Beanery Online Literary Magazine

January 9, 2013

Latrobe, Pennsylvania



Julia E. Torockio

     In 2010 Latrobe, Pennsylvania, will celebrate its 150th anniversary. During this time, the community has developed many stories. Some are well-known and others less well known.


     Most local people know that Latrobe is the home of Mr. Rogers. Is it possible that Latrobe’s friendly nature is influenced by him when he sang “Won’t you be my neighbor?” In his commemoration, the Fred M. Rogers Center, at St Vincent College, was established. It is an ongoing tribute to his contribution.

An earlier tribute to Mr. Rogers is the Rogers-McFeeley Pool, built in 1959, which will remind future swimmers of the contribution that he made not only to South Western Pennsylvania, but to the nation.


     Latrobe residents know about the banana split controversy. They support the idea that this concoction was first made at Tassel Pharmacy (later known as Strickler’s Drugstore), not in Boston, Massachusetts or Wilmington, Ohio. These two towns claim the original making of this ice cream treat. David Strickler, a 23-year old apprentice pharmacist at Tassel’s enjoyed creating sundaes for customers at the drugstore soda fountain. The original banana-based triple ice cream sundae he created in 1904 cost ten cents. Even though it cost twice as much as the other sundaes, it eventually caught on with students at nearby St. Vincent College. At Latrobe’s 100th anniversary of the banana split the National Ice Cream Retailers Association certified Latrobe as its birthplace. The early Walgreen Drugstore in Chicago spread its popularity by adopting it as a signature dessert.


     Robert Reibeisen Mendler is among the last Holocaust survivors in the United States, and the only survivor living in Latrobe. He spent his teenage years in concentration camps. After coming to America, he worked with his uncle at Mendler’s Shoe Store in Latrobe. He later took over the store. Currently in his 80s, his mind is sharp— but physically he is suffering the effects of his camp experience.


     The Italian Oven originated in Latrobe. Founded by Jim and Janice Frye, it spread throughout other Southwestern communities. Ironically, and unfortunately, it folded in the Latrobe community.


     In 1947, the Latrobe Recreation Board sponsored “The Community Players,” from which evolved the Latrobe Little Theater in 1949, then the Red Barn Theater—which disbanded in 1956. Other Latrobe theaters included the Showalter Opera House, the Manos, The Grand, and the Olympic. Most were located in downtown Latrobe.

In 1952 the Mission Inn Restaurant and Night Club (currently the Wingate Inn/Hotel at the junction of routes of 30 and 981) invited members of the Latrobe Little Theater to do a dinner show. In 1952 they became the Mission Players.


     Like other communities in Southwestern Pennsylvania, Latrobe is big in sports. Football is historically important to the community because it originated here—Zimbo’s was one of the first All Pro Football teams in the United States. At the end of July Pittsburgh Steeler’s gather at St. Vincent College for training camp. Visitors from all over the region join the community residents who gather at the college to watch the training and meet the players.


Golfer Arnold Palmer may have come to fame under the influence of his father “Deke” (short for Deacon). His ninety-two professional wins include seven major championships. His sport is enhanced by his giving back to the community. His philanthropies include hospitals and treatment centers, and his causes focus on those in need.


     Residents of Latrobe not only have a rich history, it is an interesting, peaceful, friendly and safe place to live. There are many more facts about the town that could be discovered with a little individual research.

The bottom line is that Latrobe is a nice place to live, work, play and discover.


To read more writings by Beanery Writers Group members click on




Various issues of Around Latrobe Magazine

Listen to Our Words (Oral Histories of the Jewish Community of Westmoreland County), Pennsylvania by St. Vincent College (category HOLOCAUST)

The Making of Latrobe by Jim L. (Adams Memorial Library)

Happy Birthday, Arnie, Tribune-Review editorial, September 10, 2009

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