Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Just returned from Hershey...

A Tale of Two Cities; Clairton, PA circa 1950s and Clairton, PA 2011.
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

Clairton, PA, is located 12 miles south of Pittsburgh as the crow flies or as the fish swims. It is one of the many mill towns on or near the Monongahela River; Duquesne, McKeesport, Munhall, Glassport, Elizabeth, Monongahela (aka Mon City) etc. But in the post-World War II boom times of the mid-1950s it was the crown jewel of the area. Clairton boasted the only high school in the area with a swimming pool. Clairton High School won a WPIAL football championship and its players went on to star at Penn State, Navy, Clemson, Minnesota, and many other prestigious colleges and universities. People would come from many of the neighboring cities to purchase their car at one of the dozen or so new car dealerships. Although the population did not exceed 28,000 the town boasted four movie theaters; three "on the hill;" State, Capital, and Colonial, and Monarch and Rialto over the hill. Steel mills and coke works in the area spewed residue into the air 24 hours each day as three shifts of workers came and went. The area mills had to work around the clock to keep up with the steel orders.

U.S. Steel's "Clairton Works" produced the coke vital in the steelmaking process. It was the largest coke-producing mill in the world. The fathers of most of my peers worked in the steel mills or in local businesses. My father worked for the Clairton City Street Department as a "Special Equipment Operator," which meant he operated the city's grader, street sweeper, trucks, or any other City equipment. But when snow fell in the winter, keeping streets open for shift-change traffic was of ultimate importance. During those times he often worked shifts 72 hours or longer loading trucks with slag (residue from the steel mills). The trucks would in turn sand the streets to keep them passable. The town operated like a well oiled clock.

In the early 1970s Clairton was the fictional setting of the movie Deer Hunter that captured much of the steel worker mentality and ethnic culture of the area.

A half century after the boom times things have changed drastically in Clairton. The area’s steel mills have closed and although Clairton Works continues to limp along the community population had dwindled to fewer than 8,500 souls in 2000. By 2010 Clairton had lost another 20% of its residents leaving fewer than 6,800 currently residing in the city. The 2.79 square miles that had once housed do many thriving businesses now looks much like a ghost town with shop windows boarded up and a handful of struggling businesses trying to hang on.

Clairton High School once so flush with students that it spawned schools in Elizabeth, West Mifflin, and a brand new Thomas Jefferson High School in 1959, now graduates fewer than 60 students per year. The community has a poverty level of 26%, double that of the county. There has been little to cheer about in Clairton of late. Five years ago that began to change.

Coach Tom Nola arrived at Clairton High School decade ago to teach history. Instead he and his staff took a group of young men and made history. Nola can be referred to as "The Quiet Man" as he does not talk much. He rarely shows emotion and instead treats his players as adult employees rather than rah-rah kids. He assembled a group of former Clairton players and other successful coaches and together they discovered a winning formula.

The success started five years ago when the Bears won a WPIAL championship. Then they repeated that again and again and again. The past four years Clairton has been the WPIAL champs. In 2008, after winning the WPIAL they moved on to the State Championship game - which they lost. But wait! There's more!

In 2009 they again won the WPIAL, defeated other challengers in the semis and moved on to the State Championship game which they won. Ditto 2010. This past season they started the season against a school from a higher division and defeated them. The next six games were shutouts including an 84-0 shellacking of one hapless challenger. This despite the fact that Coach Nola took our all his starters by halftime and had his players take a knee on several points after touchdowns. This was to be a team of destiny.

Last summer they entered a Red Bull-sponsored Pittsburgh area 7 on 7 passing tournament that included all divisions. They won the tournament and were invited to participate in the national competition in Dallas. With the help of Board Members and several boosters, arrangements were made and the entire team boarded an airplane for the first time. None had ever flown before! They were the only single A division team in the tourney and played against Division 4 through 7A teams, several of whose football teams had ten times the budget, enrollment, and number of coaches as did Clairton. But the Bears were not intimidated and they knocked of top level teams from Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas to qualify for the finals. A 5-A team finally defeated them and Clairton came home second out of 153 teams.

Here are a few examples of Clairton Bears football successes over the past half-decade: They won an unprecedented third State title in the recent championship game. By doing so they broke a 51-year old record held by Braddock that had 46 consecutive wins. Oh yes, the win also positioned Clairton as the high school team with the longest winning streak in the entire nation, passing powerhouse Don Bosco Prep of New Jersey.

Another record and notes of interest include one set by center Carvan Thompson. He started every game since his freshman year and holds a record of 64 consecutive starts. It is a record that will likely never be broken. Third generation Clairtonian and Assistant Coach Wayne Wade starred on the CHS 1989 football team that also won the WPIAL championship.

Clairton Bears by the numbers:
Number of consecutive victories: 47
Number seniors at CHS: 48
Number of players on squad: 29 (includes JV players and one band member who plays at halftime)
Starters who play both offense and defense: 9
Record over past four years: 62-2
Points scored: 3,683-565
Average score: 41-6 (Mercy rule!)
Percentage of team that scores high honors academically: 66%
Average number of fans per game: 2,000

Every accolade placed on the Clairton Bear football team is deserved. But the system is one that some might take issue with. The very fact that Carvan Thompson set a record for 64 consecutive starts over his four year high school career means that he and other seniors on the Bear squad participated in more games over a four-year period than do most college football players and many professional football players. Sixteen games per season for a high school athlete whose body is still developing is simply too much contact. The Bears, whose weight and conditioning facilities pale in comparison to that of most of the teams they play, still have had excellent conditioning coaching as evidenced by the comparatively few injuries they’ve sustained over the long season. The state plans to cap the number of games played by a high school team at 15 next year, which is in my view, still too many. But by reducing the possible number of games per season, the likelihood of Carvan’s record being broken is remote. Even if another team (including Clairton for that matter) has a good enough athlete to start as a freshman and that athlete has the good fortune to avoid injury, suspension, or academic disqualification, and the school has a four-year run of championships, the total number of games that will be played is now 60, not 64.

How ‘bout dem’ Bears?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bearly Winning


Bad news for opponents, that is: The Bears and their fans must have been singing “Don’t Let Your Heart be Snowbound” as they ambled up to the football field at Slippery Rock University’s Mehilak-Thompson stadium (not sure whether or not the stadium was named after Capri and Carvan Thompson) to challenge the undefeated Sharpsville Blue Devils. While the Blue Devil fans bedeviled CHS boosters with their taunts, the bush league radio announcers who egged on the situation by repeatedly disrespecting CHS fans, some of whom had the audacity to sit on the wrong side of the stadium (Don’t you people know your place?). Of course, according to the talking mouths on the radio, not a single Blue Devil fan said anything untoward. They just sat there with their hands folded on their laps.

WRONG! Our fans, like our team, takes not quarter and gives none. They don’t look for trouble but neither do they back down. Like the players on the field, they will not be intimidated by foul-mouth bullies. They will give just as good as they get. And they did.

The game started and the Blue Devils were destined to fall just as the snowflakes were falling on the field. Admittedly I was not at the stadium but it seems to me that 11 penalties for 75 yards while the other side got, (let’s see… I’ll get my calculator out…. Hmmmm…. Ok, got it) zero flags for zero yards…. I wonder when the refs last had their eyes checked. It appeared to be 1-2-3-4. Who’s the referee for? But the Bears did as they’ve done for the past 46 football games…. they overcame the hostile fans, the partial announcers, and the questionable calls and non-calls, and tied a 50-year old Braddock record for consecutive wins.

CHS records: The Clairton Bears’ victory gives them a 15-0 record for the season and ties a school in New Jersey and eclipses a Nevada school record for the longest win streak in the nation. Next up, District 4 champ Southern Columbia at Hersheypark next Friday December 16 at 1:00 pm. There will be a tailgate before the game, beginning around 10:30. Hoping to see plenty of Orange and Black at the game.

Back to the Sharpsville game: Scoring machine Tyler Boyd ran for two touchdowns, one and four yards, and caught a 70-yard pass from Capri Thompson for a third. But in the fourth quarter CHS tried a trick pass play to Brian Clifford. The ball was tapped into the air and retrieved by Capri who went down and stayed there until he was carried off the field. After sitting out a few plays, Capri pulled a Ben Roethlisberger and came back into the game, ankle sprain and all. He (Capri, not Ben) will be good to go for the Hershey game.

Blue Devil quarterback Henwood made the mistake of trying to force a pass over linebacker Devante Gardlock inside the CHS 20. Gardlock tipped it and Carvan Thompson snatched it and headed for the goal line 80 yards away. But Carvan, who holds a record for the most consecutive games started, is a lineman, not a running back or wide receiver, and linemen just don’t run that far. After 50 yards he got tired and handed the ball to Terrish Webb who did the honors and scored the final TD. The Bears could have scored again in the final moments but with the game already in hand they let the clock expire.

How amazing are the Bears? This will be the fourth consecutive year they will have played for the State Championship. In 2008 they lost a heartbreaker to Steelton-Highspire. In 2009 they defeated Bishop McCort, and last season after being down for most of the game, they staged a thrilling comeback victory over District 2 champ Riverside. A victory next Friday will set even more records, but regardless of the records, we congratulate the students. teachers, coaches, parents, boosters, and administrators who have worked so hard to support our hometown.

Keeping the Student in Student Athlete: For the most part the Bears perform as well in the classroom as they do on the field. More than half the team has a 3.0 (B) or better grade point average. One team member, I am told, is on track to finish first or second in the class. These are students who have earned respect and deserve our support. But not every CHS student has the good fortune to have his future helped along by his athletic ability. Too many graduate and are slapped with the reality of poverty and lack of employment.

CHS graduate Terrence Fort has helped put together a mentoring program for CHS students. The program needs successful CHS alumni who have the time and willingness to take a high school student under their wing and offer support. The ideal candidate would live near enough to Clairton to drive to the school, but even for those of us who live thousands of miles away but are willing to come home for a first face-to-face visit, can continue a mentorship electronically. I urge you to become involved in this worthwhile program. Email me at the email address below and I will forward your email to Terrence. Go Bears.

A little blogging music Maestro… how about the Clairton High School fight song once more..

Dr. Forgot
email: drforgot@cox.net

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Every hame sets a record

The Bears played unbeaten Sto-Rox in the quarter finals. The Post Gazette picked Sto-Rox in a close game. Final score: CHS 52 Sto-Rox 6. Next up, semi finals against North Star, 10-1. Final score Bears 44 North Star 0. The season is over for the 11 seniors on the North Star team. Next up Sharpsville. If the Bears are able to get past them this Friday, it is on to Hershey and the state championship game.

Back to the North Star game. Last year in a similar playoff game, CHS trounced North Star 56-0. This year Clairton kicked off and held North Star, then took over and on the first play from scrimmage, Tyler Boyd scampered 83 yards for a TD then ran in the extra point. CHS 8. NSH 0. Clairton kicked off again, then got the ball back. First play from scrimmage Capri Thompson hit Trenton Coles over the middle for a 39-yard touchdown. CHS 14, NSH 0. Later another 70 yard pass play for a TD to Titus Webb. And so it went as out Bears won their 45th consecutive game.

There are only two teams in the nation with a win streak longer than the Bears. One is from New Jersey, and the other is a team from rural Nevada that plays 8-man football, but both have completed their seasons, which means if the Bears win out they will have won an unprecedented third state title, broken the 50-year old Braddock record for consecutive wins, and possess the longest winning streak in the country. But as Coach Nola says, "One game at a time."

Next game will be against Sharpsville with the venue not yet announced, but there will be a person in the stands who cannot lose. CHS grad Lee Weber, CHS '60, attended college and became a Methodist minister. Now retired, Rev. Weber lived and pastored in Sharpsville for eight years. So in case he asks, do not make a bet with him that his home town team will win the game.

Several readers have asked if there will be a booster bus that will travel from Clairton to Hershey in the event that our Bears win this Friday. At the moment, nothing is planned, but should the Bears win Friday, we will discuss the possibility of transport, tailgates, get-togethers, etc.

Please email me with any ideas.

See the Kennywood rides: Kennywood has been a favorite place to go for over a hundred years. But in the winter? Yup. This year the owners of the park have turned it into a winter wonderland of a million lights with festive activities, choirs fireworks, and rides. In addition to the usual Kennywood characters there will be of course, Santa Claus. Lights come on every weekend at 5 p.m. This is the first December in 114 seasons that the park will be open.

A little blogging music Maestro: " Oh When the Saints Come Marching In...."

Dr. Forgot
email: drforgot@coxnet

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bears and such


Where does the time go? It has been six weeks since I’ve posted. Several readers even emailed me to ask if I was all right. Well, that’s debatable, but all my parts seem to still be working (ok, MOST of them). Each morning I’ve sat in front of my computer with the thought that I need to post. Then I start with the email, do personal business, do business business, and before I know it my computer time (about seven hours each day) has elapsed. I have made so many acquaintances via the Clairton blog that I will make a more concerted effort to write on a more regular basis.

Our Bears continue to growl: For those who have not kept up on the latest edition of the Clairton Bears football team, they have won the state championship for the past two years and currently have the second longest win record in the nation. Their victory over Sto-Rox cemented them as WPIAL champs for the fifth time in the past six years. The game against Sto-Rox (both teams came into the game 12-0 this season) was touted by a Post-Gazette writer as Clairton’s last game as he predicted a Clairton loss in a close game. Our Bears forced five turnovers and annihilated their opponents 42-6. It could easily have been worse.

Most of the team members are also scholar athletes. The quarterback could graduate as the class valedictorian. He has received looks from Ivy League schools as well as the Naval Academy. The star running back has received letters of interest from every major university in the country and he is just a junior! Most of the players are also honor roll students. This is such a special group.

This weekend the Bears will play in the quarter-finals game for the state championship. If they win they will move on to the semi-finals and a victory will send them to Hershey to play for their third consecutive state championship. A victory in that game would also break a record for consecutive wins. But every game this team wins breaks some kind of record.

Hunting Bears: With the long run of success a topic for debate has been how Clairton would fare in Class AAAA or AAA. Coaches Nola would like the team to open next season against a Class AAAA or AAA opponent, but no higher classification team is interested. It might have something to do with the fact that CHS has won 43 consecutive games.
Ok, how about a scrimmage against a Class AAAA or AAA team? Sorry, no takers for that either.

Some random stats: CHS currently has a 43-game win streak, the second longest in WPIAL history. The Bears are three away from the longest WPIAL winning streak (46 by Braddock from 1955-60). The Bears would have to win this week, next, and State in Hershey for the PIAA titles in order to break the record.

CHS has a 41-game conference winning streak while Thomas Jefferson's conference winning streak is at 38. Many forget that the Bears spawned TJ in 1959.

Nothing brings a community together like a winning sports team. I’ve seen what the 1960 Pirates did for the city when they won the World Series. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a Final Four, a Super Bowl, and several college bowl games. In every case, the pride that the community had in itself as the result of the success of their team has been phenomenal. Can the successful Bears do the same for Clairton? It already has.

Terrence Fort, a 1976 CHS alum has begun a mentoring program for Clairton students. He has enlisted the help of several other grads including Dr. Pauline Long. Dr. Long was a high-risk kid who became a single mother at age 16. Her focus and determination got her into Pitt where she earned a bachelor’s degree then an MBA and a Doctorate in Science from Robert Morris. There are so many stories of successful CHS grads such as Dr. William King who was bused to CHS and went on to become a noted professor and author. In fact, no less a celebrity than Russian President Vladimir Putin lifted part of one of Dr. King’s books to be included in his (Putin’s) dissertation.

Terrence Fort is looking for other mentors who would be willing to work with CHS students. If you have the time and an interest to help young people become future leaders, drop me an email and I’ll forward it to Terrence.

On the political front: Two candidates won Democratic contests in Clairton and netted enough Republican write-ins to have both party nods for council. They are former fire chief John A. Lattanzi and chamber of commerce president Kathy Grisnik Tachoir. Tachoir survived a primary race with Councilman Lamont Andre Lewis and former councilman Domenic J. Curinga.
For Clairton City school board, Tachoir's husband Roger was unopposed both for an at-large seat. He's on both party ballots as is incumbent Robert A. Harrigan. Also unopposed were Democrats Sue A. Wessel, an incumbent and Jennifer Linnen-Williams.

Life is fleeting: We must note the passing of Flossie Carter last month. She was born in Alabama but moved to the area when her son got a job in the Clairton Works. Flossie loved in Homewood with her daughter until recently when she moved to Heritage Place in Squirrel Hill. She passed last month at age 111.

A little blogging music Maestro… how about the Clairton High School fight song.

Dr. Forgot
email: drforgot@cox.net

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mansions of Clairton and Jefferson


Family mansions: Anybody who grew up in Clairton in the “good old days” remembers two huge houses. One, built in the early 1900s, was actually in Jefferson Borough, just up the hill from Century Townhomes, nee Woodland Terrace at the confluence of Desederio Blvd. (nee Woodland Avenue), Ridge Road, and High Road. That mansion was built by Mr. Bickerton, a well to do prominent Clairton homebuilder. It was appointed beautifully with imported glass and hand carved wood and sat on several acres.

About the time that mansion was being built a young man named Albert George emigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon and settled in Clairton. He was a merchant and opened a store across from the mill gate. As his business prospered he returned to his homeland, married, and brought his young bride to Clairton where they planned a family. Eventually their ten children outgrew their humble living quarters and the merchant began to look for a larger home with acreage for farming.

At the time there were two large houses in Clairton; one had been built for the superintendent of the Coke Works and the other the one mentioned above owned by Mr. Bickerton. The father of ten walked the distance from the store to the house and asked Mr. Bickerton to sell the house. The owner refused to sell, so he walked back to his home.

The following week Albert again walked from the mill gate to the mansion and again was rebuffed. He continued this regimen each week until Mr. Bickerton finally relented and sold him the large house and accompanying five acres. Mr. George moved his wife and children into the pristine mansion and maintained its beauty. Several of his daughters would be married there and the wedding festivities often lasted days. Guests who traveled long distances were invited to stay at the mansion.

By 1951 the children were all grown and gone and the house became too much for the aging couple so it was sold to a local dentist, Dr. Joseph “Doc” Wrobleski. Most of the acreage around the house was retained and several homes were built for family members.

Dr. Wrobleski had planned to move into the house but after the purchase he discovered to move beyond the Clairton city limits would require him to give up his seat on the school board. He had served long on the Board and decided not to move in so the house was left it unoccupied for the next three decades while Dr. Wrobleski lived, ironically, on Bickerton Drive in Clairton.

Local youngsters began to refer to the large unoccupied mansion as the “haunted house.” Vandals broke into the house on several occasions and stole or damaged many of the fine hand crafted wood items and much of the original glass.

By the 1980s Dr. Wrobleski turned the mansion over to his son and wife, Robert and Pam who began to restore it to its original beauty. Robert passed away in 2003 but Pam continues with the restoration. The house is currently listed on the Allegheny County roster as a Historical House.

The mansion on Mitchell: Another mansion was built in Clairton at the highest elevation possible at the time, where Mitchell Avenue and Sixth Street meet and become Wylie Avenue. The location selected by U.S. Steel was ideal because from its vantage point, the spectacular view of the mill was available. George Thorp purchased four lots from the St. Clair improvement Company on July 12, 1902, and in 1905 he sold the land for $2,373 to the Clairton Land Company who had the house built. It was built during the first decade of the twentieth century and named for its first resident, Superintendent Henry J. Davis. George Belback purchased the house in 1958 for $29,000. Various executives lived in the mansion over the years, but we all know what happened to the steel industry during the 1970s and 80s. As the steel industry in the area faltered, so did what was arguably one of the most beautiful home in Clairton. The grounds were left unattended and nature took its toll on everything from the brick fence that surrounded the mansion to the steel insets within the brick fence. Nature even played one recent nasty trick when a windstorm took down the beautiful hundred-year old huge tree that had lent shade and glamor to the back yard. But a couple determined to preserve the grand mansion had purchased it and moved in.

Rebecca Starr and Don Fry were a couple of Pittsburgh kids who attended Peabody High School. Don and Becky bought the house in 1997 and began their mission to bring it back to its old glory. The house suffered from extreme neglect for four decades and the new residents were committed to change that. When they first looked at the place Rebecca immediately fell in love with the 17 stained glass windows. The discovery of four beautiful windows in the living room was a wonderful surprise to the new residents as they had been covered in plastic, window blinds and draperies. The mill mansion was designated a Historical Landmark in 2009 and is officially called "Superintendent Henry J. Davis House, U.S. Steel, Clairton Works."

One resident of the house during the Great Depression was Frank Marquard. Upon his retirement he moved to 420 Halcomb Avenue. Tragedy would strike the Marquard family when his son Victor died as a result of an auto accident. Victor was driving on Route 51 near Elizabeth when he was involved in a minor accident. He got out of the car to talk to the other driver when another car came along and hit him, amputating his leg. The driver of the car that caused the second accident said he would get help, but never returned. He was eventually caught and tried for manslaughter. Victor died in McKeesport Hospital and was laid out in the mansion. Victor’s mother was a Heinz. Many Heinz relatives and what seemed like every resident of Clairton signed the condolence book.

Rebecca and Don have had some superb experiences in their home. One day when they were in the sunroom they heard a noise and went to investigate. A love letter that has been hidden (stuck inside of the radiator cover) fell to the floor. It had been taped there, but the tape had dried out. It is unsigned but dated January 1935.

They heard about the piano that Mr. Marquard had during his tenure at the mansion so they tracked it down, purchased it, and brought it “back home.”

One day a couple of gentlemen came up the driveway and knocked on the door. They were grandsons of Henry Davis, the home’s first resident. There have been many such experiences for the couple since they’ve lived in Clairton’s most famous mansion. I hear a rumor that there might be a tour of some of the finer houses of Clairton during the Christmas holidays. If that tickles your fancy to the point that you might want to be part of it, email me and I’ll pass your information on to Don and Becky. Many of my blog readers have commented that Clairton history should be memorialized. Perhaps a Clairton Historical Society can be established…

Rebecca and Don are blessed with fantastic neighbors who not only help look after the house, but several who have restored their own beautiful homes. My own fantasy is that once Route 43 is completed to Pittsburgh, of perhaps even sooner, Clairton will be rediscovered with its low taxes and beautiful homes just aching for restoration. I see young urban professionals willing to make the drive into the ‘Burgh each day. Clairton is not far away from its rebirth as a bedroom community.

A little blogging music Maestro… how about “Brick House” by The Commodores.

Dr. Forgot
email: drforgot@cox.net

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Clairton - issues and people

Clairton Highlights

Clairton football: There are so many stars on the CHS football team this year. Among them is Tyler Boyd. He has the potential to easily exceed 500 yards rushing this season. Against Western Beaver he rushed for 203 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries. He sat out the entire fourth quarter and was named Daily News Football Player of the Week. Just a junior, Boyd has already caught the eye of several major colleges. His coach, Eric Fusco, sums it up: “He’s a coach’s dream.”

Clairton loses a native son: Robert Herron passed away recently in Florida. He would have celebrated his 83d birthday September 15. He was born in Clairton and graduated from CHS in 1946, played catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates farm team and served in the Korean War. He moved to Florida in 1959 and became a deputy sheriff, rising through the ranks to Major and was the first member of that department to graduate from the FBI Academy. Bob Herron served in many capacities during his career in law enforcement including Chief of Park Police and Chief of Security for the Juniper Hills Golf Club. He was also an avid golfer. Like so many Clairtonians, Bob Herron left his mark on the world of law enforcement. Robert G. Herron, Clairton Boy.

And a native daughter: Genetta Kimbrew Boston Mann devoted her life to children – not only her own, but to those who sought the knowledge she was able to help share. Genetta understood non-traditional students first hand. A graduate of Clairton High School she was in her 40s by the time she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Chatham in 1990. She was a single mother raising three sons while working at clerical jobs. Her practical life experience meshed with her formal education as she emphasized high achievement among her sons and her students. Son Russell is a chemist and PPG executive. Sons Brandon and Darnell are also successful.

Genetta was immediately hired by Chatam to run their Gateway program, and then earned a master’s degree from Duquesne University in 1996, sending her to work in the City schools. She worked successfully in several schools and in 2005 moved to the Perry Traditional Academy. She had suffered from sickle cell anemia throughout her life and lost her battle at age 62. Genetta Mann, mother, teacher, educator, counselor, Clairton gal.

Marcellus Shale controversy: Some hail the Marcellus Shale drilling for natural gas as a godsend to the Clairton area. Many contracts have been signed including the Clairton Sportsman’s Club. But other community groups throughout the South Hills have organized in opposition to the drilling operations, particularly in residential areas, local golf courses and country clubs. A group in Jefferson Hills has joined with the South Hills Area Against Dangerous Drilling, or SHAADD. Members of the two groups have set up several informational meetings to make the community aware of a situation they claim could be dangerous and ruin the lifestyle they currently enjoy. Drilling companies have responded by filing court briefs to counter the protesters. This looks to be a long and brutal fight on both sides.

The other side of the argument: Executives from U.S. Steel and Chesapeake Energy visited the Irvin Works facility recently where there is a natural gas filling station. The station has been operational since June and serves five vehicles that carry and ferry workers to Clairton Works and other facilities. According to one executive, natural gas saves about 61 cents for every mile driven, burns more efficiently, produces fewer emissions, and lowers maintenance costs. He calls the Marcellus Shale boom the best thing to happen in the past 25 years. By converting a fleet of 4,900 trucks to natural gas the projected savings are $250 million per year. The official, who was paid $21 million last year, called critics of shale drilling “fear-mongering extremists.” No sugar coating there.

The positive side of Clairton: The sixth annual Community Day was held recently at the Clairton School District Education Center. Free hot dogs, burgers, and such were available as well as ethnic foods and homemade baked goods. Events included free children’s games, face and t-shirt painting, pony rides, and drawings. UPMC McKeesport offered medical testing. It was a fun day with music by Besame, dancers, church choirs, a motorcycle and Corvette cruise, and many other fun activities. Chamber of Commerce official and event co-chair Kathy Tachoir said, “We want to show the positive side of Clairton.” Bravo.

He wasn’t always a doctor: Many of us reflect about Clairton of the 1950s and 60s. In those days CHS was bursting at the seams with post-World War II babies. We bused in kids from Elrama, Finleyville, West Mifflin, Pleasant Hills and other surrounding communities. For many, even for Clairton kids who had spent their first eight years in parochial school, coming to CHS could be intimidating. CHS was one of the few schools that held swimming classes and the boys swam in the nude. It could easily be intimidating for those newcomers to CHS.

Such was the case with Bill King; a “township kid” who came to CHS as a ninth grader in 1952. His previous school consisted of four rooms with neither indoor plumbing nor central heating. It is a far cry from his career as a professor at the University of Pittsburgh. What follows are excerpts from an article Dr. Bill recently wrote for the local newspaper.

“I met my first girlfriend, also a township kid, on the school bus. We went to football games with her older brother driving us around. Unfortunately, she moved to another state shortly thereafter, and there was no one to replace her.
I became a ‘class clown,’ probably as a pathetic way to get attention. I never passed up a chance to get my class to laugh or to break a rule to drive a teacher nuts -- a typical teen ‘smart aleck.’ However, the last day of ninth grade and the first day of 10th grade changed my life forever.

I became a "class clown," probably as a pathetic way to get attention. I never passed up a chance to get my class to laugh or to break a rule to drive a teacher nuts -- a typical teen "smart aleck." However, the last day of ninth grade and the first day of 10th grade changed my life forever.

On that last day, I met a Clairton girl on a field trip to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. We spent the whole day together. She begged off her plan to eat lunch with her friends to be with me.
When we got back to school, I walked her home to Woodland Terrace and hitchhiked home. We saw each other a few times over the summer at Clairton Pool, where I tried mightily to impress her with my swimming and diving. But since I had the social skills of a rock, I did nothing over that summer to otherwise contact her.

The first day of school in 10th grade, I got off the bus and there she was waiting for me. She took my hand, led me aside and we decided to be a couple. Although the relationship lasted only a few months, it was through her that I met a beautiful redhead named Fay Bickerton, who became my new girlfriend and, subsequently, my wife of 53 years.

The second big thing that happened that day was that I was summoned to the principal's office, something that had happened a number of times the previous year. "Holy cow," I thought, "how could I be in trouble so soon?"

The principal was sitting at the head of a table with every one of my teachers in the other seats. "Bill, do you remember the IQ test that you took near the end of last year?" I mumbled in the affirmative although I really didn't.

"Well," he said, "it showed that you have the highest IQ of anyone in your class. You've been getting good grades, but not the excellent ones that you should be getting, and we're not going to tolerate that anymore.

"Moreover, I understand that you've been a 'wise guy.' We checked with your parents, and they were shocked to find out about your behavior. So, we're not going to tolerate that either. Your teachers and parents have all agreed that if you don't shape up immediately, you're going to be spending many hours in detention after school and on Saturday and be very restricted at home."
I was stunned. All I could say was, "Yes, sir."

The shallow depth of my teenage rebellion was revealed by my reaction after thinking it all over. "The jig is up," I thought. "Unless I change, I won't be able to see my new girlfriend much."

Also, I knew that my father, who was the president of the Union Township School Board, would come down on me hard after finding out that as soon as I'd gotten away on my own in the big city, I had shamed the family.

I had no real choice. I had to shape up. I adopted a new persona -- a guy with a steady girlfriend who effortlessly got very good grades. Later in the year, I got a bid to become a Top Hatter -- part of a fraternal club that had many of the coolest guys in the school as members.

If that day hadn't happened the way it did, I probably wouldn't have met my wife, who didn't even go to Clairton High until the next year. And if my teachers and the principal hadn't taken an interest in me, who knows how far my teen jerkdom might have gone?

I ended up graduating eighth in my class of 450 even though I didn't do any time-consuming "extra credit" assignments that most top students did to get superior grades. I spoke at commencement and went on to get a Ph.D.

And I often think of how that day in 1953 changed my life.” Dr. William King, Clairton boy.

A little blogging music Maestro. “Down Home Blues,” by Etta James and Otis Redding.

Dr. Forgot
email: drforgot@cox.net

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A busy long Labor Day weekend


The Labor Day weekend: Last Wednesday I flew back to Clairton for the long Labor Day Weekend. Trips back home are always refreshing. Yes, the community has been reduced from the booming metropolis of some 22,000 people, all of whom were as employed as they wished to be. There were three movie theaters “on the hill” and another one in Wilson. There were dozens of car dealerships of every stripe including Zupancic Lincoln Mercury right across the street from the football stadium. Ed Sullivan made a visit for their grand opening, as Lincoln-Mercury was one of his TV show’s sponsors. Today barely 8,000 residents call Clairton home and the media does its best to feature every shooting, drug bust, and other wart on the nose of the city. Many homes and businesses are abandoned and long gone are not only the theaters and car dealerships, but residents must go to Glassport, Elizabeth, or other communities to do their grocery shopping as no grocery store remains. The neighboring steel mills that once provided the tax revenue that was the lifeblood of our community have all closed except the Coke Works that continues to belch out pollution at a rate that makes the Clairton-Glassport air the third and fourth most polluted in the nation but offers little terms in a tax base.

The credit side of the ledger: New Orleans had Katrina, parts of Florida and the eastern seaboard have been inundated with storms from time to time but with the help of federal revenue, FEMA, and other assistance agencies, they have bounced back. Clairton has enjoyed none of the federal help and their trauma has caused injury not from one quick hit, but from decades of bleeding and with little outside help for recovery. But Clairton residents are strong. School Board President Richard Livingston, Vice President Paulette Bradford, and the other Board members work tirelessly to keep the schools on track. Most recently the Clairton schools made AYP (Annual Yearly Progress), which shows academic achievement and progress using national measures. The football team under the direction of head coach Tom Nola and his staff have won two consecutive state championships and came in second out of 163 schools in a tournament that included much larger schools.

Thursday pep talk: Thursday Jim Kelly came to town. Jim is one of two consensus All Americans who graduated from CHS. His is one of two photos and plaques that are above the entry gate to the stadium. Jim went on to star at Notre Dame and become a two-time All American while there. He was drafted 26th by the Steelers but was injured during his first season and was traded to the Eagles where further injuries cut short his pro career. Jim used himself as an example as he spoke to the team after practice. He stressed the importance of not only winning on the field, but also using athletics as a springboard to earn an education after high school. It was an inspirational speech and players listened intently.

Friday night game: The 1-A Bears rolled over the 3-A Washington Prexies by a score of 41-12. The game was well attended including several alumni who had come from around the country to attend the annual multi-year reunion held the following day at Clairton Park.

Saturday reunion: Everybody thinks their hometown is unique and special, but let them try to top this: For a couple of decades Clairton alumni have celebrated an annual reunion in Clairton Park. (This is in addition to the annual Clairton Reunion in Florida!) Each year more people came to reflect, visit old friends, and get caught up. This year all records were broken as more than 900 people attended with classes represented from 1935 to 1971. Once again my favorite attendee was Jennie Peterson, CHS class of 1935. She was a Prince before she became a princess. Many CHS alumni remember her brother, Joe Prince, local insurance agent and accordion player. Prince Printing on St. Clair Ave. remains as a family legacy although founder Ray Prince has moved on to national prominence in the printing industry and now lives in Dakota country.

In addition to the far reaches of PA, alumni came from Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia as well as Washington, D.C. and Toronto, Canada to attend this annual gala.

Others came for their class reunions; class of ’61 held their 50th reunion, Class of ’51 held their 60th and many used the event to celebrate with family and friends. But it was not all play and no work for some. Committee members did a superb planning for and managing the festivities, and the grub wasn’t bad either. (I saw who went back for seconds and thirds but your secret is safe with me)

Bill Bennett played a major part in seeing that the Bears received an invitation to play at the Dallas 7 on 7 tournament and that all their needs were met including food, shelter, and transportation. Alum Bob Yaksick, now a resident of Dallas, played host to the team and helped with the arrangements. When Red Bull decided to film the Bears and feature them on a national TV show, Bill arrived early from Phoenix, met the camera crew, and played host, scouting locations to film and helping to identify locals to interview. Jim Sieffert came from Tennessee, Geno Tolari from California, and Jim Kelly from New Jersey blended with locals Anna Marie Bochter, Ron and Adele Kunz, and a host of other locals to enjoy the weekend.

Among the many enjoying the reunion were Donald Taylor, Brian Weber, Carol Benedetto Walsh, Emily Planich Parks, Dr. Walter Cooper, Sue Wessel, Kathy Sutherland, Vanda Bennett, Bernice Mackintosh, Shelby Lancaster, Dorothy Smoyer, George and Peggy Herman Pacich, Judy Wolf, Roosevelt Boozer, Emanuel Belland, Bev Alcorn, Lenny Baughman, Dorothy Svacs King, Dick Smith, and John Casaldi.

The committee that worked so hard to set everything up and assure it went smoothly included 24 alumni from the classes of 1949, 51, 52, 54, 55, 56, 58, 60, 61, 64, 65, 68, 69, and 71; a classic example of the camaraderie of CHS alumni!

A little blogging music Maestro… “Come Go With Me,” by the Del Vikings.

Dr. Forgot
email: drforgot@cox.net

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Clairton Bears - Russian Bear


The Labor Day weekend: As always, this is special in Clairton as it is the time when alumni from many graduating classes come together for a picnic in Clairton Park. This year will be even more special. Thursday, September 1 the Steelers play their last pre-game against Carolina. It is an away game and me spies tell me that a large group of CHS alums will watch the game at a sports bar on 51. Friday is the season opener for the Bears against the Washington Prexies. It will be alumni night and Red Bull will be there to film the game for a five part series about the Red Bull championship featuring the Bears as one of the finalists. A major network is supposed to air it on national TV this fall. The Bears, of course, came home with the silver – placing second out of 163 teams. If you live driving distance from the stadium, try to get to the gams. What a statement it would make for the alumni to fill the stands. Saturday is the annual multi-year (1935-1972) alumni picnic in Clairton Park.

Recent Bear accomplishments: Our school and community have shrunk in size since the steel industry evaporated, but the spirit is as strong as ever. The football team won two consecutive state championships and came in second out of 163 teams at the Red Bull 7 on 7 tournament in Dallas. When the team flew to Dallas for the competition it was the first plane ride for EVERY ONE of the players. Oh, did I mention that 1/3 of the championship team had grade point averages of A- or higher and another 1/3 had grade averages of B or better. This group of young men is special. They exude what a scholar athlete should be – great players, great students, great citizens!

Economic crisis: Nearly every state, including PA cut their budgets. That included the amount of money that goes to fund education. The Clairton School District took a huge hit and lost several employees. Budgets have been slashed to the bone, yet our Bears continue to perform at the highest level on and off the field. Now it is your turn to help. The team would not have been able to make the trip to Dallas without financial support. Key alumni dug deep into their pockets to help fund the trip but those bills now need to be paid. Any amount will help; $ 5 or $ 500 or anything between. Monies will be disbursed by the school and will be used to cover expenses that can no longer be covered by the budget.

Several players and coaches will be on hand to sign autographs at the reunion and tables will be set up where donations can be made. CHS and Notre Dame All American Jim Kelly will address the team. If you are unable to make it to the reunion you may still help by sending your tax-deductible donation to: Clairton Bears Athletic Academics Association, c/o Fran Geletko, 667 Sixth Street, Clairton, PA. 15025

You can follow the Bears on Facebook at “Clairton Bears Football” http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clairton-Bears-Football/203907057891 or by following super fan Beverly Bailey Alcorn on Facebook.

More CHS reflecting: Toni Dobos, after a fun but exhausting day in Kennywood with three generations of her family ponders, “What ever happened to that lunchtime treat Cho-cho?” I’m not sure but personally my favorite was the sticky buns that were baked right in the school cafeteria. My parents would give me a quarter to buy lunch but instead I’d buy a sticky bun and a bottle of chocolate milk for a dime and pocket the other 15 cents.

Phyllis Tansky remembers the rec room above the fire station where kids could go to play checkers, and other board games including caroms. Caroms, for you youngsters, were similar to billiards except instead of billiard balls small wooden rings were used and instead of a large felt table the surface was smooth and wooden. Caroms were played during the summer in most playgrounds available around from the football stadium to Woodland Terrace to Clairton Park and many other locations.

You’ve gotta watch those Ruskies: Bill King, CHS ’56, became a full university professor at Pitt. Dr. King professed, as professors do, eloquently both verbally in the classroom and on paper. He published an amazing 300+ academic papers, received lifetime achievement awards as well as being elected to serve as president of a professional society. All that would be more than enough for Dr. King to be recognized as expert in his field, but his most noted achievement came almost by default. He authored 17 books. How good was his material? Good enough to be stolen!

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin served as the second president of the Russian Federation and is currently the prime minister of Russia as well as commissioner of numerous other areas. He is a highly educated man with a master’s degree in economics. His dissertation focused on planning in the natural resources sector. It was brilliantly written during the 1990s with cutting edge data…. So cutting edge that it had been written 20 years earlier by none other than Clairton’s own Dr. Bill King! Seems that Putin lifted part of his dissertation from Dr. King and his co-author, another Pitt professor. One more example of a life of intrigue by a hometown resident. Dr. Bill King, Clairton boy whose work was plagiarized by Vladimir Putin. Since Vlad was in charge of the Parliament, called Duma in Russian, you might consider his Masters a Dubious Duma Degree.

Finally, Jim Gilchrist sent me the following quote. ""The past is never dead. It's not even past." -- William Faulkner (1897-1962). That says it all.

A little blogging music Maestro… how about “Your Cheatin’ Heart” by Hank Williams.

Dr. Forgot
email: drforgot@cox.net

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Something old, something new...

Welcome newbies: I recently added a gaggle and a heap of email addresses of former and current Clairtonians to my database. The result is that I heard from many new readers (newbies if you will) and a host of regular readers. Today’s blog is dedicated to all the new readers.

Angeline Clark Lancaster Fry sent some rich Clairton history. She remembered fondly Johnny Moio and attending St. Josephs Elementary School. Angie left the confines of Wilson for Florida several years ago but her four young ‘uns, all CHS grads, returned to the area. Angeline’s family was part of Clairton’s commerce. Her grandparents owned Sgroi Market, Uncle and Aunt owned Rose Flower Shop, and she owned Angie’s Hallmark Shop. Hubby Captain Thomas S. Alvord is a Hawker pilot. He started flying in the early 1960s and has not stopped. He’s flown for PPG Industries, H.J. Heinz, and has his own flying business. Angeline and Tom. A Clairton couple.

Professor Gordon Hitchings spent a career teaching future leaders of America at Edinboro University of PA. When he decided his tenure was up, Dr. Hitchings hung up his academic regalia and emulated the Eddie Albert character on the TV sitcom Green Acres. He became a farmer. Dr. H tends 312 acres in Northwestern PA. Dr. C. Gordon Hitchings, professor, farmer, Clairton boy.

Phyllis Grayson Tansky grew up on Vankirk near the Sugar Bowl and could easily walk to the stadium for CHS football games, although I’m sure she’d rather walk down Miller Ave. to see the band and Honeybears strutting their stuff up to the stadium. Her sister Sophie still lives a few houses down from the house where I grew up. Small world. Phyllis now lives in a Clairton alumni enclave in Elizabeth Township.

Dr. Bob Vitori might not have been the model for “Painless Waldowski," the dentist in the movie M*A*S*H but he did serve as a dentist and officer (and a gentleman we are certain) in the U.S. Army, retiring as a Colonel. He and Clairton gal and wife Nancy moved to my current hometown of Las Vegas where he became one of the best boxing cut men (the guys who stop boxers from bleeding between rounds) in Vegas. He worked over 80 prize fights including three championship fights. His ring name was Dr. Boo. Dr. Bob Vitori, Clairton boy.

Of alumni, teachers, and fans: One of the most iconic figures from Clairton High School was a kid who played in the band, graduated, then returned to become one of the most beloved teachers ever at CHS. Don Taylor is as much Clairton Bear as anybody who ever walked the hallowed halls of CHS. He is a wealth of information and a fountain of enthusiasm. In his most recent missive he shared the following: Joyce Milton (CHS ’63 – and he even remembers where she sat in his classroom) was one of several Bears who went to Swarthmore. She has written “The Rosenburg File,” which Time magazine lists as one of the best books in the past 50 years. She also penned “First Partner, Hillary R. Clinton,” which got rave reviews.

Clairton High’s mascot was once the Orange and later became the Cobras before becoming the Bears. Clairton also had a semi-pro football team called the Cokers coached by Guy Mills. Other semi-pro teams that would have given the Steelers a run for their money included Monessen Ravens, McKeesport Ironmen, StoRox Cadets, Glassport Odds (who had a ringer – an All American from Columbia), and other local teams. CHS Cobras had an outstanding back named Bubba Wade. Their players went on to star at Boston College, Navy, and other premier schools of the day. The Cobra’s uniforms were orange with black circles along the sleeves. The footballs were white with black circles near the tip. End zone tickets cost a dime. So did a bag of peanuts. Some skallywags would sell their tickets through the chain link fence and use the dime to buy peanuts.

Air raid wardens served as security and many ne’er-do-wells would wait for the playing of the national anthem when the wardens were required to stand at attention, then they’d scale the chain-link fence, roll over the barbed wire that topped it, and drop to the ground. Others would visit the stadium early in the day and tunnel under the fence. Then they’d return at the start of the game, remove loose dirt, and shimmy under.

The 1931 Clairton/McKeesport game was played on Thanksgiving Day and had an estimated attendance of nearly 18,000. Coach Woodman’s teams (he would later become CHS principal) had a record of 45 wins, one loss, and two ties and outscored opponents 1,013 to 63! The team included All American Andy Berchock who played at North Carolina and Ken Stilley, who starred at Notre Dame and returned to Clairton to become mayor while scouting for the Steelers. Their quarterback was Mr. Snizik, longtime physical education teacher at CHS. All this information courtesy of Don Taylor, Clairton boy.

Thanks for the input: Joel Suty, Dee Kruse, Carol Lancaster, Ed Auslander, Donna Lajack, Rick Terdine, Joe Sammartino, Carl Blackburn, Jill Urso, JoAnn Cicchini, Harry Gilmore, Nancy Little, Don Chalfant, and Jim Gilchrist were but a few who gave a holler over the back yard fence.

The REAL Dr. Forgot: During a conversation with one particular blog reader an issue came up regarding a Clairton icon. A couple of years ago I received an email that included a Post Gazette newspaper article about Rose Russo. Somehow the article fell between the cracks and all memory of it was gone from my too-often absent mind. The reader was kind enough to resend the item, originally published in 1974.

Russo’s family hardware store started in 1953 at 521 St. Clair Avenue. When the store opened Mrs. Russo didn’t know a nut from a bolt, but by 1974 she knew every one of the more than 50,000 different items in the store. If a customer did not know the name of an item she would ask them to describe what it is used for then come up with the name and the item.

The genesis of the store, which had an ambience more like an old time general store than a hardware store, took place when hubby Ralph, a machinist in the mill, decided to open an auto parts store. However, a salesman convinced them that there were already a plethora of auto parts stores and suggested a hardware store instead. So the two Russos, along with her brother Joseph Nanni, put up shelves and bought inventory. The rest, as they say, is history.

It was a true family business with sons Frank, Joseph, and Ralph and daughter Angela, all taking their turns, as well as nephew Kim Nanni. Frank went on to become a commercial pilot and Angela a teacher at CHS.

The store stocked hundreds of faucets alone and had the ability to match more than 3,500 different colors and shades of paint. Rose Russo passed away earlier this year. She was an icon and typical of Clairton past that thrived on family businesses that included hardware stores, movie theaters, department stores, sport shops, and even mortuaries. Rose Russo, Clairton gal.

A little blogging music Maestro, "Those Were the Days," by Gene Rashkin.

Dr. Forgot
email: drforgot@cox.net

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Catholics in Clairton

I recently came across a fascinating history of the three Catholic parishes in Clairton. Read and enjoy, especially if you grew up Catholic in Clairton. Many of our CHS classmates attended parochial school up to the eighth grade. This is their history:


The present Saint Clare of Assisi Parish was formed in 1994 with the merging of St. Clare, St. Joseph and St. Paulinus Parishes. The contributions of the parishioners forged a rich history for each parish and these parishioners continue to contribute to the history and identity of the new St. Clare of Assisi. A history of the parish must therefore look at the history of the former parishes.

Saint Clare

The Parish of St. Clare was formed in the summer of 1895 as a mission of St. Michael Parish in Elizabeth. The T. Campbell Glass Co. offered a group of Catholics the use of a room in their building and the pastor of St. Michael`s agreed to have Mass there twice a month. In 1900 the Saint Clair Steel Co. began construction of a new steel mill. The local Catholic population grew to the point that the mission church required a larger meeting place. In 1901 the church was moved to a room on the second floor of the McBride Building where Mass was said every Sunday.

On January 15, 1903 the mission was established as St. Clare Parish and plans were made to construct a church. Property was purchased on Wilson Avenue and on April 24, 1904, Bishop Canevin dedicated the new church. St. Clare Parish remained a mission of St. Michael`s until the rectory was completed in April 1907. At this time the parish numbered about 100 families.

On Sunday January 6, 1924 the church was completely destroyed by fire. After four hours, all that remained of the church was the chimney and part of the belfry. The parishioners of St. Joseph Parish offered to share their facilities with the people of St. Clare but the church was too small to accommodate the growing parish. Mass was held every Sunday at the Church of the Ascension until a temporary church could be built on the site of the former church. The temporary church was completed in the summer of 1925 and used for many years.

On May 10, 1953, ground was broken for a new church, school and convent complex on Miller Avenue between Wilson and Park Avenues. Bishop Dearden dedicated this complex on August 12, 1954. This is the present school building.

Saint Joseph

The opening of the St. Clair Steel Co. in 1902 attracted many Slavic immigrants who settled in the area. The immigrants attended Mass at St. Clare Church or traveled to Holy Trinity Slovak Church in Duquesne. They asked Bishop Canevin to assign a priest to the area who understood one of the Slavic languages. He granted their request, and on March 25, 1911 St Joseph Parish was organized. The new parish met at the Greek Catholic Church on Park Avenue until a church could be constructed. On May 2, 1911 ten lots were purchased along Shaw Avenue and they were deeded to the Diocese of Pittsburgh on October 6, 1914. Construction of the church began in the summer of 1915, and the church was dedicated on July 2,1916. At the time of the dedication, there were 60 families in the parish.

The school was started in the basement of the church in 1917. The school was closed in 1923 because of the conditions in the basement. A new school was built and dedicated by Bishop Hugh Boyle on Sunday May 4, 1930. In 1962, a committee was organized for the building of a new church. Ground was broken on September 11, 1966 and Bishop Wright dedicated the church on July 14, 1968.

Saint Paulinus

The first Mass in the Wilson district of Clairton was said in 1920 in the Knights of Malta building by Father Walsh, the assistant at St. Clare Parish. Mass was soon moved to the social room of the Wilson Municipal Building as the number of
people attending increased. Bishop Boyle established the Parish of St. Paulinus on June 22, 1923. The first pastor, Father Lonergan lived at the St. Clare rectory until November, 1924 when a house was obtained to be used as a rectory.

The parish suffered set backs in the next years, loans to build a church were refused by banks and the parish`s vestments were destroyed in a fire at the Municipal Building in April of 1927. On Easter Sunday 1927, over 600 people attended two Masses at the auditorium of the Walnut Avenue School. In November 1935, the parish asked permission to build a church. It was depression times and money was scarce, so the parishioners under the direction of Father Lonergan designed and build the church themselves. The church was dedicated on Labor Day, September 6, 1937, fourteen years after the parish was established. The rectory was completed 5 months later.

In March of 1957, the cornerstone for the school was laid. The convent was completed three years later, in September 1960.

Saint Clare of Assisi

On February 12, 1994, Bishop Donald Wuerl merged the three parishes of Clairton into one, St. Clare of Assisi. This new parish draws on a history of three parishes that have cooperated with each other over the years, having shared clergy and helped each other whenever necessary. The new parish is reaping the rich harvest that was sowed by the parishioners of the former parishes as well as establishing its own history. The above history focused mainly on buildings and construction projects since the history of the Catholic community in Clairton is still being lived. One hundred nine years after the Catholic Church came to Clairton, they are still a pilgrim people who strive to love and serve God and each other.

A little blogging music Maestro, Ave Maria" by the church choir.

Dr. Forgot
email: drforgot@cox.net

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Oh those Bears

Item first: A newspaper article about our Clairton Bears who tiptoes into Texas aboard their first flight EVER (no kidding, It was the first airplane ride for every single one of the 14 Bears who traveled).

South Xtra: Clairton stuns 'big boys' in Texas 7-on-7 tournament
Thursday, July 28, 2011
By Nicholas Tolomeo, Tri-State Sports & News Service
Mid-July brought a lot of firsts for the 14 member seven-on-seven football tournament team contingent from Clairton High School.

The group hopped on an American Airlines direct flight from Pittsburgh to Dallas. It was the first time any of the 14 players had flown.

They spent two nights in the Hyatt Summerfield Suites, the first time many of the players from the dying steel town stayed in a new hotel complete with rooms featuring 32-inch flat-screen, high-definition TVs.

Other firsts included dining at the well-known Campisi's Italian restaurant in downtown Dallas and touring Dallas Cowboys Stadium.

But once the Bears stepped between the lines and tournament play began, they were right at home. Clairton shocked nearly everyone involved with the tournament by finishing as runners-up in a field of 161 teams, most representing schools that are much, much larger.

The Clairton High School team will open the 2011 season riding a 31-game winning streak that includes back-to-back PIAA Class A titles. The squad features Pitt recruit Trenton Coles and Tyler Boyd, a rising junior. Coles and Boyd are recognized as two of the top athletes in the WPIAL regardless of classification.

One player who didn't make the trip was Karvonn Coles, a junior projected as the Bears' starting tailback this season. He sustained a serious knee injury before the trip and will likely miss the upcoming season.

"They are so good," Clairton coach Tom Nola gushed. "They were as good as anybody down there."

Coincidentally, Coles, Boyd and the rest of the Bears almost never got a chance to get down there.

Thomas Jefferson was the only team to defeat Clairton at the Woodland Hills seven-on-seven tournament and TJ was in line to receive the bid to the Dallas tournament. But the Jaguars had another commitment. Then those involved with the tournament heard of Clairton's record over the past few years and extended an invitation to the Bears.

With a $10,000 price tag for flights and hotels, it was unlikely the Bears would get to see how their talent stacked up against the rest of the country.

Then some Clairton alumni led by Bill Bennett stepped in. A 1960 Clairton graduate and former Bears quarterback, Bennett, a Phoenix resident, heard of the news online.

Item second: Bill Bennett, who deserves the bulk of the credit for putting the package together and lobbying Red Bull until they considered giving them a fair look sent the following email:

If you will bear with me for one more article re the Clairton Bears miraculous performance in the Red Bull 7 on 7 National Championship, I promise you will not be bombarded with their every success in the future. Here's the recap that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.


If Red Bull follows through on their promise to cover the Bears opening game and then feature them in a five part series about the tournament that is supposed to air in November on national tv, I will forward email about that and one more if they win another PA state championship.

To those who have offered to "donate", before starting a funding campaign I am trying to get a 501(c)(3) number and aggregate all emails for Clairton alums in one place. After that is accomplished, I will forward email with directions. Just when you are about to give up on mankind, the generosity of "strangers" keeps one working on worthy causes. I assure you the Bear players are most appreciative of even the smallest donation. They literally have nothing but the ground they practice on. Thanks for your interest and help.


We will provide further information once a mechanism has been decided upon to offer donations to support the victorious trip to Dallas.

Item third: It is with deep sympathy that we offer our condolences to Sue Wessel on the recent loss of her husband James. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Sue and her family.

Item last: Everybody I talk to about high school alumni is amazed at the cohesiveness of CHS alumni; their loyalty, their reunions, and the annual Reunion in the Park. This year the reunion will again be held at Clairton Park over the Labor Day weekend. Information can be found at: http://chsreunionpicnic.com/newsofinterest.html

A little blogging music Maestro, From the musical, "My Fair Lady," On the Street Where you Live.

Dr. Forgot

Sunday, July 17, 2011

More Bear Accolades

Never say never: Bill Bennett has a personality disorder. He refuses to listen to what “they” tell him. He’s been that way as long as I can remember. In gym class more than half a century ago “they” told Bill he was too short to dunk a basketball. He took a running start and like Spiderman, “walked” himself up the pads behind the basket, and dunked the basketball. “They” told him he was too small to play football on the vaunted CHS Bear team, but he consistently zigged and zagged his way up and down the field, including one touchdown run that he completed minus one shoe. (see yearbook photo above) He continued his football pursuits at Rutgers University then moved to Sacramento where he started Clairton Financial, Inc. and later to Phoenix where he continued his investment career. But Bill still refused to listen to what “they” had to say.

Bill recently heard that the Bears had won a 7 on 7 football tourney in the Greater Pittsburgh area but “they” said that since TJ had defeated the Bears in an early round of the double elimination tourney, the Bears would not be invited to the prestigious Red Bull sponsored Gamebreakers tourney on the SMU campus in Dallas. Besides, even if the Bears received an invitation there was too little time to plan the logistics and no money to send them, “they” said.

So Bill contacted the folks at Red Bull and provided them with the rich football history of the “Little Class A School That Could.” He showed them that CHS had not only won the Class A State Championship two years running but had also defeated teams from much larger schools. But “they” were still reluctant. You see, participants in the Red Bull Tournament which was being held on the Southern Methodist University campus were the giants of high school football from Texas, California, Louisiana, Florida, and other football power states. The 5-A teams would surely crush little old Single A Clairton “They” said. But Bill invoked his personality disorder and persisted until the folks at Red Bull took a deep breath and invited the mystery team from the Pittsburgh area.

Bill had gained support from Bob White, Sue and Jim Wessel, and other current and former Clairton residents and Bear Supporters. Community businesses and friends of the CHS program dug into their own pockets to front the money to pay for the plane fare, motel rooms, and other expenses. CHS alum and current Dallas resident Bob Yaksick became the “local” anchor man to help with ground activities, and the Bears arrived at the tourney as the smallest school to march like lambs to the slaughter at the hands of the giant 4A and 5A teams from football power states.

Some of the 23 teams represented large schools from Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, and Colorado that brought a couple dozen kids each as well as cheering sections and supporters galore. CHS brought 14 players which meant the Bears often had to play both offense and defense using the same players during the worst heat wave in the history of Dallas. The CHS lads played well and when the Public Address announcer said that CHS came from a community of only 8,000 residents and had a graduating class of 60, the crowd gave the Bears a standing ovation.

The Bears started their 7 on 7 games as one of more than 160 participating teams and knocked off Goliath after Goliath until they got to the Final Four. They won again, defeating another large school, Houston’s Westside, by a score of 26-14 putting them in the grand finale against nationally ranked powerhouse Arlington Martin. Finally, the Bears went down to defeat, taking second place in the tourney. Powerful Evangel Christian of Shreveport, LA finished fourth. ESPN reported, “Martin then handed Clairton its first loss of the double-elimination semifinals, 24-12.

“Clairton, a Pittsburgh-area school with an enrollment shrunk by the closing of nearby steel mills, earned its way in the finals by defeating third-place Westside, 26-14.”

Congratulations Bears. Hold your heads high. You are the champions of Greater Pittsburgh, of Western PA, of PA, and now you've brought home the Silver against some of the most powerhouse teams in America. Bravo!

On a related note, Clairton’s own Desimon Green, as well as McKeesport linebacker Branden Jackson will head for Lubbock, TX in a few weeks when they report to Texas Tech University as freshman football players.

There weren't only coaches and family watching the games. Reggie Bush (Saints) and DeMarcus Ware (Cowboys) were among the celebrities who cheered and inspired theCHS players.

The student athletes at CHS have demonstrated their academic prowess as well as play on the field. About 1/3 of the team has earned a grade point average of 3.5 (A-) or higher and another 1/3 are at 3.0 (B) or better. This is a special team. They share the legacy of the outstanding student athletes who have gone before them - student athletes like Bill Bennett - whose personality disorder - not listening to what “they” say and exceeding all expectations was pivotal in getting the Bears to Dallas. Here’s hoping that disorder affects this year’s team as well.

A little blogging music Maestro, How about the Clairton fight song? "It's Clairton High School. It's Clairton High School the pride of every....."

Dr. Forgot

Sunday, July 10, 2011

If you can read this thank a teacher

Occasionally I cpome across something that is worth sharing. Today's blog is such an item. I wish Mrs. Bayless, Miss Chottiner, Mr. Balta, and all the teachers who played such an important role in my live, but who now are gone, could read this tribute to them. Read and enjoy.

By: David Reber

I’m going to step out of my usual third-person writing voice for a moment. As a parent I received a letter last week from the Kansas State Board of Education, informing me that my children’s school district had been placed on “improvement” status for failing to meet “adequate yearly progress” under the No Child Left Behind law.
I thought it ironic that our schools were judged inadequate by people who haven’t set foot in them, so I wrote a letter to my local newspaper. Predictably, my letter elicited a deluge of comments in the paper’s online forum. Many remarks came from armchair educators and anti-teacher, anti-public school evangelists quick to discredit anything I had to say under the rationale of “he’s a teacher.” What could a teacher possibly know about education?

Countless arguments used to denigrate public school teachers begin with the phrase “in what other profession….” and conclude with practically anything the anti-teacher pundits find offensive about public education. Due process and collective bargaining are favorite targets, as are the erroneous but tightly held beliefs that teachers are under-worked, over-paid (earning million-dollar pensions), and not accountable for anything.
In what other profession, indeed.

In what other profession are the licensed professionals considered the LEAST knowledgeable about the job? You seldom if ever hear “that guy couldn’t possibly know a thing about law enforcement – he’s a police officer”, or “she can’t be trusted talking about fire safety – she’s a firefighter.”

In what other profession is experience viewed as a liability rather than an asset? You won’t find a contractor advertising “choose me – I’ve never done this before”, and your doctor won’t recommend a surgeon on the basis of her “having very little experience with the procedure”.

In what other profession is the desire for competitive salary viewed as proof of callous indifference towards the job? You won’t hear many say “that lawyer charges a lot of money, she obviously doesn’t care about her clients”, or “that coach earns millions – clearly he doesn’t care about the team.”

But look around. You’ll find droves of armchair educators who summarily dismiss any statement about education when it comes from a teacher. Likewise, it’s easy to find politicians, pundits, and profiteers who refer to our veteran teachers as ineffective, overpriced “dead wood”. Only the rookies could possibly be any good, or worth the food-stamp-eligible starting salaries we pay them.
And if teachers dare ask for a raise, this is taken by many as clear evidence that teachers don’t give a porcupine’s posterior about kids. In fact, some say if teachers really cared about their students they would insist on earning LESS money.

If that entire attitude weren’t bad enough, what other profession is legally held to PERFECTION by 2014? Are police required to eliminate all crime? Are firefighters required to eliminate all fires? Are doctorsrequired to cure all patients? Are lawyers required to win all cases? Are coaches required to win all games? Of course they aren’t.
For no other profession do so many outsiders refuse to accept the realities of an imperfect world. Crime happens. Fire happens. Illness happens. As for lawyers and coaches, where there’s a winner there must also be a loser. People accept all these realities, until they apply to public education.

If a poverty-stricken, drug-addled meth-cooker burns down his house, suffers third degree burns, and then goes to jail; we don’t blame the police, fire department, doctors, and defense attorneys for his predicament. But if that kid doesn’t graduate high school, it’s clearly the teacher’s fault.

And if someone – anyone - tries to tell you otherwise; don’t listen. He must be a teacher.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Players and heroes

If Everything’s Coming Your Way, You’re in the Wrong Lane!

Third Annual Golf Outing: One of my proudest moments came recently when I saw the readers of this blog and Facebook gather together to lend their support to help CHS State Champs get their richly-deserved rings. The Bears Athletic Club has purchased capes for the players as they stand on the sidelines during freezing PA winters, uniforms to replace torn, tattered, and repaired ones that have long outlived their newness, food during road trips, and many other ways of helping. The Bears responded not only on the field but in the classroom where a third carry grade point averages of 3.5 or better. That is a testament to the players, their parents who encourage them, their coaches who monitor them, and the faculty who teach them as well as the administration and school board.

Now it is time to step up again. The annual fundraiser for the past few years has been a golf outing. This year it will take place July 9 at the 7 Springs Golf Course in Elizabeth. With the economy struggling the numbers of participants has also been down and there is still room for golfers and duffers. Money raised helps continue the proud CHS tradition of athletic and academic excellence that has been in place for more than a century.

If you are local and participate, sign up now. If you are not a golfer but would like to help, you may sponsor a hole, contribute items to be raffled, or send a check to help the program. All donors will be recognized during the buffet and prize raffle. Please contact CHS Athletic Director Anthony R. Ferrare at ferrarea@clairton.k12.pa.us or phone him at 412.233.9200 ext. 1116.

Clairton superstars continue to shine:
Several members of the Bears State Championship team entered a seven-on-seven contest. Other schools participated and CHS beat some of the best talent from the biggest schools in the area. They dropped a game to TJ but were not eliminated and went on to win the tourney. The winner (CHS) of the tournament was beaten by their neighbor it was TJ who received an invitation to a seven-on-seven competition at the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas. A recent article in the local newspaper suggested that if TJ declined the offer, the Bears would be invited but there would be no money to send them. No invitation has been issued as of this writing.

Three standout Clairton players, however, were invited at the behest of the Gateway coach to attend an IMF John Madden all star game in Florida. This was an exciting honor as the trip would also serve as a college campus tour. The bus would stop at several campuses including Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, West Virginia and others. The local group of fundraisers provided the players with food and spending money and they took of earlt Thursday morning. By Thursday night they had seen U VA and were near the Duke campus when a tragedy occurred. On the way back to their hotel from dinner they crossed paths with some idiot hothead who was packing heat. He pulled the gun and fired blindly at the group, wounding two Gateway players, one fatally. Our boys were traumatized but not otherwise injured. What a sick tragedy.

Tragic gunplay victim a winner: Soldiers, fire fighters and police officers deserve special consideration. Jim Kuzak, Clairton police officer was rushing to the aid of a crime victim when he was shot. The 15-year police veteran who served in Peteers Township, Homestead, and Clairton was shot five times last April. He was shot twice in the bulletproof vest, once in his forearm, once in the side and once just above the vest, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Prior to the shooting Kuzak had planned to participate in a torch run with other law enforcement officers in an effort to raise money for the Special Olympics. Officer Kuzak didn’t let a little thing like getting shot deter him.

The shooting happened in April and Officer Kuzak has been wheelchair bound since. His goal was to hold the torch and travel 2.5 miles . His efforts have already helped raise a sizable sum. The full journey course goes from the PNC Park to State College, a 150 mile journey which takes three days. Participantsl carry the Special Olympic torch over the distance in an effort to shine light on the Special Olympics and to raise funds.

As the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run began on Route 22 Officer Kuzak was pushed in his wheelchair by his fellow Clairton officers, Chief Rob Hoffman, Sgt. Jim Corozza, Sgt. Joe Giles, Sgt. Keith Zenkovich, officer Dan Eberman, officer Brennan Jackson, officer Robert Pugar and officer John Skrip, along with runner John Dunlap.

The Law Enforcement Torch Run is Special Olympics' largest grassroots fund-raiser and public awareness vehicle in Pennsylvania. Thanks to the run, which brings donations through sponsorship of running departments, and other fund-raising events throughout the year, Special Olympics is free to participants.

The day of the run heat was oppressive, but the runners kept in their minds the Special Olympians, some of whom live in the city. The Clairton officers raised about $1,500 for the organization, a portion of the more than $57,000 generated by the torch run, which involves law enforcement from around the region and will end Thursday night in State College when thousands of athletes start the Summer Games.

And what of Officer Kuzak whose injuries could leave him permanently paralyzed? He and his family are encouraged by what he described as "walking sessions" in the past few days with the aid of braces. Although the road ahead remains full of uncertainties he returned home last month and requires regular physical therapy to build his upper body strength.

A not so stupid 68-year old: After being married fo 50 years, a fellow we know took a careful look at his wife one day and said to her, "Fifty years ago we had a cheap house, a junk car, slept on a sofa bed and watched a 10-inch black and white TV. But I got to sleep every night with a gorgeous, hot 18-year-old girl.“

“Now ... I have a $500,000.00 home, a $35,000.00 car, a nice big bed and a large screen TV, but I'm sleeping with a 68-year-old woman. It seems to me that you're not holding up your side of things."

The wife is a very reasonable woman. She told him to go out and find a hot 18-year-old girl and she would make sure that he would once again be living in a cheap house, driving a junk car, sleeping on a sofa bed and watching a 10-inch black and white TV.

A little blogging music Maestro... “The Way We Were," By Barbara Streisand.

Dr. Forgot


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Clairton loses a gem

Clairton Boy Lost

The father: Mike Vucin was born Milan Vucinovich to Eastern European immigrant parents. His parents lived in a duplex on Arch Street overlooking the Coke Works. His first name soon became Mike to his Anglo school mates and his last name proved to be cumbersome especially while he served in the Coast Guard during World War II. After he returned home from the war Mike shortened his last name to Vucin. Mike Vucin was a shy, quiet man beloved by all who knew him.

When Mike returned from the war he purchased a home in Malmady Village, located on the edge of Keenan Field. Malmady was named after the site of a battle in Europe and its homes were built quickly and cheaply for the onslaught of returning servicemen. He and his wife moved into the small home with their son, Milan, Jr. and daughter, Kathleen.

Mike worked hard in the mill, lived frugally, and saved as much money as he was able. Finally, as the children were moving toward adolescence Mike bought a beautiful home on Route 885. The move meant that his children would not attend Clairton High School, but the newly CHS-spawned Thomas Jefferson.

The Son: Milan, Jr. began to grow into manhood even before he hit adolescence. He was shaving before he was a teen and muscles bulged in his arms and shoulders. He was musically inclined and played clarinet in the TJ school band. But when the football coach saw him marching in the band he convinced Milan to march to the beat of a different drummer and thus, Milan the clarinet player became a football star. At first he continued to play clarinet in the band and refused to let his band teacher down, so the junior varsity coach agreed to allow Milan to play football during the first half of the game, then march with the band during halftime before returning to the game.

By his sophomore year Milan, often called Sonny, was a starter on the team and was such an outstanding player that he would eventually be named as one of the top 50 players in TJ’s first half-century of football.

But while Milan was enjoying accolades on the football field and being active in school politics, Clairton and U.S. Steel were having their first big recession since the Great Depression. Men, including Mike Vucin were being laid off in the local mill. After many months of not working, U.S. Steel offered several men, including Mike Vucin, an opportunity to work in their Morrisville plant, several hundred miles away - near Philadelphia. Six men, including Mike, took the offer and carpooled between Clairton and Morrisville, living there during the week and returning home on weekends. The work was filthy and difficult and as the half-dead men drove home each weekend to be with their families they would switch drivers every hour to keep from falling asleep.

One by one the men gave up on working across the state. Each one dropped out except Mike who continued to work in the mill and eventually was given a promotion into management and increase in salary. Thus, he moved his family to Levittown, sold the house on 885, and began the fourth and final phase of his life. He had gone from Arch Street to war to working in the Clairton mill and now he and his family would settle in the other end of the state.

The TJ football coach was devastated. His top defensive player was leaving. The only solace he took was that Sonny would be far enough away so as not to play against the team he’d left behind.

The Vucin family bought a home in Levittown and Milan enrolled in Pennsbury High School which he immediately took by storm. He was an excellent student and planned to become a dentist. He took several leadership positions in the student body and soon became one of the most popular boys in the school. By this time he and the most popular girl in the school became sweethearts. He shined on the football field too. The Pennsbury coach switched him from defense to fullback and Milan proceeded to set record after record. Soon scholarship offers began rolling in from every major football program in the country.

Milan chose the University of Maryland; far enough to be away from home but near enough for his dad to drive down on weekends to watch him play against the likes of Roger Staubach and other big time players of the day. But college coaches were not as tolerant as his junior varsity coach who let him play both in the band and on the field. When Milan began to miss practice because of the chemistry lab classes and other pre-med obligations, the coach told him to make a decision – play football or lose his scholarship. So Milan changed his major to Psychology.

By the time his college career was over his high school sweetheart had become a “stewardess,” as they were called in those days. Milan took a job with U.S. Steel so he could work with his dad. When his dad retired Milan went into business nad once again was a star at everything he tried. A few years ago he retired but to keep busy took a job as a limousine driver. Ever the charmer he loved his clients and they appreciated his adroitness as a driver and conversationalist.

Eventually the pounding his body had taken as an athlete and the routine part of his limousine job that included lifting heavy bags began to take their toll. It started as lower back pain then moved up to his shoulders and neck. The pain was so excruciating that he became housebound. It happened so quickly – just a couple of months. Last weekend Milan Vucin, Jr. passed away. One of the best to ever come out of Clairton is gone. Milan Vucin, Clairton boy.

A little blogging music Maestro... “As Time Goes By” by Billie Holliday

Dr. Forgot