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Obituary: Marjorie McCormick Michaux, a popular poet heard on KDKA in the '40s

Thursday, August 26, 1999

By Adrian McCoy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Someday I'll be gone, as all good people go, leaving every-

thing behind that means so much to me,

And I can't resist a selfish thought; when I leave must I forget

all that made this life of mine a lovely memory?

-- From "Souvenir," published in "The Dream Weaver" by Marjorie Michaux

Marjorie McCormick Michaux was one of the first and few women in the early days of local broadcasting. Although she's perhaps best remembered for "The Dream Weaver," a popular poetry program that aired on KDKA-AM in the 1940s, that was only the start of a career in broadcasting, public relations and journalism that spanned six decades.

Mrs. Michaux died Tuesday after a heart attack at her residence in the Longwood at Oakmont retirement community. She was 88.

Marjorie Thoma grew up in Homewood with her widowed mother and two sisters. While very young, she was already entertaining family and schoolmates with poetry and stories.

She helped support her family while going to night school at the former Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon University, and Duquesne University.

Bill Beal hired her to work as a writer and producer at KDKA-AM in 1938.

"She came in with this idea of doing poetry," said Beal, who was the station's continuity editor at the time. "I proposed it at a program meeting and everybody scoffed at the idea. Somehow I was able to convince them it would work."

The original plan was to read works by well-known poets, but dealing with copyright laws was so complicated that she simply sat down and wrote her own. The daily 15-minute program featured Paul Shannon reading the poems and Bernie Armstrong providing accompaniment on the organ.

"It was such a sensation. It proved people were hungry for that kind of material," Beal recalled. Braun Baking signed on as sponsor, and "The Dream Weaver" ran for seven years on KDKA. During the 1940s, she published two volumes of poetry under the same title.

"During the war years, she had a lot of very emotional poetry that appealed to people whose loved ones were over in Europe," said Beal. "It was a big success. 'The Dream Weaver' is really her legacy."

Mrs. Michaux found ways to juggle career and family when that wasn't common. She married Frank McCormick and had three children. Her husband died in 1962. In 1965, she remarried. Both Marjorie and Joe Michaux had lost spouses to cancer. They had a full house of instant family -- her three children and his 12, ranging in age from 5 to 21.

A son, Peter McCormick of West View, remembered "her undying energy and her great spirit and love of life. She never understood not doing something."

Even after the kids were grown, they would flock home for massive family holiday celebrations. Mrs. Michaux was not daunted by cooking holiday dinners for 70 to 100, including two or three generations of her family, plus in-laws and friends.

In the 1950s, she began a public relations career, working with a diverse range of local and national clients, including the Christmas Seal League, Pittsburgh Opera and Duquesne Brewing.

"This was an all-male town doing heavy industry public relations" at that time, McCormick said. "She never got paid what she should have been paid. But she competed -- and won. But she wasn't doing it to be a pioneer. She was doing what she knew best, and she did it well."

She also taught courses in radio and TV at Carnegie Tech and the University of Pittsburgh.

In 1959, she was named one of "Pittsburgh's 10 Best Dressed Women."

She also served on many boards over the years, including the Group Against Smog and Pollution and the Wilkinsburg Historical Society.

"Whenever she would get involved with something, she'd end up being president of the organization," McCormick said.

In the 1980s, she was editor of "Historic Wilkinsburg," published to mark the borough's centennial. The illustrated history covered the community's ups and downs and included 200 family histories. The families were supposed to write them and hand them over to Mrs. Michaux for editing, but it didn't happen that way, McCormick recalled. "The doorbell would ring. They would come in and tell their tale, and she would write their history."

More recently, she was one of the editors of "When Radio Was Young," a history of Pittsburgh radio.

"We are losing the pioneers," said friend and colleague Alice Sapienza-Donnelly, who worked with Mrs. Michaux on the radio history and several other community projects. "She was a wonderful mother of 15. She had such an understanding and rapport with young people. Everyone in the borough who worked with her loved her. She has been a community activist for years -- a real treasure."

Mrs. Michaux was the winner of numerous Golden Quill awards and other professional honors.

In retirement she continued to write articles for area publications, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and to work with local community organizations. When she and her husband moved to Longwood, she would read to sight-impaired neighbors.

In addition to her husband and son, she is survived by these children: Margaret Conte of Verona, Jessica McKinley of Plum, Kate McCormick of Mill Valley, Calif., Jenny Michaux Kirk of Mt. Lebanon, Josephine Michaux Smith of Penn Hills, Joseph Michaux of Du Bois, Clearfield County, Dennis McCormick of North Versailles, Aimee Bergamasco of Verona, Robert Michaux of Jacksonville, N.C., Richard Michaux of Murrysville, Candy Williams of Maybrook, N.Y., Francis Michaux of Turtle Creek and Germaine Wells of Reynoldsburg, Ohio. Also surviving are 49 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.

Visitation is today and tomorrow from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at the Burket-Truby Funeral Home, 421 Allegheny Ave., Oakmont. Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Irenaeus Church, Oakmont.

The family suggests memorials to the American Cancer Society.

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