Sunday, May 30, 2010

Memorial Day Story Worth Repeating

A Re-post to honor America’s veterans
Clairton flyboy: original “Dancing With the Star”

Not exactly a love affair but: Donnabelle Mullenger probably never saw the steel mills and coke plants that belched soot, smoke, and quencher in Clairton, PA. She was born and raised on a farm near Denison, Iowa but moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. She changed her name to Donna Reed and starred as Jimmy Stewart’s wife in the sappy holiday movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Ed Skvarna has had a pretty wonderful life himself. He grew up in Clairton, half a country away from cornfields and flat land, inhaling all the dirty air until he joined the Army to fight the Germans. Two of his brothers, John and Leo also served. We’ve highlighted many Clairtonians and former residents of this fair city. This post features a young man who went off to war – WW-II, the Big One... it was in all the papers.

Higher Education – in a B-29: Ed graduated from Clairton High School in 1943 and immediately enlisted in the Army Air Corps, later to be renamed the Air Force. Like so many lads of the era he envisioned the romance of flight and signed up for flight school. He was rejected for pilot training because he was colorblind but selected to be a crew member and sent to Kansas for training as a right gunner on a B-29. Being up in a plane was not the only time Ed’s feet left the ground. One evening at the Wichita USO canteen he gathered up his courage and asked the pretty movie star Donna Reed for a dance. In another movie in which she starred as a nurse with John Wayne, he declined her offer to dance, but Ed is from Clairton and he’s no dummy, so he made the move and asked for a dance. She accepted, and Ed was on cloud nine without his B-29. It was the first celebrity he’d ever met but she seemed so down-to-earth. The memory of that dance stuck with him as he finished his training and went off to fight in the skies above Asia.

Star-struck young G.I. writes: After Ed was sent to Asia he dropped Donna notes now and then from China, India, and the Marianas. In May of 1945, while Ed was based in the Marianas near Guam he received a letter back from the film star. It made him “jump with joy.” He had sent her snapshots of himself and told her of some of his adventures and of course, asked for a photo of her. Similar stories of American soldiers and celebrities are told by the men who return home from war. Some are believed with a wink, and others seem to be stretching the truth. But Ed’s was no bull.

The Donna Reed Letter Show: Donna Reed, often called America’s Sweetheart” during the war, kept many of the letters – 341 of them to be exact, from Ed and other lonely U.S. servicemen from over the world. Many, including Ed’s were simply addressed “Miss Donna Reed, Santa Monica, California.” She kept the letters in a shoebox, perhaps taking them out to read and reflect from time to time. Eventually though the shoebox was relegated to a trunk and stored in a garage at her Beverly Hills home, far from her Iowa roots and even farther from Ed Skvara’s hometown of Clairton. But ironically not so far from Ed who in 1950 had settled in Covina, CA, a Los Angeles suburb not too far from his wartime heartthrob. Both got on with their post-war lives, Ed as a schoolteacher and administrator and Donna as an actress, and that would have been the end of the story. Donna Reed died of pancreatic cancer in 1986 at the age of 64, more than 40 years after Donna and Ed had cut a rug on the dance floor and exchanged letters and photos. It would be another 23 years after her death before the letters were discovered.

Who knows what treasures lie in unopened trunks?: Last year Ms. Reed’s daughter, Mary Owens was rummaging through some of her mother’s old possessions and stumbled across the trunk, the shoebox, and the letters. She got in touch with an editor for the New York Times and the letters were highlighted in a Memorial Day story.

Talented actress and patriot: Donna Reed’s accomplishments included the roles opposite Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne as cited above, and her television show, “The Donna Reed Show,” in which she played Donna Stone. She won an Academy Award for her portrayal of a prostitute in “From Here to Eternity.” Among her many other movie roles she played opposite Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Alan Ladd, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Charleton Heston, and Fred MacMurray. Her TV credits included the role of Ellie Ewing Farlow on Dallas.

Home safe and sound: After the war Ed returned home safely and used the G.I. Bill to earn a teaching degree in Industrial Arts from California State Teachers College in California, PA. He married and he and his wife moved to California (the state) in 1950. There he spent a career as a father of three and an educator – teacher and administrator in the El Monte School District. Ed Skrvana, bombardier, dancer with the stars, educator, and Clairton boy.

A little blogging music Maestro... “Against All Odds” by Phil Collins.

Dr. Forgot

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hey, You Speak-a da English?

You speak-a de English?

One of my favorite sayings is, "Those who speak three languages are tri-lingual. Those who speak two languages are bi-lingual, and those who speak only one language are American.

We sometimes are baffled that immigrants have such a difficult time with our language - after all, even a CHILD can speak it. But consider some of the foibles found within the language:

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.

2) The farm was used to produce produce .

3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

4) We must polish the Polish furniture.

5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10) I did not object to the object.

11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row .

13) They were too close to the door to close it.

14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.

15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.

19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

If that is not confusing enough, consider a few other issues:

There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple.

English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France .

Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat.

We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham?

If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices?

Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught?

If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?

Ship by truck and send cargo by ship?

Have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of our language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which an alarm goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all.

That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

Why doesn't 'Buick' rhyme with 'quick' ?

Oh, one more brief thought about the English language...

There is a two-letter word that perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word (or that four letter word), and that is 'UP.'

It's easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP?

At a meeting why does a topic come UP?

Why do we speak UP and why are the officers UP for election and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report?

We call UP our friends.

And we use it to brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver; we warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen.

We lock UP the house and some guys fix UP the old car.

At other times the little word has real special meaning.

People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses.

To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed UP is special.

A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP.

We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night. We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP!

To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP, look the word UP in the dictionary.

In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4th of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions.

If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used.

It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don't give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred or more.

When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP .

When the sun comes out we say it is clearing UP.

When it rains, it wets the earth and often messes things UP.

When it doesn't rain for awhile, things dry UP.

One could go on and on, but I'll wrap it UP, for now this write is about UP, is time to shut UP!

I hope I haven't fouled UP your day...

So have a little compassion for the immigrants who try so hard to work and learn the language at the same time.

A little blogging music Maestro, "The Alphabet Song."

Dr. Forgot

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Clairton, Now and Then

Catching up on Clairton

Trying our best: On a recent blog post we talked about the recently elected mayor and his vision for upgrading Clairton. One method of extolling the virtues of our hometown, according the the mayor’s published comments, was to reach out to people via the internet and give them some reasons to consider Clairton as a place to reside. Included were the attractive housing prices, low taxes, and a beautiful park. We tried to email the mayor in an effort to have him expand his comments. We were unable to find an email address for him and nearly every time we Googled Clairton Mayor, other names came up in our search but not that of current Mayor Lattanzi. And when we Googled his name and Clairton, the only hits we received spoke to him as a Councilman.

We got grit. We won’t quit: If the mayor is not easily reachable via internet, we’ll phone him. I found a phone number for Clairton Mayor, dialed it, and received a disconnect recording. So I searched again and found an email address of and promptly emailed him then looked for a Clairton web page. I quickly discovered a one page web page at Pulled up the web page and saw phone numbers for Administration, Engineering, Financing, Parks and Recreation, Public Safety, Public Works, and Zoning... even one for Recycling. But no number for the Mayor. So I thought I’d take a chance and call the general number which was the same one for Administration. AHA! After only 5 rings a real live person answered and I asked if I could be connected to the Mayor. She said no, that the Mayor didn’t come in until 4:30.

I asked if the Mayor had voice mail and if so could she transfer me. He did and she did. Finally I was able to hear the mellifluous voice of the Mayor, albeit on a recording. After the beep I introduced myself, identified myself as a former resident who grew up 5 houses from the City Building, and stated my business. Oh, I also mentioned that I’d emailed him and left my email and phone number, inviting him to write or call me back. Two weeks have passed and nothing, nada, zippo, zilch and I’m still unable to find anything touting Clairton’s assets to potential future residents on the web.

Memo to the Mayor: If you are going to be interviewed in a major local newspaper, and in that interview you share your vision for the City we both love, perhaps you should have your staff check to see if readers of that article have a pathway to follow up. If when "Clairton Mayor" is Googled and it is more difficult to find on the internet than Mayors Mullen, Stilley, Fuge, or Bush, that is a problem. You need to have staff work on the web site. If there is no money to do such a thing, here is an idea: Why not take the challenge to the high school and have a contest to design web pages. Have local merchants donate prizes for the winners. Just thinking out loud.

Bad news on the doorstep. I couldn’t take one more step: Blog reader and former Clairtonian Celia sent us a newspaper article that is shocking. Clairton’s crown jewel is the Park, and Clairton Park’s crown jewel is the swimming pool. The pool has been operating at a loss the past couple of years and is in need of repair. The city has received a grant of $143,000 from the County provided they come up with 15% (about $20,000) in matching funds. At a recent council meeting the mayor said that if the pool opens this year it would be July at the earliest. Councilman Julian suggested the pool not open the entire season, and resident Kathy Tachoir asked that the revenue shortfall be addressed.

Although the status of the pool was the sexiest issue on the agenda, cost cutting issues were discussed at length. The mayor announced the merging of two positions saving $38,000. Currently six City employees are on furlough, three of whom are secretaries. One other hot topic that was discussed was the requirement that City employees be required to live in the City. Finally, Councilman Lewis made a plea that more residents attend Council meetings and provide input. And THAT is the state of the City.

More on the reunion: As mentioned in this space previously, the summer will be rife with CHS reunions. CHS classes of ’00, ’90, ’80, and ’70 are eligible for their Tenth, Twentieth, Thirtieth, and Fortieth, respectively and the CHS class of ’60 is planning a big bash at a hotel in South Hills to celebrate its Fiftieth anniversary reunion featuring some hillbilly as the keynote speaker. From regular reader and guest blogger Jill Urso comes the following information about another very special reunion held annually at Clairton Park: “Every year on the first Saturday in September there is a combined reunion at Clairton Park. Previously, the cutoff class was 1960, but this year they have expanded that to classes up to and including 1970. You can get more information about it at

"Also note at the bottom of that web page that there is information about a Clairton reunion that is held every year on the third Saturday in February at Ft. DeSoto Park near St. Petersburg, Florida. Jim and I are hoping to attend in 2011 and I'd like to encourage any of you who may be available to join us. I know that Lynne Galamb Polsky has been there the last couple years (you can see her in the pictures on the website) and I'm sure she'd like to see some of her classmates there.”

Keep the tradition going.

A little blogging music Maestro.... “When the Saints Go Marching In,” performed by Benny Benack.

Dr. Forgot

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

It’s Nice to be Important but more Important to be Nice

All hail the Ancient Greeks: Greece might be on the brink of financial ruin and dependent on other countries to bail it out these days, but it has a rich history of great contributions to the world. The Greeks gave us democracy, drama, music, and even proper manners. But more importantly a custom that began in Ancient Greece and continues to this day was mother worship, or as today’s version is referred, “Mother’s Day.”

In Europe several Sunday celebrations have been held including “Mothering Sunday.” International Women’s Day was first celebrated in the U.S. in more than 100 years ago. Julia Ward Howe's “Mother's Day Proclamation” was a pacifist reaction to the carnage of the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War. In 1912 Anna Jarvis trademarked the phrases, “second Sunday in May,” and “Mothers Day,” and created the Mother’s Day International Association.

What to do for Mom: Flowers are always a good choice for Mom on Mother’s Day. Flowers can be given to a mother even if she is no longer on earth. For those whose mothers are but memories, Mother’s Day is a great day to visit the cemetery, tidy up the gravesite, place some new flowers around, and reflect about all the wonderful things she gave you, including your life. If you are still fortunate to have your Mom, flowers is still a good bet. My mother, who had lived through lean times, including the Great Depression, would say to me, “It is foolish to spend hard-earned money on a gift that will die in a matter of days.” Still she would smile and boast to her friends whenever she received the flowers.

Flowers, Candies, cards, and perhaps dinner out and/or breakfast in bed seem to be the most popular choices for Mom on Mother’s Day. But gifts should be tailored to your own mother’s circumstances. A working Mom, for example, might prefer to spend the day with her family, a stay-at-home mom might prefer the gift of having the day to herself, alone. Regardless of how you celebrate Mother’s Day, do something that will make your mother happy and proud.

Poetry for moms: The first is by Dimitri Shostakovich and is dedicated to those mothers who are with us only is spirit:

If I could give my mom the world
Or anything she wanted,
I'd give her my own heart and soul
And leave my own heart haunted.
I'd take upon myself her life
With all its strife and pain,
And let her ease into some space
Where she could live again.
The pain for me would not be pain,
At least not for a while;
For I'd be doing it for her,
And I would see her smile.
I wish that I could take her heart
And cleanse it with my tears,
And make her sorrow go away,
And answer all her fears.
I wish, I wish, but then I can't,
As I watch helplessly,
And take her in my arms and say
I wish that it were me.
But loving is a hard, hard way,
With all the pain it brings.
And yet there is no other way
To touch the heart of things.

Mary R. Hurley writes of her reflections of childhood:

Memories and Mother

When Mother came to our room
To tuck us in at night,
Her face would look so gentle
In the soft, bedside light.

And though we may not always
Have behaved our best that day,
She'd let us know she loved us
In a very special way:

An extra fold to the coverlet,
A little pat, a hug,
And we'd settle down to dreamland
Feeling safe and snug.

And of all the childhood memories
That there have ever been,
We love best to recall the times
When Mother tucked us in.

- Mary R. Hurley

Finally, a poem by Rudyard Kipling:

Mother o' Mine

If I were hanged on the highest hill,
Mother o' mine, O mother o' mine!
I know whose love would follow me still,
Mother o' mine, O mother o' mine!
If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
Mother o' mine, O mother o' mine!
I know whose tears would come down to me,
Mother o' mine, O mother o' mine!
If I were damned of body and soul,
I know whose prayers would make me whole,
Mother o' mine, O mother o' mine!

- Rudyard Kipling

Happy Mother’s Day to all who read today’s post.

A little blogging music Maestro... “Mama Mia,” by ABBA.

Dr. Forgot

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Clairton Then and Now

Those Oldies but Goodies...

It was a very good year: The year 1917 is ancient history to most of us. U.S. enters World War I, the U.S. bought the Virgin Islands from Denmark for $25 million, San Francisco launched its streetcars, illegal immigration bill was fought in Congress (regarding Chinese), Russian Revolution begins, Congress passes excessive profits tax on corporations, Raggedy Ann doll invented, women given the vote in New York, Father Flanagan forms Boys Town, and most members of the Clairton High School class of 1935 are born.

The air that we breathe: It must have been that good air that has permeated Clairton and surrounding communities. Perhaps it was the experience of living through two world wars and a Great Depression. But whatever the reason, several members of the CHS Class of 1935 plan to attend the multi-class reunion. To the class of 1935 I dedicate the following poem:

Mary had some little sheep
From Commencement ‘35
Some of them have lost their way
Others no longer alive.

Today I send an all points call
For any you might know
Please send anything you might have
Of recent contact info.

Apologies to any REAL poets: In this scenario, Mary is played by Jennie Peterson CHS alum, class of 1935 who is trying to get as many of her classmates together as possible for the lark in the park get-together September 4. Please forward any contact information you might have on the following CHS 1935 grads and I will forward it on to Jennie. Lost sheep include:

Bakori, Clara (Dewar)
Beattie, Elizabeth (Lee)
Brown, Ruth (Espey)
Caparosa, Rose (Cali)
Cavalier, Jean (Latterine)
Churley, Helen (Bacher)
Dalton, Tom
Decker, Dorothy (Phillips)
Dickson, Thomas
Donnelly, Mary Jane (Lynch)
Eames, Hugh
Evans, Helen (Fleegle)
Grenfell, Raymond
Harmon, Kathleen (Parish)
Havlick, Martin
Hendricks, Mary (Morgan)
Holshouser, Mabel
Jackish, Josephine (Vidnovic)
Jones, Alice
Kirmeyer, King
Kvasnak, Cornelius
Lucas, Reed
Malm, Paula (Weaver)
May, Ruth (Veronick)
Micka, Ann (Kosko)
Musser, Geraldine (Openshaw)
Newcomer, Mary
Patterson, Loretta (Sorg)
Phillips, Earl
Phipps, Edith (Shaffer)
Plavchak, Anna (Sides)
Rozmus, Irene (Haines)
Soltis, Mary
Sontag, Irene (Burliner)
Stich, Mary (Abramovic)
Toynbee, Richard
Zdrale, Michael

Job Vacancy filled: A job was recently advertised in Clairton. The job had been held previously by a blind lawyer (Lloyd Fuge), a woman whose name sounds like a flower (Rose Bush), and a host of characters and scallywags as well as upstanding citizens. And oh, yes, the job pays a whopping $250 per month.

The young man who was selected for the job was Clairton native Richard Lattanzi (photo above). As a youngster he remembers buying penny candy at Joe's, stopping in Marracini's grocery, borrowing books from Wilson Library and setting up duck pins at his father's Wilson Lanes. Every one of those establishment are now part of Clairton/Wilson history but are now gone. But Richard remains. After attending St. Paulinas school then graduating from CHS he became a pipefitter at U.S. Steel. Always interested in civic affairs he became a councilman and was named Citizen of the Year by the Clairton Chamber of Commerce in 2006.

When Mr. Lattanzi decided to run for mayor of Clairton he assembled his powerful political machine consisting of his parents, three sisters and their families, and his own three children. That way he was not beholding to any special interest groups. What a concept. I hope this idea catches on in Washington.

But back to Clairton’s new mayor. He works at Irvin Works and lives in the house he bought from his parents, rebuilt and refurbished. His main goal is to re-capture the Clairton of his youth and he is doing so in part by marketing Clairton to young couples via the internet, focusing on the fact that low cost housing is available for an average price of an inexpensive car ($28,000). His vision includes getting abandoned buildings back on the tax rolls, inviting grocery stores to set up shop in Clairton and having more home ownership and fewer rental units. Currently a comprehensive plan to revitalize Clairton is being underwritten by a government grant.

The Mayor recognizes that Clairton has an attraction matched by few communities in the area – Clairton Park, complete with swimming pool and shelters for picnics. That is a great start that he hopes will attract young professionals and working couples. We offer a tip of the hat and encourage all current and former Clairtonians to contact City Hall to offer suggestions and help. A tip of the hat goes to Mayor Richard Lattanzi, Clairton boy.

The Clairton web site is:

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

Dr. Forgot