Saturday, April 24, 2010

Clairton Connections

If Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right, Try Three

First order of business: One of my all-time favorite movies is “Lawrence of Arabia.” One of my favorite lines in that movie was uttered by an Arab chief to Lawrence, “You lied! You’re NOT perfect.” In that spirit I must say that I heard from several readers last week regarding my reflections of Clairton. In one Jean Jordan writes: “Enjoyed reading your blog - you mentioned the 1960 football team but forgot about the great marching band & Honeybears. It was one of the best in the tri-state area with Ben E. Benack & Mr. Rotili, who once in a while would direct - even in his advancing years. Then, there was Audrey Smith who choreographed our routines - who could forget those giant dice & our routine to Peter Gunn. It was great fun. Still to this day I get teary-eyed every time I hear ‘When the Saints Go Marching In?’ I just want to get up & march!!!” Well, Jean, you are absolutely right. How could I have overlooked the Honeybears and the excellent staff of musicians and music teachers who taught us? I must admit, however, that their teaching was pretty well lost on me. The only instrument I ever played was the radio, and that was usually off key.

My parents decided that they would pay to have a piano teacher come to the house each Saturday to teach the basics to us. My three sisters were able to master the blasted instrument but after my second lesson the piano teacher pulled my mother aside and, nodding toward me trying to play a scale said, “Save your money with that one.”

Next order of business: Reverend Abe Allende helped me remember two doctors whom I did not mention, He writes, “You were right in that there were ‘at least’ five (physicians in Clairton). Two other very significant omissions were Dr. Booker and Dr. Sessions, both African-American doctors who, of course, treated African-American patients not only from Clairton, but from the surrounding area. That era in which you and I lived in Clairton pre-dated the age of "cultural competency" and, quite frankly, white doctors did not have a significant clientele of African-American patients. This was not due to intentional prejudice, but I'm guessing they may not have felt comfortable treating black patients and I'm certain black patients, to be quite candid, felt more comfortable with a black doctor.”

Over my shoulder a backward glance: Clairton residents had little else if not a strong work ethic. Nearly everybody of my era did something outside the home to help the family income. Some scooped ice cream at Isaly’s, others checked grocery items, delivered papers, pumped gas, baby sat, or did one of a myriad of activities. My outside activities included working as Haines Super Market on Route 51 and delivering The Daily News. When I was 14 my father became the Daily News distributor in Clairton and 2,000 papers were delivered each day to our garage, counted, repackaged, and distributed to paperboys (and a few girls) and stores. Most of the stores that sold individual papers were drug stores and they included Thrift Drug, Livingston’s, Webb’s, and others. Webb’ was one of the more difficult stores to deliver as it was on the corner of Maple Avenue and State Street and in front of the mill gate, so there was always traffic. It was necessary to stop for as long as it took somebody to hop out of the blue Jeep, run the papers in, and run back out to the Jeep. If you happened to catch the red light just right it was ok, but most of the time that did not happen. The proprietor and pharmacist was an African American gentleman named Benny Webb.

Fast forward 40 years: I worked at a university in Las Vegas for about three decades. During that time I was a professor and an administrator at the school. My duties also included marketing and overseeing their Doctoral program in Organizational Leadership and one in Educational Administration. As I was reviewing an application preparing to interview a potential Doctoral candidate I noticed he was from Greensburg, PA. We began to chat about Western PA and I told him I had grown up in Clairton. He said, “My uncle owned a pharmacy in Clairton. Perhaps you remember Benny Webb.” Small world.

More Clairton Stuff: Readers of this blog frequently ask me where and how I uncover the trivia and other items for the Clairton blog posts. Many suggestions come from readers who tell me about Clairtonians they remember or accomplishments of those with whom they’ve gone to CHS. Others have been kind enough to forward resumes, news clips, and photos of current and former Clairton citizens. A few have access to certain research programs that scour the internet, and they are kind enough to forward any information a “Clairton” search yields. There are also several generally available websites that include Clairton history and current topics. includes many photos and discussion topics. is an active site maintained by Jim Hartman and includes a wealth of information about the area including Clairton. Jim has also converted many editions of the Clairton Progress and made them available. Old photos and interesting facts abound at their site. Current news stories and forums can be found at another interesting website, The City, School District, and Library all have their own websites. There is lots of neat stuff about Clairton floating around in cyberspace.

Don’t forget: The CHS Class of 1960 will celebrate their 50th reunion this June and a multi-year get together will be held at Clairton Park Saturday September 4. This is a great opportunity to renew old acquaintances. Further information can be found at

A little blogging music Maestro... “My Hometown” by Bruce Springsteen.

Dr. Forgot

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