Wednesday, December 29, 2010

About the author

Clairton post #100

On this last week of the year 2010 I post my one-hundredth blog about Clairton. Although my blog site includes nearly 450 total posts to date, 100 include my hometown and its residents past and present. Over the past three years or so of my writing this blog I have been asked several questions which I will answer today.

Question: “Where did you live in Clairton?” I was actually born in Clairton, not McKeesport Hospital as were so many of my fellow Clairtonians. I often tell people, “I was born at home because I wanted to be near my mother when it happened.” My parents purchased a lot at the far unpaved end of St. Clair Ave. in 1939 and built the house that they would live in until they passed away – Dad in 2002 at age 87 and Mom in 2006 in her 91st year. The street address was easy to remember, 900 St. Clair Ave.

Question: “Do you still live in Clairton?” No, I left in 1960 at age 17, the summer after high school graduation and have never returned to live on a permanent basis, although I frequently returned to visit my parents, sisters and extended family. Thus, I am 50 years removed from being a Clairton resident.

Question: “Why did you leave and where did you go?” As a youngster I was filled with wanderlust and by default, disdain for everything traditional. As a child we traveled on family vacations to Florida and Arizona, and I fell in love with everything not Clairton. My desire was to join the military service after high school and see the world but my father insisted I attend college and had me enrolled at Westminster College, not far from the City of Prayer. But I really wanted to get away so when a classmate told me she planned to attend Brigham Young University in Provo, UT, 2,000 miles from Clairton, I too applied, and was accepted. Talk about a stranger in a strange land!

Question: “What was your college major?” From day one, I majored in Psychology. I was not sure exactly what Psychology was or what a psychology major did for a living, but Psychology was NOT an extension of English, History, Math, or anything traditional that I’d studied at Clairton High School. I stayed with it and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology.

Question: “So you became a psychologist?” Well, no. Once I graduated I discovered that a Bachelor’s degree in psychology was not something that most people hired. It prepared me to sell cars, be a custodian, or perhaps apply for a manager-trainee position at a department store, but unless I wanted to go on to graduate school and get a Doctorate in Psychology, I was pretty much limited in pursuit of job opportunities.

Question: “So you became a car salesman?” Actually, yes, for about two weeks until I was fired for telling a customer what was wrong with a used car that he was considering to buy.

Question: “Then what?” A friend of my family offered me a job teaching sixth grade in the first middle school in Pennsylvania. It was a bit of an experimental school and the superintendent thought a psychology major might be a good fit as a sixth grade teacher despite the fact that I had not taken a single class in Teacher Education nor had I done student teaching.

Question: “So you became a teacher?” Well, more or less. I taught that first year in Oxford, PA, and then returned to the west where I took a job teaching in Pocatello, ID, then Salt Lake City, and in 1968, Las Vegas, where I’ve lived since.

Question: “And your career?” I taught elementary school for a year in Las Vegas, and then taught high school Psychology. During nights and summers I drove taxi and limousine and did several other gigs including writing a newspaper column, opinion pieces and even writing comedy routines for comedians. By 1978 I had earned a Doctoral degree in Gifted Child Education and moved on to the university where I became a professor, directed the academic support services for athletics, and was an administrator.

Question: “So who is Dr. Forgot?” While I was working on my Doctorate I was scheduled to attend and speak at a Gifted Education conference. I thought I had forgotten my notes at school so on my way to the airport I stopped to pick them up. It was Sunday morning and the first thing I discovered was my notes were not in the school, they had been in my briefcase the entire time. The second disaster of the morning was that I locked myself inside the school and had to have my wife drive to the home of the principal to pick up his keys to let me out of the school building. I did make my plane, barely, and when I returned, the school administration had given me the moniker, “Dr. Forgot.”

Question: “Why the blog?” Over the years of my career I have developed an affinity for writing, having published more than a million words between writing grants, newspaper columns, guest writing, professional papers, and the like. Writing became a part of my daily routine. When I retired from the university the thing I missed most was writing. So I started this blog using my pen name Dr. Forgot. I have used several pen names over the years including I. O’Pine, for a series of opinion pieces, and Fred Lance when writing several freelance articles. I called the blog, “Olio” since I was not sure what the content would be.

Question: “How do you find all that information on Clairton and its residents?” Most information comes from one of three sources; my own recollections, emails from readers, and internet research. Also, Jim Hartman president of the Mifflin Township Historical Society has been most generous in providing photos and information about Clairton, including past editions of The Clairton Progress. I answer every email I receive.

Question: “How many people read the blog?” Readership ranges from fewer than a couple hundred hits per blog to over a thousand. I have two data bases of Clairton reader emails that contain several hundred addresses each, and whenever I send an email blast promoting a post, readership spikes.

Question: “Do you have a favorite blog?” Probably the series I did on Annabelle Bucar, Clairton girl who worked as a diplomat at the American embassy in Moscow. She became disenchanted with things she’d seen in the American Embassy, married a Russian opera singer, and wrote a scathing book about the U.S. Diplomatic Corps. Except for a few rare visits to visit her family in Clairton she remained in Russia until her death. I received a comment on the blog from her grandchild in Russia thanking me for writing the blog about her.

So there you have it; the history of Dr. Forgot and the Clairton blogs.

A little blogging music Maestro… “Paradise City” by Guns ‘n Roses.

Dr. Forgot

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Clairton, Christmas, and Fins


Christmas morning 2010: It is early morning in the desert. The effects of a Christmas Eve party at the home of a former Pitt head basketball coach are slowly wearing off and we are looking forward to friends coming by later for Christmas dinner. So many former Clairtonians have moved away over the years. Many have moved to California, and even more to Florida, where there are so many ex-pat Clairtonians that they have an annual Clairton picnic. My email box is stuffed with holiday wishes from friends and family including many current and former Clairton residents.

Clairton ex-pat Vinnie Ross reminded me of the Christmas traditions in 1950s Clairton; the decorations that hung high above and across the streets, the decorated Christmas tree that stood proudly before the Roll of Honor at the intersection of St. Clair and Miller Avenues, Santa Claus and Toyland at the Clairton Hardware, and other displays at G. C. Murphy 5&10, Skapiks, and all the other small businesses that we’ve discussed in our 99 Clairton blogs.

Our own house was built in the early 1940s mostly by my father and his brothers, relatives, and friends, none of whom had expertise in reading blueprints or architecture or any of the other skills that we consider essential for home building today. The house was built on a lot in the last block of St. Clair Ave., one of just a few homes on that block. The street was unpaved until it met the beginning of traditional St. Clair at Gumble’s Chevrolet, current location of Rite Aid. But as the years passed more homes were built and the neighborhood eventually included two sets of Benedettos, Crans, Manzeks, Mols, Mazzolas, Pete Colonna the barber, Smokey DeCarlo the auto-body man, and others. More years passed and the road was flattened and paved, and a bridge was built across the hollow connecting the Hill to Wilson and Clairton Park.

The neighborhoods were rich with traditions. Most celebrated Christmas on December 25th but Serbian, Russian, and other Orthodox kids got to celebrate Christmas again two weeks later on January 7th. Many grandparents spoke little or no English and there did not seem to be much racial unrest. Such was the snapshot of Clairton in the 1950s and early 1960s.

But another phenomenon existed during a segment of those years – fins. More precisely, tail fins that adorned nearly every American car between 1957 and 1960. First, let me paint a picture of cars in the 1950s. Production had stopped during World War II as factories were converted to make tanks, Jeeps, and other military vehicles. When the war ended, late 1940s production cars were blah in appearance and color. That began to change in the early 1950s. “The Big Three” auto companies included Chrysler (Chrysler, Dodge, Desoto, Plymouth, Imperial) General Motors (Chevrolet, Pontiac, Buick, Oldsmobile, Cadillac), and Ford (Ford, Mercury, Edsel, Lincoln).

During the era, Cadillac was the standard of excellence by which all other cars were measured, so it might have been the early 1950s style of the upturned taillights of the Caddy that inspired fins. The 1956 Caddy was the only one that had anything other than smooth rear fenders.

But with the unveiling of the 1957 models, style was in full swing with two-tone paint, dual headlights, and tail fins. Cars became longer and lower and engines more powerful. Arguments among car nuts over which carburetor system offered more power; two four-barrel carbs (dual quads) or three two-barrel carbs (three deuces). Older cars were customized by individuals to further exaggerate the trend and car engines were measured by cubic inches which went from a measly 90 “cubes” to more than 400. Gas mileage was rarely calculated because gas was cheap – two-bits (that’s a quarter for you uninitiated) a gallon and often less.

By 1959 the longer, lower, wider, more powerful, tailfin race had reached its peak. A joke during the era showed two fishermen in a boat watching two fins coming toward them. One fisherman said to the other, “It’s either two sharks or a ’59 Caddy.”

Chevrolet had been the preferred car for many Highway Patrol and State Police agencies. By 1959 the rumor spread (probably an urban legend but it is one every teen boy swore was true) that the fins on the ’59 Chevy were so dramatic they created an airflow issue during high speed pursuits which caused the rear of the patrol car to be lifted from the highway, causing the patrolman to lose control. Thus, police agencies were forbidden to buy 1959 Chevys .

The rumor gained even more credence when the 1960 Chevy model came out with considerably smaller fins, and by the 1961 the fins were gone completely from not only Chevy but nearly every American car. Ah, but those four year models of nearly every model of the “Big Three” manufacturers thrived and became extensions of our ego. The exception was the Edsel by Ford which lasted only a couple of years.

American cars continued to be big, powerful, and fuel inefficient until the oil embargo of 1972 when many car buyers switched from models built by the Big Three to funny little cars like the Volkswagen (mockingly called “the pregnant roller skate”), a cheapie little funny car called “Honda” and a couple of others, Datsun (which would change its name to Nissan) and Toyota. They were cheap and fuel efficient but carried the stigma of “Made in Japan” which was synonymous with “poor quality.” My how times have changed.

A little blogging music Maestro: the theme song for Olds, “Would you like to take the wheel, of my Rocket Oldsmobile…”

Dr. Forgot

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Blog

Updated Night Before Christmas 2010
By Dr. Forgot (with apologies Anonymous)

‘Twas the night before Christmas, in the house and the patio
Everybody was snoring, including Big Daddio.

Mommy was dreaming ‘bout the neighborhood jerk,
Who’d tracked mud on her carpets making more danged housework.

In the glass by the bedside – Grandpa’s teeth went kerplunk!
Uncle Kyler was sleeping off a Christmas Eve drunk.

The big boys were dreaming of their girlfriends galore
They think they have charm that the girls can’t ignore.

The teen girls are dreaming of a necklace or jewel
Given by real boys who are not virtual.

As the little one’s heads fill with what Christmas portends,
Good greetings and wishes from their Facebook friends.

In the midst of this Norman Rockwell-type scene
Came a clutter and clamor, if you know what I mean.

For there stood eight reindeer full of anger and frights,
As they’d gotten all tangled in the holiday lights.

The sleigh had gone crazy - into the chimney it flew,
And a fat man and presents were scattered askew.

His cell phone was pressed to his snowy-white beard,
As he shouted out curse words – it sounded so weird.

“I hate these damn houses with wires at heights”
Bring back the days where I flew by moonlight.”

“Get here in a heartbeat, without delay,
“Thank goodness I’m covered by my Triple-A.”

While waiting he slid down the chimney and put
Big black boot footprints from the grime and the soot.

He drank the hot chocolate that was left by the tree
And scattered some presents including a wii.

He cleaned up the footprints then without a sound
Took off up the chimney with a leap and a bound

The tow truck had straightened his rudders and sled
And buffed Rudolph’s nose to a bright shiny red.

He tipped the young driver who gave him the tow
And got into his sleigh with a “Ho, ho, ho, ho.”

This night he’d not suffer from frostbite exposure
For he skipped all the houses now in foreclosure.

Investment bankers, politicians, got lumps of coal
Then he set GPS for “Home at North Pole.”

As the sleigh disappeared came a verbal outburst
“Have a cool Yule everybody and a real frantic first.”

A little blogging music, Maestro: "I'm Gettin' Nuttin' for Christmas," by Alvin and the Chipmunks.

PS If you REALLY want to see the updated version of that night, cut and paste the following youtube:

Merry Christmas

Dr. Forgot

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bears Do It Again!


Oh those Bears: One year ago to the day I wrote about the Clairton Bears defeating Bishop McCort to win their first state championship. I could have added the old Jimmy Durante line, “You ain’t seen nothing yet! The 2010 Bears whipped Washington (41-0), blew out Beaver (55-6) crashed Carlynton (60-6) chased Chartiers-Houston (48-0) crushed Carmichaels (42-0), caved in Bishop Canevin (47-0), and were well on their way to smashing Springdale (26-7) before a single point had been scored against them. For their mid-season menu they ruined Rochester (12-0), annihilated North Star (52-0) and on and on throughout the regular season and playoffs until the championship game. By that time the Bears offense scored had 702 points and their stingy defense had allowed but 34. They had won 15 consecutive games in the regular season and playoffs so they decided to do what bears do during the winter…. hibernate.

Hibernations began a little early: Somebody forgot to tell the Clairton Bears that although it is ok to spend the winter in their Clairton Bear cave, they first had a stop in Hershey for the final championship game of the season. The bus rolled up to Hersheypark stadium and the hibernating Bears rolled onto the field and slept right through the kickoff, the first quarter, and partway through the second quarter. When they finally woke up, stretched, and scratched themselves after their long nap they discovered they were behind 24-0. Any normal football team would have crawled right back into the sack and continued their sound sleep. But the Clairton Bears are no ordinary team. They took their big Bear paws and swatted the once-beaten Riverside Vikings with 36 unanswered points. Then they went back to sleep and with 90 seconds left in the game the Vikings bedraggled staggered across the Bear goal line for one meaningless touchdown. Final score: Clairton Bears 36, Riverside Vikings 30. I’m told that snoring could be heard on the bus ride back to their den.

Some interesting stats: The comeback victory of a 24-point deficit was the largest in the history of PIAA championship games. The victory also stretched the Clairton Bear win streak to 31 – eighth longest in state history. Among the final stats from their second championship game: “Clairton outgained Riverside, 324-256. Clairton's Tyler Boyd finished with 58 yards on eight carries. Karvonn Coles had 53 yards on 13 attempts, Desimon Green completed 4 of 10 passes for 135 yards.For Riverside, Nick Rossi had five attempts for 61 yards. Quarterback Corey Talerico completed 17 of 36 for 223 yards”

An amazing run: Coach Nola, who just a couple of years ago was a bum who didn’t know how to coach and who was taken to task for his team not having proper shoes to play in, is now a legend. His teams have not lose a league game since 2005, he has won more games (46) than any other team in the state since 2008, and is on track to set a record for the longest win streak in state history. We are not predicting that record will be broken or a state championship three-peat at this early stage, but Coach Nola nad his staff have done a wonderful job with their charges both on and off the field. We’ve mentioned in this space before of the community businesses and leaders who have contacted us to share stories of the way Coach Nola’s teams have conducted themselves. The accolades will continue for many Bears who will go on to play in college and perhaps beyond, but the memories of gentlemen who represented our city will remain long after the trophies have become forgotten. Well done Bears.

A letter to the editor: Former team manager for the Bears football team, Tom “Grantland Rice” Nixon, wrote the following letter to the local newspaper. As an avid reader of our blog he was kind enough to send us a copy:

“It was a cold winter afternoon in Hershey, Pa. The Clairton High School Bears Football Team lined up to play Taylor-Riverside for the state PIAA Class A Championship. Two years ago, they lost their opener to a rural team because the officials assessed them 45 yards in penalties on the last drive. That drive led to Laurel’s winning touchdown. The Bears didn’t disintegrate into the vulgarities of sore losers in the gutter. They instead focused their steely eyes on playing better football, working harder and smarter and perfecting their sport.

"These underprivileged young men growing up in a socio-economically depressed neighborhood never lost another game. Their defense was incredible, holding scoreless 10 of 15 opponents….allowing only 34 points scored against them all season. Now, in the big game of the year, they relaxed and let Taylor-Riverside score 24 points in the first half. Their wily, foxy coach Tom Nola called time out. Boys, this is not Clairton football…”let’s run at ‘em hard”. Ten straight running plays and a touchdown. Taylor-Riverside adjusted to the run, so they passed and passed and did they pass ?? In the second half, a quick two touchdowns and the Clairton Bears’ solid defense returned.

So, chiseled in stone for posterity, these proud young men stood up to the challenge and became the CLAIRTON BEARS ll, the second consecutive PIAA Class A Champions. The Post Gazette best described it as a game for the ages.

As the cold winter winds swirl around and the ground is frozen over, all over the world a warm glow stirs in the hearts of Clairtonians !!”

A little blogging music Maestro… The Clairton High School fight song played by the Clairton Band.

Dr. Forgot

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bears, Kindness, and the Good Old Days

Bears Football and other stuff

Irony in the Semi-finals: Clairton met Farrell for the third time in high school playoff history. CHS won the other two games by a handful of points and Farrell Coach Jarrett Samuels entered the game with an overall coaching record of 40-8. Could he have imagines that would be the final score of the game? The Bears were so dominant that the entire second half was played under the “Mercy Rule” in which the clock does not stop thus helping the game come to a merciful end. Clairton had another shutout until the final minute or so when Farrell scored their lone points against the Bears second and third stringers. Running tally for the season: Bears 702 Opponents: 34. Next stop will be the final state playoff game in Hershey on 12/17.

Senior Josh Page helped assure that his final game would be played in Hershey by catching two touchdown passes, scoring on a punt return, and snatching up two fumbles. That sparked a 32-point second quarter against the Steelers, causing some to speculate that the Bears (Clairton, not Chicago) would look respectable against the Steelers (Pittsburgh, not Farrell). We have said in this space before that the football team has represented our hometown with grace and humility off the field. Nothing brings a community together like a winning sports team. Here’s hoping that coach Nola and his Bears have begun the healing of a fractured community. Thank you and congratulations. We wish you success and a Hershey Bar next week.

Email chain letters drive me nuts: I enjoy hearing from old classmates, current and former Clairtonians, and other blog readers. Many send me updates on the games (thanks Jay, Cal, and others), jokes, (thanks Bernie and others) and other news or just keeping up (thanks Vinnie, Carol, Lawrence and many, many others). But I get so many chain letters. They fall into well intentioned warnings (SENT THIS ON IMMEDIATELY!!!) or political crap, or heart tugging stories. But they all share the same urgency: “SEND THIS TO EVERYBODY IN YOUR ADDRESS BOOK!” which of course I refuse to do. Instead I research the emails, discover it is pure garbage, and reply to the sender with the results of my research. It amazes me that people will send on anything that tells them to do so. I was therefore equally skeptical when I received the following email:

Cleaning for a Reason

If you know any woman currently undergoing chemotherapy, please pass the
word to her that there is a cleaning service that provides FREE
housecleaning - once per month for 4 months while she is in treatment.
All she has to do is sign up and have her doctor fax a note confirming
the treatment. Cleaning for a Reason will have a participating maid
service in her zip code area arrange for the service. This organization
serves the entire USA and currently has 547 partners to help these women.
It's our job to pass the word and let them know that there are people out
there that care. Be a blessing to someone and pass this information

As is my skeptical modus operandi, I researched the email, worrying that it was a cruel joke to be perpetuated on folks who were ill. But to my joy and amazement I discovered it was real. I take my hat off to the organization and share this information with my readers in the event that you or a loved one could benefit from their services. Bravo and kudos to this not-for-profit organization.

Those were the days: Finally, since it is the holiday season I wanted to share a recent conversation I had with my grandchildren about cars and the good old days:

“Yup, in the REAL old days, when my father was a kid, car engines were started by throwing a switch inside the car then turning a crank that attached to the front of it. Speaking of cranks, even in my day, car windows had to be cranked up and down by hand and if you wanted to see better at night, you pushed the headlight dimmer button with your foot.

“There were no automatic door locks either. You had to go around the car and push each lock button down by hand. But some cars required the all doors to be locked from the INSIDE, except for the driver’s door.

“The coolest cars had four headlights and two different colors of paint. If you were able to afford a new car the first thing you did was have seat-covers put on so the kids did not stain the seats. The seat-covers could be clear plastic or multi colored. There was no air conditioning in the cars and heaters and radios were optional. And if you did get a radio it was AM only. If you drove a Buick the antenna (or aerial as it was sometimes called) was in the top center of the windshield with a knob inside the car to twist it down when the radio was not playing.

“In the 1950s FM was added to the radios and Chrysler actually offered a record player as an option in 1956. Bumpy roads ended that one in a hurry. However, 4-track tape players were able to fit inside a car, then an inventor out in Reno, Nevada name of Bill Lear who had built jet airplanes invented an 8-track tape player in the early 60s. Then came the smaller, more compact cassette tape and finally the Compact Disc. Apple was still a fruit and not an iPod.

“There were no Hondas, Toyotas, Nissans, Lexus, Infinity, or Acuras. The luxury cars were Cadillac, Lincoln, and Imperial, and the “low priced three” were Chevy, Plymouth, and Ford. In between were the Desoto, Edsel, Pontiac, DeLorean, Nash, American, Rambler, Packard, Studebaker, Willys, and hundreds (that’s right, HUNDREDS) of others.

“There was no such thing as power steering so young men often attached a knob to the steering wheel to drive one handed with the other hand around their favorite girl. How did they reach her? Well seats were called “bench” seats and two people could snuggle together on the front seat. What about the gear shifter? Oh that was on the steering column. Gears had to be changed manually, first, second, third. No, there was no fourth gear.

“Brakes sometimes had to be pushed with both feet with your back braced against the seatback in order to stop the car. The side view mirror had to be adjusted by cranking down the window and moving it by hand.

“Tires lasted 10,000 miles if you were lucky, and then they were often recapped. What? Recap? Oh, that was when a used, bald tire was put into a machine and more rubber was sealed to it. With recaps, you nearly had to use an inner tube. Inner tube? That was a soft rubber circle, like the one in your swimming pool that went inside the tire to keep air from leaking out.”

They were rapt as I told them about cars getting 10 miles to a gallon average, gas at less than a quarter per gallon, how engines overheated especially when crossing mountains, and how burlap sacks of water were a must have, hanging over the outside mirror, whenever taking a long trip.

“What did we do in the summer if there was no air conditioning? Well, cars had 4-50 air conditioning. Four windows down; 50 miles per hour.”

When I finally finished with historical accuracy my granddaughter summed it all up, “Oh, Grandpa, you tell such big fibs.”

A little blogging music Maestro… “Dreams to Remember,” by Otis Redding..

Dr. Forgot

Sunday, December 5, 2010

100 Years of Clairton

The March to State Continues
To Date: Bears 662. Opponents: 26. Ten of their 14 victories this season have been shutouts, including this week’s 52-0 playoff victory over District 5 champ North Star on a snowy Somerset football field. How complete was this victory? Total rushing yardage for North Star: MINUS 31.

Showing class: Last week Clairton went to Heinz Field to defeat Rochester for the WPIAL championship. On the way to the game the team stopped at a local restaurant for their pre-game meal. The Blue Flame, a family-owned local eatery for more than a half-century has served many student groups and they are familiar with the pranks and rowdiness that often accompanies rambunctious students. We have it on good authority that the Clairton Bears football team was one of the classiest, most well-behaved groups that have been served in the restaurant. Some members of the team even made sure that plates were arranged for easy pickup after the meal. This group of football players are winners on and off the field.

But wait! There’s more: After the game the Honeybears, Clairton’s outstanding majorettes stopped at the same restaurant. The restaurant owner, a former Honeybear herself, expected no less that the level of class exhibited by the football team. She was not disappointed. The group, although excited by the victory, showed an equal level of class as had their team. Too often we read that the level of civility in Clairton has diminished over the years. The young men and women who represent the school speak loudly to that issue by their actions.

History in the making: A look at history of local football teams shows the top five unbeaten streaks all time in the WPIAL are held by Braddock, Greensburg (44, 1913-17), Jefferson Township (42, 1940-45), North Braddock Scott (41, 1932-36) and Clairton (36, 1926-30). But all of those streaks included at least one tie. Clairton’s current win streak is 29.

Back in time: As mentioned in earlier posts, Jim Hartman of the Mifflin Township Historical Society has provided us with many valuable photos and artifacts of historic Clairton. As we look deeply into the past, 106 years ago this weekend, to see what was going on in our community long before most of us or our parents were born. From the files of the 1906 Clairton Crucible, a forerunner of the Clairton Progress come the following snippets.

Amalgamated railways: Coal was the engine that drove the Clairton economy in 1906 and railroads delivered the coal. So when a dispute arose between railroads over which one would carry the cola, all mines were shut down for weeks until an agreement was reached to transport the estimated 3,000,000 tons of high grade coal. The West Side Railroad was acquired by the Wabash Rail Company. Once the coal dust had cleared Clairton miners breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The Wabash Railroad plans to open a new route that will connect Clairton to other coal mining and steel centers along the Monongahela River including Elizabeth and Monongahela. The new rail line will be more direct and not follow the banks of the river.

Stop, thief: William Rink, the butcher at Coatsworth Bros. was no sooner promoted to run their Clairton store, than he absconded with $120.00. He was caught, arrested, and found guilty of larceny and sentenced to pay a fine of 6 and ¼ cents and undergo imprisonment at the workhouse for 18 months. Coatsworth Bros. got back about $40 of their money.

Strike on the hill: On Tuesday workers on the Clairton Electric Railroad went out on strike. They had been earning $1.40 per day and demanded a ten cent per day increase in salary. The work force had been made up primarily of Italians and Slavs. The strike was organized by the Italians during lunch, according to the boss, James Nixon. The Slavs were willing to go back to work but were afraid of the Italians and their knives, so they all stayed away. The gang walked down the hill to State Street where they persuaded another gang to join the strike. No work was completed Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday workers gathered but were intimidated by strikers and no work was completed. The head office in Pittsburg (sic) refused to concede the demand and instead hired two additional policemen to guard workers. Work then continued on the project.

A real train wreck: A northbound Conway train loaded with coal smashed into a coke train that was at the water tank. The caboose and two cars of the coke train were demolished and the locomotive was thrown from the track. The cars were set afire and the coke continues to burn. Nobody was hurt. The wreck was not cleared byt the following evening but traffic continued to move as there are multiple tracks at the location.

Halloween pranks: Quoting directly, “Two boys and some young men were out for fun last Halloween night. Some of the things done exceeded the limits of good fun and partook rather of the nature of malicious mischief. Particularly was this the case when the delivery wagon of the Clairton Supply Co. was run back over the hill in the vicinity of the brick works nad badly wrecked. Some barricades were built on the street, signs exchanged nad other things that character perpetuated.”

MENDELSSOHN AND WILSON; News of the busy twin towns on the other side of the creek: D.A. Laughlin, principal of the Franklin School in Mifflin Township received injuries that necessitated surgery at the West Penn Hospital. Both teams played a rough game and several other players received injuries that will keep them out of the game for the rest of the season. Laughlin successfully withstood the operation and at this writing hs condition is greatly improved.

Finally, a horse belonging to Milton Bedell of Duquesne, and attached to a buggy was standing in front of Minford’s store on State Street when a small dog bit it on the leg. The horse dashed up the street. Mr. Bedell jumped out but the man that was with him stayed in the buggy until it reached Blackburn’s feed warehouse where the horse made a quick turn and wrenched itself loose from the buggy that was wrecked. The occupant was thrown out and received some bad bruises. The horse was soon caught and Mr. Bedell was not injured.

And that’s the way it was in Clairton 106 years ago.

A little blogging music Maestro… “Dreams to Remember,” by Otis Redding.

Dr. Forgot

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bearly Winning

Clairton Updates
When is 13 a lucky number? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it is when our Clairton Bear football teams goes 13-0 and wins the WPIAL championship for the fourth time in five years. Maybe it is lucky when the team outscores its opponents 410-26. Maybe it is when the team earns 5,000 yards for the season, holds its opponents to a total of four touchdowns and shuts out 9 of its 13 opponents. The mighty Bear football team of 1020 did all that and is now headed to State where if they win another three games, they will be state champs for the second consecutive year. Congratulations to Coach Tom Nola and his staff as well as Bear seniors Josh Page, Brian Boyd, Devante Dockery, Deon Ellis, Desimon Green, Brandon Small, Marquis Norris, Devon Porter, Keith Craven, William Ingram, Wesley Sutton, and Bishop Neal, as well as all the undergraduates that made this a winning season. In the year 2061 you will gather to celebrate your 50th high school reunion and the memories that you are making today will be as fresh and satisfying then as they are now. Congratulations and enjoy the rest of the ride.

The victory at Heniz Field clinched the WPIAL championship for Clairton for the third consecutive year. The Class A division for high schools has had playoffs since 1928 and prior to Clairton’s third consecutive honor, only one other team had won three consecutive Class A WPIAP championships – Rochester, the team Clairton beat for the honor. Clairton has played Rochester five times since 1992. Rochester won the first two meetings and Clairton the last three. Clairton Coach Tom Nola was gracious in his victory speech stating, “It was a typical Clairton-Rochester game. Both teams played great defense.” But Rochester Coach Gene Matsook, whose team posted the fourth consecutive loss at Heniz Field was less so. His post game comments included, “Not taking anything away from Clairton but our defense is as good as theirs.”

Clairton has not lost a conference game since 2005 and are the defending PIAA and WPIAL Champs. The Bears have won four of the past five WPIAL Class A championships and has won seven WPIAL titles. Clairton has made 14 WPIAL championship-game appearances and has won its conference title five consecutive years.

Twenty years ago: Clairton lost to Farrell – 40 – 0.

Thirty years ago: Coach Tom Nola began his coaching career at Martinsville, (VA) High School.

Fifty years ago: Clairton High School All American Jim Kelly spent his freshman year at Notre Dame where he continued his outstanding career. Jim would go on to earn All America honors as a senior at Notre Dame and play professionally for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Those are just a few of the highlights and tradition at Clairton High School Go Bears.

More Clairton News: City officials and members of the school board are working together on a comprehensive community improvement plan. More recreational opportunities, revitalizing the business districts in Clairton, strengthening municipal partnerships and services, providing housing options and improving transportation to, from and within Clairton are among the plan’s components. Further information about the plan may be obtained at the Clairton Municipal Building either by visiting in person or phoning the main office at 412.233.4299.

Bridge to Clairton: A groundbreaking was held recently on the J.R. Taylor Memorial Bridge, which will eventually carry a branch of the Montour Trail. When completed the bridge will measure 17 1/2 feet high and connect two segments where bicyclists and pedestrians previously had to take ramps down from the trail, cross the two busy roads and go back up to the trail. About 40 miles of completed trail travel in a rough half-circle from Moon to Clairton and is broken up by incomplete segments through Bethel Park, South Park and Jefferson Hills.

Clairton minister promoted: Rev. Jerome Robinson was born in Braddock. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Geneva College as well as a doctorate from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He has been s licensed and ordained since 1991. Rev. Robinson served as pastor at the Morningstar Baptist Church in West Mifflin before his transfer to the Morningstar Baptist Church in Clairton. He was recently installed as moderator of the Allegheny Union Baptist Association but will continue as head pastor of the Clairton church as well. Congratulations Rev. Robinson.

Clairton benefits from grant: U.S. Senator Bob Casey recently announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has awarded $674,313 to three southwestern Pennsylvania communities to hire new police officers. The funding is available through DOJ's COPS Office. Clairton Police Department received $165,964 to hire a new police officer.

It’s a dirty shame: Twenty-three year old India Banks of Clairton was pulled over by police. The officer asked if they could search her car and she agreed, but handed a dirty diaper to the officer and asked if the officer would toss it in the trash. But the smell that emanated from the dirty diaper was more than manure. It was in fact the unmistakable odor of marijuana! Ms. Banks recently appeared in court as a result of the traffic stop but she did not crap out. Instead she was placed into a special program for first time offenders. The program will allow her record to be expunged if she complies with the terms of her probation. If so the dirty deed will be eliminated.

A little blogging music Maestro… “Backfield in Motion” by Mel and Tim.

Dr. Forgot

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Clairton and Pittsburgh

Clairton and the little neighbor down the street;
Today’s rambling

Clairton 26 Springdale 7. Total so far this year; Clairton 598, Opponents 26

They’re everywhere: I got a call this weekend from Bill Bennett, transplanted Clairtonian who lives in Phoenix. He told me that Jack and Clair Pierosh and George and Francine Zdrale were in Vegas to celebrate Jack’s son’s 40th birthday. Last time they’d been to Vegas was to celebrate Jack’s 40th

They left the “kids” and we Clairton grads got together to watch the Steelers beat the pants off Oakland whilst getting homered by their own refs. The event got me thinking about the historical significance of Pittsburgh. I’ve written about Clairton’s history. Here is a little about the little village down the river.

Some facts about the ‘Burgh: In 1758 George Washington and General Forbes rode up to the smoldering remains of Fort Duquesne at the Point and decided to name the small village “Pitts-Borough” which soon became localized to “Pittsburgh.” In 1803 Lewis and Clark began their expedition at the Point. McGuffy’s Reader became the school reading standard and in 184o the Duff’s became first business college to open. In 1908 the City celebrated its 150th anniversary in grand style with parades on land and on the water, and the cornerstone was laid for Soldiers and Sailors Hall. Fifty years later, the Bicentennial was celebrated with celebrations that resembled a World’s Fair atmosphere, and the cornerstone of the Civic Arena was laid. It was the first building with a retractable roof.

Other historical facts about that little village down the river from Clairton include the invention of wire cable that made suspension bridges possible. The oil industry was started by a Pittsburgh resident. Foundries built cannons for the Civil War and the first armor plated warship. The first ground coffee was packaged by John Arbuckle and the invention of Westinghouse air brakes made train travel much safer. In 1881 Pittsburgh became the birthplace of labor unions. Alcoa aluminum was made in the Strip District and Andrew Carnegie opened his first library in Braddock.

Pro football began in Pittsburgh and local George Ferris invented the Ferris Wheel for the 1893 Columbia Exposition of the Chicago World’s Fair. The wheel was higher than the Eifel Tower! H. J. Heinz, of course became the world leader in packaged foods and the Pirates hosted the first World Series in 1903. The banana split, movie theater, bingo, gas station, and road maps, were all firsts in the ‘Burgh. And Pitt was the first college to attach numbers to their football jerseys. Local Nellie Bly became the first female war correspondent and of course, KDKA became the first radio station to broadcast.

In 1924 the Liberty Tubes became the longest artificially ventilated automobile tunnels. The following year a Pittsburgher made the first cross-country flight. In 1929 Isaly’s introduced the Klondike. Other inventions by locals included the Zippo lighter, Ice Capades, and the Jeep.

In the medical field Jonas Salk invented polio vaccine, Alcoa built the first aluminum skyscraper, and WQED became the first educational TV channel. The first atomic-powered submarine and electric plants made their debut at the 1958 bicentennial and of course, one of man’s happiest inventions, the pop top beer can and later aluminum bottles were invented by Iron City Breweries and the Big Mac was a local invention. And the world-famous St. Louis Arch? Prefabricated and erected by Pitt locals. Clean air legislation started downtown. The Steelers were the first NFL team to win four Super Bowls. Local doctors did the first heart-liver-kidney transplant.

I’m from the government and I’m here to help you: In 1890 President Benjamin Harrison created a U. S. Board on Geographic Names in an effort to bring some order to the naming of cities, towns, lakes, mountains, and other things that needed to be named. At the time some states had as many as five towns with the same name. One of the first orders of business of the board was to have the “H” dropped from any city whose name ended in “burgh.” Pittsburgh area people have always been a proud, independent lot and they decided to keep their “H” since the town was obviously a historical exception. In short, they told the Board to stick the rules where the sun don’t shine, and they didn’t mean the smoggy skies of their city. For the next 20 years they waged a torrid campaign to keep their beloved “H” even in the face of threatened federal troop intervention. In 1911 the Board finally relented and let Pittsburgh be Pittsburgh.

Three cheers for North Dakota: Oh, did I mention a couple of other US cities named Pittsburg sans “H?” The list of almost name-alikes included:
Pittsburg, California - Contra Costa County
Pittsburg, Colorado - Gunnison County
Pittsburg, Florida - Polk County
Pittsburg, Georgia - DeKalb County
Pittsburg, Illinois - Fayette County
Pittsburg, Illinois - Williamson County
Pittsburg, Indiana - Carroll County
Pittsburg, Iowa - Van Buren County
Pittsburg, Kansas - Crawford County
Pittsburg, Kentucky - Laurel County
Pittsburg, Michigan - Shiawassee County
Pittsburg, Missouri - Hickory County
Pittsburg, New Hampshire - Coos County
Pittsburg, Oklahoma - Pittsburg County
Pittsburg, Oregon - Columbia County
Pittsburg, South Carolina - Greenwood County
Pittsburg, Texas - Camp County
Pittsburg, Utah - Piute County
Pittsburgh, North Dakota - Pembina County They might not have Iron City Beer or an incline, but they have the fortitude to keep their “H.”

A little blogging music Maestro… (all together now) “There’s a pawn shop on the corner, in Pittsburgh Pennsyl-van-i-a…”

Dr. Forgot

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Of Bears today and days gone by.

Bears Roll Continues

How ‘bout those Bears: Thanks to Jay Graft, Cal Sabo, Jim Hartman, and all who send me updates on our Clairton Bear Football team. The regular high school season is over in the WPIAL and post season play has begun. CHS played their second playoff game. Elizabeth-Forward Warrior field hosted the game between Clairton and Bishop Canevin and the bears won another squeaker, 47-0. That was the Bears 26th consecutive win and they move on to the semi-finals next week against Springdale.

Senior Josh Page used the game to demonstrate his skills, intercepting four passes on defense and while on offense catching four on offense for 95 yards and a touchdown. The score was 35-o at halftime! Halftime! In a playoff game! Pitt recruit Desimon Green didn’t do too badly either, rushing for two touchdowns and passing for two more.

The next opponent, Springdale (10-1), is no patsy. They are the last team to beat Clairton, 21-20 in a 2007 semifinals. The two teams have not played since. It should be a whale of a game, and of course we will bring you the results.

Those who stayed: Many readers of this blog are ex-patriot Clairtonians who moved away for school or work or service, and did not return. Others who have stayed include a core of hard workers whose desire is to male Clairton the best it can be. The Clairton Chamber of Commerce, under the direction of current leader Kathy Tachoir has been a key influence to that end. To that end, I encourage all who can make it to attend the CLAIRTON COMPREHENSIVE PLAN COMMUNITY MEETING which will take place MONDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2020 6:30PM at the CLAIRTON EDUCATION CENTER-AUDITORIUM

The plan will be presented to the Community for their knowledge and understanding.
There will be time for questions and answers.

The Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee along with the City and School District have worked for many months to develop this plan. We listened to the residents comments from the first Community Meeting in January and incorporated the items the residents cited as concerns.

We ask you to contact your family and friends who can make it and invite them to join with us begin to: "MAKE CLAIRTON THE BEST THAT IT CAN BE".

Republicans sweep election: The election was a landslide in many parts of Pennsylvania including Clairton as Republicans swept the election two years after one of the most enigmatic presidents was elected on the Democrat ticket. Despite the popularity of the young, good looking president, many of the young people who supported him in the previous election simply did not turn out to vote in the mid-term. Still the election of a president with his background was groundbreaking. But Republicans constantly hammered away at issues such as the economy and the fact that he has not kept many of his campaign promises. The result is the new mayor and several councilmen were sworn in. The list included Mayor Bob Stokes, new councilmen James J. Daily and Ross Valvo, Controller Dr. George Wright and Congressman James G. Fulton. The year was 1962 and John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic to hold the presidency had been elected on the strength of the youth vote.

Tight budgets: The economic circumstances of 1962 caused the City Council to pass a smaller, more austere budget. That budget did not contain enough money to meet the payroll for City workers for the rest of the year. The previous year’s (1961) budget had been just over $1 million, but the new one came in at $958,870. Although the budget was reduced by just over $64,000, Councilman Bob Medvivovich complained that his department could not be run on the $86,000 allotted to it. There had been no tax increases the previous four years for Clairton residents.

More bad news on the doorstep, I couldn’t take one more step: A prominent family from Large, the Marion Batinich family, owners of Marion’s Tavern, was returning home from a holiday visit to Florida. The big car was loaded with six family members when the driver lost control on a state highway in Dillon, South Carolina. Killed in the crash was Marion Batinich, 62, believed to have been driving, his wife, Mary, 52, daughter Carol Ann, 20, and another daughter, Anna Mae Majernich. Frances Batinich and Mrs. Majernich’s one month old daughter were taken to a local hospital.

Things looking up in 1962 Clairton: Newly elected mayor Robert Stokes in his “State of the City” speech, predicted that Clairton would become “the most booming mill town in the valley” within the next four years. Speaking to a standing room only crowd in the Clairton High School auditorium, the mayor stated there will be a “tremendous effort to supply jobs to the jobless.” Among the other dignitaries on the stage were Congressman James G. Fulton, Commissioner John Walker, and former Clairton Mayor Robert W. Ostermayer. Mayor Stokes outlined several projects that would help the city get back on its feet, including the establishment of a new Housing Authority for Clairton and the release of some 400 lots in the city that could be used to build affordable housing.

In Summary: Republicans being swept in during a mid-term election two years after the election of a young dynamic Democrat president, budget woes in the city, a high jobless rate and the need for affordable housing. A review of the January 3, 1962 Clairton Progress, aside from its single copy price of seven cents and annual subscription rate of $3.00 suggest considerable truth to the old adage, “The more things change the more they stay the same.

Thanks to Jim Hartman and the Mifflin Historical Society for the copies of the Clairton Progress.

A little blogging Maestro: The number I hit song five weeks in a row in 1962, “Sherry,” by the Four Seasons.

Dr. Forgot

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Clairton Today and Yesterday

The Spirit of Clairton History

Bears and Honeybears: The Clairton Bears knocked off another opponent. A Districts 7 (WPIAL); 5 football 2010 - Round 1 - Game 1. This time the victim was Carmichaels and the score was 42-0. The next playoff opponent will be Bishop Canevin next Friday. We will keep you posted. By the way, Clairton is the only team to advance in the playoffs from the Black Hills Conference. Fort Cherry, Chartiers-Houston and Brentwood lost their first-round games.

There is more to Clairton than just football even though it seems to get the most ink. A full complement of mens and womens sports has been a tradition of CHS for many decades. The band is among the many extra-curricular activities available to students and the majorettes, renamed Honeybears in the 1950s are among the pride of Clairton. Reader Gary Irvine sent me the photo of the majorettes circa 1952. It was a few years after the photo above that Benny Benack took over from Rutilio Rotilli as the head of the band and majorettes. Benny was a cool dude in those days. His parents ran the photo studio that took most of the school pictures and Benny was a prodigy. He regularly played his trumpet and led bands at Steeler and Pirate games and had the majorettes select a name for their group. They chose “Honeybears.

The drum major has not yet been identified but the girls, so talented yet still in high school, from left to right are: Peggy Manual, Nancy Irvine, Nora Fiore, Clair Cicchini, Viola Roberts, Mary Jane Pittman, Audrey Slate, and Agnes Martis. We also mention with sadness that Nancy Irvine recently passed away in Charleston, S.C. at age 75.

Cheerleaders: The majorettes of 1952 were complemented by a unique group of cheerleaders. Why unique? They were all male! George Kraynak, Michael Mihalov, Burt Finney, Roy Verbanes, Angelo Sgroi, and Paul LeDonne were the five male cheerleaders who, according to the Clairtonian, “… mastered the old standby cheers and added to the list, Sound Off, Where, Where, and Ichabod.” Whether 1952 or nearly 60 years thereafter, school spirit is alive and well at Clairton High School.

Not just a good football team: Most educators groaned when the federal government introduced the “No Child Left Behind” Act. The idea was a good one but the first problem was that it was an unfunded initiative, which meant schools were mandated to do several things including scads and scads of student testing, but no monies were provided with which to accomplish the task. Still schools were measured against one another and each year a report card, called, AYP, or Average Yearly Progress measures the success to which all students are held. In a recent letter, Clairton School District Superintendent Dr. Lucille L. Abellonio wrote, “We are extremely proud to announce that the district has achieved AYP status in reading and mathematics for the third consecutive year! Congratulations for all their hard work to staff and students.

“In order to continue our academic progress, there are many exciting changes planned for this year at Clairton City School District! The district is beginning a ninth grade academy at the high school level. There will be a wing on the high school floor which will house all ninth grade classrooms and faculty. This will establish a sense of community for those students and provide a vehicle to foster communication between staff members working with our ninth grade students. New courses are being offered in the High School. The departments offering the new courses include English, Social Studies, Science, Mathematics, Business Education, Family and Consumer Science, Technology Education and Art Education.

“Student court, the school newspaper, and the production of morning announcements are just a few of the new activities available for student participation. We are excited to begin Project Grad during the fall semester and provide academic support services and college access services to our high school students throughout the day. The program will be located in room 224.

“Some middle school students will participate in Read 180 a computer based reading program. This program is based on individual student ability and incorporates videos, teacher instruction and books with CDs for independent instruction.

“Elementary school will continue the academic academies and learning academies which were instituted last year. Children, parents and teachers have provided much positive feedback regarding the elementary program.

“We are welcoming a new social worker this year, Ms. Cassidy Yeager, who is coming to us from the Pittsburgh Public Schools and will be working with all our students from kindergarten through twelfth grade. She has many exciting plans for the coming year.

“The district received the Enhancing Education through Technology (EETT) grant in the amount of $50,000.00 which will be used to continue to integrate technology into classroom lessons. A new District website is being developed, and wireless network access will be available on the high school level as well as other common areas such as the cafeteria and auditorium.” A tip of the hat to the good Doctor and her staff.

Too many homeless: Homelessness is an issue in many parts of the country, and western PA is no exception. For the children of homeless parents the problem is even more acute. .Nicole Anderson, coordinator of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit's Homeless Children's Initiative, which covers nine southwestern Pennsylvania counties has conducted training sessions for districts outlining their responsibilities to homeless students. Clairton School District participated in a session and has developed a partnership with a local agency providing transitional housing for single parents of 24 children. On the first Wednesday of each month, high school guidance counselor Maureen McGarvey goes to Sisters Place in Clairton to check in with moms. On her first visit she gave them enrollment packets and a list of important numbers and dates. There must be a special lounge in heaven for people who do certain things on earth. That lounge would include military heroes, palliative care workers, and guidance counselors such as Maureen who go above and beyond the call for our children.

A follow up: Thanks to readers Doe, Shelby, and bill who forwarded us information Clairton Club 46. It is a social club run by volunteer firemen who drive Clairton Fire Truck #46. Word is that the cook is great and the fish frys are yummy. We’ll have to give it a try on our next visit.
A little blogging music Maestro… “You’re My Inspiration” by the Chicago.

Dr. Forgot

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Building Blocks of Clairton

Clairton Police Department: Keeping your grandparents safe in 1948.
Left to Right FRONT ROW: Albert Ihnat, Joseph Soltis, Joseph Frickanish, Chief Pete Orsini, Raymond Eichler, Ralph Cole, Tony Katish
SECOND ROW: Eddie Johnson, Vernon Presley, Alex Chester, Chuck Hoff, Leo O’Donnell, Sarge Fiore, Vince Ross, Pete Maskin
THIRD ROW: Bernard Busch, Charlie George, Mike Lutheran, Sam Myford, Bruce Ackinclose, Salem Greene, George Trocheck

Regular season ends: The Bears ended their regular season and the final score was: Clairton 483, Opponents total 19. The amazing CHS football squad finished their undefeated regular season having scored 60 or more points in four of their nine games. The fewest points scored, 41, came against Little Washington which plays in a bigger league than Clairton. It is true that our hometown has had some setbacks and encountered many changes over the past half century or so, but football tradition lives. We salute Coach Nola, his staff, and the entire football squad. Job well done! Now on to the playoffs. Season results below:

Date Opponent Time/Result
Fri., Sep 3 at Washington W41 - 0
Fri., Sep 10 Western Beaver W55 - 6
Fri., Sep 17 at Carlynton W60 - 6
Fri., Sep 24 Chartiers-Houston W48 - 0
Fri., Oct 1 at Avella W60 - 0
Fri., Oct 8 Bentworth W60 - 0
Fri., Oct 15 at Brentwood W52 - 0
Fri., Oct 22 Fort Cherry W42 - 7
Fri., Oct 29 at Serra Catholic W60 - 0

Passing of a giant: We mentioned former CHS football coach Pat Risha in a prior post and cited some of the challenges that he’s had during his career as an educational administrator. The local media produced several stories that were critical of some of his dealings and those articles led to an ethics probe of the superintendent of three different area school districts. It is clear Mr. Risha had both supporters and detractors, but one cannot deny the impact he had in so many different arenas within the field of Education. From his start as a substitute Phys. Ed. teacher at Clairton High School to his tenure as a successful coach, to his ventures (and adventures) into local politics, business, and education; Mr. Risha was a difference maker. Pat Risha passed away last week of an apparent heart attack. West Mifflin Superintendent Janet Sardon, who replaced Risha was quoted as saying, "He was one of the best superintendents this region has ever seen. Every decision, every program he put in place, everything he did was always surrounded by the best interests of kids." Rest in Peace Pat Risha.

Clairton doctor: We have written in blogs past about one of Clairton’s family physicians, Dr. Eugene Cutuly. He was our family doctor for most of my youth, and after I left home, he continued as both family friend and doctor of my parents. My father died at age 87 and my mother passed away in her ninety-first year. Dr. Cutuly was their doctor until they died, and he was five years older than they were! If you search his name in the box on the upper left of this blog, you will find past blogs that we’ve written about Dr. Cutuly.

An unassuming, understated rebel: The Cutuly’s eldest daughter Joan and I shared classes and Sadie Hawkins dances as well as other CHS experiences. We were classmates. Joan became a teacher first at CHS, then at other schools and at some point moved to Las Vegas where she taught High School English. She was more than the typical English teacher, she was a teacher on a mission to teach and reach all students – gang members, honor students, limited English speakers, and every other high school student who wandered into her classroom. Her methods were unique and groundbreaking as she used the teaching of writing skills as problem solving strategies. She became a very successful award-winning teacher, recognized in the fast-growing school district as one of the best. In fact she became so successful that her unorthodox methods, although successful, threatened the traditional administration. The administration pressured her to replace those unorthodox albeit successful teaching techniques for the more traditional ones that ironically resulted in lower achievement and higher dropout rates! Joan wrote a book which was published by the National Council of Teachers of English, entitled “Home of the Wildcats: Perils of an English Teacher”

Joan was branded a radical by school officials – a round peg in a square profession; the buttons figuratively ripped from her soldier uniform and her sword broken. She was driven from the corps of teaching and those who drove her out were rewarded with cash bonuses. But she soldiered on. Bent but not broken she was driven from the desert to the sea coast where she rested, recuperated, then regrouped. She came to terms with many issues in her life and published a second book, “Prisoner of Second Grade.”

In her own words: In the introduction of her second book Joan describes herself in the following way, “I was more of a poet at heart than a teacher. By poet, I don’t mean simply a lover of metaphor but rather one who breathes for the day when truth turns power structures into flowers. It’s this latter trait that in so many oppressive regimes has earned poets a reputation for being nettlesome.”

Joan Cutuly has begun a new phase of writing. Inspired by an obnoxious but lovable seagull, she has put together a wonderful blog site called the Gulliver Initiative. Its purpose is to create better schools through art, humanity, and reason. I encourage you to visit the web site at If you don’t find as fascinating as I did, I’ll refund your money. (just kidding – its free). Joan Cutuly, Clairton gal.

Finally, we have a question for readers of this blog. We have seen many references to Club 46 in Clairton (image above). There is even a logo on a facebook page. This seems to be a community activity that is hosted by the volunteer fire department and hosts dances, fish frys, and other community activities. So we are sending out a research request to all blog readers; please tell us about Club 46 and we will post the information in a future blog.

A little blogging music maestro, “Paperback Writer” by The Beatles

Monday, October 25, 2010

Clairton football, etc.

Clairton: City of Prayer and Stalwart People

Lancaster’s Grand Dame: We’ve written before about the amazing Lancaster family of Clairton. Type Amazing Lancasters in the blank space in the upper right corner of this blog (just to the left of the word share), click on the magnifying glass icon and that post will appear. Elmer Rowan Lancaster and Dorothy Pauline Cooley were married back in the days when men were men and women were happy about it. They moved into a humble home n what was then called Woodland Terrace. Ron was the first born and would go on to become the most famous through the medium of football – a hall of fame player, coach, and sportscaster in Canada. After Ron there followed a passel of kids to include Jean, Allen, Marvin, Carol, Bill, Betty, Dorothy, Janet and Shelby. But every Lancaster child after Ron might have not become if not famous in all of North America although each became fine examples of what kind, generous, successful people should be.

The scion of the family passed away in 1999 at the age of 83. Three of the four boys, Allen, Marvin, and most recently Ron, have passed away as well. But Mother Hen Dorothy keeps on keeping on even at age 92. Oh, she might not have quite the spring in her step as she once did (she now does most of her traveling in a wheelchair due to a hip problem) she still is a diehard football fan, and that means the Clairton Bears. For more than half a century Dorothy Lancaster attended every Bears home game and a few away games as well. Her four sons were all Bear players. Her six daughters were also HoneyBears and cheerleaders. In fact, Dorothy has been watching Bear football since she was a child. Clairton’s football team is undefeated this year and took the state championship last year. Part of the reason is great talent. Part of the reason is great coaching, and part of the reason is great fan support from Ms. Lancaster anad the Clairton High School boosters. RAH!

Speaking of Clairton football: The Bears played Fort Cherry last Friday. It was senior night and the team started out a little sluggish. The opponents actually launched a nine-play 75 yard drive to go ahead of CHS by a score of 7-0. Then the Bears came out of hibernation, shook off much of the lethargy, and scored the next 42 points. Final score: 42-7. Running total for the year: Bears 423 – Opponents 19.

Adding insult to injury: The Bentworth High School football was not looking forward to their game with Clairton. CHS was a powerhouse. A juggernaut that chewed up its opponents and spit them out, and BHS was not particularly strong this year. But off they went like sheep to a slaughter and indeed it was a 52-0 slaughter. That would have been bad enough, but when they returned to their locker room they discovered it had been burglarized. Seems a replacement custodian who had worked that night did not realize the door should have been locked and some thieves took advantage... a crime of opportunity. Clairton Superintendent Lucille Abellonio said the district will compensate the Bentworth players and staff after a final inventory of stolen items has been completed.

Where’s the fire: Clairton fire chief John Lattanzi, a 22-year fire department veteran, made about $40,000 per year. Not an exorbitant amount for a fire chief, but a bit rich for the struggling Clairton budget. So next year when the new budget goes into effect the fire chief position will be relegated to volunteer status and the money that had been the salary will go into the general fund. The rest of the firemen are volunteers.

Thar’s gold in them thar rolling hills: Between the Clairton turnoff and the Blue Flame on route 51, there is a turnoff for the Expressway that will meander down to West Virginia. The toll booth on Rte. 43 collects four bits (that’s 50 cents in western talk). And West Virginia wants their piece of the action so they recently passed legislation to collect a toll on their side of the highway. When the WVA portion of the highway opens next spring there will be a toll booth to collect a buck a car - $4 for trucks. Fewer than 4 miles of the 75 mile expressway lie in West Virginia. Keep a cache of quarters in that cup holder.

A personal memory: I’ll close today’s blog with a personal memory of Clairton. I grew up on the last block of St. Clair Ave. There was no Ravensburg Bridge and the road from Rite Aid (nee Gumbles Chevrolet) onward was unpaved. It was an ash road, covered with residue from the mill that was pulverized into dust as cars drove over it. In the summer tar was spread over the pulverized ashes which kept the dust down but drove our mothers crazy as the kids tracked tar into the house.

There were only a few boys in that last block; Louie (who died suddenly and unexpectedly at age 13 or so) and Butchie (who has spent most of his life behind bars for bank robbery and assorted other charges) and me. Johnny and Kenny were little twerps too young to hang with the big kids.

The last house on the street belonged to Mr. and Mrs. G. They had no children and she was a grandmotherly type from whose lips came the sweetest words – until Mr. G. came home drunk – which was nightly. Then she would unleash a litany curses at him that would make a sailor blush.

My good friend Carol who was Louie’s sister, along with little sister Sassy, and I would often watch Mr. G come home after a hard day of working and drinking. He would aim his panel truck at the open door of the one-car garage then BOOM! He’d hit the side. Then he’d back up, take aim again and head into the garage… BOOM! He’d hit the other side. All the time Mrs. G. would be shouting vulgar curses at her drunken husband. The ritual would continue until he was finally able to navigate the truck into the garage. Across the street, through the picture window, we would howl with laughter each time he missed the garage. There was little concern in those days about the perils of drunken driving and indeed Mr. G. lost his life when he presumably misjudged the onset of a bridge and drove his truck over a cliff. The days of innocence were not without tragedy.

A little blogging music Maestro… “Those Were the Days,” by Mary Hopkin.
Dr. Forgot

Sunday, October 17, 2010

You've gotta love Clairton!

First a word about the Clairton Bears…

Game # 7 - Brentwood: Thanks to the many readers who keep me apprised of Clairton area happenings, particularly Cal Sabo who is usually first with the Bear news. Last Friday the unbeaten Bears put their streak on the line against a strong 4-1 Brentwood team and quarterback Cory Bauer, one of WPIAL’s top rated passers. The result? The QB completed two of 16 passes for a total of minus two yards and four interceptions. The entire Brentwood team could not manage a single first down and ended the game with minus six yards total. So how did our lads do offensively? Josh Page, Desimon Green, Brandon Small and Tyler Boyd all scored touchdowns… BEFORE THE GAME WAS TEN MINUTES OLD!!! Boyd netted 106 yards and two touchdowns ON THREE CARRIES! The Bear defense forced turnovers on three of Brentwood’s first six plays. Final score: Clairton 52, Brentwood 0. For the season: Clairton 381, Opponents 12. The Brentwood coach shook his head and said, “I’ve never seen a team like that.”

There was one scary moment in the game when Pitt recruit Desimon Green, after he had made two sacks and batted down five passes, made a tackle that left him lying on the turf. He was removed from the field to a hospital in an ambulance. But coach Nola reports that the move was precautionary and Desimon is fine.

Clairton coaches and politics: Coach Nola is being carried around on a throne as though he was a genius. But a few short years ago he was being vilified over – shoes! As Dinah Washington (wife of football great Frank “Night Train” Lane) used to croon, “What a Difference a Day Makes.” So it is for Patrick Risha, successful Clairton football coach from the 1980s. He left gridiron for another field – educational administration, and became Superintendent of South Allegheny, McKeesport Area, and West Mifflin Area. Just as his Bears teams won on the field, several teams of businesses won contracts in his school districts – but not without lawsuits and controversy. There have been allegations that school district employees were directed to do work on the homes of his son as well as a school board member on company time. Controversy also followed his tenure in which favored companies submitted low bids for work, then billed the district substantially more by implementing “change orders” that nearly tripled the cost of the project.

Controversy began to swirl around Coach Risha then he was assistant superintendent at South Allegheny. He and a cousin were appointed to the Port Authority board. Soon there were allegations of bid fixing, but the controversy didn’t hurt his professional status as he was soon named superintendent of the school district. He left that position under pressure but with a negotiated $325,000 settlement. He and the attorney who had negotiated the settlement moved on to McKeesport as superintendent and school district counsel respectively. He then moved on to West Mifflin where the same attorney was solicitor. Between 2005 and 2009 the attorney’s firm collected nearly $ 1 million from McKeesport and West Mifflin school districts. In 2009 Superintendent Risha, who by then was working from home, resigned shortly after school board elections saw his supporters defeated by his antagonists. Reports continue to circulate that the 60-year old former superintendent and Clairton football coach is being investigated by the State Ethics Commission.

Same family; different controversy: Coach Risha’s son, Patrick, is neither a coach nor a school superintendent. Rather he is a businessman who, along with relatives of two officials of the Clairton Municipal Authority, started a business and came up with a clever and fascinating scheme that turns water into wine – well, not literally. The firm, Green Disposal, was formed in 2009 and two months later bumped 146-year old CNX Gas Corporation to become the designated firm to dump tainted water from shale gas extracting (fracking) into Clairton’s Mon Valley sanitation plant.

Here’s how it works: Green Disposal pays Clairton 6.5 cents per gallon to accept wastewater from the fracking process, and treat it at the plant located at “Peters Creek Bottoms” near State Street before it flows into Peters Creek and the Monongahela River. Once Green Disposal got the contract to treat the water, it contracted with CNX (yes, the same firm they edged out to get the Clairton contract) to allow CNX to deposit its waste water into the Clairton plant. Result? Green Disposal gets paid by CNX to allow CNX to dump tainted fracking water through the Clairton waste water treatment plant. Green Disposal then pays Clairton 6.5 cents per gallon to allow the water to be cleaned at the plant. The contract between Green Disposal and CNX is private so we do not know how much profit Green Disposal makes without ever touching the tainted water. But Clairton stands to make nearly $ 700,000 in the deal this year alone! And Green Disposal? They’ve already moved on to the West Mifflin Sanitary Sewer Municipal Authority and signed a contract with them. To paraphrase an old mining adage, “Thar’s gold in that there water!”

A labor of love: John Hodish loves his hometown. Born and raised in Clairton, he not only chooses to remain, but is on a campaign to improve the City. He led a recent March to Washington to raise the awareness of the plight of Clairton, seek political help, and raise funds on behalf of the City. John heads the Clairton Community Outreach Program (CCOP) that has formed many partnerships and outlets for Clairton residents in need (see photo above). Their Gospel Choir is going strong and the boxing club boasts the fifth ranked boxer in the nation, Samantha Griffith. Much of the help has come from ordinary folks, some from extraordinary ones like State Committeewoman Ruth Pastore, whose Crime Watch program works hand-in-hand with CCOP. As an offshoot of the Crime Watch program John and his volunteers are starting a program to address domestic abuse of women and children. They hope to eventually offer temporary shelter for abuse victims. I remember ex-Clairtonian the late Alex Ross making a plea at a class reunion. He said, “We need to give back – to help our city. We need to show it that some of us may have moved away, but we have not abandoned Clairton.” I encourage every reader of this blog to contact John Hodish at Send him an email and ask how you can help your hometown.

A little blogging music Maestro… “HELP!” by the Beatles.

Dr. Forgot

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Disappearing Traditions

Clairton High School… Home of the ????

Clairton and sports: Clairton residents have always loved their sports. The photo above is of a baseball team that represented Clairton Works. It comes from Jim Hartman of the Mifflin Township Historical Society and is courtesy of former Clairton resident Betsy Banzen. I’m not sure if the Clairton Works baseball team had a mascot name such as the Cokers, Cobras or even the Bears, but the photo shows that sports has always been and continues to be an integral part of the fabric of proud Clairtonians. High school sports have dominated in Clairton since 1914, nearly 100 years ago. The football stadium, dedicated in 1930, saw a tradition begin of residents lining the streets to watch a parade comprised of the band and other groups march from the high school up Miller Avenue to the stadium. Such rich traditions and sports teams have stood through good times and bad in our hometown.

Bears continue to be victorious: The Clairton High School Bear football team defense has had a difficult season so far. Western Beaver and Chartiers-Houston each scored six points against them. Of course the offense scored 55 and 60 points respectively in those games. Coach Nola must have had a talk with the defense because no team has crossed the CHS goal line since. Total points in the six victories so far this season: CHS: 329, Opponents: 12. The regular season still has four more games to go. We will keep you posted. But an ominous cloud might be hanging over Clairton High School and we don’t mean pollution from the mill that has given our city the fourth most dangerous air in the U.S. According to a recent Post-Gazette article by Brian David, there are rumblings that CHS might close and the district merged with another.

Dying tradition: In the article, David begins by talking about the Monaca High Indians, a team that CHS defeated a couple of years ago while en route to the State Championship playoffs. Monaca is an Ohio River town located several miles past the Greater Pittsburgh Airport. It is similar in size and history to Clairton; populated by many ethnic Eastern Europeans who worked in the area J&L steel mills and other industries. Monaca high School sent many of its athletes on to become successful in life. Basketball star Terry Evans became a noted physician; Three-sport star athlete Steve Rudish became a school principal, and many others were successful. The success of Monaca High grads is similar in many ways to that of CHS grads. But a funny thing happened on the way to continued success of Monaca High School. It closed. Dwindling enrollment in the school after the mills closed, the young people moved away, and the old people died caused the local school board to merge their school with Center Area High School and the Monaca Indians were blended into the team now known as the Central Valley Warriors. Football games are now played at Center’s old stadium, not far from the old Monaca High stadium.

One of the saddest losses of tradition when Monaca High School closed was the annual Bridge game between Monaca and its cross-river rival Rochester. The prize was naming rights to the bridge that spans the Ohio River between the two towns. If the Indians won, it would be the Monaca-Rochester Bridge for the next year. If the Rams won, it would be the Rochester-Monaca Bridge. Now it has one name on one end and the other name on the other -- and it will stay that way.

Could a similar fate await the might Clairton Bears? Some say that shrinking student numbers and shrinking tax revenue portend potential doom to many communities steeped in tradition. Those mentioned that could be merged include Aliquippa, Rochester, Monessen, Brentwood, Bethlehem-Center and Clairton. School board president Richard Livingston was quoted in the David article as saying, "Eventually, down the road, we're going to have to face facts." Mayor Richard Lattanzi was even more morose in his comments, saying, "If we would lose our school, our football team, a big part of our identity would be gone," I'd compare it to when U.S. Steel closed down."

School Board President Livingston, who is a teacher in a district outside Clairton, captures the essence of Clairton football when he describes how retirees show up to watch practices, churches schedule fish fries around home games, and locals know all the players by their first name. Those are Clairton traditions that have been going on for more than half a century. Banners that announce the Bears State Championship hang in businesses throughout town, City Hall, and the mayor’s office. However, with an entire student body of 840 and falling, and with test scores among the lowest in the area, keeping the football traditions of winning teams and game parades could be ominous.

Similar but not identical: If Clairton High School is forced into a merger they will be dragged kicking and screaming into it. Not so with Monaca. Their merger was done voluntarily; something that has not been replicated. There is, however, pending legislation to make school districts county-wide, as exists in Nevada and other states. Gov. Ed Rendell has suggested that the current 500 school districts in Pennsylvania be reduced to 100. There are advantages to such changes. Monaca children now attend newer schools with improved curriculum and better technology. When Monaca and Central merged the result to Central Valley was a $1 million savings from operating two districts independently.

If Clairton were to merge, who would the logical partner be? Some suggest Jefferson Borough and Thomas Jefferson High School. Others say Elizabeth Forward, West Mifflin, or even other river communities that were former mill towns. Two things are certain; that the merger would not be voluntary, and that the rich traditions that have made Clairton football an iconic even to local residents for nearly 100 years will be lost.

A little blogging music Maestro... “American Pie” by Don McLean.

Dr. Forgot