Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Sylvester Pace Jan. 18, 1954 - June 8, 2012 Helped Disadvantaged Youth Achieve Dreams Via Education

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Sylvester Pace Jan. 18, 1954 - June 8, 2012 Helped Disadvantaged Youth Achieve Dreams Via Education

Article excerpt

Sylvester Pace, whose gratitude for a college scholarship led him to help thousands of disadvantaged black Pittsburgh youths attend college through his leadership of NEED, died Friday from non- Hodgkins lymphoma. The Penn Hills resident was 58.

"He is one of the fiercest advocates for education ever to have lived in this city," said former city councilman Sala Udin. "There are thousands of young people in college today from the inner city who would not have been there were it not for the inspiration and resources provided by NEED under the guidance of Sylvester Pace."

He grew up in the Hill District, migrating from the lower Hill to public housing. Later his family bought a home in Schenley Heights.

Although he never thought of himself as poor, he qualified for a needs-based scholarship from NEED to attend Cheyney University. NEED was founded as the Negro Educational Emergency Drive a decade earlier by two Pittsburgh women, one black and one white, to help black students who were academically qualified for college but couldn't pay for it.

After college Mr. Pace worked for the Pressley Ridge School for troubled children, starting as a residential counselor at its wilderness program in Ohiopyle.

"Sylvester was the consummate scholar and gentleman," said Randy Brockington of Penn Hills, who became a close friend through a shared fraternity. "He could relate to anyone about anything, no matter their age or ethnicity. He had a genuine love for education. He knew how to laugh, and to laugh at himself as well as others."

His gentlemanly ways won the heart of his future wife, Rhonda, who met him on a blind date in 1976. They married three years later and had two daughters.

Pressley Ridge promoted him several times. Then Abraxas Youth & Family Services hired him to lead an expansion into West Virginia, Mrs. Pace said. Along the way he continued his own education, earning a master's degree in counseling education and a certificate in marketing from the University of Pittsburgh. When he died, he was working on a doctorate in education at Duquesne University.

To support his growing family, he took a lucrative job as a pharmaceutical salesman. But he continued to help youths as a leader of 10-state bus tours to historically black colleges. That caught the attention of Herman Reid Jr., the longtime executive director of NEED, who saw in him a beneficiary of the program who had remained committed to educating black students and who had a background in marketing. He hand-picked Mr. Pace to be his successor, grooming him as an assistant for 18 months before handing over the reins in 2001.

Taking the post with NEED "meant a lot to him. He was able to be a role model to a lot of students and reach back and help other people," Mrs. Pace said.

"He had a gentleness about his spirit that helped him to manage. …

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