Friday, September 17, 2010

Of Reunions and Other Victories

CHS Alumni

Remember the Cobras: Or the Bears depending on when you happened to have the good fortune to attend Clairton High School. We have mentioned the history of the school many times in this space – after the first graduating class in 1907, classes were held in various venues around town until a brand new red brick three story high school opened on Fifth Street (see photo above left). The high school became Fifth Street Grade School when the new (and current) high school was built (photo above right). Fifth Street Grade School was eventually demolished and the portion of Fifth Street that separated the two schools was permanently closed.

Back in the day: Seventy-five years ago 254 bright-faced boys and girls accepted their Clairton High School diploma. They graduated in the midst of the Great Depression and between two World Wars. Some achieved great things, others fought and died for their country, others had marriages, children, and careers. But nearly 20% of members of that class of 1935 took life one day at a time and are still around and in their 90s. Several were among the 600+ who showed up at the multi-year (classes of ’34 through ’70) celebration at Clairton Park recently.

Barb Ceryak was just in the seventh grade when the Class of ’35 graduated but she went to college and spent a career teaching girls physical education at the school. Rose Schepis DaBaldo, a junior when the class of ’35 graduated also became a teacher of shorthand, dictaphone and transcription (try explaining THAT curriculum to your grandkids).

Six members of the class of 1935 who were in attendance for their 75th high school reunion received special recognition. They included Jennie Prince Peterson, Martha Bickerton Shaver, Hilda Moresea Walsh, Andrew Sivak, J. Clark Leis and Peter Gimiliano. The previous class opted to not have a yearbook due to the hard times but Class of ’35 took up a collection to underwrite the project then sold the Annuals for $1.00 each! Ms. Bickerton (Shaver) traveled the farthest to attend – from California (the state, not the city). Andy Sivak will soon celebrate his 69th wedding anniversary, and Ms. Peterson has become a world traveler with her daughter and family members.

Jennie Peterson, along with a little help from daughter Diane arranged to have a tent and special cake, decorated with class photos of attendees. In preparation for the reunion the two women became expert detectives at tracking down class members, often using such tools as the Social Security Death Index. Ms. Jennie Peterson has been keeping track of class members since they graduated, but she has finally replaced her steno notebook with an email account and computer. She continues tracking and logging information in preparation for her 80th class reunion.

Back to the Bears: Clairton has had its problems with the demise of the mills. Of that there is no argument. However, the athletics teams, particularly the football team, have continued to prosper. They barely eked out a win (41-0) in the opener against Little Washington and were actually scored upon in the second game victory (55-6) against Western Beaver. The third game against Carlynton (which to me sounds like an uppity pronunciation of Clairton) was another blowout; 60-6. So far this year it has been Bears 156, Opponents 12.

But the Bears do not have a perfect record. They actually lost a conference game – five years ago. Last year the team won the state championship, won three out of the last four WPIAL crowns, and a total of seven WPIAL championships. The Bears have made 13 WPIAL championship game appearances and have been conference champs four consecutive years. I confess that while back for my 50th high school reunion in June I neglected to go into the school to see if it was tipping toward Fifth Street under the weight of all the trophies.

Sports quiz for the day: Which team has 33 wins since the start of the 2008 season and has more victories than any other school in Pennsylvania? If you guessed Clairton high school, you are correct. Ok, bonus question: Who comes in second in the WPIAL? That would be Clairton-spawned Thomas Jefferson High School which boasts 27 wins. I’m not sure if the band and Honeybears still gather at the high school on Friday night home games, then march to the stadium, as they did in the good old days, but the tradition of winning still wafts through the air on Football Fridays.

One of 16 passes on: Obituaries from Clairton include native daughter Irene Lehner who recently passed away. She was born Irene Randolph, one of 16 children born to steelworker James and his wife Sarah Jane Plaster Randolph. She dropped out of high school to help support her family and married William Lehner in 1941. She did not let a little thing like lack of a high school diploma hold her back. She wrote for the Clairton Progress and conducted metallurgical analysis for a steel mill during World War II. She learned the art of floral arranging and became known as one of the top florists in the area. Mrs. Lehner as active in Girl Scouts, Rainbow Girls, and many other church and service organizations. She was also very active as a member of the Clairton First Presbyterian Church. She went to eternal rest at age 92.

A little blogging music Maestro... “Memories are Made of This” by Dean Martin.

Dr. Forgot

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