GENERATIONS—Cathy Irvis, center, is joined by, left to right, her son Reggie, Dan Rooney, and granddaughter “number 1” Danae Lee for the ribbon cutting of the K. Leroy Irvis Science Center at CCAC. (Photo by J.L. Martello)
As part of the VIP crowd that took part in the ribbon-cutting for the Community College of Allegheny County’s K. Leroy Irvis Science Center, state Sen. Jay Costa told the audience that as a graduate and now board member of CCAC, he owed a great debt to Irvis, who as speaker of the state house, created the community college system.
And as part of his thanks, Costa read one of Irvis’ poems, “Daisies:”
“Quickly gone, And soon forgotten, So it is with men and daisies.”
As the other dignitaries reminded the audience, there is little chance of that happening with Irvis; the first African-American named Speaker of a state house assembly, civil rights attorney, artist, poet and model airplane enthusiast.
This is truly a great day, “ said state Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill. “Because it gives us a chance to lift up a great man.”
Wheatley told the audience how after he’d been elected to represent Irvis’ former district, the retired statesmen asked to see him.
“He told me to never forget the most important thing about being a representative is being a servant,” said Wheatley. “It’s about more than yourself, more than the district. It’s about serving all the people of the commonwealth.”
And while the other dignitaries on stage; Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald, U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, CCAC Campus President Donna Imhoff and Board Chair Amy Kuntz, County Councilman Bill Robinson and CCAC President Alex Johnson also expressed thanks for being able to celebrate Irvis, the audience was also filled with those who came to honor the late speaker.
These included CCAC professors Ralph Proctor and Elmer Hamer who first proposed building the center, Highmark VP and former County Executive Dan Onorato, Common Pleas Judge Dwayne Woodruff, Urban Radio Network President Jerry Lopes and former ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney.
The state of the art Irvis Center took just under two years to build, but it got off to a rocky start with independent contractors suing after the university signed an agreement requiring 90 percent union labor. This came after New Pittsburgh Courier columnist Louis “Hop” Kendrick wrote that the construction management team had no Black members.
During the ceremony, though, both Doyle and Costa said that 52 percent of the $21.5 million budget went to Minority- Women- and Disabled-Business Enterprises.
The Irvis Center’s five floors encompass 65,000 square feet of lab, classroom and presentation space, allow for students to use the best equipment and technologies to advance their studies in physics, biology, chemistry and astronomy, and benefit from the region’s technology, medical and energy boom.
Robinson, now a board trustee emeritus, said he promised Irvis’ widow, Cathy Irvis, that he would be brief, so he thanked the alumni and current students for their patience.
“Even with less than the best equipment, CCAC has graduated more nursing students than any college in the country,” he said. “With this wonderful facility now complete, it will be seen as the starting point for greatness at CCAC.”
Cathy Irvis, who was delighted that this day had finally arrived, thanked everyone involved in the project and for the kind words everyone had for her late husband. She also said after watching the parade of blue suits and ties, that she was glad to see two women on the stage.
“But I really want to thank Ralph and Elmer,” she said. “They came to me years ago and said they wanted to erect a building in his name. I told them they were crazy. But they came back. And they came back again. Finally I said if you think you can do it go ahead. So, Ralph, Elmer, sorry I called you crazy.”