NO ONE LESS THAN A MILLIONAIRE
It was a cold January night in Washington DC.
My son Patrick and I were attending a real estate conference on
developing Golf Course Communities. Patrick was a senior at The
University of Florida, majoring in real estate finance. My company
DiCesare Engler was very active in real estate development. We had been
trying for years to get an approval for a twenty thousand seat outdoor
amphitheatre on the five hundred acres we had acquired in the bustling
Cranberry Township area in Butler County north of Pittsburgh. When all
efforts to get an approval for the amphitheatre failed, I decided to
take a new direction and planned to develop the land for residential
housing based around a golf course.
The conference was well attended by many national developers. If you were to take a financial census of those in attendance, there probably was no one less than a millionaire. To say the attendees were wealthy would be an understatement. At the end of the day, our group decided to go to dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.
At the end of our evening we asked the waiter to get us two cabs. We paid our check. It was a small fortune for some, but not to the caliber of gentlemen at our table. I kept wondering what the sum of the collective net worth was at our table. Everyone owned a great deal of real estate and only the most successful attended this event. The waiter urged us to start waiting out front of the restaurant for the cab. He knew it would be somewhat difficult to get a cab as it was freezing outside and it was a Friday night.
We waited for what seemed like an eternity. The bitter cold made us more impatient. As more people came out of the restaurant, the crowd waiting for a taxi started to mount. I pulled my collar up as I tried to stay warm. As I turned to my right I could see the Capital all aglow from the many spotlights adorning the familiar edifice. I stared at it for quite some time.
I turned my head to the left again towards the direction that the cab would approach, and as I did, I noticed a small black man wearing only a light jacket. It was a dark brown hooded sweat shirt. I was wondering why he didn’t have a heavier coat. He had a smile on his face and he was singing a tune that I didn’t recognize. As he started approaching the group of well dressed people standing in front of the very prestigious restaurant, he broke out into dance and held his hand out asking for a donation. It occurred to me that he was likely homeless.
He was still about twenty five feet away from me. I noticed that no one was paying attention to him. I again turned my head towards the view of the capital and as I looked to my right, I noticed a small man who looked to me like he could have been a boxer. He was lean and muscular and was not wearing a heavy coat either. I thought, “Perhaps it doesn’t get that cold in DC and that tonight must just be an unusually cold night.”
As I gazed at the lean mean looking man. He started pushing through the crowd of people and was walking hurriedly straight towards me. I turned my head away from him and I looked straight ahead. There was the homeless man right in front of Patrick and me. He had his hand out and he was doing his little dance right in front of us. As I reached in my pocket searching for money, suddenly the man behind me pushed his way through the crowd. I could clearly see him punch the little homeless guy with a left hand jab to the stomach and a right hand hook to the jaw. He hit the homeless man with such force, that he lifted him off his feet. He came down and his forehead hit the concrete sidewalk with such force that I could hear a thud. The crowd of people waiting for the cab had grown to about thirty by now and had witnessed the horrible scene. I was startled. I stared in disbelief. My son Patrick who was standing immediately to my left shook my left shoulder as if to wake me up as I continued staring and he said to me, “Dad! Dad! Are you going to do anything?” Nobody in this crowd of elegance made a move. There was silence. Everyone had witnessed the event. But yet no one made a move to help the poor wretch. The attacker disappeared. Someone said, ‘Thank God. Our cabs are here.”
Again, Patrick said to me, as I stared into the eyes of the victim who was on all fours on the bitter cold sidewalk who was looking up at me, “Dad. Are you going to do something?”
WHATEVER YOU DO FOR THE LEAST OF MY BROTHER. . . .
As my group started getting into the two cabs, one of the guys in our group yelled out to Patrick and me, “Are you guys coming? Get in.”
My eyes were locked into the victim who was still on all fours looking at me with his head up and blood pouring out of his forehead only this time, he was transformed into the body of Jesus Christ. He looked right at me he was wearing a crown of thorns on his forehead with blood dripping down his face in the form of Jesus and as he looked right into my eyes, he said, “Pat. Pat. Are you going to help me?”
I couldn’t move. The guys in the cab were yelling out to me to get into the cab. The driver with a foreign accent shouted that he was in a hurry and if I wanted a ride, I would have to get inside the cab – now!
Just then another cab driver who must have witnessed the event came wheeling in to where we were standing. He jumped out of his cab and went over to the little guy and threw his coat over his cold frame that was shaking uncontrollably. The cabbie helped lift the guy and put him into his cab. He looked at all of us well dressed affluent looking people and just shook his head as if to scold us. I felt ashamed. Patrick was right. I should have helped the little guy. But, I just couldn’t move. I was stunned.
When Patrick and I got into the cab, the other guys in the cab were talking about the occurrence, “Did you see that punch? That guy had to be a professional boxer.
What an uppercut. That little guy just was lifted up into the air. It’s a wonder he is still breathing.” We drove down the street towards the Capital. Somehow, this magnificent view lost its luster.
We went back to our $500 a night rooms at the Four Seasons. I felt guilty. We had just spent a fortune at the restaurant and now we did the same at the hotel and here is a guy in view of our nation’s capital that is begging for money to eat and is probably sleeping in the streets. I had never thought of this.
The vision of the homeless guy on all fours wearing a crown of thorns with blood running down his face began to haunt me. I said good night to Patrick and we both went to our rooms. I had a difficult time trying to sleep. I kept seeing His face!
OPEN TO ALL POSSIBILITIES
When the conference was over, Patrick went back
to Gainesville. On Monday, I went to work at my office in Pittsburgh.
As I kept thinking about the incident, I decided to call Father Tom
Acklin who was a monk at Saint Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, PA. He and I
had become friends a few years earlier and besides being a priest, he
was a counselor. When I asked if I could talk to him, he told me to
come right over. I left my office and drove to Latrobe, not too far
from my home in a nice golf course community in Greensburg.
When I got to Father Tom’s office and got everything off my chest, he said to me, “The answer you are looking for is very simple. You are being told to help the homeless.”
“Help the homeless! I don’t know anyone who is homeless,” I said.
“Then, you must go out and find the homeless and then help them. It’s that simple” He retorted.
“No! You don’t understand. I never saw any homeless people. I don’t think we have any homeless people in Greensburg.” I said.
“They’re here. There’s homeless people everywhere, and hungry people who have nothing to eat.” He said as he opened his Rolodex file cards looking for a name. “Let me give you the name of someone who can help you. His name is Father Jim Garvey. He operates soup kitchens and homeless shelters in the City of Pittsburgh. Call him and tell him what you told me.”
“But, Father Tom, even if he does show me what you are talking about how can I help? I am only one person. What can I possibly do?”
“Be open to possibilities. Something will come to you. You’ll see.”
As I left Father Tom’s office, I wondered what those parting words meant. I immediately drove to my office in Pittsburgh and called Father Garvey. I explained my conversation that I had with Father Tom.
THE HOMELESS DON’T LIVE IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD
Father Garvey said, “So you want to help the homeless?”
“Yes. I think so. But I have to tell you Father, I don’t know any homeless people.”
Very patiently and with a caring voice, he said, “That’s because the homeless don’t live in your neighborhood. You must go out and find them. Then you can help. The homeless don’t live in areas that you know or in places that you frequent. I agree with Father Tom that you have received a message to help the homeless. Why don’t we meet and I can show you some of the things we have been doing?”
I went home and brought my wife Kathy up to date. “I have to help the homeless. That is what all these signs and messages I been receiving means.”
She had the same reaction that I did and she asked, “What homeless people? Where are you going to find them and if you do, how are you going to help them? What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know any of these answers. But I already talked to Father Garvey and tomorrow I’m going to meet him at Saint Joseph’s House of Hospitality in the Hill District.” I said.
“You’re nuts! You’re going to the Hill District. You’re going to get yourself killed going there.” She said.
The next day I met Father Jim at his office at Saint Joseph’s House of Hospitality at eleven. The building was only a few blocks from the Pittsburgh Civic Arena. He wanted me to have lunch at a soup kitchen that was on Fifth Avenue. I wondered if he was protecting me by not taking me to the Hill District. To be honest, the Hill District did intimidate me. I never drove through the area because of all the bad news they show in the newspapers or on TV. Everyday there would be a shooting in the Hill day or night.
Father Garvey said, “Since you wanted to learn about the homeless, I thought I would give you a tour. It will probably take you about a half day. I’ll take you to lunch at one of our most popular soup kitchens. It’s located at the lower level of The Epiphany church. I want you to see something there, and then we will go to lunch. I’ll drive. We will meet Paul Dvorchack there. He works for us and does a marvelous job. Paul was going to be a priest.”
EAT WITH THE HOMELESS? ISN’T THAT DANGEROUS?
We drove toward the soup kitchen and passed by many boarded up store rooms and row houses. A lot of men who looked like stereotypical homeless people were standing in front of the doors of unkempt houses drinking out of bottles that were in brown paper bags.
It was the middle of the day. I didn’t know what to expect, but as we parked the car and walked into the stark large hall. I knew that I didn’t want to be here and I especially did not want to eat here. The place had long rows of tables with chairs, and was filled with people who looked like they hadn’t bathed for days. Some of them seemed to know Father Garvey. I followed him as he took a tray and got in line and showed me what to do. I felt guilty and ashamed that I was possibly eating a homeless person’s meal. Not to mention that I was worried me that the place didn’t look clean. I mean, it was clean, but the patrons looked too dirty for what I was used to.
I started to doubt myself: Do I have what it takes to help the hungry and the homeless? I thought to myself, “I’m ashamed to even think about it, but I really don’t want to be around these people. I don’t want to eat with them. I’m sorry. I’ll have to call Father Tom and tell him. I’ll go through this day with Father Garvey and go along with him, but I don’t want to help the hungry and the homeless. Besides, like Kathy said, to help the homeless I can just give some organization money. I can always say that I don’t know any homeless people.”
I followed Father Garvey and Paul, and I did
what they told me. I picked up a tray, and started walking through the
line. It reminded me in a way of my days in the army going to the mess
hall and going through the chow line with a tray. The only difference
was that the mess hall and all the people there were spotless. But, as I
went through the line, the people on the other side of the food table
started to look more familiar to me. Not that I knew anyone in
particular, but I was taken back to my days growing up on 4th street in
Trafford. I never would have separated the clean from the unclean.
When did I start thinking this way? My mom and dad never raised me to
feel that I was socially elite. It occurred to me of how far I had
strayed from the little boy who grew up in a happy two bedroom house
with nine brothers and sisters. It was an instant ah-ha moment of
self-realization that occurred looking into those familiar faces.
Father Garvey began to introduce me to some people that were eating there or volunteering there. I began to settle down and was feeling more at home.
We sat at a table and Father Garvey explained my vision to Paul, who seemed genuinely interested and listened intently. I was concerned that some people might wonder if I was sincere about wanting to help. What struck me was that I had never given any thought or concern to the homeless before this. I felt so empty. But, now this crisis was starting to fill my every thought. I didn’t want to do any work in my business. That was meaningless! I need to learn more about the homeless and how to stop this problem.
After we had lunch, Father Garvey, Paul and I drove to a homeless shelter for battered woman. I found it hard to believe that father Garvey had divided the homeless into categories. Some of the woman in the shelter even had children with them. The shelter was located in the basement of The Epiphany Church which was across the street from the Civic Arena. I had gone to mass at this church many times late at night. I never knew that it was also a homeless shelter. As we entered from the ground level, I saw bunk beds lined up. There were so many lined up that I wondered how they could live there. But, Father Garvey explained, “If we didn’t have this shelter, these women and their children would be living in the streets, even on cold nights in the winter.” He went on, “That’s one of our problems, we don’t have enough space and at times we are forced to turn people away. There are zoning and fire ordinances we have to follow.”
“What do you do about the people you can’t accommodate, especially in the winter?” I asked.
“We drive around and give the people blankets and some food to help for the night. We usually know where to find them.”
We left Epiphany and drove over to Saint Joseph’s House of Hospitality. This was a very pleasant shelter. It was for senior citizens. Since it was a warm winter day, many of the people were sitting outside on the porch in rocking chairs talking to each other. Paul gave me a tour of the entire building. I could tell he was proud of the place. He took me to the laundry room and there he introduced me to a nun who was doing the laundry. Father Garvey explained to me that many of the newer people come only with the clothes on their back and that they are always looking for clothes. “We need a man’s suit. We do have some people who live here until they die. We have burial services for them. The deceased is laid out. We have viewing and a mass. But we don’t have a suit. If we did, we couldn’t bury the person in it because we would need it for the next person that dies.”
Paul finished taking me on the tour and proudly showed me the bedrooms, bathrooms, the cafeteria and the lounge area. Father Garvey said, “I know I’ve taken up a lot of your time and you have to go, but feel free to stop here anytime and have lunch with us. You’ll enjoy it here.”
“Yes. Maybe I will do that. Thanks for the tour,” I said as I walked to my car.
“DAD, ARE YOU GOING TO DO ANYTHING?”
I went home and told Kathy of my experiences,
and I started to feel overwhelmed by the vastness of this problem that
has existed under my nose. “What are you going to do?” She asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t think I can do this. It is so depressing. There is so much that is needed. I can’t see how I could do anything. I’m only one person. I don’t know why I went there. I’m upset at myself for even going. I wish I hadn’t. I can’t do anything.”
That night I couldn’t sleep. The image of that homeless man on all fours with the crown of thorns looking at me with all that blood on his face haunted me. I could hear Patrick’s saying, “Dad. Dad. Are you going to do anything?” I felt so ashamed for not helping. And seeing the image of Jesus saying “Pat. Pat. Are you going to help me?” kept gnawing at me. I thought of Father Tom again telling me that the message was clear that I should help the homeless. I thought of Father Garvey telling me that, “The homeless don’t live in your neighborhood. You have to go out and find them.”
The next morning Kathy had the coffee brewing. As usual, Kathy made breakfast and after we ate we had long conversations over coffee. Kathy knew that I was troubled over my concern for the homeless. I felt guilty that we had so much. Our home had more bedrooms and bathrooms than we had family members, yet there are people with nowhere to live.
Kathy said, “Well, what are you going to do?”
“I have no idea, but I better get in the office and go to work. I’m behind on a lot of things,” I replied.
A CHRISTMAS LIGHT SHOW – THAT’S THE TICKET!
When I went into my office, there was a lot of
mail that I had to sort through. I hadn’t been in the office to do
anything since before Patrick and I went to DC. One piece of mail
interested me. It was a post card from a mid west concert promoter who
had promoted an outdoor Christmas light show the previous year and
wanted to take the show on the road. He had a show ready to tour to
different cities. The producer of the show would provide the show and
bring it to the location that I provided. I would be responsible for
setting up the show, promoting it, and providing the labor for each
night. At the end of the run and after we paid all the expenses
including the producers large guarantee we would split anything left
over on a fifty basis.
I suddenly thought, “This is it! This is how I can raise the money to help the homeless. Father Tom was right; somehow the idea would come to me. The vision meant that I should help the homeless and the Christmas Light Show is the way to do it.” I didn’t realize it would come to me so quickly.
It was January 1991. My goal was to have a show ready for the week before Thanksgiving of this year and run it perhaps until after The Russian Orthodox Christmas. “Maybe we should run it to the second weekend in January 1992. Perhaps we can run the show for ten weeks,” I thought. “If we could get three thousand paid attendance a week at five dollars a person we could gross $150,000. If I could rent a site for ten percent of the gross and keep my expenses down to twenty percent, there would be a one hundred thousand dollar profit. I would have to split that with the producer which would leave fifty thousand dollars for the homeless. Now we’re talking. I can do this.”
MY EXPERIENCE WITH LIGHT SHOWS. . . I DECORATED MY HOUSE FOR CHRISTMAS
So, I called the promoter of the show and was told that he already booked the dates elsewhere and wouldn’t be available for Pittsburgh. This meant that I would have to build a show from scratch. I knew absolutely nothing about that type of show. The only thing I knew was a family in Greensburg who had decorated their home so well that a lot of people drove there to see their display. When Patrick, Damian, and Jacob were younger and we lived on a farm in Penn Township we used to decorate our home with thousands of lights. People would drive by our home just to see our display.
I figured, “I think I could design a show. But, even if I assembled the display, where could I present this? It would take miles of roads to exhibit a display with enough scenes to make the show a spectacular so that we could draw the needed attendance. How could we promote this type of show?” Normally we would use Pittsburgh’s favorite rock station, WDVE, to promote a show. But, I didn’t want to use them for this event. This was more of a family show. I knew Tex Meyer who was the GM from pop station B 94 radio. They had a big listening audience and would be a great fit. I don’t think the newspapers would want to do this promotion. Ideally, I wouldn’t have to pay anything for the advertisement. I figured it was a win-win. I was confident that a TV or radio station would get a ton of good publicity from being associated with such a great cause planned on what I was figuring to be such a grand scale. I thought, “B 94 would promote this show at no cost. It would be a great show for their image.”
The next major problem that occurred to me was powering this thing. We would have to stretch wire for miles to get the power to the displays. How could we do that? No facility will have the amount of power we need at the points of use.
ON A MISSION FROM GOD
The major cost was going to be the lighted props and the labor – every single year. I thought to myself, “Can I even put all of these things together? Could I get it done for this year?” Would this even make any money?” I’ve known that in this line of business, nothing was a sure bet. So, I charged ahead as usual. I had no advertising, no sponsor, no site or venue, no power source or wiring, no displays, no lights, nothing. I had faith that I was doing the right thing, and that I could help lots of people for years to come.
Since I had no idea where to buy the displays, I thought I would design them myself and have a welder and fabricator make them. I found such a person on Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh. I drew a design and for $800 he made me a six foot snow man with lights. It took him thirty days to do it. I knew that couldn’t work. I had to find a company who makes these characters. How many would I need and at what cost? I did some back of an envelope calculations: If I had a display every hundred feet that meant I needed fifty of them to do one side of a road for one mile. At eight hundred dollars each that would come to forty thousand dollars. In addition, I would have to do the other side of the road which is another forty thousand.
The electric cable is expensive. I remember it cost DiCesare Engler a fortune when we built the amphitheatre at Station Square in Pittsburgh. I figured it would cost at least twenty five thousand dollars just for the wire. I still needed the source of power. In addition, we had the expense of labor to build the show. I figured I’d probably need twenty people to work for a month to get it set up, and then there would be the operation of each night for almost two months. I thought to myself, “Wow! This could be much more expensive than I thought. If I could get this show open, would enough people come to make it profitable?”
But my big problem was still land. I needed a
location. Before I could put anything in motion, I would have to put a
lease together on a venue. Where could I go? I thought of the five
hundred acre parcel of land that Rich Engler and I owned in Cranberry
and Adams Township where we were trying to build an amphitheatre. But
there were no roads. We couldn’t have people getting stuck. Besides
they weren’t the friendliest townships to us. I had been battling them
in court for years trying to get an approval for a twenty thousand seat
amphitheatre. They weren’t willing to approve of my plans.
I thought of what the mid west promoter advertised in his post card – call your county park. I called the Director of Parks for Allegheny County. His name was Joe Natoli. After a few attempts of calling him and going through some bureaucracy, I was able to get him on the phone.
“Mr. Natoli, my name is Pat DiCesare and I would like to lease the land at North Park from October to mid January for the purpose of presenting a Christmas Light Show. Could we talk about that?” I asked.
“Well, let’s see here. I don’t know about this. What is it you want to do?”
I attempted to give him a brief explanation of the show.
“We’ve never done anything like that before. Let me get back to you.” He said.
“OK. When? I need to get things started soon and I’d appreciate it if you could get back to me right away. I do want you to know that this will be a charity event. All the money, after expanses will be going to the homeless, so I’m hoping for a discount on the rent. As a matter of fact, I would like not to pay anything. Do you think that is possible?” I pleaded.
“Wait a minute. Let me see if I understand this. You’re calling me to use our facility for three or four months and you don’t want to pay us anything. I don’t think we will do that.” He said impatiently. I could sense his irritation.
“When can you get back to me?” I asked.
“I don’t know but I will.”
Several days went by. I thought about what I had told him, “All the money will going to the homeless.” That’s the first time I ever said those words. I didn’t even know if that was possible. I remember doing an event before and used the words, “All the money will be going to charity”, as opposed to “part of the proceeds will benefit the charity”. The last time I used those words I had a group threaten to sue me even though we actually did give all the money to charity. But the group threatened to sue us unless we gave them access to all of our books and records. We permitted them to do that and they found out that we had in fact given them all the money. We thought, “no more charity events, they didn’t appreciate what we did.” That’s the problem with the concert promotion business; everyone thinks we make nothing but money and that we have no expenses.
After a few days, I called Joe Natoli and he took my call, “Joe, any word on my idea for North Park?”
“I can’t do it. Each park has a manager and that one doesn’t want this event. He said it will ruin the park and he has too many other activities going on then.”
“Joe, I will be responsible for doing any repairs in the event we cause damages. People are just going to be driving their cars through the park on the roads that exist.” I pleaded.
“He’s concerned about where you will be erecting the displays. You are liable to ruin some bushes, trees or shrubbery during your set up. I’m sorry but the answer is no. I can’t do it.”
WHAT ABOUT HARTWOOD ACRES?
“Joe, how many parks does the county own? Is
there another park available? I know that you do concerts at Hartwood
Acres. What about that park? Could you check that out for me?” I
“I’ll check it out for you, but I will tell you this. I won’t give you the place free. You say all the money is going to the homeless. You know we have the Kane Hospital it could use some money perhaps they could be a part of your charity?” Joe said.
I wasn’t at all familiar with what he was referring to, but I said, “Get back to me about the availability and we can talk about it.”
“Just one more thing, are you the guy who does all the concerts in town?” He asked.
“OK. I just wanted to know who I was talking to.” Joe said.
A few days went by and I received a message to call him back, “Joe, what did you find out?”
“Can you come into my office for a meeting?” He said.
That was a good sign. “Sure anytime.”
At his office were many displays of sports and Italian events hanging on the wall. I started the communication by asking him questions about some of those events. This seemed to break the ice. I told him about my vision and my plans to raise money for the homeless. He was a very nice man who believed I was serious about my cause. After I explained what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it, he said, “This is a very big undertaking. Are you sure you can set this up in a month?”
“I’ll tell you, before I can do anything; I need a lease for the park. After I have that, I can have my engineer draw the plans. Then I can determine exactly what I will need and the costs. But, to answer your question, yes I can set this up in a month. It would be nice if you could give me the months of October through mid January. That will get me a little more time for setup and to tear the show down when it is over.” I said. I still had no idea how much time it would take or if I could get it done in a month. I also didn’t have an engineer. Nor could I afford one. I was going to do that planning myself along with our electrician for our concerts, Sheldon Sorber.
“Like I told you before, I don’t think I can turn the park over to you for all those months. You don’t understand that people have been using this park daily for years. In addition we have planned events during the day. Maybe I can let you start setting up in November. You will have to work around our schedule. Also, I can’t give you the park free of charge. I think I can let you have the park for a ten thousand guarantee or ten percent whichever is greater. Can you afford that?” Joe asked.
“Well, there goes the first piece of the pie taken from the homeless. But I will make it work. When can I get the lease?” I asked.
“I could have it drawn up by our legal department, but I have a few more points to cover. You must stay away from the mansion there. Also, I will not supply you with any help.” He said.
“Can you have the County Police patrol the area nightly? I don’t want anyone stealing or destroying our displays.”
“Yes we have them drive through the park daily anyway. I think we can have them available. But you can’t tell them what to do.” Joe said.
“OK. How long will it take your legal department to get the lease to me?” I asked.
“I don’t have any idea. But you can go ahead with your plans. Stay in touch with me. When the lease is prepared, I will call you.”
“OK Joe. I’m taking you for your word. I will start my planning.”
“Yes go ahead and do that. Use the entire road if you want. Stay off the grass and don’t get in the way of any people who walk through the park or use it during the day. The park closes in the evening so you shouldn’t have anyone then. The police patrol the park day and night. Here’s the site map of the park that you wanted.”
THE SET UP – 24/7 FOR A MONTH SOUND REASONABLE?
We shook hands and I left. I immediately met
with Sheldon Sorber. I told him my idea for the show and rolled out the
site map of Hartwood Acres. I made some pencil marks of where I wanted
to put the individual scenes. Sheldon said, “I’m not familiar with the
park. Can we drive through there so I could see what they have?”
After our inspection of the site, I said to him, “What do you think; will it work? Can it be done?”
“No problem! But we need a lot of power and at various points and they don’t have it.” Sheldon replied.
“That seems like a big problem. How do we solve it?” I asked.
What you have planned is going to be like lighting up a city. You will need a lot of power.” He went on talking to me in watts and kilo watts. It didn’t make any sense to me and I didn’t want to know or understand how electricity flowed through the lines and how it worked. I just wanted to know the solution to the problem. I had a well known saying among our employees, “Don’t tell me the problem unless you have a solution to the problem.”
“Generators, you need about four or five portable gigantic generators like the ones they have at huge construction sites. I know where you can get them.” Sheldon said.
“The same place we get them when we do outdoor concerts – Beckwith Machinery in Murrysville.” I answered him quickly. “Sheldon you’re a genius.”
“It’s going to take us a long time to set this up. When can we start? Sheldon asked.
“That’s a problem. We have to do the set up in thirty days.” I said.
“That’s crazy. We’re going to be working outside. It could be raining or even snowing. We can’t do it in a month.” He yelled.
“Oh, one more thing; I don’t think we can work on Sundays. But I’ll try to get that waived. You can do it. I know you can. We did the impossible with all the Halloween shows (Our month long Creep Fest in Pittsburgh). We had less than thirty days for that.” I said.
He walked towards his camper truck mumbling to me. As he opened the door his dog that lived with him in the truck ran out into the field to relieve himself. “Will they let me keep my camper here for the duration? Can you get me a hook up for it?” He asked.
“Yes. It’s OK for you to live here for the duration of the set up and the run of the show.” I lied. I never discussed it with Joe, but I felt there was a chance he might let Sheldon live there.
“Just one more thing, if I am going to be in charge here, how many workers will you be giving me?” He shouted as his dog began sniffing and barking at me.
“As many as you need. How many would that be?” I asked.
“At least twenty guys every day and I want to be able to work seven days a week and twenty four hours a day. You have to be on the site every day in case I have a problem or I need something,” he demanded. “You’ll have whatever you need. I will be here with you every day. We’ll suffer together,” I said.
I felt confident that I would get the lease from Joe soon. I needed to work on getting the generators. I asked Rich Engler if he would call Beckwith for the generators, and to see if they would trade for advertising. I didn’t know exactly what type of advertising we could give them but it was for a good cause. I would ask Ed Traversari from DiCesare Engler to solve that problem.
FINDING A SPONSOR
I called Tex Meyer the General Manager at B 94
radio. I considered him and his wife to be friends of Kathy and me. I
told Tex about my vision and asked if B 94 would be interested in being
the primary media sponsor at no cost to us. They could take all the
credit for presenting the show and for giving the donation of money to
the homeless. I insisted that Saint Joseph’s House of Hospitality be
the main beneficiary. He said he would talk to his sales manager Paula
and he would meet at my office. I didn’t think there would be a
problem, especially since she was married to one of our production
managers at DiCesare Engler. I thought Paula would love the idea after
Tex talked to her.
A few days later, Tex and Paula came to my office. I showed them our plans of what the show would look like on paper. I still had no idea of where or when I was to get the displays or how much they would cost. At the meeting, Paula took control. I didn’t like that idea. I could sense some doubt and negativity on her part as she said, “How much will this show cost to produce?”
I said confidently, even though I had no idea, “One Hundred and Twenty Five Thousand Dollars.”
“Will you be putting up the money?” She said.
I felt rather uncomfortable and wondered if it had leaked to her that we still didn’t have a sponsor. I replied, “I can get the money. I haven’t approached any sponsor for the money yet, but I’m confident that I will have one very soon.”
“Well, I disagree. We won’t touch this show unless you first prove that you have all the money to produce it. We can’t attach our call letters to a show and tell people that we are the sponsors for the show and have it cancelled. The listeners will fault us and we are the ones who will look bad. Besides, you want us to give you all these spots free of charge. Do you even realize what you are asking for? You’re way beyond the moon. Christmas is our busiest advertising season. We can’t afford to just give up our time for free at this time of the year,” she said with an attitude that irritated me. Besides, I couldn’t believe that my friend Tex would turn me down.
“Well, if I can’t get a sponsor, I will guarantee the money personally.”
“Don’t bother calling us until you get the displays and have all the money. I don’t think you can get a sponsor for a hundred and twenty five thousand and I also don’t think you can get this show ready for this season. You don’t have anything and you’re running out of time. You’ll never do it.” She said. She created such a horribly negative environment.
I was mad. I didn’t even offer to shake their hand. “Who does she thinks she is? I don’t need her station,” I thought to myself. “I will find a station and a sponsor who has a hundred and twenty five thousand dollars.”
As much as she irritated me, I knew she had some good points of concern. They were the same things that bothered me. But that is the way our business is. Nothing is ever easy. It is always stressful, but I had to face reality and get all the components to make this thing work. I felt I wouldn’t contact any other form of media for a sponsorship until I got all the money I needed. I had no idea where I could get a sponsor for one hundred and twenty five thousand dollars.
It was now the spring of the year. Time was
flying by but now I got one of my many needed breaks. In my mail, I
opened an envelope that was advertising exactly what I needed -
Christmas displays for sale. I immediately called the company and had a
long conversation with the owner. I explained what I was attempting to
do and how many displays I would need.
‘”I don’t think you could get as many displays as you need, you are running out of time. We normally make the displays as we receive the orders. If you could place your order today and give me a fifty percent deposit and show proof of the remaining fifty percent, I might be able to help you with most of what you need. Can you do that?”
“Let me call you back.” I said, Wow! Now I just need my sponsor – or I would have to explain to my wife that we were going to be the proud new sponsors of the Celebration of Lights. I knew this wasn’t reasonable though. I wanted a strong sponsor that would keep this show going year after year. Homelessness will be a problem for generations.
SOMETHING WILL COME WHEN YOU NEED IT – EVEN IN HAWAII?
When I got home and was at the dining room
table eating dinner, Kathy asked me the usual questions, which included
the old standard, “How was your day today?”
“Kathy, I don’t think I can do it.”
“You can’t do what?” She asked. I had a feeling she knew what I was going to say. “You can’t quit now. You’ve been living this thing every day for months. You can’t stop now. Remember what Father Tom told you. Something will come to you when you need it. That’s always been your belief too. I don’t want to hear you say that again. You can do it.” She said confidently. Then she changed the subject and asked, “Have you started packing?”
“Packing, for what?” I said.
“How could you forget? We’re going to Hawaii in two days.
“Kathy, I can’t go on a vacation. I have too much work to do. I have too many things to do to get this show off and running. I’ll never be able to relax.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You’re going. You need to get away. These problems will be here waiting for you when we get back. Every time we are about to go on a vacation, you say that.
The two days flew by. We had a limousine pick us up at our home in Greensburg and drive us to the airport. The travel time would be over an hour. As we were on our way, the driver said, “I hope you don’t mind but we had a problem with scheduling and our company wanted me to inform you that we have two other passengers in Monroeville that need to be picked up and taken to the airport. Do you mind if they ride with you?”
“No. We don’t mind.” I said without even thinking or asking Kathy what she thought. About twenty minutes later we arrived at the couple’s home. They got into the limo and sat directly across from us. I didn’t like the way limos had their seats facing each other. It was awkward. I tried to avoid looking straight ahead because the woman sat directly across from me. She was a few years younger than us. They were an attractive couple – probably in their forties.
After I few minutes of silence, she introduced themselves. We did the same. I wasn’t paying attention and I immediately forgot both of their names. We continued sitting in silence for awhile. Then she said, “You said your name is Pat DiCesare. Are you the guy that does all the concerts?” That is a question I would get asked often.
“Yes.” I said. At that time, I hated being asked that question because I never liked the questions that would follow, “How did you get started? Or what is your favorite act? I really hated that one. If people only knew how I felt about their favorite artist.”
“Oh. I bet you have an exciting life, hanging around all those big names.” She went on.
“Oh yeah,” I smirked. I thought to myself, “This is not going to be good. I am trapped in this limo with a groupie. I hope she doesn’t ask any more questions.” Then her composure changed and she said in a more serious tone, “I’ll bet what you do is a lot of hard work. When you’re doing big things like you’re doing, it can’t be all fun. Do you have any shows coming up, anyone interesting?”
For some reason, I suddenly felt completely different about her. She seemed genuinely interested. I wasn’t even paying attention to her husband. I just felt like telling her everything about what I had been trying to accomplish, but I couldn’t quite grasp how to explain it. I started to tell her about my “vision” in Washington DC with my son Patrick and him asking me, “Dad. Dad, are you going to help him?” Then I saw Jesus appear with a crown of thorns and the blood pouring down his face. I went on to explain about Father Tom and Father Garvey and the homeless. I went into detail about the idea I had for the Christmas Light show and that I needed one hundred and twenty five thousand dollars very soon to make the show happen. The next thing I knew we had arrived at the airport and I was still doing all the talking. We said our goo byes and wished each other a good trip and left.
Kathy and I stopped for a coffee and a roll in the airport. After we finished, we walked to our plane which had started to board. As we walked to our seats my eyes met the couple who shared the limo with us, they were going to Hawaii also. With a surprised look on both of our faces, the woman smiled in disbelief as she looked at me and asked, “You’re going to Hawaii too?”
Hawaii was great and the week went quickly. Kathy was right going on the trip was exactly what I needed. I enjoyed it. Coming back on the plane, I saw that couple again. I thought this was so strange. There was something about the woman. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but there was something about her.
When we landed in Pittsburgh we picked up our baggage and the same limo driver was there to pick us up. As he took the luggage from us, he said, “I hope you don’t mind but that same couple will be riding with us to Monroeville. I should have told you that before you left, but I didn’t know that until the dispatcher told me this morning. Is that going to be alright with you?”
HEY, DO YOU STILL NEED $125,000?
I looked at Kathy and she said, “Sure.” I was
kind of glad. I looked forward to talking to the woman again. We sat
in the limo waiting for just a few minutes and the couple came in. I
still couldn’t remember their names. We drove to Monroeville with them
and just made some small talk. Just as we came to their home and before
they got out of the limo, she handed me her card and said, “I’m the
marketing director for Thrift Drug. I’m very interested in talking to
you about the idea you have for your Christmas show. Could you call me
tomorrow? Here’s my card. I’ll look forward to your call.”
Kathy said, “What was that all about?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t know. But I had this feeling about her since we picked them up before we left for Hawaii.”
“Are you going to call her?”
“You bet! I can’t wait until tomorrow.”
“Hi, this is Pat DiCesare, can you talk?”
“OK. You need one hundred and twenty five thousand dollars. What can you offer my company for that?” She asked.
“I will call the show The Thrift Drug Christmas Show at Hartwood Acres. You will be in all the advertisements and Thrift will present the check from the proceeds to the homeless charity. I will do all the work. I don’t need or want the publicity.”
“What dates will the show be open?” She asked.
“My target days are a week before Thanksgiving until the second weekend in January.” I said.
“When do you need the money?” She asked.
“Now, if we want to get this show ready for this year, I have to have the money now.” I said.
“One more question. Do you have a media sponsor and how many spots will you have a day.” She asked.
“I don’t know that yet. But I can assure you that I will have a strong radio or TV station and I will have plenty of spots.” I said.
“Thrift Drug has its own charity involvement with The Salvation Army and Project Bundle Up. You realize that WTAE TV is deeply involved with both. I would like to approach WTAE to see if they would want to become the show’s media sponsor. Do you have any problem with that? Do you mind if Thrift Drug also promotes the show with our own advertisement?” She asked.
“Oh. Oh. That would be great. Yes you can do that. I would want you to do that.” I said hesitantly. I was happy that she would be providing and paying for more advertising, but I wasn’t happy about adding Project Bundle Up to our charity list. I knew that would diminish the amount we could give to the homeless. But, for the moment, I could see no other way. She could call the shots if she delivered the money to produce the show and the media sponsor to promote it. She was a God send. She was solving most of my problems.
“When can you get me an agreement detailing our arrangement? I will need that to get the money,” she said.
“I will deliver the agreement to your office tomorrow. Will you be in?”
“Yes.” She said.
I thought again of what Father Tom had told me. I believed this show would happen. I admit I had my doubts, but now, I felt more confident. I can order the displays. I need the generators. She may have solved the media sponsor.
A few days later, I got a call from Thrift Drug. WTAE TV would do it as a “Project Bundle Up” promotion and station weatherman Joe DiNardo would have to front the whole thing as if it were his idea and he would have to take all the credit.
THERE IS NOTHING GLAMOROUS ABOUT THE HOMELESS
The show would be called The Thrift Drug Celebration of Lights and somewhere Project Bundle Up would be included. I didn’t care about DiCesare Engler getting any credit, but I didn’t like this appearing to be a “Project Bundle Up” event. My idea was for the main charity to be the homeless and the hungry. Not to buy people coats. Sure, that’s a good cause but so is the homeless. I wanted to talk to someone at the station who could listen to my story. Perhaps I could convince them but, I was told, “There is nothing glamorous or appealing about the homeless. People can’t relate to that. The homeless is just not exciting. Project Bundle Up is our promotion. If you want our station especially around Christmas time, the show has to be about Project Bundle Up. Not the homeless. Or else, there’s no show.”
“I have to insist that Saint Joseph’s get something significant.” I said.
“You know our position. They will receive a small part of the proceeds.”
DELIVERING THE BAD NEWS
I immediately went to see Paul Dvorchak and
Father Jim Garvey to update them about everything that had taken place
recently. I felt I had let them down. What I thought was going to the
homeless was going to Project Bundle Up, Children’s Hospital, Kane
Hospital. WTAE was willing to let some of the money go to Saint
Joseph’s but only a small part.
Father Garvey said, “Don’t feel bad. You are going to make it happen. We are satisfied with anything you can get us. We are grateful that you are letting us participate. Get the show on the road.”
If we are going to have a show, I’d better order the displays. I sent the fifty percent deposit and told the manufacturer he could have whatever guarantee he wanted to prove that I had the remainder of his money. He said, “No problem. I believe you.”
I guess he had a change of heart. Then he said, “If you can’t come through, I think I can sell these to someone else. I’m getting a lot of calls. I guess as we get closer to Christmas more people are thinking about these displays. Are you sure you want that manger scene and the cross?”
“Why of course I do. Why wouldn’t I? That’s what Christmas is about.” I said.
“Whatever. You’re the guy who’s paying. I don’t care.” He said.
“Hey, I just thought, you want a guarantee from me because you don’t know me, but I don’t know you either. How do I know you‘re not going to keep my forty thousand dollars and not send my displays? Another thing I need these delivered to Pittsburgh by October first. That’s a must! Can you do it?”
“You worry too much. I’ll have them there. You’ll see.”
“I’ll be calling you every day.” I said. I sent the Forty Thousand Dollars with a signed contract that he had sent me previously. All I could do was pray. Or maybe call Father Garvey and Paul to do that part.
Then I got some more good news, Beckwith Machinery agreed to furnish all the generators that we needed – at no cost. They would deliver them to Hartwood Acres on October first. They believed in the cause for the homeless and that we would give them some publicity.
I met with Sheldon Sorber and we set up an account with the electrical supplier that he had been using for his residential work. The amount that he could charge to his account was limited and he knew he would exceed it. His supplier wanted me to guarantee payment.
I said, “No problem, when can we get the materials? We would like them delivered by October first.”
Since I hadn’t received his lease yet, I thought I should call Joe Natoli, “Hi Joe. I was wondering if you sent my lease to me. I haven’t seen it.”
“I’ve been meaning to call you about that.” He said.
“That doesn’t sound good, Joe. Is there a problem?”
“Well not exactly. But, you better come in my office for a meeting.”
“Can I come now?”
He was only a few blocks from my office and I was there within the hour. After we got through all the usual greetings, I said, “Joe is there a problem?”
“Well, like I said, not exactly.”
“Joe, can you get to the point. You’re making me nervous. Do you have my lease?”
“Yes. It’s here.” He said as he pointed to it laying on his desk.
“Can we sign it and get it over with?”
“Yes, but I think you will want to read it first. Don’t you?” Joe said.
“Well, I trust you. But yes, I’ll give it a quick run through. To tell you the truth, I very seldom read all the boiler plate form printed material in a lease or a contract. My eyes go to the part where the other party types in the blank spaces. That’s usually my main concern.” I said.
“Well, I may as well tell you,” he began, “I told you the rent would be ten percent.”
“Yeah, I know that part. I thought you shouldn’t have charged me anything. It is a charity. But I agreed to the ten percent. No problem.” I said.
“Well, that’s changed to twenty percent.”
“Twenty percent, that’s outrageous! I only pay ten percent to lease the Pittsburgh Civic Arena and Three Rivers Stadium. Sometimes I even pay them less. They are city and county facilities. Where do you come off charging twenty percent to rent me a field of grass? This doesn’t make sense.” I yelled.
“When I went to my superiors, this is what they came back with. You see, when I told them you were doing this for charity, they insisted that the Kane Hospital be a part of your charity. You’re doing this for the homeless? Well the Kane Hospital can qualify for being homeless.” He reasoned.
Since I didn’t know what the Kane Hospital was, I couldn’t think of a good argument. But I didn’t like it that everyone was cutting up the pie. First it was WTAE now it’s Allegheny County.
“I’ll have to think about that.” I said.
“Pat, there’s no thinking about it. I know I told you ten percent and I think that is high also, but this thing is out of my hands. If you want to do that event here, you will have to agree to the twenty percent.”
“I hate working with the government.”
“Well, it’s going to get worse.” Joe said with his hands folded on his chest.
“What’s going to get worse?”
CHRISTMAS SHOW OR HOLIDAY SHOW?
“There’s one other change to the lease. Well you might say it’s an addition to the lease.”
“You can’t have any religious scenes. No Nativity and you can’t advertise the words Christmas.”
“What? Are you crazy? This is about Christmas. I have to have a Nativity.” I yelled slamming my fist on his desk, “What jerk in that City County building thought of this?”
“We are a public facility. You could be offending non Christians.” He pleaded.
“It’s not my intent to offend anyone. I have Hanukkah displays as well. Not to mention all of the winter scenes that are nondenominational. If anyone has any further suggestions for Jewish themed scenes I’d be happy to build them. I don’t know what they would want, but I do know that my plans are not to offend anyone and that I am having a Nativity scene.” I demanded.
“Then you can’t have your event at Hartwood Acres or any public facility.” He said.
“Wait a minute Joe. I’ve been renting the Civic Arena since the place opened. I’ve had Christmas concerts that had the words Christmas in the show and I advertise the show as a Christmas show and there was never a problem. What happened?”
“All I know is that I was told to add this to the lease. There was always a manger scene in front of the courthouse on Grant Street until we got sued over that by the American Civil Liberties Union. There’s just no way I can promise that you will be able to advertise or display Christmas or religious words or scenes.”
“Joe, I already ordered all the religious scenes.”
“Then you’d better change your order real quick or find another location. Look I don’t like this anymore than you do, but my hands are tied. Don’t you think I want the Nativity scene?”
“One more thing, I can’t let you have the park on October first, the best I can do is the fifteenth, and you aren’t permitted to ask any county employees to do any work.”
“My God, what else can happen?” I asked.
“Do you think you can do this?”
“Where do I sign?”
“October fifteenth. I can’t start until the
fifteenth. You’re crazy if you think I can set this show up in thirty
days. What about the weather? This is outdoors you know.” Sheldon
yelled at me.
“Sheldon, I know that. But you can do it.”
“Yes, that’s easy for you to say.”
“There’s just one more thing Sheldon.”
“Yeah. What’s that?”
“I was thinking that we need more than just the scenes. We only have a hundred scenes. There’s going to be a lot of dead spaces over a couple of miles with both sides of the roads. We need something more. Thrift Drug found a place in China that sells stringed lights at a very reasonable price. I’d like to order two or three hundred thousand lights.” I said.
“Let me see if I understand. You want to add two or three hundred THOUSAND lights to the show?” He said as his voice kept rising.
“Yes, I used to decorate my home with two thousand lights and that may sound like a lot but it really isn’t.”
“Where will you put two or three hundred thousand lights?” Sheldon asked.
“I just found out that the road through Hartwood Acres is over three miles long so I want to string lights on every tree and bush between each display.” I said.
“Who is going to put them up? That’s very time consuming. I’ve been meaning to ask you did you get me the twenty guys? I think you will have to increase the workers to at least thirty. We must work day and night and I know the county won’t let us. I talked to some of those guys who work there and they are really mad that we are doing this. I think they are used to doing nothing in the winter time and they are afraid that we are going to ask them to come out of their workshops and help us set up or run the show.” Sheldon said.
“Don’t pay any attention to them and definitely don’t ask them to do any work. But don’t worry I will get you all the help you need.” I had no idea where I was going to get him the help. It was easy for DiCesare Engler to get workers for concerts. I always said, if we ever put up a help wanted sign, we could fill Three Rivers Stadium with people who wanted to work for us. Everyone wanted to work in the concert business for DiCesare Engler. But this – I don’t know. It’s outside. It’s getting cold and it’s not glamorous.
OUR HOLIDAY ELVES - PRISONERS
Again, it was like Father Tom said, “Be open to
possibilities. Something will come to you. You’ll see.” I was
walking downtown near Seventh Avenue and I saw a lot of guys getting out
of a yellow van. The side of the van had some words referring to
workers. Being curious, I walked up to the driver who remained inside
the van while the others were leaving and I said while pointing to the
wording on the side of the van, “Excuse me, but what does this mean?”
“It means that these guys are prisoners and they are in a work release program.” He said.
“Work release program, what does that mean?” I asked curiously.
“It means something like they have been on good behavior while they were doing their time. They don’t have much longer to serve and they are permitted to go to a job during the day. I drive them to the job in the morning and pick them up at the end of the day.” He said.
“I need some of these guys; do you think you could line me up with some help?” I asked eagerly.
“You’ll have to call the office,” he said as he handed me a card.
The next day I called the office and was able to negotiate a deal for twenty prisoners who would work for me daily at a great price – they didn’t care about getting paid. They just wanted to be out of jail.
We started work in mid October. By mid November, we weren’t completely finished, but we were ready enough to open for the public. On opening night, all of our dedicated crew worked right up to the time it got dark and we officially opened for the public. The prisoners were high fiving each other and were so proud to see the results of their work when all the lights were turned on. The cars were already backed up for a mile waiting to get in. My brother Joe who was in charge of all of Santa’s helpers who would collect the five dollars per car fee kept pushing to open early so that we could get the cars off the road and into the park.
A HUGE SUCCESS!
We continued working on improving the show each
night right up until we closed in January. It was a huge success! We
drew approximately thirty five thousand cars and grossed over an
estimated one hundred and sixty thousand dollars. When all expenses
were paid, Saint Joseph’s House of Hospitality was presented a check for
over $20,000. I wasn’t happy with that figure. I wanted them to get
more, but with all the politics involved every other organization had to
receive their share of the proceeds. But, if I wanted to have the show
that’s the way it had to be.
Since the show at Hartwood Acres was such a success, Thrift Drug asked me to find a location and open another show in Philadelphia the next year and we did. I was fortunate to have Monica Pacharis who worked for me as an intern the previous year. She was from Eastern Pennsylvania and had graduated from Point Park College. She was happy to set up and manage that event. Ed Traversari from DiCesare Engler handled the publicity for both the Pittsburgh and the Philadelphia shows. Michael Steinmetz replaced Sheldon who was no longer able to make such a large commitment of his time in both cities. The show at Core Creek in Philadelphia had out grossed Pittsburgh in its initial opening.
TWENTY YEARS LATER…
The Celebration of Lights has grown from one
hundred displays and three hundred thousand lights to over four hundred
displays some as tall as forty feet and over two million lights. It has
been estimated that six hundred thousand people enjoy the show each
Twenty years have gone by since I saw that little homeless guy get that right hook that landed him on that cold concrete. It was twenty years since I heard my son Patrick say, “Dad, Dad, are you going to do anything?” Twenty years have passed since I saw the bleeding face of Jesus with the crown of thorns saying to me, Pat, Pat are you going to help me?” It’s been twenty years since I said to my wife Kathy, “I’m only one person, what can I do?”
The admission which started at five dollars per car is now twelve dollars. From total collections of one hundred and sixty thousand dollars the first year, the show has grown to an estimated collection of almost five hundred thousand dollars last year
If you would add in the few years that the show ran in Philadelphia, one could estimate that the vision of twenty years ago has probably been responsible for raising over ten million dollars in sponsorships and donations. Saint Joseph’s House of Hospitality has received over five hundred thousand dollars of that for the hungry and the homeless.
I’ve often thought about that little homeless guy that cold January night in Washington DC twenty years ago and wonder if he realizes what he created…that one person.
PAT DICESARE CAN BE REACHED AT PAT@PITTSBURGHCONCERTHISTORY.COM