August 25, 2022 by Ned Schano
The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh
A Legacy Begins
The connection between a compassionate young woman and one small boy in need 120 years ago continues to transform life for countless families in Western Pennsylvania and across the nation.
Emile Terrenoire was just five years old when he lost both of his legs in a train accident. It was the turn of the century – spring 1902 – and when the time came for him to be discharged from the hospital, his widowed mother was unable to care for him. Because of his complex medical needs, Emile had nowhere to go.
Mary Irwin Laughlin, the daughter of a wealthy Pittsburgh industrialist, was inspired to find Emile a proper home where he could thrive. Upon learning that other children were facing similar challenging circumstances, she collaborated with a small group of prominent Pittsburgh women to develop a long-term solution.
Laughlin opened the Memorial Home for Cripple Children soon after, with Emile as its first resident. Over the past 120 years, that original organization has grown into The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh.
“Our entire family is so proud of Pup Pup and the role he played in the founding of The Children’s Institute,” explains his granddaughter, Robin Lasich. “I love that place. The Home made our family possible.”
The Home was unique in Western Pennsylvania, combining the missions of nurture, education, and medical care in a single facility. By the end of its first year, eight children were living there. Annual numbers of residents increased to more than 100 as the organization’s resources and reputation grew.
Emile, too, grew strong and capable. As a teen, he gave back to the organization by making braces and orthotic appliances worn by many of his fellow residents. After his discharge, he found a job he loved, married, and raised a family of his own. He and his wife Margaret settled in the east hills of Pittsburgh, where he worked as an elevator operator for the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
Margaret and Emile raised four daughters, Peggy, Dorothy, Joan, and Laraine, who used to argue about who would get to hammer his socks onto his wooden legs. He adored his 12 grandchildren.
Today, Emile’s family includes dozens of great-grandchildren and even more great-great-grandchildren. Many relatives in this close-knit family still live locally, and one great-granddaughter even worked at The Children’s Institute.
“I was young when he died, but I have vivid memories of Pup Pup,” Robin reflects. “I loved hugging him, feeling the strength in his arms and chest. He often used his arms to ambulate, and he had the biggest, strongest hands.”
Compassion, integrity, excellence, innovation, collaboration, and fun – hallmarks of the earliest days of the organization – are the core values that guide the mission of The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh today.