Man with Pine ties who found polio vaccine honored
Dr. Jonas Salk, famed conqueror of polio, once lived at the current site of Burger King in Pine.
“Our house was in the parking lot,” said Dr. Peter Salk, 69, of La Jolla, Calif., who “came home” last week to the fast food emporium to unveil a plaque honoring his late dad.
“It's so meaningful to me,” Peter Salk told a small group of township officials, clergy and longtime acquaintances who gathered Oct. 10 to see the new plaque.
Jonas Salk's grandson, Michael Salk, 30, a graduate student at Oxford University, also attended the unveiling.
Pine Township paid for the inscribed marker, which tops a 10-foot pole at the corner of Maple Drive and Route 19, near the Burger King parking lot.
The plaque informs passers-by of Jonas Salk's ties to north suburban Pittsburgh.
“Jonas Salk lived with his family from 1947 to 1953 in a house formerly located at this site while working on the development of the first effective polio vaccine.
“Shalom Research Farms, part of which is now Pine Community Park, raised animals used in Salk's polio vaccine research program.”
Jonas Salk developed his groundbreaking vaccine in the early 1950s. He first tested it at the D.T. Watson Home for Crippled Children in Leetsdale.
In 1954, Jonas Salk also spoke at the opening of North Allegheny High School.
“Of course, the younger generation doesn't know who Jonas Salk was,” said Joe Bullick, 82, of Pine, curator of the North Allegheny History Museum.
“He saved many, many lives.”
Salk's house was torn down after the property was sold, Bullick said, adding no photos are available.
Kenneth Hartman, 82, of McCandless, boyhood pal of Peter Salk, led efforts to erect the new 105-pound, $2,415 cast aluminum marker by Sewah Studios of Marietta, Ohio.
Hartman also gave the seed money for the Jonas Salk Legacy Foundation, according to Peter Salk, president of the foundation.
“Jonas Salk was the most humble man I ever met,” Hartman said. “I saw him cooking hot dogs in the backyard.” Hartman is the former owner of Fence by Maintenance Service on Route 19 in McCandless.
As boys, Peter Salk looked up to the older Hartman.
“There just couldn't have been a better friend. We were inseparable … I worshipped him,” said Peter Salk, a graduate of Harvard University and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Sixty years ago, Peter Salk and Hartman sold comic books on Perry Highway for a nickel apiece.
“One lady bought a dollar's worth,” Hartman said. “We thought we were rich.”
When Hartman suffered a stroke 22 years ago, Peter Salk remained a loyal friend, according to Hartman's son. “Peter makes it a point to keep in touch with him,” said Chad Hartman, 40, of Bradford Woods.
Jonas Salk, a New York City native, probably chose to plant his family along once rural Perry Highway because “he just wanted to be out in the country,” said Peter Salk. “That was one of the greatest gifts he gave to us as kids.”
In 1953, Salk moved his family to Bartlett Street in Squirrel Hill.
Peter Salk, an internist, is the oldest of three sons born to Dr. Jonas Salk, who died in 1995, and his wife, Donna Lindsay Salk, who died in 2002. The other sons are pediatrician Dr. Darrell Salk of Portland, Ore., and psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Salk of Los Angeles.
As president of the Jonas Salk Legacy Foundation, Peter Salk attended the plaque unveiling in Pine as part of a Pittsburgh visit to discuss plans for University of Pittsburgh events to mark the 2014 centennial of Jonas Salk's birth.
Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or [email protected].