Civic Empathy through History


On November 19, 2022, we had a Facebook post about our involvement in Heinz History Center’s Civic Empathy project that we started in 2021. If you remember, our civic empathy project centered around segregation in Donora. Please go back and reread that post to give you a backstory for this post.

In 2021, the Donora Historical Society was selected by the HEINZ HISTORY CENTER, along with fourteen other Affiliate members, to participate in their “Civic Empathy Through History Project” that is designed to create a network of sites throughout our region that create engaging experiences to build empathy and serve as the foundation for civic engagement. The Heinz History Center’s America 101 initiative empowers audiences to engage critically with contemporary civic issues through exhibitions, digital learning, curriculum, and public programs.

All 15 exhibit summaries can be viewed at

Our project first centered on a football story that we heard about star running back “Deacon” Dan Towler of the Donora High School class of 1946. Unfortunately, Towler is deceased, and we wanted to learn more about segregation in Donora.

While we used the Towler story, in an attempt to do a deeper dive into segregation in Donora, we first contacted Donora native Dave Hunter – Donora High School class of 1967, that could speak about what life was like in Donora in the 1960s. While Dave answered our questions and told his poignant stories about his family moving from South Carolina to Donora during the Great Migration, he made mention that his mother Susan Ross Hunter, could also share stories. Mrs. Hunter was 99-years old at the time, graduated with the Donora High School class of 1942, and was the sister of Roscoe Ross (class of 1946), the other running back of the WPIAL Championship teams of 1944 and 1945, who starred in the Dragon backfield with Towler, and also sister to Earnie “Pappy” Ross (class of 1947) who also played football and blocked for both Dan and Roscoe. We met with Mrs. Hunter a couple of times, first at her church and then in her home, to hear her stories told with such grace and to see her photos when she grew up in Donora. To say the least, her stories were riveting. To get a firsthand account and hear what life was like in Donora 80-90 years ago for the historical society was a rare opportunity – a Master Class opportunity.

In December 2023, the Heinz History Center released their winter edition of their Western Pennsylvania History magazine that featured an article about the Donora Historical Society’s involvement in the Civic Empathy project. While the article mentions Towler, it also mentions Mrs. Hunter along with photos of her and others from Donora, and what we learned along the way. On Christmas Eve, we were able to provide copies of the magazine to four generations of the Hunter family, that included Mrs. Hunter who is almost 101-years old.

Extra copies of the Western Pennsylvania History magazine are available at the Smog Museum if you would like your own copy.

We would like to personally thank the Ross/Hunter and Breedlove families that helped educate us on what segregation was like in Donora.

If you have absolutely any questions about our project or anything else at the Historical Society, feel free to stop by, send us an email ( or give us a call (724-823-0364) and someone will be more than happy to return your message and talk to you in depth about anything you might like to discuss. To see OUR CIVIC EMPATHY THROUGH HISTORY PROJECT – SEGREGATION IN DONORA, please consider visiting us in 2024 on Saturdays 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. or by appointment.