Saturday, March 28, 2009

100 Years and Counting

One Hundred Years of Clairton

Oil drums along the river: In the early 1900s the settlement along the Monongahela River that would become Clairton thrived. Most of the commerce was agrarian but several factories sprang up and faded away including a piano factory and brickyard. Once Carnegie Steel opened its plant, however, the community was destined to be a one-industry town. By 1904 City fathers decided the community needed a school and a fine three-story brick building housed the first graduating class of Clairton High School. Students would eventually outgrow the building and it would become Fifth Street Grade School. As the community grew other schools opened. Shaw Avenue in 1909; Miller Avenue in 1919; Walnut Avenue in 1920; Short Street in 1926; the new (present) high school in 1925 and the first addition to the high school, 1927.

In celebration of the fiftieth year reunion of the first CHS graduating class, the following was written by the Mifflin Township Historical Society: “Today [1957] some fifteen years later [editor’s note – after the bombing of Pearl Harbor], we have unbelievable prosperity, uninhibited youth, rock and roll, calypso, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, the paradox of the exquisitely feminine fashions of “My Fair Lady” and tight jeans and leather coats, Edsel Ford’s little car able to do 120 miles an hour, and the war babies coming to school. School buildings are gaping; harassed administrators and school boards are trying to desperately but nobly to keep pace. From Clairton there has been an exodus to township suburbs where schools are under construction, but Clairton schools are still serving [Mifflin] township children as well as those who have come to live in the town houses they vacated. In the fall our building housed 2,095 junior and senior high school students and a faculty of 80. Our class this June will probably number more than 400 graduates. If the present rate continues, by 1960 Clairton High School will have granted more than 10,000 diplomas . . . In 1907 there were four graduates.”

Today the Clairton High School includes grades 9-12 and houses about 250 students with 24 full time teachers.

The first CHS graduates: The inaugural graduating class of 1907 included Emma Briner Barrett, whose five children graduated from CHS including son Briner Barrett who graduated as CHS student body vice president in 1929 and Rose Colcord Weibel, who attended Drexel, Smith College, and Pitt, then returned to Clairton to teach the third grade. She lived in the Colcord family home on Halcomb Avenue.

Austin Cort, the only male graduate of the first CHS graduating class followed his father’s footsteps and became a physician. After a stint in the army during WW-I he returned to Clairton and resided and practiced medicine in Wilson. His wife, Caralena Goldstrohm was a teacher, president, and secretary of the School Board. The fourth member of the initial graduating class, Mary Newlin moved to Indiana after graduation where she taught school before becoming the first female elected official as Township Trustee. She completed her career in Indiana as Employment Manager and Personnel Director of Bear Brand Hosiery. For more history of the first CHS graduation class and to see a photo of the school and its first grads, go to the following website:

One hundred years and counting: One hundred years after that first graduating class cited above, Clairton was again rife with hope for its graduates and alumni. During the Homecoming Game the school’s 100th anniversary celebration included recognition of fifteen former CHS Homecoming Queens. They were: Suzan Taylor Petersen, 1966; Mary Elizabeth Szegedy Lappa, 1967; Ruby Anderson Young, 1970; Hazel Hampton-East, 1981; Erin Pittman Koonz, 1988; Andrea Saputo Kehoe, 1989; Sherry Trimble Assenti, 1991; Jamie Devine, 1997; Carly Gimiliano, 1999; Carla Sumpter Sims, 2000; Symone Solomon, 2001; Erin Boyce, 2002; Kristy Benack, 2003; Juanita Brody, 2004; and Melissa Dawson, 2005.

Of particular note was Ruby Anderson Young who was the 1970 Homecoming Queen and the first African American chosen for that honor. Also of note was the 1966 Queen Suzan Taylor Peterson who was then principal at Pleasant Hills Middle School. The 100th anniversary celebration also included alumni band members and former Honeybears. The Honeybears were the award winning majorette baton twirling team.

Happy-go-lucky cop, judge: Armand Martin was the class clown. I remember him well because we had several classes together at Clairton Junior High School. The junior high was on the third floor of CHS and the high school occupied the bottom two floors. Armand had a great personality but like so many of us in high school we would have probably guessed wrong had we predicted what course his life would follow. He was a gifted athlete and upon graduation was drafted into the army, then became a Clairton police officer. He was also the voice of the Clairton Bears football team. After a 17-year career on the police force Armand was elected District Judge and served three terms. During his tenure as judge he ruled on more than 30,000 cases, often turning troubled youngsters onto the correct path.

Armand Martin, Vietnam era veteran, police officer who captured two bank robbers, athlete and singer was just another Clairton boy. Armand passed away Thanksgiving Day 2007 from complications related to non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

A true Ambassador of good will: CHS Class of 1955 spawned several successful grads, not the least of whom was the class president Harry J. Gilmore. He left CHS to attend Pitt then did graduate work in Russian and Eastern European Studies at Indiana University and George Washington University. As did many other Clairtonians, Harry dedicated his life to public service, as a Foreign Service officer and served as the first U. S. Ambassador to the Republic of Armenia. He also served in various capacities in the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, Budapest, Moscow, and Ankara. Perhaps his most memorable posting was as U.S. Minister and Deputy Commandant of the American Sector in Berlin.

A brief history lesson: August 1961. During the Cold War a wall was built down the center of the city of Berlin Germany which separated communist East Germany from West Germany. It was the symbol of the Cold War and known historically simply as “The Berlin Wall.” The border crossing between East and West was known as “Checkpoint Charlie.” In a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin, broadcast June 12, 1987, on the occasion of the 750th anniversary of Berlin, President Reagan sent a challenge to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall.”

CHS graduate Harry Gilmore was the highest ranking American diplomat/ Department of State official in West Berlin before and during that speech and witnessed the new era of d├ętente as the wall fell. He was also the last person to officially pass through Checkpoint Charlie. This highly decorated civil servant’s awards include the Berlin Distinguished Service Medal; the Department of the Army’s Superior Civilian Service Award and Outstanding Civilian Service Medal; and two Department of State Superior Honor Awards. Harry Gilmore, Clairton boy.

A little blogging music Maestro… Bette Middler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

Dr. Forgot

No comments: