Growing Up Mill Town: Joe Zanotti Remembers Life Before Superstores


Joe Zanotti is a small-town boy at heart. Growing up near the tiny mill town of Braeburn, Pennsylvania, Joe Zanotti learned first hand the value of hard work. The self-sufficient town’s residents were hard-working immigrants, many of whom worked in the towns steel mill, that, at one point made what was considered to be some of the world’s best high alloy tool steel.

“No fancy computer stuff in that mill at the time,” Joe Zanotti said, “just hard working, loyal men who took tremendous pride in what they did.”

Joe Zanotti vividly recalls the time he spent at his grandparents’ house in Braeburn as a kid. A large flood on St. Patrick’s Day in 1936 was away the train station and created a pond that connected to the river, filling the pond with fish. Joe Zanotti has many stories from his week- to two-week routines visits to his grandparent’s houe.

One of Joe Zanotti’s memorable childhood experiences came when he would accompany his grandparents on Saturdays to buy a live chicken for dinner on Sunday. To get chickens, Joe Zanotti’s parents would take the grandparents to Pollock’s farm.  On one visit an ornery young Joe decided to throw rocks at a big, mean bull that was kept in a pen. Even though the bull was penned up, when the bull began scratching the ground and snorting, Joe ran away in fear and tears.

“I remember bringing the chicken home,” Joe Zanotti says. “Grandpap would chop its head off and it would still run round.” Anyone growing up during that time knows the full meaning of the term, ‘running around like a chicken with its head cut off.’

Joe Zanotti’s grandmother would pluck the feathers off the chicken. He still recalls one time watching his grandmother pull an egg out of one of those chickens. A very young Joe was frightened by this since he knew he thought eggs came from the grocery store!

“It was maybe a month before I ate an egg,” Joe Zanotti remembers with a laugh.

About Joe Zanotti

For Joe Zanotti, family heritage has always been important. Growing up in Lower Burrell, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh, Joe Zanotti was always aware of his Italian and Slovak heritage enjoying the culture, foods and curtoms. In fact, he spent many weekends and long summer weeks at his grandparents’ house in the nearby mill town of Braeburn.

Joe Zanotti has lived in Pennsylvania most of his life, mostly near Pittsburgh. After graduating from Burrell Senior High School, Joe Zanotti attended the Pennsylvania State University, where he majored in civil engineering. During college, he was an invited member of both the Chi Epsilon Honorary Society and Tau Beta Pi Honorary Society, both national engineering societies for honors students. Joe Zanotti attended graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied structural engineering.

An experienced structural engineer with more than 31 years in the field, Joe Zanotti often travels throughout the USA and overseas for work. Joe Zanotti is currently employed by Camp, Dresser, & McKee, Inc., a worldwide engineering firm based in Pittsburgh. Joe Zanotti’s work often stations him in many Asian countries such as Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam and in Middle-East countries such as Israel.  He considers working overseas, such as when he helped rebuild a Catholic church in tsunami-damaged Banda Aceh, Indonesia, an experience that has been life changing.

Prior to Camp, Dresser, & McKee, Joe Zanotti was project design manager for MPS Corporation in Leetsdale. He worked as a structural engineer for Sargent & Lundy Engineers in Chicago, as well as Dravo Engineers in Pittsburgh. His professional associations include the American Society of Civil Engineers, International Concrete Repair Institute, for which he serves on the board of directors, and American Concrete Institute, for which he is a subcommittee member on the national level.

An avid golfer, Joe Zanotti has had the privilege of golfing everywhere from overseas in Asia to many top courses in the USA. Joe Zanotti began golfing at the age of fifteen, at a tiny 9-hole course near his house where greens fees were only $3-$4 a day.  For years, he was part of an annual golf retreat comprised mostly of former Pennsylvania State graduates. Joe Zanotti is an avid cook and would maybe enjoy attending chef school when retired. He is a lover of great wine and while he wouldn’t consider himself a connoisseur, Joe Zanotti keeps 40-50 bottles of wine in his basement at all times.

Born in 1958, Joe Zanotti currently resides in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area, where he has lived since 1988. Joe Zanotti is registered as a professional engineer in eleven states, including Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, Indiana, and the District of Columbia. He is single, with no children, has a brother, sister, nieces and a nephew and both of his parents are still alive.

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