A Connellsville native and Geibel High School graduate has just recently added three more Emmy awards to his collection, bringing the total to 34.
Photographer and documentary producer Paul Ruggieri, who now lives in Greensburg, took home three mid Atlantic Region’s Emmys, including Best Documentary for his work on “The Great Ride” produced with Beth Dolinar, an individual achievement Emmy for photography for the same documentary and an Emmy in Human Interest, Program or Special for work on an Alzheimer’s piece called “Stolen Years: Women, Caregivers and Alzheimer’s.”
WQED Producer David Solomon has worked with Paul since the early 1990s, first at KDKA and now with WQED.
“Paul cares about the stories that he tells and that care shows in the quality of his videos and the quality of his editing,” said Solomon. “He has a good eye and he knows how to capture the human emotion and the beauty of an image. His editing reflects that emotion and the human experience overall.”
Ruggieri said he believes he’s won at least one Emmy a year since 2000, except for one year, but he never expects a win.
“Even to this day, I’m never satisfied with my work,” he said. “I think that I can always do better.”
Ruggieri’s love for photography, both still and video, began when he was still in high school when his teacher Larry Orlando put a camera in his hand and told him to figure out how to use it because they needed a yearbook photographer.
“I already had an interest in photography, but there was no way I could afford a good camera, and now, there I was, with a Nikon in my hand,” he said.
At 14, he tried to get on one of the cameras recording a local heart telethon, but the host, Father Robert Burns, said he was still a little young, but maybe he could do it next year.
“He told me to take still pictures of the telethon that year,” Ruggieri said. “I was there for the entire 24 hours and shot everything going on. The next day, I went and bought a big block calendar and started crossing off days until the next year when I could work a video camera.”
For that year, Ruggieri got a job as a stringer for the Daily Courier working or Ed Cope and Charlie Rosendale.
“They basically taught me everything about still photography,” he said. “My first assignment was the 4-H auction at the Fayette County Fair. I was 14, so my mom had to drive me to my first professional shoot.”
Cope said he really liked Ruggieri who always did an excellent job on any assignment they gave him.
“He was very conscientious, and he always wanted us to point out how to do this or that or make sure he was doing everything correctly,” Cope said. “That was so impressive to me because it showed me that he really wanted to learn.”
After graduating from Geibel, Ruggieri attended Clarion University and got a degree in communications.
He started out working for a television station in Wheeling, W.Va. before moving to KDKA in Pittsburgh, where he worked for a few years before getting laid off.
“I freelanced for a couple of years — I was shooting for ESPN and BBC and CNN Sports — but freelance work is feast or famine. Some years are great and others are not so great.
After he and his wife Marie (Alisantrino) were married for three years, they began to think they couldn’t have kids and began looking at how to adopt a child.
“Around that time, I found out that WTAE had an employee benefit where they gave a good portion of money needed to adopt a child, but you had to work there for a year before you qualified,” Ruggieri said.
As fate would have it, on the one-year anniversary of his job, he found out that his wife was pregnant.
Soon after, Ruggieri found out that WPGH Fox 53 was starting up a newscast where they were giving the photographers their own equipment and their own car to take home.
“At the time, I lived in Connellsville and so the car was a big benefit for me,” he said.
Ruggieri worked for three years and began looking for a way out.
“I was overwhelmed with responding to other people’s disasters day after day,” he said. “I really just wanted to do documentary work.”
He got that chance when WQED hired him to work on their new magazine format type of show called On Q Magazine.
That was nearly 20 years ago and Ruggieri has loved doing what he has been doing at the station.
“I’m so blessed to be working at WQED and to be working with some of the most creative people and best TV writer in Dave Solomon in the Pittsburgh region,” he said.
Ruggieri’s first Emmy came from his work while part of On Q Magazine.
“That one was really pretty neat,” he said. “The reporter and I were doing a story on a program that helped women who were physically abused. We thought we did a great job but management didn’t submit it to the Emmy’s, so we sent it in on our own.
“We thought we didn’t have a chance and then when they called us out as the winners, we were shocked,” Ruggieri said. “It filled us with a lot of confidence. After that we just tried to keep better and better.”
Some of his best work moments include traveling to Auschwitz and working on a documentary about the Holocaust and when he was sent to the Vatican to shoot the Pittsburgh Symphony playing for the Pope.
All of his awards were part of the Emmy’s mid-Atlantic region. Every year the awards party has been held in Philadelphia, but this year they were held in Pittsburgh.
Ruggieri said it was really special to be able to invite his family to the event, and to top off the memorable evening, their table number there was 34 — almost a foreshadowing of the total number of Emmy’s he would have before the night ended.
“I had no doubt, way back when, that Paul (Ruggieri) was going to go places,” said Cope. “He’s always been willing to go after it and not just stand by and have something handed to him. He put everything in to what he did — he earned all of those Emmys.”
Ruggieri is usually involved in two or three big documentaries each year and works on several smaller projects in between.
He’s currently working on a piece that involves the return of the remains of three soldiers found in Germany — one of which was a soldier who was from Monongahela.