A Life Dedicated to Community Service
The Honorable Charles J. Martoni, PhD isn’t one for publicity. In fact, he prefers serving the public over being in the public eye. However, as campus president at the Community College of Allegheny County’s Boyce Campus and Braddock Hills Center, vice president of Allegheny County Council and a member of the Port Authority board of directors, Dr. Martoni often finds himself in the spotlight.
He was born and raised in Swissvale, Pennsylvania, and still resides there today. As a student at Swissvale High School, Dr. Martoni was heavily involved in athletics, especially football. A typical day for him included delivering papers on his newspaper route, school, football practice and then working after practice at a bowling alley where he set up bowling pins until 11:00 p.m. “From the time I was a kid, I was always on the go,” he says.
After graduating from high school in 1955, several of Dr. Martoni’s football teammates received scholarships to the University of Denver and encouraged him to talk to the coaching staff about playing. Dr. Martoni drove to the University of Denver with plans to play football and obtain a college degree. However, once at Denver, he realized he would not be able to play varsity football and chose to transfer to a junior college. After a week of junior college, Dr. Martoni decided to return to Pittsburgh where he worked a variety of jobs, including a job as bottle boy at Kennywood.
Shortly after returning home, he decided to enlist in the army and was sent to Alaska for two years during the Cold War. “At the time, Alaska wasn’t a state – it was a territory,” he says. “It was nice, but there was always an expectation that we could be in a war.”
After his time in the army, Dr. Martoni once again returned to Pittsburgh and worked in the steel mills. Throughout the 1960s, he was a professional wrestler with Pittsburgh’s Studio Wrestling. Dr. Martoni says he originally wanted to box, but boxing was a dying sport at the time. He then turned to professional wrestling, which he discovered was a very hard business to get in to.
As a professional wrestler, Dr. Martoni competed in myriad cities and even traveled to Canada and Puerto Rico for matches. Over the years, he acquired several nicknames including the “Masked Marvel,” “Johnny Walker” and “Charlie Rose.” In addition to his nicknames, Dr. Martoni says he also wrestled under his own name and that Bill Cardille, the legendary broadcaster and former host of Pittsburgh Studio Wrestling on Channel 11, still calls him “Cannonball” today. “Wrestling was a good experience,” he says. “It taught me a lot of things, including how naïve people can be.”
In the mid-1960s, Dr. Martoni read in the newspaper that Allegheny County was establishing a community college. “Once the community college opened its doors, I decided it was time to get my degree,” he says. Thus, on September 18, 1966, Dr. Martoni began classes at Boyce Campus, which was then referred to as East Campus. “I went to class four days per week from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. at Gateway High School,” he says. “CCAC meant everything to me. It was the hardest degree for me because the classes were so academically sound. I loved the people, and I’m still friends with many faculty and staff members who were here when the college first opened.”
After receiving an associate’s degree in general studies in January 1969 (class of 1968), Dr. Martoni transferred to California State College (now California University of Pennsylvania) where he completed a bachelor’s degree in social studies education. In March 1971, he was hired by CCAC’s Boyce Campus as the assistant director of admissions and financial aid. A few months later, he was promoted to director of financial aid and also worked in counseling.
Although he worked in an educational setting, Dr. Martoni wasn’t ready to stop his own education. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he received five additional degrees and began his career in public service, as a school board member for the Swissvale School District.
Once Dr. Martoni had served one term on the school board and completed his master’s degree in history from California State College, he turned to teaching. “I believe I’ve taught every semester at CCAC since I received my degree, with the exception of the summer terms,” he says. “I’ve taught courses in American Government, U.S. history and western civilization, among others.”
In addition to teaching part-time and working as the director of financial aid, Dr. Martoni served on Swissvale Borough Council and then was elected mayor of Swissvale for two terms. At the same time, he continued his education and obtained two master’s degrees from Duquesne University in educational administration and school counseling.
He was promoted to dean of student development in July 1981, a position he held until July 2008 when he was named campus president. Toward the end of that decade, he completed his doctorate degree in higher education from the University of Pittsburgh and finished his education with a second associate’s degree from CCAC in administration of criminal justice. “I decided to get a degree in criminal justice because, at the time, I was mayor of Swissvale and I was in charge of the police department,” he says. “I like to have the education to back up what I do.”
Dr. Martoni was mayor when the steel mills began to close their doors. “Economic development—creating and retaining jobs—was the most important challenge I faced as mayor,” he says.
In 1986, Dr. Martoni founded the Steel Valley Authority, which is a regional job retention and development program. Two years later, he and several other local leaders launched the Mon Valley Initiative, a non-profit community and economic development organization, to restore the economic vitality of the Mon Valley. Dr. Martoni served as the Mon Valley board’s first president. “People used our model all over the country,” he says. “We were invited everywhere to speak. Both organizations helped with economic development, and they remain in existence today.”
Although he enjoyed his two terms as mayor, Dr. Martoni decided not to run for a third term because he felt the mayor was a ceremonial position with little power in the borough. He chose to run for Swissvale Borough Council, and was elected president from 1990 to 1999.
When Allegheny County established its new government in 1999, the Home Rule Charter created the County Executive position and a County Council. Dr. Martoni decided to run for County Council. “I thought it would be extremely exciting and that we could get more done on a county level,” he says.
As one of 15 Council members, Dr. Martoni says he enjoys building relationships and growing as a team. He agrees that the most pressing issue Council has faced was passing the drink and car rental taxes last year. “It was either these taxes or the real estate tax,” he says. “We weren’t given much choice, and we jumped on the drink tax.”
Since passing the taxes, Allegheny County Council and Dr. Martoni have faced much criticism from the public. Dr. Martoni was even named in a lawsuit for allegedly violating conflict of interest laws because he is a member of the Port Authority’s board of directors, and the funds collected from the taxes benefit the Port Authority. Dr. Martoni’s position on the Port Authority board, which he has held since March 2001, was determined not to be a conflict of interest and the lawsuit was dismissed. “Public office is almost like a mine field in which you can get sued for things,” he says. “Having a democracy is what makes politics so great.”
When Dr. Martoni was up for reelection to County Council in 2005, he suffered a setback. “I was sick at the time and had a campaign volunteer deliver my required paperwork for the election,” he says. “The paperwork ended up in the wrong spot and my name was removed from the ballot. In order to run, I had to conduct a write-in voting campaign.” Dr. Martoni and his volunteer staff attacked the write-in campaign, educating voters how to write-in a candidate’s name. The education paid off and Dr. Martoni garnered more than 4,000 votes from his district.
Throughout his years as an educator and public service official, Dr. Martoni has received many honors and has served on many boards. In 2000, he was honored by the CCAC Educational Foundation as the legendary faculty/staff/administrator. Three years later, he was selected as a 2003 National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development winner for teaching excellence. He has served on numerous boards including the Tri-State Conference on Steel, two YMCA branches, Eastern Area Adult Services, Mom’s House of Swissvale, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Girl Scouts, Tri-State Conference on Steel, West to West Coalition and the Swissvale Economic Corporation, among others. Dr. Martoni is also a certified professional counselor in Pennsylvania and is a member of the National Board of Certified Counselors.
Over the past few years, Dr. Martoni says he has been physically challenged with illness, but this hasn’t stopped him. Despite his health challenges, he continues to hold public office and has done so since he was first elected to the Swissvale School Board many years ago.
He and his wife Marianne are both CCAC graduates, and he says his entire family all have associate’s degrees from CCAC. Marianne, in fact, has received two associate’s degrees from CCAC including liberal arts and sciences (1993) and administrative office professional (2000) and a certificate in the office technology professional program in 2000.
With seven degrees, a high-profile position with CCAC, County Council and the Port Authority board, Dr. Martoni hasn’t let anything slow him down. “I love the people and I do it for them,” he says. “CCAC has made such a difference in so many lives and people tell me they are better for coming here. At CCAC, you’re not a number here, but rather a person. We’re all about the students and we should always expect the best from them.”
Charles J. Martoni, PhD