Featured Project: Voices of Change
The Life of Joe Benedum Trees (1931-2011)
Joe Benedum Trees, born in Pittsburgh in 1931, was diagnosed with intellectual disability and autism. His childhood took place in a day and age when very few disability services were available. Joe’s parents – Edith Lahm and Joseph Clifton Trees – had the financial means to provide their son’s support needs throughout his lifetime. After their passing, Joe lived with caregivers at Treesdale Manor, until his death in 2011 at the age of 79.
This interview tells the story of Joe’s life through the eyes of three dedicated caregivers at Treesdale Manor, the family’s estate in the North Hills of Allegheny County — Jesse Meckler, custodian; Dick O’Rourke, superintendent; and Barbara Soltis, nurse. Today, the trust fund set up for Joe’s life-long care provides financial support to numerous Western Pennsylvania organizations that serve people with disabilities.
Preserve and Share
The Western Pennsylvania Disability History and Action Consortium preserves and shares the historic struggle of Western Pennsylvanians with disabilities to attain human and civil rights.
We educate the public about disability history in order to improve community access, participation and equal opportunity, and to ensure disability rights through existing and new policies and laws.
We join stakeholders across Pennsylvania to advocate on policies that ensure the civil rights of people with disabilities.
Western Pennsylvania has played a significant role in the history of disability rights. From Arc Allegheny’s efforts in the 1970s to expose abusive conditions in state institutions to Allegheny County’s development of the first paratransit system in the nation in the 1980s, Western Pennsylvania has taken a stand.
- Visit our historic timeline
- Learn more about the contribution of Western Pennsylvanians as documented in projects conducted by Consortium partners:
- Voices of Our Region Oral History Project
- Visionary Voices (interviews with key advocates)
- From Wrongs to Rights (documentary)
- i go home (documentary)
- User Guide for Preserving and Sharing the History of Pennsylvanians with Intellectual and Developmental Disability (PDF)
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