Growing Up Mill Town: Joe Zanotti Remembers the People of Braeburn

Joe Zanotti still remembers the people of his grandparents’ hometown. As a child, Joe Zanotti was lucky to live only a few miles from the tiny mill town of Braeburn, Pennsylvania, where his grandparents resided. He’d stay with his grandparents for a week or two at a time, and the people of that small town made a lasting impression on him.

One of those people was Mrs. Pescatore, a neighbor of his grandparents’. The elderly Italian lady barely spoke English and raised noisy chickens as Joe Zanotti recalls, but the memory of her reaction to Mr. Pescatore’s death sticks with him today.

“She must have wailed for 3 solid days,” Joe Zanotti says. “It seemed like the entire town could hear her. Some was true sorrow, but I think some of it was because that was what you were supposed to do.” She also wore black from that point on until the day she passed because, he believes, that was also what you were supposed to do.

“The town did have its characters” mused Joe Zanotti. Mrs. Arnold, a wealthy woman who lived in an old large, stately house that was built, in the early 1800’s, by an ancestor of hers who was the original land owner of the entire area of the town and beyond.  On her property was a spring that fed water to many of Braeburn’s residents and she controlled the pipeline’s valve. If someone made her mad, Mrs. Arnold would cut off drinking water to the town until someone apologized, Joe Zanotti says. He remembers she always seemed to be mad at someone.

Then, the town had Mrs. Morbito, a quiet polite and somewhat reclusive lady according to Joe Zanotti. Mrs. Morbito lived in a more secluded area of town, for good reason. “She was the town’s moonshine lady,” Joe Zanotti relates. Mrs. Morbito always put her moonshine in old whiskey bottles, Joe Zanotti says, and he remembers a bottle his grandmother had that hadn’t been opened for 25 years.

When Joe Zanotti was around 16, his grandmother opened that bottle and he took a shot. “Wow, I was lit up,” Joe Zanotti says. “The stuff scared me!”

Finally, two doors from his Grandparents lived the Conner family.  Many years ago, Mr. Conner had been the town’s constable.  But, in the woods behind his house were remnants of old buildings that were used to stage chicken fights where people from far away would come for the events.  Joe Zanotti never saw any of the chicken fights and wonders if they were outlawed back then. “But, if they were, being a constable must have had its advantages” muses Joe Zanotti.

About Joe Zanotti

For Joe Zanotti, family heritage has always been important. Growing up in Lower Burrell, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh, Joe Zanotti was always aware of his Italian and Slovak heritage enjoying the culture, foods and curtoms. In fact, he spent many weekends and long summer weeks at his grandparents’ house in the nearby mill town of Braeburn.

Joe Zanotti has lived in Pennsylvania most of his life, mostly near Pittsburgh. After graduating from Burrell Senior High School, Joe Zanotti attended the Pennsylvania State University, where he majored in civil engineering. During college, he was an invited member of both the Chi Epsilon Honorary Society and Tau Beta Pi Honorary Society, both national engineering societies for honors students. Joe Zanotti attended graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied structural engineering.

An experienced structural engineer with more than 31 years in the field, Joe Zanotti often travels throughout the USA and overseas for work. Joe Zanotti is currently employed by Camp, Dresser, & McKee, Inc., a worldwide engineering firm based in Pittsburgh. Joe Zanotti’s work often stations him in many Asian countries such as Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam and in Middle-East countries such as Israel.  He considers working overseas, such as when he helped rebuild a Catholic church in tsunami-damaged Banda Aceh, Indonesia, an experience that has been life changing.

Prior to Camp, Dresser, & McKee, Joe Zanotti was project design manager for MPS Corporation in Leetsdale. He worked as a structural engineer for Sargent & Lundy Engineers in Chicago, as well as Dravo Engineers in Pittsburgh. His professional associations include the American Society of Civil Engineers, International Concrete Repair Institute, for which he serves on the board of directors, and American Concrete Institute, for which he is a subcommittee member on the national level.

An avid golfer, Joe Zanotti has had the privilege of golfing everywhere from overseas in Asia to many top courses in the USA. Joe Zanotti began golfing at the age of fifteen, at a tiny 9-hole course near his house where greens fees were only $3-$4 a day.  For years, he was part of an annual golf retreat comprised mostly of former Pennsylvania State graduates. Joe Zanotti is an avid cook and would maybe enjoy attending chef school when retired. He is a lover of great wine and while he wouldn’t consider himself a connoisseur, Joe Zanotti keeps 40-50 bottles of wine in his basement at all times.

Born in 1958, Joe Zanotti currently resides in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area, where he has lived since 1988. Joe Zanotti is registered as a professional engineer in eleven states, including Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, Indiana, and the District of Columbia. He is single, with no children, has a brother, sister, nieces and a nephew and both of his parents are still alive.

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