Where are they now? Portraits tracks down some people you may have wondered about

by Kimberly Weinberg

Portraits Editor

 A favorite professor. That fellow student who always stood out in some way. For some reason, you think of them one day and wonder, “Whatever happened to ...” 

We have a few answers for you in what may become a regular feature in Portraits, “Where are they now?” 

Let us know what you think and if there’s anyone that you’d like to know about.

Giselle Magnella, German instructor

There’s often a hint of wistfulness when early alumni talk about Giselle Magnella,

whom Norman Faye ’65-’67 called “the lithesome blonde from Deutschland.”

“I learned enough German from Mrs. Magnella to later meet the Ph.D. requirement at Penn,” Faye wrote for Portraits. “Note that in high school, I took Spanish I and II eight times.”

Frank Rizzo ’64-’66 said Magnella “simply pushed me to succeed and that allowed me to

move on to main campus and eventually earn my degree.”

Language instruction was an important part of what Pitt-Bradford provided in the early

years, since two years of language were required for a bachelor’s degree from the main campus in Pittsburgh.

The 1968 Interim yearbook shows that six of the 42 faculty members taught languages.

Magnella was an adept teacher, but the wistfulness expressed by early alumni might well be from her Nordic beauty and elegant accent. No doubt a few young men had a crush on her.

She explains how her “sense of equiharmony,” as she likes to call it, helped keep the peace between members of a colorful faculty at Hamsher House, the former nurse’s dormitory

that served as the university’s only academic building.

“I loved that place,” Magnella says today. “You know, it was like a family.” Like many families, it had a few eccentrics, particularly among its language faculty, many of whom had left their native countries under trying circumstances, just as Magnella had left Berlin shortly after World War II. 

There was Marta DeLabra, who “had this Spanish temperament combined with Cuban spunk,” and a French professor from Luxembourg so forgetful that Magnella kept track of when his classes were for him, organized his stacks of books for the correct class and pinned a note under his lapel so he would not forget what class he was in and what he should be teaching.

The three language professors shared a broom closet of an office. Their three desks lined the wall of the narrow room, with Magnella’s placed by the door. Whenever one person wanted to leave, everyone had to stand up.

As small as it was, it was the only office (the rest of the professors had a desk and a few things in their classrooms) and so the choice for the morning kaffee klatsch. Magnella kept the coffee maker on a file cabinet in the tiny office. Chemistry professor Dr. Rudy Pfister had a lab near the office. He stopped each morning at the Herbig Bakery on East Corydon Street to buy day-old pastry, then would warm it up over a Bunsen burner that students knew not to use – it was the faculty kitchen. When pastry and coffee were ready, and their aromas whiffed through the hallway, some of the faculty would gather for the morning klatsch. 

Some never came, like Pfister’s wife, June, who also taught chemistry. The legendary Dr. Geraldine Madden, a local veterinarian who taught biology, would only come if DeLabra was not present.

“Every sentence had some sort of a cuss word in it,” Magnella said of Madden. If DeLabra were present, she would physically block the office door to bar Madden from the social hour.

“I had the coffee maker, so everybody had to be nice to me,” Magnella said.

Magnella continued teaching at Pitt-Bradford until the late 1970s, when she and her husband moved to Binghamton, N.Y., for a time. When they returned to Bradford, she taught German at Bradford Area High School and returned to Pitt-Bradford for a bit in the mid-1990s as an adjunct faculty member.

After the death of her husband, she became good friends with Tullah Hanley, the rich, exotic and eccentric widow of oil and brick millionaire T. Edward Hanley, and her sister, Amée. They met when they both belonged to the Women’s Literary Club in Bradford and were put in charge of the refreshments for a visit by the famous feminist Betty Friedan.

“Tullah loved to crash parties,” Magnella said, and she was often her companion in these adventures. Hanley would have Magnella’s son, Mario, drive and pull right up to the door, get out of the car, open her door and gallantly offer a hand so that she could step out of the car glamorously – legs first, like a starlet.

In 2012, Mario Magnella died in Bradford, and much of what Magnella does today is dedicated to his memory. She continues to live in Bradford, as does her daughter, Adrianne, and is working with the McKean County SPCA on a project in Mario’s memory.

She is also working with the Bradford Area Public Library, to which she donated her son’s collection of nutcrackers and world fairytale books. The books and nutcrackers will find a permanent home in a quiet corner of Bradford, just as Magnella herself has.

 

Dr. Patricia Bianco, professor emerita of theater 

It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows Professor Emerita Dr. Patricia Bianco that she has not slowed down one whit since retiring from Pitt-Bradford in 1999.

She has moved from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts and traded in drama for painting.

Bianco said she moved in 2003 after the birth of her grandson, Jake, to daughter Laura ’92, who lives near Boston.

“Who can resist a grandchild?” she said. She lives in a townhouse with an art studio on

Boston Harbor and owns a professional art business, Art by Bianco. When she’s not painting, she’s teaching at Star Island, in her studio, with various art organizations, or traveling the world – most recently to the Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu.

Her paintings have been popular. “At a recent one-person show, 15 of my 35 paintings sold,” she said. She paints in oils, watercolor and pastels.

Bianco not only teaches painting, but also is an ambassador for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where she gives tours to dignitaries and patrons and helps host special events. Look for her if you visit the MFA in Boston.

She says she misses her good friends at Pitt-Bradford -- especially the students.

 

Greg Merkle ’85 

In early November, Pitt-Bradford Staff Association sponsored a forum to tell stories about earlier days at the university. The forum was held in honor of the campus’s 50th anniversary year, and a variety of staff, faculty and community members turned out. The talk

turned to colorful characters on campus, and it was not long before Greg Merkle was indirectly mentioned. 

“Who was the kid,” one person wondered aloud, “who wore the same pair of jeans all year?” 

“Greg Merkle!” came a chorus of answers.

“Yeah, that sounds like something I’d do,” Merkle said. “I’m not a jeans guy, but I probably owned one pair of jeans. And I do keep clothes for a long time.”

Maybe he is so well remembered for his jeans because he was fond of dropping them to moon people, including administrative assistant Suzanne Dittman and facilities worker Vic Longo. 

“I hadn’t seen Vic in 25 years, but I was taking a tour a few years ago with Holly Spittler, and he recognized me and remembered knocking on my door and my mooning him.”

From his years as a student, Merkle fondly recalls driving on the sidewalks in his Ford Fiesta one night, chipping golf balls from streetlight to streetlight, tending bar, playing and winning lots of intramural sports and bowling in a local league. He wrote the “Dear Shabby” column for The Source and was an intern for Channel 7 news in Buffalo. 

Somewhere along the line, however, he went respectable – something Dr. K. James Evans, vice president and dean of student affairs and THE MAN to anyone who attended Pitt-Bradford after the mid-1970s, was quick to point out at the forum.

Today Merkle is a financial advisor in Buffalo, N.Y. – a gig he has had since 1989. He has indulged his interest in politics by serving on the Town of Elma planning board and is a former trustee for the village of East Aurora. 

He puts his sports knowledge to work as president of the Greater Buffalo United States Bowling Congress and serves on the board of directors of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame and The Buffalo Niagara Hall of Fame, which combines the Greater Buffalo Hall of Fame, the Buffalo Broadcasters Hall of Fame and the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame. 

Although he does not make it to campus often, he sometimes catches Pitt-Bradford basketball and softball teams when they play in Buffalo.

 

Daniel Thomas ‘08 

 

Despite being 5’9”, Daniel Thomas ’08 stood out on campus in the mid-2000s – he was “the Australian kid who plays basketball.” Plays basketball very well, that is. Well enough to fulfill one of the dreams of many gym rats – playing professionally in Europe.

Although his father was a professional rugby player, Thomas chose basketball as his love at the age of 5, and he plans to play as long as possible. It was a desire to improve his game that brought him to the United States in the first place, to spend his senior year at Fort LeBeouf High School, where he played point guard for the Bisons.

Determined to keep playing at the next level, Thomas sent a tape to then-Pitt-Bradford basketball coach Andy Moore, who recruited Thomas.

“Coach Moore made me the player I am today,” Thomas said, but it’s fair to say that’s because Moore’s passion for the game was matched by Thomas’s. After a successful Division III career with the Panthers, Thomas still wanted to keep playing and found an agent.

“The only thing that sucks about college is that you only get to play four years,” he said. But Thomas was able to keep playing basketball full time in Zagreb, Croatia, where he played for a year before moving on to play in Denmark.

“The fans in Europe are crazy,” he said, explaining that benches have shields built over the players to protect them from things thrown from the stands.

Thomas has since returned to his hometown of Perth, Australia, and continues to play semi-pro basketball for the Mandurah Magic. He hopes that when his time runs out as a player, he can use his degrees in sports medicine and teaching to coach basketball and pass along his passion for the sport. He invites friends to find him on Facebook under Dan Thomas.

 

Matt Teribery ‘12 

Rebranding at what, 24? Doesn’t that seem a little precocious? But when it comes to business, Matt Teribery ’12 has shown some early potential.

A year before graduating, Teribery received a NEXT STEP Business Grant from the Pitt-Bradford entrepreneurship program to start his own clothing line, Capitl Clothing. It was nothing but T-shirts with a vibe based on scenes Teribery loved and was a part of – bands and snowboarding. 

Through the next few years, he kept plugging away, going to music festivals, selling his shirts on the online store Storenvy and building a social media following. He kept the books and

worked with designers, suppliers and printers. He detagged each T-shirt by hand and fulfilled all orders himself.

All this work was done while finishing his bachelor’s in business management at Pitt-Bradford, then getting a master’s degree at St. Bonaventure University and always working for his parents’ business and helping them to build their own company. 

All that work will make a person grow up, and it did. While he still loves music and snowboarding, Teribery has matured, and the brand has, too.

“Now it’s more of a lifestyle brand with a lot of Pennsylvania inspiration,” he said. It’s been renamed Capitl & Co. LLC and is targeted more toward those in their 20s than those in their teens. He’s replaced touring at musical festivals with touring at events like the fall festival in Ellicottville, N.Y.

It’s paid off. This winter, Zumiez, a skate-inspired national brand with stores in 44 states, began carrying a few Capitl shirts in its Pennsylvania stores and at the Galleria Mall near Buffalo, N.Y. Capitl is all grown up, and ready for its debut.