The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

February 9, 2014

A mayor on the move

A journey from segregation to administration

FARRELL — Plaques, awards, and photos of her family decorate the office walls, visually describing a life well lived and goals that have come to fruition.

“I never in my wildest dreams thought I would ever be mayor,” McKeithan said. “But I am here for the community, and it is great to see changes for the better.”

McKeithan was born in Birmingham, Ala., and moved to Sharon at a young age after her family migrated north because of work opportunities.

“My mother was a member of the 16th Street Baptist Church,” McKeithan said. “I remember going there when we would go back to visit family. When the bombing happened at that church it hit close to home. I can remember it well.”

McKeithan said she and her family would go back and visit Birmingham twice a year.

“I remember segregation. We would take the bus when we went to visit. If a Caucasian got on the bus we had to stand,” she said. “It didn’t matter whether it be from here to Cincinnati we had to stand. We had to use the bad water fountains and the dirty bathrooms.”

As she reminisced about her childhood and growing up in Sharon, the mayor spoke about the issues of race.

“In fifth and sixth grade I wanted to join the Girl’s Buhl Club, but African Americans were not allowed,” she said. “The Buhls built the Carver Center for us, and that’s where I had to go. The only time I could go into Buhl park was if my mother, who worked as a house worker, walked her employer’s children in the park, then I could go to.”

In 2000, McKeithan was recognized as a Buhl Day Honoree. She said it was a pretty amazing accomplishment to be awarded because of her distinct childhood segregation memories.

“You know Sharon was an up-and-coming community back then, and I am sure discrimination was a lot worse other places,” she said. “I remember Coney Island and G.C. Murphy’s would let us eat and hang out with no problems.”

McKeithan quit high school in her junior year, got married and moved to Fort Knox, Ky.

“I got my G.E.D. going to night school in Fort Knox,” she said of her alternate diploma. “Around 1967, I moved back to Sharon because my father died. My family and I moved into the projects on Market Avenue in Farrell, and my mom moved into the projects up the street. I have been a resident of Farrell ever since, 47 years.”

McKeithan worked at Sharon Regional Health System for 28 years, starting in the housekeeping department and working her way up.

“I have always been a community person,” she said. “That is why I first decided to run for a council seat.”

She first ran in 2004 and was elected to be part of Farrell’s city council. In 2008, she ran and was elected mayor.

“I was on council and no one was going to run for mayor. So I said ‘well,’  and I was a little hesitant because I had already turned in my petition for council. So I called and asked if I could be in the running for both, and they told me yes.”

“I never really thought about being the first woman African American mayor until I heard about it in The Herald. I guess I didn’t realize it, but it was exciting.”

McKeithan is now in her second term as mayor and plans to run again in 2016.

“It wasn’t a difficult transition into mayor,” she said. “Everything I do is for the people. It’s all about the community, housing and trying to get the town to look better. As long as we are making changes for the better, that’s all that matters.”

She said being mayor is a learning process and admits she does not know everything. “It is a working process. You have got to know what is going on – on a daily basis. There is more to this than just having a title; you have to have goals.”

The mayor said she is beyond proud of the council and the changes that have been made in Farrell over the last several  years.

“I am really proud of that building over there,” she said as she pointed out her office window toward the new apartment building across the street. “The First Choice Housing Apartments were a great thing. It took us almost eight years to get that going. I am very proud of the Seed and Feed Program as well. I am an advocate on ‘no drugs.’ I would like to see Farrell be a drug-free community.”

McKeithan said she wants to see some things go forth in Farrell in the years to come.

“I want to be supportive, and I want to see some projects get completed,” she said. “Our City Manager Mike Ceci is a visionary, and we work well together. I think there is a lot more we can do.”

She said there are plans for a plaza to be built across from Sonoff’s Cleaners near Roemer Boulevard and Lee Avenue.

“The building that sits across from the cleaners will be torn down, and a plaza will be put in. We already have businesses that are coming into the plaza. Small businesses, but still businesses,” she said. “I think there will be similar projects in years to come throughout Farrell.”

“I don’t know what will come next term, but I think you can do anything if you set your mind to it. When I got on council I had a focus and goals set and I still do.”

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