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“Mark, I just found out about the death of John. I am sorry for your loss. ”
1 of 36 | Posted by: Sam Shock - Pittsburgh, PA

“Having worked the box office at the Home and Garden Show since the old convention center days, I always looked forward to spending time there. I...Read More »
2 of 36 | Posted by: Debbie Whitfield - McKees Rocks, PA

“I first met John ~10 years ago having seen his episodes of I Love Toy Trains. I wrote to him early in the year and asked if there was ever a chance...Read More »
3 of 36 | Posted by: Robert E Zischkau Jr - PA

“I always knew John was an amazing man but reading his obit confirms that sentiment even more. He was kind and always made a person feel special in...Read More »
4 of 36 | Posted by: Letta Scanlon - Pittsburgh, PA

“John gave so much to everyone and always gave a person. For me he help me with my mucic and with life in general. I will miss him forever ”
5 of 36 | Posted by: philip gilberti - Van nuys, CA

“My first memories of John are the warm welcomes to his homes, first on Beech Avenue and later Holmes Hall on Allegheny Avenue, during stops on the...Read More »
6 of 36 | Posted by: Anne-Marie Lubenau - Cambridge, MA

“John was a great preservationist and Chairman of the Pittsburgh Historic Review Commission. When he was Chair, I applied and succeeded in having the...Read More »
7 of 36 | Posted by: Glenn Walsh - Pittsburgh, PA

“John made all his friends feel as if they were his best friend. I was blessed to have John as a friend for the past 48 years and we sheared many...Read More »
8 of 36 | Posted by: Gregory Goulding - Kittredge, CO

“There are so many memories of John, but the 1 that stands out the most right now is when he would MC my mother's shows. That 1 memory is him ending...Read More »
9 of 36 | Posted by: Marjorie Chappel/Goulding

“I was a neighbor of John's in Allegheny West, living just a few doors away in historic Klee Row. So, since his first day in Allegheny West, I was...Read More »
10 of 36 | Posted by: Linda Ehrlich - Pittsburgh, PA

“The Renaissance City Winds mourn the passing of John DeSantis. We are so grateful for his hosting our group and our audiences for memorable holiday...Read More »
11 of 36 | Posted by: Bill Lewis - PITTSBURGH, PA

“I didn't know John for very long, but it didn't take long to see that he was a kind, generous, intelligent and warm soul. He was one of the most ...Read More »
12 of 36 | Posted by: Carrie Giest - Pittsburgh, PA

“I am truly saddened to hear of John's passing. My sincere condolences to his family. He was the friendliest person you ever wanted to meet. He was...Read More »
13 of 36 | Posted by: Ed Davis - Plain City, OH

“In Memory of Mr. John L. DeSantis, Jr.Civic Leader, Preservationist, Historian, Visionary, Businessman, Citizen, Counselor, Mentor, Neighbor, Son,...Read More »
14 of 36 | Posted by: Robert Tarasovich - CA

“I first met John around the year 2000, I was offering some Ives pieces for sale on eBay. One item in particular, an Ives Harmony Creamery car I was...Read More »
15 of 36 | Posted by: Marty Braun - Moon Township, PA

“John was such a gracious person. He always welcomed me to his home to photograph his Lionel Train collection for my art reference. He loved to...Read More »
16 of 36 | Posted by: Angela Trotta-Thomas - SC

“John was such a gracious person. He always welcomed me to his home to photograph his collection for my art reference. He loved to support the arts in...Read More »
17 of 36 | Posted by: Angela Trotta Thomas - SC

“John, a passionate advocate for Pittsburgh's city neighborhoods, was the father of NeighborFair, an event that shaped my personal and professional...Read More »
18 of 36 | Posted by: Beth Marcello - Pittsburgh, PA

“John DeSantis was the great protector of what made Pittsburgh unique and the best city in America to live in. At one time my family shared his street...Read More »
19 of 36 | Posted by: John Freed - Portland, OR

“I send my deepest sympathy on learning of John's passing. I met John for the first time while volunteering on the Christmas house tours. Upon finding...Read More »
20 of 36 | Posted by: Ron Bohin - Munhall, PA

“God Bless John DeSantis.As fine a man as you might ever meet. He did so much for the betterment of the City of Pittsburgh. For that he has my eternal...Read More »
21 of 36 | Posted by: Douglas Shields - Pittsburgh, PA

“My deepest condolences to his family. Just an acquaintance who I've met a few times and visited once but a lasting legacy to all that knew him. ”
22 of 36 | Posted by: Mike Vitale - Harper Woods, MI

“John was a very good friend of mine. I always enjoyed visiting his home when he had an open house. He always let me store my Handicapped cart when I...Read More »
23 of 36 | Posted by: Robert MacDowell - PA - friend

“For a number of years we have been friends in the toy train collecting community. He served as an inspiration to those of us desiring to learn about...Read More »
24 of 36 | Posted by: John Basile - Stillwater, NY

“We were glad to have known you, and sad to hear of your passing.You will be missed. ”
25 of 36 | Posted by: Rob & Barb Smith - Sewickley, PA

“I didn't know Mr Desantis personally but I had visited his home during the West Allegheny Christmas house tours. He seemed like a wonderful person...Read More »
26 of 36 | Posted by: Susan Preyer - Acquaintance

“John was always an interesting person who he lived an interesting and accomplished life. The entire 1970 Class of Canevin will miss John and his...Read More »
27 of 36 | Posted by: Bud Ellis - Pittsburgh, PA

“John was an always will be Larger Than Life to me !Beyond proud of his life !Great Brother - Friend - Father - Grandfather Will be Loved and Never...Read More »
28 of 36 | Posted by: Joseph DeSantis - Garnet Valley, PA

“No words can express my sadness for John the ultimate historian in everything he did. ”
29 of 36 | Posted by: DAVID MCENTARFER - Forestville, NY

“My condolences ❤! So sorry Mark, Kim, Shane and Riley. ”
30 of 36 | Posted by: Denise Augustine - PA - Family

“My deepest Sympathy to John' s family We were the best of friends. I loved going up to the train room when he had an open house I used to be at...Read More »
31 of 36 | Posted by: rRobert MacDowell - PA - Friend

“First- MY DEEPEST SYMPATHY to John"s Family. I used to visit his train collection when he had an open house. We became the best of friends...Read More »
32 of 36 | Posted by: Robert MacDowell - PA - Friend

“Rest In Peace John. My deepest sympathy to the family. ”
33 of 36 | Posted by: MICHAEL HAYS - FREDERICK, MD

“Mark, my condolences to you and your family over the passing of John.His passing is an enormous loss to the family, community, business associates,...Read More »
34 of 36 | Posted by: John Kelly - Pittsburgh, PA

“Our Sincerest of Sympathy and Condolances to Mark and Family. John brought us many wonderful and memorable moments as he remained a strong fixture...Read More »
35 of 36 | Posted by: Thomas Goulding - Carnegie, PA

“Eternally Grateful! ”
36 of 36 | Posted by: Thomas Goulding - Carnegie, PA


Mr. DeSantis grew up in Green Tree, graduating from St. Margaret of Scotland School and Bishop Canevin High School. He learned the flower business from his mother at Green Tree Florist, and opened his own shop in Downtown's Gateway Center. At age 26, he became president of Allied Florists of Western Pennsylvania.

Mr. DeSantis convinced the florists to partner with the Builders Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh to put on the first home and garden show at the convention center in 1982. And when the 2-year-old show was $98,000 in debt, he offered to buy it.

"They said, 'You can have it,' but he said no. He paid off the debt and bought it," his son said. "He had the foresight to know how successful it could be if the right man was running it."

Mr. DeSantis was also among the early preservation pioneers in the North Side's Allegheny West neighborhood. He bought one crumbling Victorian on Beech Avenue, then sold it to buy the one next door. He stripped woodwork, repaired plaster and painted, turning it into a showpiece on the Old Allegheny Victorian Christmas House Tour.

He also befriended an 11-year-old living in the group home next door whose father had died and whose mother couldn't care for him. His name was Mark.

"He chose me," Mr. Moore said. "By spending time with him, I became a better person."

After two years, Mr. DeSantis told his mother he planned to ask Mark to become his son. She asked him why. "Because I love him and I think I can make his life better," he replied.

Mr. Moore remembers riding his BMX bike through the long hallways of the house, where he now lives with his wife, Kimberly, and sons Shane and Riley. His father moved to an even larger house on Brighton Road known as Holmes Hall. This time, with the home show doing well, he could afford to hire restoration experts to make the house a dazzling final stop on neighborhood house tours.

"It looked like someone closed the door in 1889," his son said. "John had the eye."

Mr. DeSantis channeled his love for architecture into the city's Historic Review Commission and was its chairman for 13 years.

For 14 years, he supported music students at nearby Pittsburgh CAPA by paying them to play jazz at the 10-day home show. The original idea — mine — was to have students perform by a re-creation of The Crawford Grill, a famous jazz club in the Hill District. But it was Mr. DeSantis' idea to pay them like professionals.

Paul Thompson, a bassist and longtime teacher who directs the CAPA House Band, said playing at the home show has become a point of pride for generations of CAPA students.

"Some have become professionals. For others, it was the first and only time they were paid to play," Mr. Thompson said. "He created something really special and magical."

Another magical creation of Mr. DeSantis' is the model railway rooms at Holmes Hall. His world-class collection of standard-gauge toy trains began with a used Lionel set he received as a child. Since standard-gauge trains were no longer being made, he began to buy locomotives, running stock, track and other accessories at garage sales and later auctions and collectors' conventions. In the early 2000s, he outbid rock legend Neil Young for a rare Lionel prototype.

Mr. Desantis' train collection has been featured on the "Today" show and became a popular attraction during Allegheny West's annual Christmas house tour. It also brought him many hours of joy as he shared it with his beloved grandsons, who believe "Pap-Pap" wanted his collection to become part of a museum when he was gone.

They treasure memories of a grandfather who picked up sticks in nearby Allegheny Commons to use in sword fights. Mr. Moore said he did the same for him and his brother, David Augustine, who died in a motorcycle accident in Los Angeles in 2009. Mr. DeSantis also found him at the group home.

"He was somebody who would pull you up, show you the light and keep you on his shoulders," Mr. Moore said. "He changed my life, made me into the man that I am today."

Other survivors are his brother, Joe DeSantis, sister, Elaine Ellenberger, and step-brother, Joseph Tancraitor.

Visitation is scheduled for 5-8 p.m. Friday and 1-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. Saturday at William Slater Funeral Service (412-563-2800), 1650 Greentree Road, Scott. The funeral is at 11 a.m. Monday at Calvary United Methodist Church, 971 Beech Ave., North Side. Interment at Allegheny Cemetery will be private. www.slaterfuneral.com

Upcoming Funeral Services
Burial

Allegheny Cemetery

4734 Butler St Pittsburgh, PA 15201