Aaron Kress was icon of Westmoreland County legal community
When Aaron Kress first met his wife, Dorothy, he told her he was a window washer.
“He didn’t want her to get any preconceived notions about him being a lawyer,” said their daughter, Becky Fenoglietto of Penn Hills.
“They were married very quickly,” she said. “My dad brought her back to New Kensington. She was from a big Jewish family in Squirrel Hill. Her family thought that was like traveling across the Rockies in a Conestoga wagon.”
Aaron M. Kress of Lower Burrell, a figure in the legal community in New Kensington and Westmoreland County for more than 60 years, died Sunday, April 24. He was 88.
Fenoglietto said her father was born in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. His family moved to New Kensington when he was very young and his father, Frank Kress, along with other men, started the Central Drug pharmacy chain.
“He made medical deliveries to everyone,” Fenoglietto said of her father.
Fenoglietto said her father also worked for a local funeral home. She said her grandparents would have to explain why a hearse was parked in front of their house when he drove it home for lunch.
Kress graduated from Dickinson College and received a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He was admitted to the bar in 1959.
In his practice, Kress focused on real estate and estates. Over the years, he was also a solicitor for the City of New Kensington, New Kensington’s redevelopment and sanitary authorities, and Westmoreland County.
“Aaron Kress was such a well-respected attorney in our city,” New Kensington Mayor Tom Guzzo said. “He was quite active in our city and served as the solicitor for the sanitary authority for many years. He will certainly be missed.”
Kress was president of the Westmoreland Bar Association from 2003-04, co-chair of its unauthorized practice of law committee, and a member of the senior lawyers committee.
He was a founding fellow of the Westmoreland Bar Foundation, helping establish an endowment fund for scholarships, outreach projects including law-related education, community partnering projects and other philanthropic endeavors.
“He was quite the sage when it came to things like estates, real estate and assessment appeals,” Fenoglietto said. “One of his greatest joys in life, aside from his family, was mentoring. He mentored generations of Westmoreland County attorneys.”
James Conte, 75, of Hempfield said he knew Kress most of his career. Conte, also a lawyer who focuses on real estate and estates, said Kress had a great deal of expertise in tax sales and assessment appeals.
“The amount of acuity he had and insight into how to attack these cases, it was really great,” Conte said. “I had done assessment appeals on my own before that. He gave me a real insight into looking at things.”
Conte said their professional relationship developed into a social one. He said Kress would coordinate meetings with clients at Conte’s Latrobe office around them having lunch.
“It’s a hard thing when somebody that you’ve enjoyed working with who has still so much to offer is taken away,” Conte said. “I didn’t just consider our relationship to be business. Business is what brought us together. It was really more enjoying each other’s company.”
James Collodi, a real estate agent in Lower Burrell, also frequently had lunch with Kress, where he said they’d talk about a variety of topics.
Collodi said he knew Kress for about 40 years, first meeting when they were involved in some real estate matters together. Kress later recommended Collodi for the Westmoreland County Board of Viewers, which Collodi remains a member of and Kress left last year.
”He was a brilliant mind regarding municipal law,” Collodi said. “Aaron was so knowledgeable. He was very well respected by his peers and all the people he came in contact with.”
Kress never retired and was working as a lawyer up until his death.
“He loved, loved, loved what he did,” said Fenoglietto, 57, the eldest of two daughters and an attorney herself. “He would talk to me about his cases and what he was working on continually.”
Kress was a licensed pilot in the 1970s and 1980s, when he owned a plane and, with another attorney, had a side business they called “S.H. Lepp Inc.,” through which they would “shlepp” computer parts up and down the East Coast.
“He never lost his sense of humor,” Fenoglietto said.
In addition to enjoying skiing, bicycling and tennis, Kress for many years started his days swimming at the YMCA, his daughter said.
He enjoyed growing tomatoes, and a swimming buddy brought him seeds from Italy. Fenoglietto calls them “Stolen from Romas,” and will continue her father’s practice of giving away seeds and plants.
Fenoglietto said the family was going to celebrate her parents’ 60th wedding anniversary on Memorial Day. Aaron and Dorothy Kress have four grandchildren, and Mr. Kress got to meet his first great-grandchild in March.
“He was fierce in his love for the people he loved,” Fenoglietto said. “The most important thing for my dad was his family. He was so excited to have grandchildren.”
Fenoglietto said she learned from her father to enjoy life.
“Live your life large. Do the things,” she said. “He traveled around the world. He did the things. Love your people and do the things.”
There are no services or viewings.
The family suggests donations in his memory be made to Rails to Trails, Peoples Library of New Kensington, the Westmoreland Bar Foundation and any local food banks.
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