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Death Notice Guestbook

Joseph Ziskind / Famous for his ad jingle played during Pirates games

Monday, July 30, 2001

By Don Hopey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Joseph Ziskind was immortalized for a generation of Pirates fans by a cheery ad jingle that played during games and on the KDKA radio post-game Scoreboard show, but thousands of area homeowners knew him as a contractor they could trust.

His catchy, roughly-rhymed ditty with its memorable "No money you'll be riskin' when you call Joe Ziskind" refrain introduced the charismatic, Czechoslovakian salesman to potential customers, and his work ethic made them happy and him successful as one of the region's preeminent home contractors.

Mr. Ziskind, a long-time resident of Squirrel Hill, died of heart ailments last Thursday, in Burlington, Vt., after celebrating his 90th birthday with friends and family in Stowe, Vt., on July 18. For the past five years he lived in Pompano Beach, Fla.

The youngest of 11 children, he arrived in Pittsburgh in 1920 when he was 9, having never seen his father, who had left the "Old Country" for America before he was born and eventually saved enough money to bring the whole family over.

Mr. Ziskind became a United States citizen, served in the U.S. Army and worked for various contracting firms as a furnace and siding salesman and installer before starting the Joseph Ziskind Construction Co. in 1958.

Shortly after starting the business, he contacted Lou Sautel, who ran a Downtown ad agency, and asked him to write a radio spot for his business. Sautel didn't want the account, having been recently burned by a less-than-reputable home contractor, but Mr. Ziskind was persistent.

"He was recommended by the Brookline Bank president and we handled the bank's account, but I was thinking of a way to get out of it when Joe showed up," Sautel, now retired, remembered. "He looked, talked and acted just like Joey Bishop in those days and he wouldn't take no for an answer."

Sautel said Ziskind took him to his office, pointed to a file cabinet and told him to pull any five files.

"I said this is crazy, but I pulled three and he said they were the files of past customers and we were going to visit them," Sautel said. "We went and knocked on the doors and every one welcomed him in. They loved him. He was a terrific guy and I think he put siding on every house in Uniontown."

Sautel penned the jingle, but it was the piano player and the female singer who, as a joke, added a funky Latin rhythm and phrasing to one of two takes on a demo tape that Sautel took to Mr. Ziskind for his approval. Ziskind liked the straight version all right, but loved the one with the Caribbean flavor.

It went like this (imagine Chiquita Banana singing): "Joe Ziskind takes your house out of hiding / and brightens it up with beautiful siding / No money you'll be riskin' / when you call Joe Ziskin' / So dial this number and do it quick / Hazel-1-7866."

It ran during games, between doubleheaders and on the post-game show. For four years in a row, Rege Cordic, the comic KDKA radio morning show host, awarded it a "Semi-Emmy" as the worst locally produced commercial.

The ad continued to run until Mr. Ziskind retired in 1995. In later years a tag line was used to update the telephone exchange.

"He used to tell me everywhere he went, from Florida to New York, anyone from Pittsburgh knew who he was because of that "riskin' Ziskin' " line," Sautel said.

When Mr. Ziskind had heart surgery in the mid-1970s at the Cleveland Clinic, the Pirates delayed the game for a moment of silent prayer. When former Pirates broadcaster Jim Woods mentioned on the post-game show that Mr. Ziskind wasn't feeling well, the contractor received more than 300 get-well cards.

Gerald Ziskind, a close friend who despite the last name is no relation, said Mr. Ziskind was one of the most trustworthy home repair contractors in the Pittsburgh region, and was especially well known in Uniontown, Donora, Monessen, and other Mon Valley communities.

"For home improvements -- siding, windows, additions, doors, that kind of stuff -- he probably had the best reputation in Pittsburgh," Ziskind said. "At one time he had as many as 40 salesmen and eight crews working for him and he'd advance people money to do their projects. They'd pay him back over the years, but many still owe him."

Ziskind, who also lives in Squirrel Hill, met the home contractor with the same last name when they mistakenly received each other's mail.

"We got his mail, his children knew our children from school. We started getting together for lunch and then, usually every week for dinner," Ziskind said, adding that when his daughter ran for freshman class president at Allderdice High School, Mr. Ziskind gave her some T-shirts printed with his 'There's no riskin' with Ziskind' motto and she won.

"People looking for someone to do home repairs and remodeling still call here to find him."

So good was Mr. Ziskind's reputation that, according to his attorney and family friend Daniel Berger, he was never sued.

"Whenever Joe's customers had a complaint, he fixed it at his cost," Berger said. "He was unique for that kind of business."

The only thing equal to his reputation was his sales ability. Berger said that one summer when he was in college, Mr. Ziskind hired him to sell siding and took him out to show him the business.

"I didn't sell a thing, but I observed him," Berger said. "He sold people what they needed and made them happy. He didn't cheat. He was magnificent."

Mr. Ziskind is survived by his wife of 56 years, Mildred Mermelstein; and three daughters, Judy Wolff and Joyce Arnoff of New York City, and Nancy Hittman of Olive Branch, Miss.; and four grandchildren.

Visitation is from noon to 1 p.m. today at Ralph Schugar Chapel Inc., 5509 Centre Ave., Shadyside, with services immediately following. Interment is at the Homestead Hebrew Cemetery.

The family asks that memorial contributions be made to Charles M. Morris Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, 200 JHF Dr., Pittsburgh, PA 15217; or Friends of Israel Defense Forces, 298 Fifth Ave., 5th Floor, New York, NY 10001.

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