Saluting Steve Zelenko and Celebrating Six Decades of Sound Ministry
A soundman from the beginning, today Steve Zelenko looks far younger than his 87 years. He credits that to a daily dose of cod liver oil and a zinc supplement to keep his joints limber, body agile, and mind intact. Though a humble and private man, some among our flock know that Steve’s storied life goes well beyond recording thousands of worship services, concerts, weddings, and funerals at Shadyside Presbyterian Church (SPC) beginning in the late 1950s.
When growing up in Groveton (Robinson Township), and spurred by reading Popular Mechanics, Steve was a creative builder, including a homemade speedboat that outran everything on the Ohio River. There was also a practical and enterprising dimension to his early youth during the hardscrabble years of the Great Depression. In addition to tending a garden, Steve raised rabbits — lots of rabbits, and once had as many as 184 for sale. He remains an avid gardener, and today the landscaping and flora surrounding his home reflect that passion.
Preparing the Way
It seems that everything along Steve’s path prepared him for the fascinating career in radio and television broadcasting that would follow. After graduating from Robinson Township High School (now Montour), he attended Allegheny Technical Institute, specializing in radio electronics, transmission, and reception. Drafted in 1953 during the Korean War, Uncle Sam immediately recognized Steve’s talent by assigning him to the Army Signal School at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, and afterward to The Presidio in San Francisco to maintain the single sideband and microwave transmissions of top secret communications between the continent, Honolulu, and Tokyo. Thereafter, Steve shipped-out from Fort Lewis in Seattle for Seoul to become the chief engineer of AFKN (Armed Forces Korean Network), which provided news and entertainment for the troops in the foxholes along the 38th parallel DMZ and Pacific area via shortwave radio.
The Shadyside Connection
Upon returning home in 1955, television was in its infancy. Already familiar with RCA’s newest technology from his time in the Army, over the next seven years Steve worked for WQED and WIIC (now WPXI) installing the transmitters and control rooms that put local TV broadcasting on the air. As a side business, he also started Image Recordings to do remote recording of musical programs. It was during this period (late 1950s) that Steve met Lorenzo “Larry” Malfatti (longtime SPC baritone soloist). Malfatti had been lured away from New York City by Russell Wichmann (SPC organist/choir director and chair of the music department at Chatham College) to direct the women’s choir at Chatham and sing in the church’s Chancel Choir. Malfatti engaged Steve to record the Chatham choir’s concerts and produce LPs as keepsakes. After meeting Wichmann through Malfatti, Steve also began recording the Shadyside choir’s afternoon and evening concerts in the sanctuary. Parenthetically, Malfatti served as best man in Steve’s October 1960 wedding to his late wife, Loretta. Another coincidence was that the Zelenkos lived directly across the street from the Wichmanns in Edgewood.
The Kuhlman Years
Steve’s engineering and recording ability attracted the attention of the world-renowned Pittsburgh-based evangelist, Kathryn Kuhlman. She hired Steve in 1958 to build her a studio (in the Carlton House hotel) and start recording what would become her sixty-station nationally-syndicated radio broadcasts and weekly television show I Believe in Miracles. For those who are not old enough to remember Kuhlman’s ministry, she was a powerful preacher who conducted worldwide healing crusades from the 1940s through the early 1970s. An international icon, Kuhlman lived in Fox Chapel. As a teenager, I heard her speak to an SRO audience at Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church in the late 1960s. For several years following her untimely death at age 69 in 1976, Steve oversaw the rebroadcast of her radio and television programs by the Kathryn Kuhlman Foundation.
The Second Calling by Shadyside
As some of you may know, Shadyside’s Sunday morning worship service had been carried live by radio stations KDKA and KQV for many years, but eventually only rebroadcast late at night — 11:00 p.m. on Sundays. When carried on KDKA’s 50,000 clear-channel watt signal, the service could be heard by nearly all of Eastern North America, but the sound quality was often inferior. Picked up by two open and unbalanced microphones (located at the pulpit and lectern), the unmixed and un-equalized transmission was sent through a phone line, but the telephone call had to be initiated from the church. The heavily-unionized radio stations insisted that one of their own engineers be on site to do nothing more than simply flip that switch to enable the connection to their studios downtown. It wasn’t long before they requested that the church begin paying that cost. SPC Trustee Ben Fisher balked at that, and instead hired Steve (in 1982) to record the service and hand deliver the edited tapes to the stations ahead of their evening rebroadcasts. Since then, Steve has rarely missed a service over those thirty-eight years, and when he did, entrusted the job to his son, Stephen.
A Big, Heartfelt Thank You
I will miss Steve’s twinkling eyes, quick wit, and abiding devotion to the church over his many decades of faithful service. Moreover, as a choir member since 1967, I have witnessed Steve’s diligent and capable service up close. With much of today’s commercially-recorded, over-produced music sounding so antiseptic, I always appreciated what Steve delivered to the listener — the excitement of a live experience that captured the passion, realism, heart, and soul of the music, flaws and all. Once the COVID-19 restrictions are fully relaxed (hopefully by fall), we plan to acknowledge Steve’s long ministry during a Sunday service and hold a reception thereafter for all to express their gratitude directly.
Contributed by Lloyd F. Stamy Jr.
June 18, 1936 – April 25, 2021
Please remember in prayer the family and friends of the Reverend Dr. John E. Mehl, who passed from this life into the Church Triumphant on Sunday, April 25, 2021, at the age of eighty-four.
A retired member of Pittsburgh Presbytery, the Reverend Dr. John E. Mehl worked with several local congregations during his ministry, including ours, and directed the Doctor of Ministry Program at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary from 1985 until 2001.
John and his wife, Dr. Margaret A. Ross Mehl, have had a long association with Shadyside Presbyterian Church (SPC). Peggy has been a member of our church family for more than fifty-three years and also has been singing with the Chancel Choir for fifty-eight years. The Reverend Dr. Mehl served on the ministerial staff of SPC on two separate occasions: once as a Parish Associate from January 2002 through June 2004, and again as Interim Associate Pastor for Parish Life in 2008. Throughout these years of faithful service, he ministered to the needs of the congregation through preaching; leading adult Christian education studies; and assisting in congregational care, including visiting homebound and hospitalized members. A wise, gentle, and compassionate pastor, he walked alongside SPC through several leadership transitions, and we are grateful to have enjoyed our fellowship with him as a friend and member of our extended church family.
In addition to his work with the seminary and with churches in the Pittsburgh Presbytery, the Reverend Dr. Mehl taught undergraduate courses at Washington and Lee University and for nine years was the editor of the Kerygma Bible Study Program and the Thesis Cassette Study Program. A graduate of Dartmouth College, John also earned degrees from Pittsburgh and Union Theological Seminaries, and a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh.
Please join us in giving thanks to God for John’s life of faith, which he lived in dedicated service to Christ. Please especially remember Peggy and the Mehl family as they entrust this wonderful man to God’s eternal care. An obituary is available online; you may read it by following this link.
A memorial service will occur on Saturday, May 22, at 2:00 p.m. at Southminster Presbyterian Church, 799 Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania 15228. Family and friends will be received on Friday, May 21, from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. at Laughlin Cremation and Funeral Tributes, 222 Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania 15216.
“In Christ the Church Is Ever One” Chosen as Fiftieth Anniversary Hymn by Christian Associates
Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania has announced the winner in their search for a fiftieth anniversary hymn. We are delighted to share the news that the selected hymn, “In Christ the Church Is Ever One,” is one written by our very own Interim Senior Pastor, the Reverend Dr. John A. Dalles.
Christian Associates is comprised of twenty-eight church bodies representing 2,000 local congregations in Southwest Pennsylvania, and began fifty years ago at Shadyside Presbyterian Church.
The hymn selection committee judged about thirty entries from all over the United States, anonymously. The author’s identity was not disclosed to the committee until after the judging was completed.
The new hymn is scheduled to debut at the fiftieth anniversary celebration gala, which had to be postponed from its original May 2020 date. On a future date to be announced, the event will be held at – where else? – the church where it all began fifty years ago: Shadyside Presbyterian Church.
Congratulations, Dr. Dalles!
About Dr. Dalles’s Hymnwriting
Dr. Dalles is the author of numerous hymn texts, including “Come, O Spirit” and “God, Bless Your Church with Strength,” which are included in the 1990 Presbyterian Hymnal. His commissioned hymns include those for Presbyterian Heritage Sunday; Augsburg, Goshen, Maryville, Tusculum, Wilson and Knox (Toronto) Colleges; American University; Pittsburgh and Lancaster Seminaries; Peachtree Presbyterian Church; and the Lutheran World Federation. His works are catalogued at Oberlin College Library and represented by GIA Publications, Oxford University Press, and others. A life-member of the Hymn Society, Dr. Dalles has published three collections of hymns: Swift Currents and Still Waters (2000), We Turn To God (2010), and God Is the Singer’s Friend (2013). His hymns have twice received first place in the highly-regarded Macalester Plymouth Annual Hymn Competition, in 2012 and in 2013.
October 25, 1950 – January 23, 2020
Please remember in prayer the family and friends of the Reverend Dr. Beverly Wallis James, who passed from this life into the Church Triumphant on Thursday, January 23, 2020. A longtime friend of Shadyside Presbyterian Church (SPC), Dr. James was a wise and compassionate pastor who will be deeply missed.
The Reverend Dr. Beverly W. James served as Associate Minister to the Pittsburgh Presbytery, where she worked with more than sixty congregations in the East and South Branches of Pittsburgh Presbytery, including ours. A Minister of the Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church for thirty-nine years, Beverly began her service as a Volunteer in Mission in Thailand teaching English as a second language five years before she entered the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (PTS).
Beverly’s longstanding connections with SPC were established during her seminary studies, when she interned among us. For nearly four years, she worked with the Reverend Dr. Robert Cleveland Holland and the Reverend Dr. George H. McConnel (affectionately known as “Sandy”) at SPC, where she carried out a particularly effective ministry with senior high youth. Beverly also spent one summer as the Chaplain at the Presbyterian House of the Chautauqua Institution under Shadyside’s sponsorship.
Dr. James fondly recalled preaching at SPC on the morning of Sunday, May 31, 1981 – the same day on which she was ordained in an afternoon service held at Dormont Presbyterian Church. She returned to SPC’s pulpit to proclaim God’s Word to our congregation many times in later years.
Throughout her ministry, Dr. James served many churches as interim pastor and demonstrated a strong commitment to assisting churches and pastors in times of transition. Indeed, she walked alongside SPC during several leadership transitions. In addition, she taught as adjunct faculty at PTS, the University of Pittsburgh, and La Roche College.
Beverly earned a Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Communication from the University of Pittsburgh, a Master of Arts of Divinity from PTS, a Master of Arts in English from Carnegie Mellon University, and an A.B. in English from Brown University.
Her family will welcome friends on Sunday, January 26, from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m. at Schellhaas Funeral Home, Inc. (West View) 388 Center Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15229. A service of witness to the resurrection will be held on Monday, January 27, at 2:00 p.m. at Southminster Presbyterian Church, 799 Washington Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15228. (Those attending the service are asked to gather at the church.)
Please join us in giving thanks to God for Beverly’s life of faith, which she lived in dedicated service to Christ. An obituary is available online; you may read it by following this link.
September 18, 1937 – September 4, 2019
Please remember in prayer the family and friends of the Reverend John Davison Dennis, who passed from this life into the Church Triumphant on Wednesday, September 4, 2019, at the age of 81 years old. A ministerial son of our church family, Rev. Dennis was nurtured in his faith at Shadyside Presbyterian Church during the early years of his life, from his baptism in 1938 until his ordination in 1962, both of which occurred in our Sanctuary.
John was born September 18, 1937, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was baptized in Shadyside Presbyterian Church on May 1, 1938, and later joined the church as a member on March 26, 1950. In 1959, he graduated from Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, with a degree in economics. When a college professor encouraged him to devote his life to a pursuit other than making money, John applied to, and was accepted at, Princeton Theological Seminary, where he received his Master of Divinity degree (1962) and his Master of Theology degree in counseling (1965).
On June 18, 1962, John was ordained by the Presbytery of Pittsburgh in order to serve as Assistant Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Germantown, Pennsylvania. The Reverend Dr. James T. Orr, Moderator of the Presbytery of Pittsburgh at the time, presided over the service, with participation from the Reverend Dr. James H. Blackwood, Associate Pastor of Shadyside Presbyterian Church; the Reverend Dr. Howard C. Scharfe, Pastor of Shadyside Presbyterian Church; and the Reverend Dr. Harold E. Scott, Associate Professor of Homiletics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. The music for the service was under the direction of Russell G. Wichmann, Shadyside’s organist and choirmaster.
In 1969, Rev. Dennis was called to serve as pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Corvallis, Oregon, in the Presbytery of Willamette, which later became part of the Presbytery of the Cascades. He served as pastor of the church for thirty-seven years, retiring in 2006 as Pastor Emeritus.
John’s service to the church and the world went beyond his work as a pastor. He served terms on many presbytery committees and also served as commissioner to the General Assembly in 1984. In 1978, he was chosen to represent the denomination in the struggle against apartheid and spent four months working at St. Columba’s Presbyterian Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. His recommendation that U.S. banks apply tougher rules to loaning money in South Africa based on fair employment practices was adopted by the United Stated and played a part in the fall of apartheid. He served as West Coast Dean for the denomination’s Young Pastor Seminars in the 1980s. From 1995 to 1997, he served two terms as chair of the Board of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon. He also organized an effort to provide over 2,000 prosthetic arms and legs to landmine victims in Cambodia.
Rev. Dennis is predeceased by his wife of fifty-two years, Nancy, and survived by sons Michael (wife Allison) and Andrew (wife Rebecca) and four grandchildren.
A memorial service will occur at the First Presbyterian Church, 114 S.W. 8th Street, Corvallis, Oregon, on Saturday, October 12, at 1:00 p.m.
An obituary has been published online; you may read it by following this link.
As we mourn our loss and give thanks to God for a life lived in faithful service, we consider again John’s favorite benediction, words from a poem by Swiss philosopher Henri Frederic Amiel: “Life is short and we have not too much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us. Be swift to love. Make haste to be kind.”
Editor’s Note: Shadyside Presbyterian Church gratefully acknowledges the contributions of G. Dixon Shrum Jr., member of Shadyside Presbyterian Church, and Paul Belz-Templeman, Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Cascades, to this writing.
The Pittsburgh Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (USA) invites you to celebrate the ordination and installation of Rebecca D. Reeder as Associate Pastor of Sewickley Presbyterian Church on Sunday, October 6, at 5:00 p.m. in the Sewickley Presbyterian Church sanctuary, with a dinner reception in the dining hall immediately following.
Since 2011, Rebecca has been a member of Shadyside Presbyterian Church (SPC), and, earlier this year, she successfully completed the denomination’s candidacy process, which she entered under the care of the Session of SPC. In May 2019, she received her Master of Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, along with several awards recognizing her achievements, including:
- The William B. Watson Prize in Hebrew, awarded to that member of the senior class who, having elected Hebrew Exegesis, submitted the best grammatical and exegetical treatment of a portion of the Hebrew Old Testament;
- The Paul T. Gerrard Prize in Homiletics and Pastoral Care, awarded to the graduating senior Master of Divinity student judged best by the faculty in homiletics and pastoral care and who shows promise for a future in pastoral ministry; and
- The Thomas Jamison Scholarship, given every year to the member of the senior class who has the highest average at the beginning of his or her final term of study.
On June 30, 2019, the congregation of Sewickley Presbyterian Church voted to extend a call to Rebecca, and she began serving as Associate Pastor Elect on July 1. As the final step in her ordination process, Rebecca presented her statement of faith to the Pittsburgh Presbytery on September 19, and the way is now clear for her ordination and installation.
As a previous member of our church family and our church staff, Rebecca is a ministerial daughter of SPC, and we rejoice with her as she celebrates the beginning of her ministry as Minister of Word and Sacrament. We thank God for the blessing Rebecca has been to our congregation and for calling her into ministry. Please support her through your prayers and your presence at the service.
Introducing “As Your Dear Friend Once Welcomed You”
On Sunday, April 7, 2019, the Shadyside Presbyterian Church Chancel Choir and congregation sang a brand new hymn, “As Your Dear Friend Once Welcomed You,” which was written for that particular service of worship. The text was by our own Rev. Dr. John Dalles, set to a tune composed by our own Mark Anderson.
Dr. Dalles is the author of numerous hymn texts, including “Come, O Spirit” and “God, Bless Your Church with Strength,” which are included in the 1990 Presbyterian Hymnal. His commissioned hymns include those for Presbyterian Heritage Sunday, Augsburg, Goshen, Maryville, Tusculum, Wilson and Knox (Toronto) Colleges, American University, Pittsburgh and Lancaster Seminaries, Peachtree Presbyterian Church, and the Lutheran World Federation. His works are catalogued at Oberlin College Library and represented by GIA Publications, Oxford University Press, and others. A life-member of the Hymn Society, Dr. Dalles has published three collections of hymns: Swift Currents and Still Waters(2000), We Turn To God (2010), and God Is the Singer’s Friend (2013). His hymns have twice received first place in the highly-regarded Macalester Plymouth Annual Hymn Competition, in 2012 and in 2013.
An active composer, Mr. Anderson has won awards for both his choral compositions and hymns. He has received commissions for hymns, choral music, and brass arrangements from schools, community choirs, and churches, as well as the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, the Lutheran Psalter, and Princeton Theological Seminary. His music is published independently and by GIA Publications and Augsburg Fortress Press. In addition to composing a hymn (“Bright the Vision That Delighted”) for Shadyside Presbyterian Church’s 150th celebration in 2016, Mark also composed the Kyrie, Gloria Patri, and Sanctus we sing regularly in worship.
Welcoming Rev. Kendra Buckwalter Smith as Guest Preacher
On Christ the King Sunday, November 25, the Reverend Kendra Buckwalter Smith will preach during the service of worship at 11:00 a.m. in the Sanctuary. Please join us in welcoming her to Shadyside’s pulpit.
Rev. Smith serves as the Director of the Worship Program at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. A ministerial daughter of our church family, she has attended worship and actively engaged in the life of this congregation since 2004, during her time as an undergraduate student. In 2017, Rev. Smith completed the ordination process with the Presbyterian Church (USA) under the care of the Session of Shadyside Presbyterian Church and was ordained in our Sanctuary. Each Sunday, she regularly leads worship by singing with the Shadyside Presbyterian Church Chancel Choir. We give thanks to God for the many ways in which Rev. Smith shares her gifts in our community of faith.
Read more about Rev. Smith.
Pastor Emeritus Publishes New Book
Many Shadysiders remember gratefully sermons of the Reverend Dr. F. Morgan Roberts, Pastor Emeritus, who served as Shadyside’s Senior Pastor from 1985 to 1994 and used his ample storytelling skill in his preaching. His latest book originated as a guide for a men’s discussion group on Christian beliefs. A Beautiful View: A Friendlier Christianity as a Way of Life is a gem of a “little” book through which Dr. Roberts examines modern Christian living in a succinct, yet thorough, text.
While written to guide discussion, the book stands on its own for an individual reader. With the author’s graceful and economic style, the twelve topical chapters make daily, devotional-type reading convenient. However, this reader found the content captivating and finished the book in two pleasant sittings. Dr. Roberts guides the text in a way that is, at once, gentle and thought provoking.
The church received a generous donation to purchase books which will be used, in part, to make twenty copies of A Beautiful View available, at no cost, to interested readers. The books may be picked up on Sunday, November 18, during fellowship in the Parish Hall following worship.
Those who receive the book will know that it cries out to be shared with Christians and with those who are curious about the faith. With Christmas in view, many will want to consider purchasing A Beautiful View for friends and family who may fall into either group.
Contributed by Elder Timothy C. Engleman
About Dr. Roberts
F. Morgan Roberts is Pastor Emeritus of Shadyside Presbyterian Church, where he served as pastor from 1985 until his retirement in May of 1994. A widely known preacher, Dr. Roberts has served churches in New York, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Alabama. He is the author of Are There Horses in Heaven? and Other Thoughts (1996). In addition, he has co-authored two books with John M. Mulder 28 Hymns to Sing Before You Die (2014) and 28 Carols to Sing at Christmas (2015). A member of the Society of Biblical Literature, he has contributed essays to several multi-volume scholarly works.
Dr. Roberts has served the denomination as a member of its General Assembly Mission Council. In 1986, he was preacher to the 198th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. Educated at Colgate University and Princeton Theological Seminary, Dr. Roberts maintains an active interest in the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
Welcoming Dr. James on Her Return to Shadyside
On Sunday, August 5, the Reverend Dr. Beverly W. James will preach during the service of worship at 11:00 a.m. in the Sanctuary. Please join us in welcoming her as she returns to Shadyside’s pulpit.
About Dr. James
The Reverend Dr. Beverly W. James serves as Associate Minister to the Pittsburgh Presbytery, where she works with more than sixty congregations in the East and South Branches of Pittsburgh Presbytery, including ours. A Minister of the Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church for thirty-seven years, Beverly began her service as a Volunteer in Mission in Thailand teaching English as a second language five years before she entered the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. During her seminary studies, she interned among us at Shadyside Presbyterian Church.
Previously, Dr. James has served many churches as Interim Pastor and has a strong commitment to assisting churches and pastors in times of transition. In addition, she has taught as adjunct faculty at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, the University of Pittsburgh, and La Roche College.
Beverly earned a Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Communication from the University of Pittsburgh, a Master of Arts of Divinity from the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, a Master of Arts in English from Carnegie Mellon University, and an A.B. in English from Brown University.