Chappaquiddick Island,Mass., almost brought Kennedy's career as a lawmaker to an end. Although it ultimately haunted him the rest of his life, Kennedy emerged from the scandal, and in 1970 introduced his first bill to provide national health care coverage. Three years later, his son, Edward M. Kennedy, lost a leg during a bout with cancer.

Some 33 years later, in 2006, he was still fighting for "the cause of his life" as he spoke to voters in Bridgeport who gathered to hear him speak.

"I came through the Hartford airport just a few hours ago," Kennedy earnestly explained. "And someone came up and grabbed my arm, and said, ‘Has anybody ever told you, you look like Ted Kennedy?' And then they said, ‘It must make you damn mad, doesn"t it!' "

The crowd erupted into laughter. It was Kennedy at his best, his charm and his humor put to use to help further his efforts, and as he began his pitch he seemed as comfortable as ever, in his element, doing what he did well.

"The test of the success of this nation is going to be our community of caring. Whether we are all going to care about each other. And that is what health care is all about."

After a seven-minute speech, supported by several charts that showed Kennedy"s plan for affordable health care coverage for everyone, Kennedy explained that a vote for Ned Lamont, and local Congressional candidate Diane Farrell, would be a vote for overhauling the health care system, which both candidates supported.

But like so much in his life, Kennedy would not see his efforts realized. Despite his endorsements and campaign stops, both Farrell and Lamont lost in the November general election that year. And despite gains for the Democratic Party in the House and Senate, real change would not come until 2008.

For Kennedy, it would not be soon enough. Shortly after his landmark endorsement of Presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008, Kennedy fell ill with a seizure. Doctors treating him discovered a malignant tumor in his brain.

Kennedy would face his last, ultimate test during the first real opportunity to see the "cause of his life" fulfilled. The election of Obama and a new "supermajority" in the Senate is fertile ground for substantive change to America"s health care system.

Kennedy"s death comes at a critical moment when lawmakers are listening to voter concerns over health care reform in heated town hall debates all across America.

While Kennedy didn"t live long enough to see the "cause of his life" fulfilled, health care reform will undoubtedly be a lasting part of his legacy

The idealism Kennedy fervently applied to his crusade for health care was a family trait that he best described himself at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver — in what would be his last major public speech.

"We are told that Barack Obama believes too much in an America of high principle and bold endeavor, but when John Kennedy called of going to the moon, he didn't say it's too far to get there. We shouldn't even try," Ted Kennedy said.

"Our people answered his call and rose to the challenge, and today an American flag still marks the surface of the moon. Yes, we are all Americans. This is what we do. We reach the moon. We scale the heights. I know it. I've seen it. I've lived it. And we can do it again."

KANE FARABAUGHis a Midwest-based TV and radio correspondent with Voice of America (www.voanews.com). A 1995 graduate of Ottawa Township High School, Farabaugh recently returned to Ottawa, where he now lives with his family. He's worked for various commercial TV stations as a reporter and anchor as well as the American Forces Network Europe based in Germany. The views expressed in this column are Farabaugh's and do not represent the views of Voice of America.