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

No comments: