Joan Frank Apt
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Joan Frank Apt

APT: Joan Frank Apt, cofounder of the Pittsburgh Public Theater and leader of Pittsburgh cultural organizations for over 60 years, died suddenly on Feb. 15, 2020 at her home in Pittsburgh. She was 93, born on the Fourth of July, 1926 in Wilkinsburg, and lived in Pittsburgh most of her life. She was the granddaughter of Pittsburgh industrialist and civic leader Isaac W. Frank, and the daughter of Cecelia Kaplan Frank and Robert Jay Frank, an engineer and the Vice-President for Sales of Copperweld Steel Company. She grew up initially on Inverness Avenue. When she was 13 her family moved into a home on Woodland Road they commissioned from famed architects Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer. Living in this modernist masterpiece inspired her lifelong interest in the arts. After graduating from the Winchester Thurston school in 1944 she attended Wheaton College, where she majored in art history. She married Jerome Apt, Jr. on Aug. 10, 1947 at a ceremony at her parents’ home. The couple settled in Springfield, Massachusetts where her husband was an engineer for Monsanto Chemical Company. In 1949 they moved to Pittsburgh. They purchased land in the East End and engaged architect James Speyer, a student of Mies van der Rohe, to design a striking steel and glass home in which she loved to entertain, most recently on her 90th birthday. She began her service to Pittsburgh’s cultural institutions as a founding member of the board of the Civic Light Opera, where she later served as treasurer. She helped found the American Wind Symphony and the Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival. She served the Pittsburgh Symphony Association at various times as treasurer, vice president of Season Subscriptions, VP of planning, and VP of development as well as on the executive committee and nominating committee. She was a board member for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and on many of the Board’s committees. In 1971-72 she was responsible for conceiving, planning and implementing the subscription sales campaign for the symphony’s move into the newly renovated Heinz Hall. The campaign resulted in a 20% increase in subscription sales and a completely sold-out series that enabled an expanded concert series and other programs and healthy acceptance of Heinz Hall by the public and all constituent cultural groups as well as a general rebirth of the adjacent downtown area. She and Margaret Rieck founded the Pittsburgh Public Theater in 1974, initially raising $370,000 ($1.9 million in today’s dollars) from 37 corporations and foundations, 934 individuals, and the Pennsylvania Arts Council. She was the PPT’s first treasurer. The first Public Theater production was mounted in September 1975, with Ben Shaktman as director in the Allegheny Theater on the North Side. Three plays were produced in the first season, with stars Leonard Nimoy, Tom Atkins, and Carol Teitel. The season expanded to five plays two years later, and later to the current seven plays. She was active on the PPT board throughout the remainder of her life, rarely missing a meeting. She served as city-wide chair of the United Way’s Community Fund, city-county chair of the American Cancer Society, chair of WQED’s Ford Foundation challenge campaign, and was one of the founders of the Woman’s Division of the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh. Among her many awards she was named a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania, the Governor’s Award for “The highest level of individual distinction with unwavering commitment to family, community and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania”. In 1999 Pittsburgh Magazine named her one of the “Pittsburghers of the Century”. Carlow College presented her with their “Woman of Spirit” award in 2002. She was the recipient of the Vectors/Pittsburgh Woman of the Year award in arts and music, the CNG Volunteer of the Year award, and the YMCA Leadership Award in Arts and Letters. Mrs. Apt is survived by her brother, Alan I.W. Frank of Pittsburgh, her son Jay Apt (Carolyn Hess Abraham) of Pittsburgh, her beloved grandchildren David Nathenson (Randi), Michael Nathenson (Gabriela Steier), Robert Nathenson (Alison Zisser-Nathenson), Steven Nathenson, Sarah Apt and Ru Emmons, and 5 great-grandchildren. Mrs. Apt was pre-deceased by her husband Jerome Apt, Jr. in 2010, their daughter Judy Nathenson in 2000, and by her sister Barbara Frank Dane in 2004. Visitation will be Tuesday Feb. 18 at 1 p.m. in Rodef Shalom Congregation in Oakland, followed by services at 2 p.m. Burial in Homewood Cemetery will be private. Rose Funeral Home on Frankstown Road in Penn Hills is handling arrangements. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Pittsburgh Public Theater, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, or a charity of choice.

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