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

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