When Mary Pitcher lost two of her sons in a drowning accident in 2008, she didn’t know what to do. But she knew she had to do something.
Stephen and Vincent Pitcher were avid skaters and BMX riders. Growing up in a suburb outside Pittsburgh, they were often cited by local authorities for riding where they weren’t supposed to—which was pretty much everywhere. Mary had to pick them up from the local constable’s office more than a few times.
If only they had a place of their own to skate and roll and ride free.
What Mary would do, she soon decided, was build a public skatepark in their town, in memory of Stephen and Vincent, so other kids could enjoy skating and BMXing in a safe, encouraging environment. The kind of place her boys dreamed about.
Gathering support from the community, Mary approached her local borough council and presented the idea. She had no idea how she was going to do it, only that she would achieve her sons’ dream somehow.
Her borough leaders were also unsure how she would do it, and they found themselves at the receiving end of neighbor complaints that the skatepark would be bad for the community, resulting in them showing little support for her project. Undeterred, Mary reached out to the Tony Hawk Foundation in 2009 and began receiving technical assistance from THF staff. That same year, the THF Board Of Directors awarded Mary’s project a $10,000 grant. The need for a skatepark in town was clear, and Mary’s indomitable spirit could convince even the most ardent skeptic that it would happen, one way or another. The public loved the idea, but in an audacious refusal to alter the status quo, the borough council voted against the skatepark.
That’s when foundation staff introduced the project to Carol and Ken Schultz, longtime THF supporters and Pittsburgh natives. Mary’s story, plus the fact that the greater Pittsburgh area still had no proper concrete skatepark, convinced Carol and Ken to get involved. With funding from their Ken And Carol Schultz Foundation, plus a little business savvy, they helped Mary promote her sons’ dream of a skatepark to the broader region. Very quickly, several borough mayors were calling to invite Mary to consider their community.
In 2014, the 15,000-square-foot Pitcher Park Memorial Skatepark was completed in Carnegie, just a mile from Mary’s original location (she’s since moved to be closer to the skatepark). With a gala inaugural session featuring Tony Hawk and the Birdhouse Skateboards team, the greater Pittsburgh area’s first world-class concrete skatepark opened to welcome skaters and BMXers from all surrounding boroughs, as well as visitors from as far away as Europe and Australia.
Witnessing the positive response to Carnegie’s new landmark, officials in Pittsburgh and several other surrounding towns are now also pursuing new concrete skateparks.
“It’s been a dream come true,” said Mary. “The things I went through for the past seven years—the result has completely diminished the struggle. I’ve gotten a thousand thank yous from parents and kids. It’s just unreal.”
Connecting with Pittsburgh natives Carol and Ken Schultz, as well as early support, guidance, and encouragement from THF were critical to her success. “We couldn’t have done it without THF, their support and professionalism.” said Mary. “THF was a lifeline—I didn’t know anything about this before I started. But with a little help, anything is possible.”
Especially if you have a force of nature like Mary Pitcher at the helm.