Sunday, September 26, 2010

Clairton Happenings

Clairton Brothers, Good Cops, and Memories

Twins with different talents: The 1930s found Clairtonians as well as other Americans struggling through the Great Depression. However, life still went on. Old people died, folks fell in love and babies were born. Sometimes, as was the case with the Vujevich family, the babies came in pairs. Twin boys, Steve and Ed, grew up in the Croatian American Clairton household, both talented in different fields. Another brother, Marion, would become a doctor and profound leader in his field. Ed became an engineer. Steve’s gift was in music. His voice was something special and even as a youngster it was clear that he had a gift. Steve loved sports and politics as well, but it was clear that his musical talent would bring him and those who would listen to his rich baritone voice, pleasure.

While in high school his good looks and smooth voice earned him the nickname “Clairton’s Perry Como.” Steve’s football prowess earned him a scholarship to Carnegie Mellon University, nee Carnegie Tech, but he transferred across town to Duquesne University where he’d have more opportunity to hone his skills. He graduated with a degree in Music and became a teacher and coach at his alma mater, Clairton High School, and then a music teacher and choir director in West Mifflin. Steve also dabbled in politics, serving as police chief for Clairton and managed the campaign of fellow Clairtonian Sen. Ed Zemperelli as well as other successful candidates.

Steve Vujevich passed away earlier this month at age 80. Another stellar Clairton boy. Rest in peace, Steve.

Things not going smoothly in Clairton: A Clairton spy who wishes to remain anonymous tells me that the potholes in the streets of Clairton are alive and well. Since it will be a few months before the snow fills them in, the powers that be have decided to fill them in the old fashioned way – by paving. Victor Paving will reconstruct Boundary Way between Shaw and Kay Avenues, Crocus Way and Shaw Avenue from Maple Avenue to Miller Avenue. The cost will be a mere $81,000 more or less. Not quite sure how those particular Ways were selected, but somebody must have a way with the repavers.

Dirty politics: That smell that hangs over the heads of many of our national politicians and their wannabe replacements is not only a national stench. It’s tentacles reach far into the Clairton area. Whether it is the former football coach whose financial ethics are being questioned, or the former police chief – the first woman to hold that position, politics can be a filthy game. Take the case of Tracy Vitale. Born in Germany and adopted as an infant by an American military couple stationed there, she came to the U.S. with her parents as a 3-year old.

This sounds like the beginning of a great human interest story. Tracy’s military upbringing was a factor in her desire to pursue a career in law enforcement. She is certified by the Pennsylvania State Municipal Police Officers' Education and Training Commission and during the past 14 years has worked for departments in Brownsville, Carroll, Clairton and Rostraver as well as the Washington County Sheriff's Department. All reports were that this groundbreaking police officer was an excellent cop and administrator.

The problem began when she was named Police Chief in the Washington County college town of California Borough. Former California Borough Police Chief Rick Encapera was demoted to patrolman and Chief Vitale became the first female Chief in the County. Some community members who opposed Encapera’s demotion staged a campaign to find a reason to replace former Clairton Chief Vitale and discovered she’d been born in Germany. They asked her to prove her American citizenship. Vitale’s father is elderly and remembers the adoption and citizenship process. Her mother is deceased. Immigration officials say it could take months to root out the paperwork, so her opponents seized on the doubt and suspended her, while hurriedly hiring a replacement – John Hartman of Monroeville.

When the job as Chief came open, Tracy Vitale beat out four other candidates. But her status remains in limbo until she is able to prove she is a citizen. To be certified as a police officer in Pennsylvania, a person must be a U.S. citizen, according to the law. I think we can safely claim Tracy Vitale as a Clairton gal. We wish her the best of luck.

Heroes of Yore: Many who read this blog can remember several historical components of Clairton in the 1950s. Among them are the Roll of Honor which sat in a park-like setting at the corner of St. Clair and Miller Avenues, caddy corner to the bank. Or perhaps you were one of the lucky ones who took the train from the Clairton Train station to Kennywood for the annual school picnic, or lived on a Clairton city street. All three photos today come from a source that has been extremely helpful. See below.

Thank you Jim Hartman: The Mifflin Township Historical Society houses a vast amount of historical data for many surrounding communities including Clairton. Jim is the president and operates out of an office near the County airport. He has done a Herculean job of gathering and assembling historical information, including decades of copies of the Clairton Progress. Jim has donated a ton of information about Clairton to us via electronic transactions, and continues to regularly forward information about our community. The pictures that grace today’s blog are courtesy of Jim and the MTHS. I encourage every Clairtonian who reads this space to visit his web site listed below or to Google the Mifflin Township Historical Society. But beware! Looking through the files can become addictive.

A little blogging music Maestro... “Bad Boys,” the theme song from the TV show COPS, done by Inner Circle.

Dr. Forgot

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