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