Former 'Top Gun' Aims at Streets, Sidewalks
Dave Root traveled the world with the Navy before landing in Cranberry.
Relics of Cranberry Supervisor Dave Root's life are scattered throughout his Oakland office.
Now retired from the U.S. Navy, the former fighter pilot still keeps his jet helmet and mask atop a shelf. Asian art hangs near Root's door, evidence of the two years he spent stationed in Japan. Textbooks on the subject he teaches at Carnegie Mellon University are spread throughout the room.
And behind his desk, framed and hanging between the two large windows overlooking South Craig Street, is his diploma from the Navy Fighter Weapons School, better known as Top Gun -- the same school portrayed in the popular film starring Tom Cruise.
"I had chicken pox at the time [the movie was filmed,] so I'm not in the movie," Root said. "But I met the stars."
He even shared his flight gear with Cruise, who found the first few times in a fighter jet can be rough on the stomach. After the shoot, the Navy provided Root with new gear.
A native of Orinda, Calf., Root has been married for 25 years to his wife, Cathy, and is the father of two children -- son James, 24, lives in Uniontown, and daughter Sarah, 22, is a senior at Penn State University's main campus in State College.
Root spent 23 years on active duty with the Navy, logging more than 60 hours of combat flight. He taught pilots to fly, flew planes himself and trained allies' forces. He also earned two master's degrees — one in education from Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and one in public management from CMU after he came to Western Pennsylvania in 1998 to head the university's Naval Reserve Officer Training unit.
"I always enjoyed instructing," said Root, 54. "My original plan was to get out [of the Navy] and teach high school math or social studies. But the Navy had other plans for me."
When he retired from the Navy in 2001, he did find a teaching job -- but not in high school. Instead, he joined CMU's faculty and taught in its Master of Software Engineering program. He also is director of CMU's distance education program.
Mel Rosso-Llopart, a senior lecturer in that program as well as a friend, has known Root for the past eight years. He said Root relies on personal experience to make subjects meaningful for his students.
After using different types of software with the Navy, Root knows how they should work. When teaching students how to engineer software, Root tries to convey the importance of considering how it will be used.
"What the consumer wants is very near and dear to his heart," Rosso-Llopart said. "The software needs to be able to do what I want it to do, not what it wants to do."
Now Root is as focused on solving problems in his community as he has been in his classrooms.
In 2008, the Democrat ran for a seat on the Cranberry Board of Supervisors and defeated an incumbent Republican to win the position.
"I saw some things [in the neighborhood] that I thought differently about," he said.
Once in office, Root worked with other supervisors to create the Freedom Road Committee, which aims to provide residents with input into the future of the road. Freedom Road is a high-traffic area, with a good chunk of commercial real estate, and the value of the remaining homes has fallen.
Gloria Tubridy, who has lived on Freedom Road since 1962, sat in on most of the Freedom Road Committee meetings. She said she felt Root listened to residents' concerns about problems along the road.
"Other [supervisors] were there, but Dave was always there," Tubridy said. "He is very open to listen … and receptive to what is going on."
Supervisors have worked with residents to create new zoning areas and more options for selling property.
Tubridy knows it is going to take time to fix all of the problems on the congested road — traffic is so bad that some residents struggle to pull their cars out of their driveways, she said — but she is happy with the supervisors' efforts so far.
"[The committees] provided community input," she said, "and gave [them] an idea how [the road] is affecting [the residents.]"
House values on Freedom Road -- a high traffic area with a good chunk of commercial real estate -- are greatly reduced, Root helped to start the Freedom Road Committee to offer residents a say in their neighborhood's evolution.
Root, too, said the work in that area is not done but is moving forward.
While much of the country has been struggling during the recent recession, Root said he and his fellow supervisors did not believe it had a significant negative impact on Cranberry. Home prices in the area are stable, he said, and the region continues to grow.
Westinghouse Electric Co. helped by moving its headquarters to the community in 2009, bringing thousands of jobs with it. But Root said Cranberry does have minor problems that its leaders are working to solve.
"There are things missing in the township," Root said. "We don't have bicycle paths or sidewalks … and [we have] dangerous roads."
Constructing bike paths and sidewalks may not be as demanding or high-stakes as instructing pilots to fly F-14s, but Root said he enjoys the pace of his new role.
"In some ways, I have more freedom [now]," he said. "But in the Navy, I never had to worry about what to wear."