WRITTEN BY VALENTINE J. BRKICH
It was only the first year Robert Morris students came to class in Moon Township. But even in 1964, the intramural rivalries were heated, according to Pennsylvania state Sen. Richard Kasunic, who was a freshman in that inaugural year.
“You talk about intensity,” he says. “It got real intense. And it wasn’t just hall versus hall; it was floor versus floor in some cases.” Kasunic also fondly recalls tobogganing in the winter and hanging out at the old barn that served as the student union. “That’s where I learned to play pool,” he says.
What he appreciates most about his college days are the closeknit ties he had with his professors. “Your instructors knew who you were,” he says. “You felt so comfortable. You weren’t just another number.“
Kasunic was born in 1947 in the Fayette County coalmining town of Monarch. His father, Walter, worked in the mines for more than 40 years. His mother, Gertrude, was a homemaker and took care of him, his two sisters, and younger brother.
After graduating from Dunbar Township High School, Kasunic earned an associate’s degree in business from Robert Morris, then got his bachelor’s degree from Youngstown State University. He served in the Pennsylvania National Guard for six years, then came home and took an office job with the county commissioners, working his way up to chief assessor. It was there that he got his first taste of politics, working on election campaigns for the commissioners and row officers, district judges, and some Democrat statewide races.
When a national brewing company came to Fayette County looking for a location for their new brewery in the early 1980s, it seemed to Kasunic like a great opportunity for the county. But the company realized there was no suitable water source or major highway nearby, and the deal fell through. “It lit a fire in my belly,” he says. “Here was this golden opportunity for several hundred jobs and we weren’t prepared.” Kasunic took it upon himself to get involved and work for change. “If you want to see change, if you want to see something happen, you better roll up your sleeves and do something about it. Just don’t sit around and grouse about it.”
Kasunic was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1982. He represented the 52nd Legislative District for six terms before being elected to the Pennsylvania Senate. Now he is in his fourth term representing the 32nd Senatorial District, principally Fayette and Somerset counties.
“I love the outdoor opportunities that we have here in Pennsylvania,” he says. “Anytime I have the opportunity, I like to get out and do a little hunting or fishing.”
Well known in Harrisburg as an avid outdoorsman, Kasunich is minority chairman of the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee. In addition to being a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, he is a member of the Dunbar Sportsman’s Club, the South Connellsville Sportsman’s Club, and the Ruffed Grouse Society, a conservation group that improves habitats for the official Pennsylvania state bird.
Kasunic has focused much of his legislative efforts on highway construction and conservation. He’s also secured millions of dollars in funding for water and sewage projects. “I’m a firm believer that, if we use good judgment and common sense, we can provide the jobs that people need and at the same time be the protectors and stewards of our environment.”
The one thing Kasunic wants people to know is that, despite his 27 years in office, he’s still just the same person who grew up in the coalmining patch of Monarch. “I still live there today, as a matter of fact,” he says. “I’m just the common guy who never forgot where he came from.”