By RICK KAZMER
United Way of the Laurel Highlands
When Bob Zahurak watched the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday afternoons he enjoyed the games, but he also took note of something else during the broadcast.
The Tire Hill resident took pride in seeing information about the NFL’s partnership with the United Way, because through his support of the United Way of the Laurel Highlands, he knew that he was making a difference locally.
Bob died at age 50 on Dec. 27 from COVID-19, but his legacy of giving back to families in Cambria and Somerset Counties lives on.
“He loved me, he loved his dog, his family, his work. And he loved the United Way,” his wife, Billie Zahurak, said. “He loved that I could be a part of it as well through Women United.”
Bob worked at North American Höganäs in Hollsopple for nearly 20 years as an atomizer at the powdered metal facility. He ran the control room and trained new operators. He was also a leader with United Steelworkers No. 2632. At work Bob was a champion for the United Way, encouraging employees to contribute during the annual workplace campaign, supporting the organization’s efforts, which focus on youth drug and alcohol prevention, parental engagement and early childhood development. The company hosts one of the nonprofit’s strongest workplace campaigns each year.
“My husband donated to United Way every single year. He was a huge supporter,” Billie said.
Bob’s dedication to his job and the community was easily apparent to his coworkers.
“As Union President, Bob’s dedication and support created a unique balance between representing his Union brothers’ best interest while maintaining a positive relationship with the company. This sense of dedication and support did not end at work. Bob also knew the value of giving back to the community in which he lived and worked,” David Hamaty, vice president of human resources at Höganäs, said.
“One way in which he demonstrated this belief was by embracing and supporting the annual United Way Campaign. He was an outspoken advocate and encouraged all Union members to participate in this worthwhile cause. Though Bob may not be with us today, his spirit of generosity and social responsibility will be remembered by all who knew him at North American Höganäs.”
‘WE DID EVERYTHING TOGETHER’
Women United became an important part of Billie’s life. Supporting the organization was another thing the couple shared. They don’t have children and spent 29 years of marriage enjoying each other. They were together from the time they were 14 and 15 years old, Billie said.
“We did everything together,” she said.
The local Women United group’s signature fundraiser is Power of the Purse, scheduled for Oct. 7 this year. It has been sold out for months, with more than 600 people expected to attend. It was canceled last year as part of fallout from the pandemic.
Billie said she always looks forward to the event, in part because she knew Bob enjoyed seeing her having fun supporting a cause that they both championed. She typically attends with a tableful of friends.
“The minute I heard of Power of the Purse I was a huge supporter of that,” she said, noting that she will be in attendance again this year.
Funds raised from the event support early childhood development in the Laurel Highlands. Now in its fourth year, the event has raised more than $76,000.
It will be a bittersweet event this year without Bob. But Billie said a special Steelers purse will be among the many raffled off that night, this one in Bob’s honor.
“The story of Bob Zahurak is really a love story about his love for his wife, his love for his union brothers and sisters, and his love for the community,” United Way President & CEO Karen Struble Myers said.
It’s not the only way Bob’s legacy is being remembered.
Bob Zahurak will continue to support the United Way of the Laurel Highlands, according to Billie.
Before the pandemic started, Billie was active with paint-and-sip events, typically held as fundraisers. The Zahuraks had one planned to benefit the United Way of the Laurel Highlands around Christmastime 2020. But the pandemic and Bob’s death prevented the event from happening.
In April, Billie held the event, in memory of Bob. The First Annual Bob Zahurak Memorial Painting Event for the United Way of the Laurel Highlands raised more than $3,000 for the nonprofit. Billie worked with the union – it was held at the union hall in Tire Hill – and with Studio PM with Natalie. Owner Natalie Cheek helps to facilitate the art part of the event.
“It was unbelievable how quickly everything sold out,” Billie said, noting that more than 100 baskets were raffled among the approximate 90 people in attendance.
“The baskets just kept coming in. That speaks to who Bob was. I am surprised so many times about the impact he had.
“I want it to get bigger every year.”
Billie now plans to hold the event each year near St. Patrick’s Day, which is another special day — It’s Bob’s birthday.
The event will continue to be an opportunity to honor and celebrate the life of a man whose generosity of spirit carries on.