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

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