Sewickley native chosen as Citizen of the Year
Thursday, April 18, 2019 | 6:00 AM
On a Monday afternoon, children in Sewickley Community Center’s daycare program stretch out on colorful cots, preparing for a short rest after a morning full of activities.
Nearby, Bob Patterson Jr. is set up in a meeting room, his laptop and phones before him as he participates in a conference call. Though he now wears many hats — father, son, engineer, coach — it wasn’t that long ago that Patterson was one of the kids down the hall.
“I’m a product of the community center,” he said.
Patterson is president of the Sewickley Community Center board of directors, a position he has held for more than a year. As a child, the Sewickley native roamed the rambling center as a preschool student, summer camper and athlete. He is the fourth generation in his family to be involved — his great-grandparents were among those who helped found the center in 1935.
“I’ve got a lot of history here,” Patterson said.
When he moved back to Sewickley after living elsewhere for 20 years, Patterson was tapped by board members to join. He jumped right in.
“He is such a dedicated, hardworking individual who just loves this community and loves the history of the center and wants it to excel. He’s willing to look at innovative ways of changing with the times,” board member Miriam Rader said. “He is all about cooperation and partnering. He just gives his whole heart and soul to whatever he jumps into. His hands are in a lot of different things in this community and elsewhere.”
For his efforts, Patterson has been selected as the Sewickley Herald Citizen of the Year.
A 1985 graduate of Quaker Valley, Patterson played football for the school and for Carnegie Mellon, from where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering.
“CMU is no joke. It was a lot,” he said of juggling intensive work as a student and the demands of the team. “But it’s done me well. It definitely prepared me. Balance is important. Football helped keep me sane. I was definitely blessed to play.”
After college, Patterson moved to Denver, earning master’s degrees in computer information systems and telecommunications, and working for IBM. Work took him to Brooklyn, then Dallas. In 2008, he moved back to Sewickley to be closer to family, including father, Robert Sr. and mother, Sharon.
A widower, he is father to daughters, Bianca, 28, and Rachel, 23, and son, Robert III, a junior at Quaker Valley.
Though he travels a lot for his career, he is also able to work from home. The flexibility has allowed him to work with the National Society of Black Engineers and take a position as an assistant coach for the Quaker Valley football team and share his passion for the game with his son.
Last year was the first season for head coach Ron Balog, who said he was told Patterson was a great person who had done a lot for the kids and community.
“He was one of my first calls to see if I could get him to stay on the staff. I soon found out he was all those things I mentioned previously,” Balog said in an email. “He is a vital, important part of the (Quaker Valley) football family who is loved and respected by the players, coaches and parents.”
At the community center, Patterson’s role as president of the board of directors encompasses many duties. Because there is no executive director, Patterson takes on many responsibilities, including raising funds, managing and scheduling, and fostering relationships with other community groups.
The center’s longest-running programs are the food pantry and community pool, but they also offer daycare, summer camps and gym space for many community athletic groups.
The daycare staff and lifeguards are paid, and the rest of the programs rely on volunteers, including a very hands-on board.
“It’s all volunteer driven. I stay out of their way. They know what they’re doing,” Patterson said. “There are a lot of really good, dedicated, hard-working people who share the load.”
Patterson’s priorities for the center include continuing to provide services to those in need and upgrading the historical building.
The center dates back to 1935, when a group of young black men organized and formed The Young Men’s Club. With the support of the Sewickley Valley Ministerial Association and a group of citizens, the group established the Sewickley Colored Community Center. The group met at the Triumph Baptist Church, then in 1937, was able to open its doors.
For decades, it was the center of African-American recreational programs, including athletics, crafts, clubs and early childhood education.
“(The center) is very important to me,” Patterson said. “It’s evolving. I’ve had to let go of the past and embrace what’s next. I want to make sure the history is preserved and be able to meet the needs of the community.”
Rader has complete faith that Patterson is the person to lead the center forward. She said that he keeps the community at the forefront of all his actions while balancing family and other responsibilities.
“Bob’s strategy has been to get people to come to the center and it’s worked immeasurable to make it more well-known in the community,” she said. “Many people have not even known of the center’s history or existence.”
And though Patterson doesn’t have time for many activities he enjoys — skiing, snowboarding, camping and hiking — he believes he is right where he should be.
“I wear a lot of hats. I believe God puts you in a place for a reason,” he said. “I’ve got to grab this bull by the horns and drive it.”
Click here to read about the Woman of the Year, Beverly McQuone.
Click here to read about the Man of the Year, Jimmy Maslanka.