Voices from Duquesne – October 5, 2015

It’s been a while since I last posted anything new to our blog. I seem to having longer and longer dry spells between posts, and I apologize for that. I would love to be able to post more and more, but unfortunately, sometimes topics that haven’t been covered are hard to come by.

I am sure that there are topics that I haven’t written about that you would like to see covered. If that’s the case, PLEASE, email me your ideas. I would REALLY appreciate hearing from you. In the meantime, I am posting some recent emails that you’ll enjoy AND that might provoke thoughts of subjects that I need to discuss.

Please feel free to comment on this post, or email directly at duquesnehunky@gmail.com. I can’t wait to hear from you!

I grew up in the Riverview housing Project in Duquesne Annex and graduated from Duquesne High in 1959. I recently went back to the project and found it to be just as nice as it was forty years ago.

I can’t say the same for Duquesne itself. I was active in the Duquesne Works Local 1256 until the day it shut down, and was active in trying to save the plant. My experience with some city officials left me with bad feelings about Duquesne.

In 1982 I was quoted by local news media, that Duquesne would turn into a slum if the mill shut down. Duquesne’s Mayor responded by saying he was going to sue me for false statements. He claimed that the Duquesne Works was lined up to create 2500 new jobs with a new ethanol plant as soon as the mill was demolished. He said that the town was better off without the mill. He claimed that few Duquesne steelworkers lived in Duquesne and all they did was throw trash on the street when they came back and forth to work.

I understand why USS wanted to shut down the plant. They wanted to slim their steel-making capacity to 65% of the market, which reduced their capital costs. What I can’t understand is why some City officials took the company’s side in the struggle to save the mill. Duquesne is the only company town I know of that remained a company town after the company left.

When the mill shut down completely, I was invited to be on a committee that would decide how federal redevelopment money would be spent. When Duquesne officials found out, I was excluded. My mantra then was that Duquesne should concentrate on being a place people wanted to live. If redevelopment money was spent on good schools and living amenities like restoring the water plant (remember when Duquesne had the best drinking water in the country?) it would become a desirable place to live.

In 1982 the CBS Sunday Morning program came to Duquesne for a week, filming a story about the mill. I drove the story’s director around Duquesne to film the neighborhoods. She commented to me that Duquesne was the only blighted city she experienced where everything was clean. No garbage in the yards and street, and the old houses were well kept. I’m so sorry that Duquesne missed its chance to become a great place to live. I left Duquesne to live in Munhall. It was a wise move. I love Munhall, but I miss the people of Duquesne.

On another subject; does anyone remember the man who lived in a shack near the VFW, and stood on the corner of Grant and First, bumming cigarette butts from motorists stopped for the traffic light? Was it Sava Iccotch?

-Mike Bilcsik

I am facing a serious operation April 28. Before then, or after, if lucky, I would like to buy a large quantity of nut rolls to freeze. I bought some in Cokeburg last summer while attending a town event. I was reared in Point Marion, and now reside in Berkeley Springs WV. My father was a coal miner 48 years. Price is no object, but they must be real hunky. My grandmother was a terrific baker of them. Any sources, private or business?

-Many regards, John Gabor

Hello cousin Jim,

Was putzing on the computer and read your blog about Babba’s pocketbook.  OMG.  I can see the list of items as if I were in the same room.  Like mother, like daughter, I can picture over half if not all of those same items in my Mom’s “ pocketbook “

I enjoy looking at all the blogs from time to time.  Great memories.  Thank you.

Somehow I think tonight’s dinner is kielbasa, sauerkraut, and mashed potatoes.

-Michael Stepetic

Hi,  my name is Nancy Butler.  My husband’s family owned Butler Brothers Drugs in Duquesne many years ago.  Recently my daughter said that she really wanted a photo of the “friendly store at the top of the hill” for her nursery but we do not have one.  Do you have any suggestions who might own such a photo and be willing to lend it to me.  Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance.

-Nancy Butler (married to David C. Butler since 1969)


We are hoping you or your readers can help us remember this card game we played many a night at the long kitchen table when visiting our grandparents on Wilmot Street in the 50s and 60s. We remember that each person had three pennies; you were dealt some cards and kept passing some on until you won and hollered, “Dipsy Doodle!” It was great fun for kids and adults, but now none of us remembers more about how to play. For us, it is a strong link back to our long gone grandparents, Wilhelmina and Ludwig Schorr. Help!

-Mary Ossi and brother John Ossi


-Lou Andriko

Hello James,

My name is Aashti Miller; I study architecture at Cornell University in Ithaca, USA. I came across your amazing website and you make a reference to 248 photographs that Barry Long had sent you. I was wondering if there was any way I could access these. I only plan to use them for my academic research! Let me know if this is possible!

I appreciate any help/resouces you could provide me with!

Thank you,

Aashti Miller

B’Arch ’17

Cornell University

September 23, 2015

My name is Dave Adam and I came across your blog from a friend in Jefferson Borough who posted you on her FB page. I myself am not a Duquesne Hunky, but I can identify with so much of what I have read on your blog. A little about me. I grew up in West Mifflin just across the bridge from Duquesne Place. I lived at the corner of Outlook Drive and Glencairn, and my bedroom window overlooked Kennywood. Graduated from West Mifflin North in 1972 (when we still had two high schools). I was a member of BS Troop 302 at First Presbyterian Church on Duquesne Blvd. My family attended church at Christ Lutheran Church at Kennedy and S. Fourth streets. Dad worked as a payroll accountant at the Duquesne mill until he was transferred to Monroeville. I didn’t have a full time job at Kennywood, but for a number of years I was one of the locals who signed up to be in the parades as sign carriers or characters, or if you were really lucky a spot on a float! My aunt worked for years, at the round refreshment stand next to the carousel, making candy apples and French waffles. My brother was a maintenance man for a good number of years, and his main priority each morning was inspecting the Jack Rabbit. And my mother worked at the restaurant near the offices.

When I graduated High School, I thought I would end up being a “mill hunky” pushing ingots or something. Instead , about a year later, I got a job offer in Houston, Texas and have been here ever since. I still call Pittsburgh home, more specifically the Steel Valley area. I love to come home and visit when I can, but I have fewer and fewer relatives there. Mom and Dad are gone but my brother and his family still live near Homeville.

Like I said, so many of the items on your blog take me back because even though I was from WM, I spent a lot of my time in Duquesne. I even lived there for a while in the apartments on Commonwealth behind WMHS. In fact, when my first wife and I moved in there, they were brand new and we were the first to set up housekeeping in our apartment!

Well, I have to go and read some more of your blog , and I hope we can share other memories in the future.

Dave Adam

From Tim Weaver :

Searching online I found this post:

The Slovak Civic Federation of Duquesne, PA was founded by Duquesne resident, George L. Vesonder of Duquesne. With the encouragement and help of two other friends, many Slovaks of Duquesne were soon contacted to meet at Mr. Vesonder’s home on Patterson Avenue on December 12, 1937.

At the meeting, Mr. Vesonder presented the need to form an identifying organization as follows:

“since other nationalists of Duquesne had organizations functioning and what an advantage such an organization would be to the Slovak people of Duquesne in the City’s civic life, there certainly wasn’t any reason why the Duquesne Slovaks could not form an organization.”

A second meeting was held on December 23, 1937, in the Duquesne City Council Chambers. Twenty-six (26) Slovaks assembled to listen to Mr. Vesonder  present the purposes of the assembly and lobby for located club room facilities and a membership drive. Slovaks attending registered as follows:

  • George Michalo,
  • Michael Fedor,
  • George Sabol,
  • John Durkaj,
  • John Kaus,
  • John Cvejkus,
  • John Zahorchak,
  • Mike Dobrancin,
  • John Rimsky,
  • Joseph Mihal,
  • John Hoblack,
  • Andrew Cmar,
  • John Liska,
  • Michael Kushmir,
  • John M. Kulha,
  • Paul Kulha,
  • Frank Vamos,
  • Paul Hrubej,
  • Michael Hudak,
  • Michael Sabol,
  • John Lenhart,
  • George Benedict,
  • Andrew P. Durik,
  • George L. Vesonder

Temporary officers appointed were: George L. Vesonder, President; Frank Vamos, Vice-President; Andrew P. Durik, Secretary; Michael G. Phillips, Financial Secretary; George Benedict, Treasurer.

A membership committee consisting of Paul Hrubej, Michael Hudak, Michael Sabol, and John Lenhart was also appointed.

In 1938, the first duly elected Officials of the Slovak Civic Federation were: President, George L. Vesonder;  Vice-President, Frank Vamos; Secretary, Andrew P. Durik ; Assistant Secretary, Michael Fedor;  Financial Secretary, M.J. Phillips; Treasurer, George Benedict; Sergeant-at-Arms, George Ambro.

They also formed a Board of Directors (John M. Kulha, Michael Benedict, George Ruby, Michael Kushnir, Frank Watral, Jr., Paul Hrubej, Michael Horgas, Jr., Gabriel V. Kushner, Andrew Cmar, John Adams, John Bibza, John Hoblack). By-Law Committee (All Officers, George Pollock, John M. Kulha, John Bibza, Gabriel Kushner, Michael Benedict, Michael Krucik); House Committee (Gabriel V. Kushner, Joseph Jubak, Joseph Obsincs, Michael Chonko, Jr., Joseph Repko, George Pollock), and Membership Campaign Committee (Paul Hrubej, Michael Hudak, John Lenhart, Michael Sabol), and two Federation Stewards (Joseph F. Repko and Joseph Jubak).

The group’s federation club rooms were in Green’s Building Second & Third Floors on Grant Avenue in Duquesne. On January 11, 1939, the name of “Slovak Civic Federation of Duquesne, Pennsylvania” was registered with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of State Secretary and on February 21, 1939 the application for charter filed. The charter was obtained on March 6, 1939 thanks to Attorney H.M. Kowallis and subsequently recorded in Recorder Office of Deeds. Then later that year, the clubrooms were relocated to Fey’s Building on Duquesne Avenue.

In 1946 a building on the Corner of Fourth and Priscilla in Duquesne was purchased with $11 in the checking account and a generous loan from Mr. Meighen of the Duquesne City Bank. The first meeting in the new location was held on February 9, 1947. That year, a club liquor license was obtained. A few years later, a new addition building plan was started and finance committee appointed. On August 28, 1949, the first club picnic was held at “Huba Huba Park.”

The New Building addition was completed on December 10, 1953, and the first Children’s Christmas and New Year’s Eve party were held later that month. On May 6, 1954 a Grand Opening Banquet was held in the New Dining Hall.

On May 16, 1965, a Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Celebration Banquet was held with many local businesses and other organizations offering their congratulations. With its outstanding catering facilities and full course menus, the club was “the place” for “Hunky” (Slovak) weddings, anniversary parties, banquets and other large gatherings.

Sadly, with the closing of the Duquesne Mill, the deaths of long-time patrons and mass exodus of the younger generation of Slovaks, the club’s membership steadily declined. Still, many of the faithful (including my father) used to meet at the club on Sundays after church and occasionally during the week. In the mid-1990s after my dad had a stroke and gave up driving, I would give him a ride to the club on Sunday afternoons. Although he no longer ordered his double header special (opting for orange juice due to medical restrictions from alcohol), he still enjoyed visiting the club to socialize with his buddies. Eventually, circumstances made it so my dad could no longer visit.

But today, even if he were physically able, there is no longer a Slovak Club to visit. Sadly, like many other familiar venues in Duquesne and surrounding areas, the Slovak Civic Federation has closed its doors. The building on the corner of Fourth and Priscilla sits boarded up and still and the small parking area where you once could not get a space is empty. While inside, the echoes of polka music, the laughter of children waiting to see Santa, and the celebratory cheers for the 70s Steelers’ Super Bowl Dynasty team haunt the once crowded bar area and banquet hall. These are the voices of the past and the Duquesne that used to be.

Hello James,

My name is Pete Marovich and I am a documentary photojournalist based in Washington, SoldierD.C. I also work as a freelancer for media outlets such as Bloomberg News, Getty Images and European PressPhoto Agency.

My family is originally from Aliquippa where my grandfather and father worked in the J&L mill. My parents now live in Beaver Falls.

I came across your website “the Duquesne Hunky” while researching a still photography project I am working on about the steel towns around Pittsburgh.

I am very interested in photographing some of the people who grew up in these towns such as yourself as well as some of the landmarks in the area that are fading away.

I noticed that the Holy Trinity church there has fallen into disrepair and I was wondering if it is still standing.

I would be very interested in any help and guidance you may be able to provide for me in Duquesne.

Thank you in advance for any help you can give.

Best Regards,

Pete Marovich

To see some of Pete’s OUTSTANDING work, click on the link below tovisit his website:

Pete’s Website


My mother, Patsy Boronkay, graduated from Duquesne High school in 1953, and I spent a great portion of my childhood in and around Duquesne, McKeesport, Homestead and West Mifflin.  A few years ago, a friend and I drove around Duquesne to take photos of the old historic churches, one on every corner, each ethnicity to its own, some in use, others in disrepair.

I am a songwriter currently working on a song-cycle called RED BEETS AND HORSERADISH.

I hope to perform the songs with a small ensemble in little community theaters while a photographic slide-show is displayed. I don’t have a producer or backer or anything, just an independent labor of love.

I was looking for some photos on the internet that I might be able to use in the slide show and found your website.  Obviously, I’m thrilled and inspired.

I just kind of thought we should know each other, and maybe our two projects will intersect at some point.  Given that there is no money involved, would you consider allowing me to use some of the photos from your website in my slide show? All I can offer is to give credit where it is due and to potentially direct more people to your site.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Robert Wagner

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

In Tribute to a Friend

During my recent four month hiatus, I, no, WE lost a friend, mentor, neighbor and a true curator of all things Duquesne and Mifflin Township.




I began writing The Duquesne Hunky almost 5 years ago. Shortly after I began writing the blog, which by the way, I never suspected anyone would ever read, I received an email from Jim Hartman. The email was in response to a “roll call” I was trying to conduct to ascertain who was actually reading the blog. Being a very proud resident of the area, Jim was one of the first to raise his hand, along with his brother Alan, to say “I’m here!” His February 2011 response to the roll call read as follows:

Jim Hartman

  • Years_in_Duquesne = 1945 – 1960 Mother’s side arrived in 1908 (Slovak)

  • Where_do_you_live_now? = West Mifflin (near the airport)

  • comments = Enjoy the blog and brings back many early memories of my growing up in Duquesne.  Presently I am the founder and president of the Mifflin Township Historical Society. We currently have all the Duquesne, Clairton, Cloverleaf Bulletins and working on finishing the Homestead newspapers at our reference room in the West Mifflin Borough building.  If you should need any information, pictures, etc. please feel free to contact me.


Jim and I became fast friends during the months that followed, corresponding by email and exchanging photos, stories and information. In April of 2011, I made a trip to Duquesne to visit family and to finally meet Jim and explore his memories and his “baby,” The Mifflin Township Historical Society.

Our first meeting took place at the McDonalds on Lebanon Church Rd. near the Century III Mall. We sat drinking our “senior citizen” cups of coffee and prattled on for hours aboutdsc_0100 my blog, the connections he and I shared, the Historical Society, and our childhoods until Jim finally decided it was time to visit the Society office. As the day progressed, I did find out that Jim was very familiar with my own family, having been our mailman for a number of years on Thomas Street and working at Duquesne’s Post Office!

I followed Jim to the West Mifflin Borough building which is now located on the corner of Lebanon Church Road and Camp Hollow Rd. When Jim opened the door to the Historical Society’s office, I stood there in awe, surveying the enormous amount of materials that had been collected and constituted the Society’s data base. Historical maps, newspapers, yearbooks, magazines, government documents and banks of computers, printers and scanners lined every shelf and desktop in the office. What Jim and the society’s volunteers had been able to collect was truly overwhelming.

Jim was always ready and willing to share information about the area. It was during that visit in July that I was given what I consider the “keys to the kingdom.”  Prior to my departure, Jim shared the data base for past issues of  The Duquesne Times, The Duquesne Star and The Observer as well as a library of archival photographs. I will always be grateful to Jim for providing such an incredible information source for The Duquesne Hunky.

Thank you Jim, you’ll be remembered forever!


In final tribute, I am posting Jim’s birth announcement from the October 12, 1945 issue of The Duquesne Times. That announcement was the start of something big!! The birth announce is followed by a post that I posted in July of 2011 referencing much deserved recognition that Jim had received.

Birth Announcement

Congratulations Jim Hartman!

Posted on July 11, 2011 by Jim

CONGRATULATIONS! I was alerted to the fact that there was an article published in

the IN West Mifflin Community Magazine that paid homage to someone who has been both a friend and an advisor. Jim Hartman, President of the Mifflin Township Historical Society, received some much deserved praise with a full-page spread about his activities and that of the Historical Society.

The work that not only Jim, but the dozens of volunteers do is something for which we all should be very grateful for. If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit the Historical Society’s webpage, I have included a link below. I have also included a link so that you can view the entire “IN West Mifflin” Magazine.

Congratulations Jim, you certainly deserve the high praise!


The Mifflin Township Historical Society’s goal is to document, chronicle and preserve artifacts and sites of the historical significance from the original Mifflin Township of 1788. What was Mifflin Township is today Baldwin (part), Clairton, Duquesne, Dravosburg, Hays, Homestead, Jefferson Hills, Lincoln Place, Munhall, Pleasant Hills, West Elizabeth, West Homestead, West Mifflin and Whitaker.

While the website, http://www.mifflintownship.org, is still a work-in-progress, because the content is updated by volunteers, it is beginning to take shape as an excellent historic resource for the Monongahela communities it represents, the group also maintains a reference room in Suite 202 of the municipal building which contains various newsletters and other printed information, old yearbooks, historical maps, family photos and histories, and CDs of old newspapers from Clairton, Duquesne, Homestead and other communities. Donations of documents and other historical items also are welcome (in original or copy form).

The Mifflin Township Historical Society is run entirely by volunteers and its office and reference room is only open on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The office is located at 3000 Lebanon Church Road, Suite 202, West Mifflin, PA 15122. Other hours are available by appointment which can be made by contacting President Jim Hartman at 412.600.0229 or at ihartman15122@gmail.com.

To say that Jim Hartman has been keeping busy since he retired over a decade ago is an understatement.

The 65-year-old formal postal worker has always kept a busy schedule. When his daughters were younger, he coached their softball teams and was president of the band boosters.

Today, he keeps busy building and designing websites, acting as president of the Mifflin Township Historical Society, and volunteering with the West Mifflin Lions Club. “lt’s easy to sit around and complain about how bad things are,” he said. “l would rather get involved and make the bad things better.”

Hartman taught himself how to design and update websites using various software programs and now responsible for maintaining several dozen for local non-profit groups and businesses, including the site for the Mifflin Township Historical Society.

“I’ve always like history, even when I was back in grade school,” Hartman said. “lt’s the story of what we are and why we are.” When his father died in 1996, Hartman said he started researching that side of his family’s genealogy and initially had a difficult time finding any information. A mixed religion marriage in his family history alienated other members of the family and ties were broken.

Today, he’s the keeper of a family tree with over 5,000 names. Every time there’s a birth, marriage or death, his extended family calls him so that he can add the information to the database and expand the tree, and how relatives use the tree to explain their own roots to others.

“My cousin’s granddaughter took a three foot by nine foot copy of the family tree to school for show-and-tell,” Hartman said. “The kids in her class were very impressed. They got to see how all of us are related to each other in some way.”

From that point, his interest in history kept growing. Shortly before retirement he started the Mifflin Township Historical Society and approached the Homestead Historical Society into a merger.

“Mifflin Township at one time included Homestead, West Mifflin and a dozen other communities, so it made sense for us to combine our resources and form one organization,” he said. ”

As president, Hartman speaks to groups, maintains the website, and continuously adds materials to the organization’s reference room. He received some funding from the slate to transfer decades of out-of-print local newspapers from microfilm to CDs. Some of the old papers now on CD include the Clairton Crucible (last published in 1906) and the Duquesne Times. “What most people find interesting are the death notices and obituaries,” Hartman said. “|t’s a great way for them to research their own family trees.”

When he’s not building websites or gathering information for the historical society, Hartman can be found volunteering his time with the West Mifflin Lions Club. The Lions Club is an International public service organization probably best known for recycling used eyeglasses and paying for other vision services for the visually-impaired in the community.

In addition to the vision services, the 53-member West Mifflin chapter has helped the local food banks, purchased emergency services equipment for local EMS providers, and holds fundraisers throughout the year for different causes.

Hartman now serves as the district governor for several years and he traveled all over the state of Pennsylvania. He will finish the year as the immediate past district governor but said he plans to stay very active in the organization even though plans to stay very active in the organization in the years to come.

“I don’t plan on being a Lion in name only,” he said.


I have so much to share with you now and I cannot wait to take you on the journey back to our youth. I would be remise if I didn’t put in a plug for Jim and the Historical Society. Without question, every penny contributed to the Society by becoming a member is worth it. It pays for the equipment, the materials, the website and everything that is needed to maintain this wonderful “memory bank.”


Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

The World Touches Home

As I review past issues of The Duquesne Times, I occasionally come across articles that make me understand that living in Duquesne was far from living in a vacuum went it came to world events.

Case in point:

May 7, 2015 marked the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Lusitania. Some say 09_lusitania_merseythat this action by the Germans, was one of the catalysts that the eventually led to the United States involvement in World War I.

Page one of The Duquesne Times published on May 14, 1915 featured an article about one of Duquesne Mill’s own, a passenger on that fateful voyage. One thousand one hundred nineteen of the 1,924 aboard died that day, but fortunately, Mr. Dyer was among those who survived.  Mr. Dyer was not a resident of Duquesne, but rather an employee at the USS Duquesne Mill and a friend to his co-workers. The front page story read as follows:

 Mill Lusitania

I found the following animated depiction of the sinking of the Lusitania that was released in 1918. I find it fascinating to see how people were made aware of important events before the onset of mondern day technology. 1918 vintage animation of the 1915 event is by Winsor McCay.

“The Sinking of the Lusitania: An Amazing Moving Pen Picture by Winsor McCay”

Winsor McCay was a prolific cartoonist and animator in the early 1900s, and is toted as the father of the Sunday Comics. He is most famous for his serial comic series “The Adventures of Little Nemo in Slumberland” and the animation “Gertie the Dinosaur”, but  several other notable works by him are “How a Mosquito Operates” and “The Centaurs”.

“The Sinking of the Lusitania” is a ten-minute film detailing theGertie_the_Dinosaur_McCay torpedoing and subsequent sinking of the British passenger liner Lusitania on May 7, 1915 by a German U-Boat in WWI. The film, made in 1918, was propaganda meant to stir up anti-German sentiments among the populace (though how effective it was can’t be said as the war’s end was only months away by then), but the animation, stunning in its quality, continues to impress and move audiences today, over a hundred years later. That the film was made only three years after the Lusitania disaster itself means it is also the earliest documentary of the tragedy ever made.

Winsor McCay drew and inked every frame of the animation himself, and it’s said he created over 25,000 individual frames for the animation. A comical scene from the original film (which is missing from this video) shows him discussing with friends his idea to animate and document the disaster, and then couriers helping him carry whole barrels of ink. The live-action introductory scene can be seen here.

There are some historical inaccuracies in the video, namely that it was not U-39 that torpedoed the Lusitania, but U-20; Only one torpedo was fired at the Lusitania, not two (the second explosion, which was the vessel’s death knell, remains a mystery, and none of the theories of what it was have been definitively proven); and that the Lusitania sank in 18 minutes, not 15. Otherwise though the film is accurate, and it certainly does justice to the drama of the tragedy.


The Sinking of the Lusitania, 1915 

The Lusitania made her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York in September 1907. Construction had begun in 1903 with the goal of building the fastest liner afloat. Her engines produced 68,000-horse power and pushed the giant through the water at an average speed over 25 knots. Dubbed the “Greyhound of the Seas” she soon captured the Blue Ribbon for the fastest Atlantic crossing.

The British Admiralty had secretly subsidized her construction and she was built to Admiralty specifications with the understanding that at the outbreak of war the ship would be consigned to government service. As war clouds gathered in 1913, the Lusitania quietly entered dry dock in Liverpool and was fitted for war service. This included the installation of ammunition magazines and gun mounts on her decks. The mounts, concealed under the teak deck, were ready for the addition of the guns when needed.

On May 1, 1915, the ship departed New York City bound for Liverpool. Unknown to her passengers but probably no secret to the Germans, almost all her hidden cargo consisted of munitions and contraband destined for the British war effort. As the fastest ship afloat, the luxurious liner felt secure in the belief she could easily outdistance any submarine. Nonetheless, the menace of submarine attack reduced her passenger list to only half her capacity.

On May 7, the ship neared the coast of Ireland. At 2:10 in the afternoon a torpedo fired by the German submarine U 20 slammed into her side. A mysterious second explosion ripped the liner apart. Chaos reigned. The ship listed so badly and quickly that lifeboats crashed into passengers crowded on deck, or dumped their loads into the water. Most passengers never had a chance. Within 18 minutes the giant ship slipped beneath the sea. One thousand one hundred nineteen of the 1,924 aboard died. The dead included 114 Americans.

Walter Schwieger was captain of the U-Boat that sank the Lusitania. He watched through his periscope as the torpedo exploded and noted the result in his log, “The ship stops immediately and heals over to starboard quickly, immersing simultaneously at the bow. It appears as if the ship were going to capsize very shortly. Great confusion is rife on board; the boats are made ready and some of them lowered into the water. In connection therewith great panic must have reigned; some boats, full to capacity are rushed from above, touch the water with either stem or stern first and founder immediately.”

In the ship’s nursery, Alfred Vanderbilt, one of the world’s richest men, and playwright Carl Frohman tied life jackets to wicker “Moses baskets” holding infants in an attempt to save them from going down with the ship. The rising water carried the baskets off the ship but none survived the turbulence created as the ship sank to the bottom. The sea also claimed Vanderbilt and Frohman.

The sinking enraged American public opinion. The political fallout was immediate. President Wilson protested strongly to the Germans. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, a pacifist, resigned. In September, the Germans announced that passenger ships would be sunk only with prior warning and appropriate safeguards for passengers. However, the seeds of American animosity towards Germany were sown. Within two years America declared war.

I decided to look back a little further and came across the following front page article from the April 26, 1912 edition of The Duquesne Times.


If you enjoy these little snippets of history from Duquesne, please let me know, and I’ll keep on researching and posting them. Our hometown is obviously steeped in history, and it’s exciting to learn all about it.






Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Remember Him As Loving You

I am sure that many of you are aware that Fr. Dennis Colamarino, of the Christ the Light of the World parishes in Duquesne, lost his courageous battle against ALS on March 28, 2015.

I have spoken about Fr. Dennis several times in many of my posts over the past years. To say that he was inspirational would be an understatement. He inspired, motivated, counseled and blessed me, my family members and indeed, his ENTIRE community of parishioners from Holy Name, St. Hedwig’s and St. Joseph’s.

There is so much that can said about Fr. Dennis and the impact that he had on his Faith Community. There have been so many testimonials and articles written about this remarkable man of God.  However, Tara Hoover, Web and Social Media Manager for Christ the Light of the World Parish has memorialized Fr. Dennis in one very heartfelt image on the parish website.

 Fr. Dennis

Tara has also posted a video recording of Funeral Celebration of Father Dennis Colamarino held at the Holy Name Worship Site on April 11, 2015, and celebrated by Bishop David A. Zubik. You can view this recording when you the visit the parish website by clicking on the parish logo below and scrolling down their home page:



Fr. Dennis’s obituary read as follows:


1947 – 2015


Fr. DOn March 28, 2015, Fr. Dennis J. Colamarino, Pastor of Christ the Light of the World and St. Joseph Parishes, completed his Lenten journey and became Easter. He taught those around him how to live and love and showed them how to die with strength and dignity.

Fr. Dennis was born on December 26, 1947, in Pittsburgh, son of the late Felix and Florence (Deni) Colamarino. He attended St. Luke Elementary School in Carnegie and graduated from Canevin High School. He received his BA from Duquesne University and M.Div. from St. Francis College in Loretto. He was ordained on May 5, 1973, by Bishop Vincent M. Leonard at St. Paul Cathedral. He became a priest in the Diocese of Pittsburgh on May 5, 1973. He was the Parochial Vicar at St. Titus Parish, Aliquippa from 1973-1978, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Burgettstown from 1978-1983 and Holy Name Parish, Duquesne from 1983-1984.

He was named Pastor of Holy Name Parish from 1984-1994 and Administrator of St. Hedwig Parish from 1988-1994. In 1994, Fr. Dennis was appointed the first pastor of the newly formed Christ the Light of the World Parish where he served as Pastor until his death. In 1999, he was concurrently assigned Administrator of St. Joseph Parish in Duquesne. In 2003, he was appointed Pastor of St. Joseph Parish and continued to serve as Pastor until his death.

Along with his Parish responsibilities, Fr. Dennis has served as Deanery Director for the Steel Valley Religious Education Team, Defender of the Bond for the Diocesan Marriage Tribunal, Chaplain to the Duquesne Police Department, Duquesne Volunteer Fire Department and the Allegheny County Police Officers Memorial, Motivational Speaker on the AIDS Epidemic to High School and Church Groups, Co-Leader of Christ the Light of the World Parish AIDS Care Team, Liaison for Christian Associates of Western PA AIDS Interfaith Care Teams, Member and Vicariate Two Representative of the Priest Council. He frequently celebrated Saturday night Mass for the Steelers opponents when they played in Pittsburgh.

He was the brother of Arthur (Robin) Colamarino of Osprey, FL, Anita (Gary) Rosensteel of McMurray, Joan (John) Schlueter of Venetia, Mary (Phil) Shank of Carnegie, and Philip (Clare) Colamarino of Lake Mary, FL. He is also survived by numerous nieces and nephews.

Visitation will be held from 12-8 p.m. on Thursday, April 9, 2015, and Friday, April 10, 2015, in Holy Name Church of Christ the Light of the World Parish, 32 S. First, Duquesne, PA. A Vesper Service will be held on Friday evening (April 10, 2015) at 7:00 p.m. at Holy Name Church. The Funeral Mass will be celebrated by Bishop David A. Zubik on Saturday, April 11, 2015, at Holy Name Church at 11:00 a.m. Private family burial will be in Holy Name Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, Fr. Dennis requested that donations for “ALS Research” be made in his memory to the ALS Association Western Pennsylvania Chapter, 416 Lincoln Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15209.

Below is the post that I wrote nearly two years before his passing when Fr. Dennis first announced his battle with ALS:

CTLWI have often written about Fr. Dennis, Pastor of Christ the Light of the World, in CTLW Duquesne. Fr. Dennis is Pastor for the Holy Name site, the St. Hedwig site, and at the St. Joseph site. In December, 2011 after a visit to Duquesne, I posted the following: 

It was 8 a.m. and we headed to Duquesne to the 8:30 Mass at St. Hedwig’s on South 5th Street. It had been drizzling that morning, so the air was filled with the familiar smells of damp fallen leaves on the sidewalks and streets. I parked across from the church on 5th Street underneath one of the majestic sycamores that line the bricked streets. Churchgoers were filing into the church and it reminded me of an idyllic Norman Rockwell illustration from the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. 

St. Hedwig’s is the smaller of the Catholic churches in Duquesne. It offers an intimate setting for all attendees but doesn’t compromise on pure beauty. Even though I grew up in Holy Name Church, I have become very comfortable at St. Hedwig. My dad liked attending mass there and since his death, I have continued to do so as well. 

To tell you the truth, it wouldn’t really matter which of the church I went to that Sunday. Since all they all had Fr. Dennis as the celebrant, they all would have been equally inspiring. For those of you who have never had the opportunity to experience attending a mass being conducted by Fr. Dennis Colamarino, you definitely need to do so. 

As I sat next to my Aunt Peggy during mass on that 2nd Sunday in Advent, a thought crossed my mind. I realized that the extraordinary sense of belonging, of faith and of reverence that I was feeling was EXACTLY the same as I felt as a child when I first understood what being a Christian and a Catholic was all about. I remember how my parents were so passionate about attending mass and always seemed to be so “connected” to what was occurring. THAT’S what I felt that Sunday morning with Fr. Dennis. 

To say that Fr. Dennis is captivating as a celebrant is an understatement. His personality, positive demeanor, style and speaking ability is “over the top” in a very positive way. When you couple his talents with the extraordinary musical talents of the Music Ministry members, Debbie Walters, Ray Judy and Greg Lesko, you have an experience just this side of heaven. 

imagesFr. Dennis’ sermon contained a story about a woman who was nearing the end of her life due to a health issue. She was having a discussion with her priest about her wishes for her eventual funeral. She told her priest that she wanted to be buried in the dress she wore when she was married. The priest indicated that it should not be a problem. She then indicated that she wanted to have the song, On Eagle’s Winds, sung at her funeral. Again, no problem. Her final request took the priest aback however. She told him that she wanted to be buried with a fork in her hand. The woman explained. “My mother once told me a story that I never forgot and I have tried to pass along its message to those I love and those who are in need of encouragement. Here’s her story: 

“In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, ‘Keep your fork.’ It was my favorite part because I knew something better was coming . . . like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. Something wonderful and with substance!’

 So, I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder, “What’s with the fork? Then I want you to tell them, “Keep your fork . . . the best is yet to come.”

 What a wonderful way to begin my visit to Duquesne. Thanks Fr. Dennis.

 (I went on to write:)

I received some very sad news yesterday from my friend Lou Andriko, whose mother, Betty Andriko, had attended Sunday morning Mass at St. Joe’s. It was the type of news that hits you like a ton of bricks. 

“Mom called me and said Fr. Dennis announced at Mass on Sunday morning, April 7th, that he has been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, i.e. ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) with extensive involvement of most of his voluntary motor functions; prognosis is poor, perhaps a 3 yr. survival….

With Bishop’s permission, he plans to remain at Holy Name and minister as long as possible and remain in Duquesne even afterwards until he passes.” 

So many of us have been fortunate enough to witness the exuberance of the celebration of Mass with Fr. Dennis. His ability to make the congregation feel involved and joyous about Mass is unparalleled. Many of you moved from Duquesne prior to Fr. Dennis’ arrival, but may have been members of the parish that he currently shepherds or family members who still are part of the congregation. Those of other faiths should take solace in the fact that Fr. Dennis has embraced Duquesne as his home and the entire community as his family. 

I invite all of you to post your thoughts and prayers for Fr. Dennis in the comment section of this post. The love and spirit that each of you have felt and shown for our hometown can certainly be demonstrated now with your prayers and petitions. 

Fr. Dennis once posted a “Letter from the Pastor’s Desk” that I thought was especially meaningful. In light of the announcement he was about to make and the news that he had received, I found his strength and determination inspiring: 

From the Pastor’s Desk – Christ the Light of the World Parish 

For a Happier Life!   

Posted on DateSaturday, April 6, 2013 at 04:01PM –

  1. Throw out the non-essential numbers. This includes age, weight and height.
  2. Keep only cheerful friends. The grouches pull you down.  If you really need a grouch, there probably are family members who fill that need.
  3. Keep learning.  Learn more about the computer, crafts, gardening, whatever. Just never let the brain get idle.
  4. Enjoy the simple things.  When the children are young, that is all that you can afford. When they are in college, that is all you can afford. When they are grown, and you are on retirement, that is all that you can afford.
  5. Laugh often, long and loud. Laugh until you gasp for breath. Laugh so much that you can be tracked in a store by your distinctive laughter.
  6. The tears happen.  Endure, grieve, move on.  The only person who is with us our entire lives, is ourselves.
  7. Surround yourself with what you love, whether it is family, pets, keepsakes, music, plants, hobbies, etc.  Your home is a refuge.
  8. Cherish your health.  If it is good, preserve it.  If it is unstable, improve it.  If it is  beyond what you can improve, get help.
  9. Don’t take guilt trips. Go to the mall, the next county, a foreign country, but not guilt.
  10. Tell the people you love, that you love them, at every opportunity.

Remember, life isn’t measured by the number of breaths we take but measured by what takes our breath away. – Fr. Dennis

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

I’m Ba-ack!

jackThe fact that it has been 120 days since I last posted to my blog, has led some of you to believe that I’ve fallen off the face of the earth. To be perfectly honest, that is exactly how I feel. How you have remained loyal to this blog is nothing less than miraculous! I cannot even begin to tell you how much it has meant to me.

I feel that, like Lucy, I have some serious ‘splanin’ to do! My hiatus from posting to The Duquesne Hunky was never anything that I did as part of a bigger plan or a deliberate action. My absence just happened.

As you may recall, in November last year, I accepted a position as Chamber Administrator for a local Chamber of Commerce. What began as a “20 hour a week, part time position” turned into an all-consuming 50 to 60 hour a week job. The commitment and extra hours spent at the chamber were all self-imposed. The Board of Directors were aware of the hours I was committing to the job, but turned a blind eye and never did anything to assist me or reduce the amount of time I was spending each week. I suppose they were thrilled that some “old fool” was so grateful to be hired that he would work incessantly for a salary that was under Federal guidelines!

When I came home each day after working, I was exhausted. I have to admit, 10+ hours of non-stop administrative responsibilities took its toll on me. I was too tired to do anything except to plop myself down and veg for the remainder of the day. Wake, work, sleep. That’s been my life for the past six months.

I am happy to report that I have given up my position at the Chamber of Commerce to be able to return once again, to doing the things I love! I am so thrilled to just be able to have the time to write my blog again, to be able to dabble in real estate again, and to just be able to hit the snooze button in the morning a few times without feeling guilty! I finally realized that life is WAY too short to continue working the way I was. I’m just SO happy to be back!

Now that I have regained a certain amount of free time back, I felt my first order of business was to address some emails that I’ve received over that past few months. 

I had a very recent request for information about Duquesne High School grad, Duquesne resident, and recording artist Kenny Ambrose. I found the follow information and media:

Kenny Ambrose

I don’t know a lot about Kenny Ambrose. I do know he was from the Pittsburgh area (Duquesne), and sang at many of the local venues. He also first recorded for Hamilton records, and then for the Willett label of PA. To the right, is a newspaper ad promoting Kenny Ambrose at a local record hop at the VW Post 47, and broadcasting it on WCVI with DJ Leon Sykes. And hey, 50 cents for admission! Also pictured is the duo Jesse And James. I believe that is the same duo that recorded “G.I Rock” and “Number Please” for Epic records in 1959.









Three messages from George Bornyek – 

GeorgeWhy not have some photographic enthusiast create a photographic essay of the churches of Duquesne, what is left of them. Perhaps starting with with is left of the Jewish synagogue across from the Mayor’s office. Don’t forget to do the interiors.
Spice thing us with a little more pictures and illustrations.
The attachment is my profile picture for Twitter. Check out my home page. There is a collection of 14 pieces of art work done from Edward Snowden’s Autograph and a few others.
Jim, you are doing a magnificent job.

Apr 8

A little story that led me to doing this piece.

Kitty, the neighbor across is moving soon as her brilliant husband, an attorney, graphic artist par excellence and writer, etc. passed about a year ago. As smart as Joe was, I would cringe every time I would see him in the massive tree in front of their house, trimming the branches, dressed in his Sunday best with patent leather shoe on. As luck would have it, he did fall from the tree and smack his head. But that did not prevent him repeating his desire to climb after his hospital stay.

Kitty put out boxes of books that Joe had collected from various thrift stores. I wentBornyak through them all and settled on One. PITTSBURGH A story of an American city by Stefan Lorant. He was an artist, film director, accomplished author and Hungarian. The book has 608 pages, hard cover, over 1000 photographs, published in 1975. Magnificent.
Most astonishing of all is that, IT is signed by Stefan Lorant himself.

As Lorant only graduated from High School, and I usually send a copy of the Art work to the Alma Mater(s) of the subject, in this case sent the art work to The National Museum of Hungry.

Stefan Lorant is a historical figure and those who see his name should be curious to find and savour the book and admire the ambitions of this outstanding individual.

And please start a movement to save and restore the architecture of Duquesne that still stands especially the synagogue across from the Mayor’s office and the churches some of which are crumbling.

I still would like to find Mary Frances Reed, Joni Yurich, Lana Kabasick, Sylvia Meholivich and Jackie Wargo.

Apr 7

Went to the Duquesne Hunky site and surprise you had printed my notes along with the art work. Thank you.

In a week, I am having my first knee replacement. Both need to be done. The hopes are that the pain, agony and inability to move freely will be replace with years of pain free agility and creativity.

The attachment is The ‘Star Signature’ of Carl Sagan, designed from his autograph.
Thank you for enriching the soul with a nesting place to remember.
…and thank you for being an innovator.

George Bornyek

PS. There is a need for a site on the web (and please be my guest) that will allow citizens to comment on political issues. To somehow expose the government for what it is. For example Federal work projects i.e., crisscrossing this country to all States pipping water from the Great Lakes and or from the mouths of rivers. And along the way there could be hydro farms, water for cultivation and to help this country thrive. California is dying drought after drought. And all that is talked about is conservation. I conserve more than any one, any where and it makes no difference.
…and the fact that the government/big business/Illuminati harasses and murders creative inventors, confiscating their inventions. Individuals who are attempting to bring free energy to everyone and solve other puzzles like anti gravity technology, etc.
There is such an evil hidden control on people’s mentality, and what they should and shouldn’t know. With the internet, all is starting to be exposed.
PPS Jim, An external Hard Drive and recently my hard drive from my very expensive HP crashed. There is about 200 work of art on those two drives that went bonkers. Since the crashes, I have gotten cloud storage. If you know of a brilliant (and reasonable) contact that could recover my art work, I would appreciate the information. However, living on social security I would have to pay in kind.


From David Soboslay –

I stumbled across your page through a google search. My parents grew up in Duquesne and the edge of West Mifflin. My dad’s name is John Soboslay and my mother is Margaret Soboslay (Carr). My mother passed away back in February and it has sparked a lot of discussion of our family tree.

Looking at my dad’s side of the family I know one of his uncles owned Soboslay’s Bar. When I was talking to someone at St. Joseph’s cemetery making the arrangements for my mom the lady said the name Soboslay was a blast form the past! I was wondering if you had any pictures of Soboslay’s Bar?

My dad grew up on the corner of Pennsylvania and Crawford and my mom was over on Highland Avenue. My grandfather Patrick Carr was in the Fire Dept for a while in Duquesne.

I appreciate your response! There are certainly a lot of great memories in Duquesne . Even though I am 47 yrs old I am still too young to have seen Duquesne in its heyday!.

Take Care

David Soboslay

 From Lou Andriko –

Synagogue coming down, Harry’s little brother moving up.

(FYI- Allen Chiesi, who is mentioned in this article is the little brother of Dr. Harry Chiesi. Harry attended Holy Name School and Serra High School with me. – Jim Volk)

Duquesne seeks $200,000 in grants for demolition projects
By Eric Slagle


Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015, 1:46 a.m.

Duquesne officials hope to get about $200,000 in state grants to pay for several demolition projects.

Council voted Wednesday to apply for a $150,000 Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund grant to pay for the demolition of two structures in the city’s business district.

One of the buildings is an old synagogue on South Second Street across from the municipal and public safety building, and the other is a commercial structure in the 100 block of Grant Avenue.

City officials said the structures are health hazards because of pigeon droppings and the risk of collapse.

“Both are basically shells right now,” city manager Frank Piccolino said.

Piccolino said the city is waiting to see the results of an asbestos survey to determine more accurately what the cost to tear them down will be.

Council took action to pursue a $50,000 Community Development Block Grant to fund the demolition of six dilapidated structures along Crawford Avenue.

“There is nobody in them and they are falling apart,” Mayor Phil Krivacek said.

In other business, council appointed Allan Chiesi as public works supervisor and code enforcement officer. Chiesi has been with the city for more than 20 years and is being promoted from a working foreman position in the streets department.

Chiesi is replacing Donald McCrimmon, who announced his retirement last month after 33 years of service to the city.

It was noted at the meeting that the city is partnering with Human Services Center Corp. and United Way to present a tax clinic at the municipal building from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 13 and 27.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or eslagle@tribweb.com.

Copyright © 2015 — Trib Total Media

My name is Sam Mastroianni, born in Duquesne but we moved out about 1960, my brother Al and several cousins graduated from DHS. I have an old Picture, my guess is 1950, maybe if it was on your site someone may know some of the men. I only know one, it is my uncle Sam Salvucci. He is wearing a #36 jersey.

Let me know if anyone knows any others.

Football Team


From Marlene Prosnik –

Found in an old book…thought some of your blog readers might get a kick out of this one!



From Gene Bujdos

My name is Gene Bujdos. I graduated from DHS in 1957 and we lived at 304 South 4th St. My dad, John “Boots” Bujdos was a huckster ( sold produce off the back of a truck) for years until after W W II he and his brothers bought a produce business and its name ( Andolina Produce Co. in Braddock in the early 1950s) and my mother, Mary, was a cashier for Manns Brothers for many years. My younger brothers, Larry and Bill, graduated from DHS years after me. At the corner of South 5th and Viola was a grocery store called FELDMAN’S and next roor, going down the hill was a confectionary store called JAKE LABAN’S. Directly across the street was a bar called HUNT’S and next to it was a barber shop. My brothers and I remember the barber’s first name was BILL. The question is: WHAT WAS BILL THE BARBER’S LAST NAME? ( THE 3 OF US DO NOT KNOW THE ANSWER.) Thanks. Gene


From Ray Judy

My name is Ray Judy, and I just want to say how much I enjoy reading The Duquesne Hunky whenever I get the chance. I’m a Duquesne native myself; you may have even heard my dad cantor during one of your visits to Christ the Light of the World (he’s Ray Judy also).

Anyway, I know blogging can be a labor of love, and I just want to say I appreciate the time and energy you clearly put into your posts. Your latest piece on 100-year-old stories from The Duquesne Times was a joy to read. I was very happy to see you’re keeping the site updated.

Keep up the good work when you can, and I look forward to reading your next bit of unburied treasure.

-Ray Judy


From George S Semsel, Ph.D. – Professor Emeritus

It was a great pleasure to come upon your Duquesne Hunky blog as I searched for a new source of Oblatky, having emptied my aging envelope of my last rectangle. I am of the second generation Americans whose grandparents came from Slovakia (one set from Danova, the other from Banska Bystrica). The last of their 19 children passed away not too long ago, and I am now trying to bring together as much information about my past as I can find. (I regret not writing down, or at least paying more attention to my parents’ stories.). A film I made of my quest is available on vimeo. (vimeo.com/gsemsel) I called it “The Idyllic Practice of Canon Formation” and I hope you will find time to take a look. In my searching, I discovered that a cousin of mine who I had never met before was born in Duquesne (She called it Duken and it took me awhile to grasp what she meant) but grew up in Slovakia. Your blog brought up memories of many Slovak Christmas Eves, the family standing around the dining room table singing “The Lord’s Prayer” in Slovak before the Kohlbasa and Kapusta, etc.

I wish you well, and expect to follow the blog.

A Stastny Novy Rok,

ProfessorGeorge S Semsel, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus
West Yarmouth, MA 02673




From Jerry Blasko

I came across your website while surfing the net looking for information on my high school West Mifflin North. You have a great website; reading the blogs brought back so many memories.

My grandparents were Michael and Susan Chorba, both from Slovakia. They raised their family in Whitaker. Their children (Michael, Tony, Joseph, James, John, Ann and Irene) all attended Saint Michael’s and graduated from Munhall High School.

My parents were Julius and Irene Blasko, and I grew up in West Mifflin.

My grandparents eventually moved to Clonmel Street, just above the DHS football field.

I have such fond memories spending time with my grandparents. Spent lots of time at Kennywood and hanging out at Palchik’s (sp?) drug store.

I’ve been living in Newport News Virginia for the past 32 years. I get lots of funny looks when I use the terms hunky, chipped ham, jumbo and pop!

Again, thanks for the great website and the memories.

Jerry Blasko


From Bernadette (Bodnar) Seeman

Are you still doing the blog? My sister and I grew up in Duquesne. I was
born in 1946 and my sister in 1942. I am Bernadette (Bodnar) Seeman and my
sisters is Joanne (Bodnar) Hecht. I recognized my dad in the 1952 Slovak
Club groundbreaking. My dad, John C. Bodnar, was the president of the club
for a number of years. He was the man holding the shovel. We had a grocery
store for a few years which was across the street from the Club on Priscilla
and 4th st.. What a wonderful thing your blog is! It was so wonderful to
see that picture. My dad also worked at Gallagher’s.

Bernadette (Bodnar) Seeman


From Tim Weaver

I have read your blog and I have an artifact that I would like to send to you via US Mail.
A VHS Tape and a DVD (transferred from Super 8 Film) of the SLOVAK CIVIC FEDERATION PICNIC 1966
I assume this is the S.C.F. of Duquesne, PA. We thought that the Super 8 Movie was a record of a Wedding of the Petrisko/Chir/Sudzina Family.
– Tim Weaver

Searching online I found this post:
The Slovak Civic Federation of Duquesne, PA was founded by Duquesne resident, George L. Vesonder of Duquesne. With the encouragement and help of two other friends, many Slovaks of Duquesne were soon contacted to meet at Mr. Vesonder’s home on Patterson Avenue on December 12, 1937. At the meeting, Mr. Vesonder presented the need to
form an identifying organization as follows:

“Since other nationalists of Duquesne had organizations functioning and what an advantage such an organization would be to the Slovak people of Duquesne in the City’s civic life, there certainly wasn’t any reason why the Duquesne Slovaks could not form an organization.”

A second meeting was held on December 23, 1937, in the Duquesne City Council Chambers. Twenty-six (26) Slovaks assembled to listen to Mr. Vesonder present the purposes of the assembly and lobby for located club room facilities and a membership drive.

Slovaks attending registered as follows:
George Michalo, Michael Fedor, George Sabol, John Durkaj, John Kaus, John Cvejkus, John Zahorchak, Mike Dobrancin, John Rimsky, Joseph Mihal, John Hoblack, Andrew Cmar, John Liska, Michael Kushmir, John M. Kulha, Paul Kulha, Frank Vamos, Paul Hrubej, Michael Hudak, Michael Sabol, John Lenhart, George
Benedict, Andrew P. Durik, and George L. Vesonder.

Temporary officers appointed were:
George L. Vesonder, President;
Frank Vamos, Vice-President;
Andrew P. Durik, Secretary;
Michael G. Phillips, Financial Secretary;
George Benedict, Treasurer.

A membership committee consisting of Paul Hrubej, Michael Hudak, Michael Sabol, and John Lenhart was also appointed.

In 1938, the first duly elected Officials of the Slovak Civic Federation were:
President, George L. Vesonder
Vice-President, Frank Vamos
Secretary, Andrew P. Durik
Assistant Secretary, Michael Fedor
Financial Secretary, M.J. Phillips
Treasurer, George Benedict
Sergeant-at-Arms, George Ambro

They also formed a Board of Directors (John M. Kulha, Michael Benedict, George Ruby, Michael Kushnir,
Frank Watral, Jr., Paul Hrubej, Michael Horgas, Jr., Gabriel V. Kushner, Andrew Cmar, John Adams, John Bibza, John

By-Law Committee (All Officers, George Pollock, John M. Kulha, John Bibza, Gabriel Kushner, Michael Benedict,
Michael Krucik).

House Committee (Gabriel V. Kushner, Joseph Jubak, Joseph Obsincs, Michael Chonko, Jr., Joseph Repko, George Pollock)

Membership Campaign Committee (Paul Hrubej, Michael Hudak, John Lenhart, Michael Sabol)

Federation Stewards (Joseph F. Repko and Joseph Jubak)

The group’s federation club rooms were in Green’s Building Second & Third Floors on Grant Avenue in Duquesne.
On January 11, 1939, the name of “Slovak Civic Federation of Duquesne, Pennsylvania” was registered with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of State Secretary and on February 21, 1939 the application for charter filed. The charter was obtained on March 6, 1939 thanks to Attorney H.M. Kowallis and subsequently recorded in Recorder Office of Deeds.

Then later that year, the clubrooms were relocated to Fey’s Building on Duquesne Avenue. In 1946 a building on the corner of Fourth and Priscilla in Duquesne was purchased with $11 in the checking account and a generous loan from
Mr. Meighen of the Duquesne City Bank. The first meeting in the new location was held on February 9, 1947. That year, a club liquor license was obtained. A few years later, a new addition building plan was started and finance committee
appointed. On August 28, 1949, the first club picnic was held at “Huba Huba Park.”

The New Building addition was completed on December 10, 1953, and the first Children’s Christmas and New Year’s Eve party were held later that month. On May 6, 1954 a Grand Opening Banquet was held in the new Dining Hall. On May 16, 1965, a Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Celebration Banquet was held with many local businesses and other organizations offering their congratulations. With its outstanding catering facilities and full course menus, the club was “the place” for
“Hunky” (Slovak) weddings, anniversary parties, banquets and other large gatherings.

Sadly, with the closing of the Duquesne Mill, the deaths of long-time patrons and mass exodus of the younger generation of Slovaks, the club’s membership steadily declined. Still, many of the faithful (including my father) used to meet at the club on Sundays after church and occasionally during the week. In the mid-1990s after my dad had a stroke and gave up driving, I would give him a ride to the club on Sunday afternoons. Although he no longer ordered his double header special (opting for orange juice due to medical restrictions from alcohol), he still enjoyed visiting the club to socialize with his buddies. Eventually, circumstances made it so my dad could no longer visit.

But today, even if he were physically able, there is no longer a Slovak Club to visit. Sadly, like many other familiar venues in Duquesne and surrounding areas, the Slovak Civic Federation has closed its doors. The building on the corner of Fourth and Priscilla sits boarded up and still and the small parking area where you once could not get a space is empty.
While inside, the echoes of polka music, the laughter of children waiting to see Santa, and the celebratory cheers for the 70s Steelers’ Super Bowl Dynasty team haunt the once crowded bar area and banquet hall.

These are the voices of the past and the Duquesne that used to be.


From Jerry Dittman

Just finished reading your 275th post and thought that I would add to your comments regarding the Rosenweig and Gross furniture store, as it was was related to the Dittman family as far as an uncle having married one of the Gross daughters.

From my memory I knew that the store at the corner of Grant and Prune Alley was Rosenweig and Gross, as I was there numerous times with my father as he talked to the Gross member. To verify my memory , it is 87 years of age, I did a web search using the terms “rosenweig and gross duquesne pa”. I’m listing that search string as I think that you might want to go there and read all the information listed as it covers the happenings of the year 1936 in Duquesne by months, on the returns page scroll down to the Wilkinson Topley title and click on it. Incidentally using the search terms “wilkinson topley” will probably turn up a lot of abstracts from the Duquesne Times as she has abstracted articles from the Times of genealogical interest; I haven’t searched her sites for some time. 1936 was the year when the Mon flooded out the area below the tracks.

This article lists that in June 1936 Rosenweig and Gross opened a new furniture store in the Williams block of North First Street.

On another subject, earlier this year I sent you a photo of the St. Joseph 8th grade class of 1941 in the hope that you would post it. I’ve been wondering whether you had received it, or not, as I haven’t seen it posted. If, you haven’t received it let me know and i’ll resend it. I’m hoping that someone, still living, in the photo will read your post and contact me, or, perhaps others whose parents, or grandparents are shown would like a copy. I haven’t been back to Duquesne, other than weekend visits, since 1945 and lost contact with all but my best friend, William Hamilton, and he is now deceased. Duquesne Hunky is now my main connection to the town.


From The Mifflin Township Historical Society

Thought you might be interested in reading the latest newsletter issues of the Mifflin Township Historical Society which Serving the communities of West Mifflin, Homestead, West Homestead, Munhall, Duquesne, Clairton, West Elizabeth, Whitaker, Dravosburg, Pleasant Hills, Jefferson, Hays, Lincoln Place and parts of Baldwin.


tribMifflin Township Historical Society Moves to a New Location
By Patrick Cloonan


Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014, 12:46 a.m.

we're back



A historic West Mifflin building is the new home for a society that celebrates the history of West Mifflin and 13 other communities that were carved out of old Mifflin Township.

A ribbon-cutting is slated for 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Mifflin Township Historical Society, 4733 Greensprings Ave., formerly West Mifflin’s municipal building.

Mayors from 12 of the 13 communities are expected. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s office said “thank you but his schedule is full,” society president Daniel Burns said.

“We literally moved 100 bankers’ boxes here,” Burns said Friday as he and treasurer Frank Schoderbek readied the facility residents can see during an open house from noon to 4 p.m.

There are hard-copy files and software files.

“We have over 12,000 data files of the Homestead Messenger, the Clairton Progress and other papers,” Burns said.

A $25 annual membership in the society will allow access to ancestry.com.

On Oct. 21, borough council approved leasing 1,115 square feet of the Greensprings Avenue building to the historical society for six months for $1.

“We’ll see how it works on their part and on our part,” borough manager Brian Kamauf said Friday.

The society moved from a room in the borough’s more recent municipal building at 3000 Lebanon Church Road, from which borough and West Mifflin Area School District offices moved to their present location at 1020 Lebanon Road.

Borough Solicitor Phil DiLucente said last month that he expected an offer to buy the 3000 Lebanon Church Road location — and got it, though likely not in time for council to vote on it Tuesday.

“We did get a formal offer and we are negotiating that,” Kamauf said.

Most West Mifflin police operations moved to Lebanon Road, but a substation still exists at the Greensprings location — complete with two holding cells.

That portion of the building won’t be open to those visiting during Saturday’s open house, but police do have access to the society’s part of the building.

“We fixed up the kitchen so they can use it,” Burns said.

The society will limit public gatherings, including monthly meetings, to the first floor because it is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, but it hopes eventually to make use of the second floor.

Burns succeeded longtime society president Jim Hartman this year. Burns retired seven years ago as a Duquesne police sergeant — he served there for 15 years — but always has had an interest in history.

“I teach from time to time at Pitt and Carnegie Mellon about Pittsburgh history,” Burns said.

He’s an author of four Arcadia “Images of America” books about Duquesne, Pittsburgh’s Rivers, Bedford and Homestead and the Steel Valley and has done articles for the Senator John Heinz History Center magazine edited by West Mifflin’s Brian Butko.

“Brian is working on a new book about Kennywood,” Burns noted.

Burns showed visitors a document lent to the society by West Mifflin Mayor Chris Kelly and his wife Denise.

It details a land grant “eight to nine miles east of Fort Pitt on the south side of the Monongahela River,” the approximate location of modern Homestead, where Chris Kelly once was chief and his wife a borough official.

The grant was issued by Bedford County, from which Westmoreland County was formed in 1773.

The area around Fort Pitt was disputed between Virginia and Pennsylvania into the 1780s. All of what became Mifflin Township was part of Virginia’s Yohogania County (with its courthouse near modern-day West Elizabeth) from 1776 to 1781, when Washington County was formed out of Westmoreland.

Allegheny County was formed in 1788 from both. Mifflin was one of its seven original townships, along with Elizabeth, Moon, Pitt, Plum, St. Clair and Versailles.

Pitt evolved into the city of Pittsburgh. From Mifflin, Elizabeth, Versailles and Westmoreland’s Huntingdon Township came the municipalities of the Mon-Yough area.

From Mifflin came Jefferson Township in 1828 (from which evolved West Elizabeth in 1848, Clairton as a borough in 1903 and a city in 1922, Pleasant Hills in 1946, Jefferson Hills as Jefferson Borough in 1950 and with its present name in 1998).

Baldwin Township was established in 1844 (from which the borough of Baldwin was formed in 1950), Homestead in 1880, Duquesne as a borough in 1891 and a city in 1918, West Homestead and Munhall in 1901, Dravosburg in 1903, Whitaker in 1904 as well as Hays (which with Lincoln Place was annexed to Pittsburgh in 1929) and West Mifflin in 1944.

Regular hours at the Greensprings location are Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Thursdays from noon to 8 p.m.

“We’ll expand our hours in the new year, perhaps to Saturday,” Burns said.

Society members usually will meet to hear guest speakers but the Dec. 10 gathering will be a Christmas party at 7 p.m.

“We’re going, after the first of the year, to partner with Barnes & Noble in the Waterfront,” Burns said, for a revival of “What’s Your History?” nights.

“Come spring, we will be reaching out to all school districts to bring kids in for field trips, to do history classes,” Burns said.

The society expects to use the outside of the former borough buildingfor spring and summer farmers’ markets.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.


From Colleen Travis –

Your last blog was GREAT. Talking about the doctors etc. And, there were so many responses. It would be cute to do one comparing today’s pharmacies with our Duquesne Mom and Pop drug stores. Gallaghers, Penn Taft — Woody’s –Butlers it could be fun — just a thought. a ;to of those stores. They had their own concoctions like “Woodies Healing and Drawing Salve — SALVE!!!! When have we heard that word in 25 years???? Could be fun!!


And with that my friends, I close out this post and promise to be more diligent in writing and recall all of the wonderful memories of our beloved Duquesne!

Jim Volk – The Duquesne Hunky

Posted in Uncategorized | 28 Comments

Once Upon A Time

Even though Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, 2015, are behind us now, I decided to check the Duquesne Times from 100 years ago. I wanted to gain some insight into how the holidays were celebrated and reported in 1915. What I discovered was an amazing chronicle of “life, the way it was,” reading more like a page from a Mark Twain book.

When you pick up a newspaper today, you’re confronted with accounts of war, terrorism, corruption and scandals. However, when I began to explore the January 1, 1915 issue of The Duquesne Times, was inspired as well as amused by the stories that were published.

I also was amazed at some of the feats that Duquesne’s citizenry accomplished in that era. For instance:

  • Did you know that Duquesne’s Community Christmas Tree in 1915 was 45 feet tall?
  • The 1st National Christmas Tree did not make its debut until 4 years later in 1923 AND was a mere 3 feet taller that Duquesne’s 1915 tree.
  • The Community Christmas Tree was not lit until Christmas Eve in 1915, not a month ahead of time.

Beyond the wonderful account of the holiday celebration, there were several other stories that I knew I had to share with you. From pigs to geese to a boy who parties a bit too much, here are a few articles I’m sure will put a smile on your face to start the New Year off right! – Enjoy!!

I really enjoyed seeing the picture below and reading the description of that very event as it occurred. Although the picture is dated 1915, the article following the photo was published one week later on New Year’s Day, 1915.


 I would chalk up the following story from the same 1/1/1915 edition of the Duquesne Times on a slow news day, but the paper was full of similar lighthearted fare. Sure beats  reading about ISIS!

Silly Goose



 Obviously, the use of today’s politically correct terms for handicapped people was not an issue in 1915. Its a good thing some things have changed for the better.

Here’s another wonderful article from the Times. I can just imagine what this must have looked like when it happened.

Hog Wild pIC

Hog Wild On a slightly more serious side, here’s an account of a young man who apparently “partied like it was 1999!”



Oh, the joy of youth!!

Now, to report on yet another newsworthy item:

Chicken Heist



An so, as businesses, and especially schools gear up to start anew after the holidays, the following cartoon from page one of the Duquesne Times about sums it up.I hope you all have a FANTASTIC Holiday Season!!!! Happy New Year my friends!

All Over




Posted in Christmas Memories, Duquesne History, Hunky Celebrations, Life in General, Wintertime | 10 Comments

Only In My Dreams!

This year, Christmas, more than any other recent Christmas, has been very bittersweet for me. Although it truly has been a blessed year with the birth of my newest grandson, Mason, this Christmas seems to be a struggle for me.

As you all know, Christmas when I was growing up in Duquesne was all about family. The entire time between Christmas and New Years was a social whirlwind. My mom and dad and brother visited every aunt, uncle and cousin during those seven days. The season was joyous and happy beyond belief. By New Year’s Day, we were all ready for the traditional pork and sauerkraut meal after a week of ham, stuffed cabbage and poppyseed rolls! I would love to be able to spend a Christmas, just one more time, back home.

I leave tomorrow, Tuesday, to visit my daughter, son-in-law, and two grandsons in Philadelphia, and I am super anxious. Unfortunately, my wife and I will be driving back home on Christmas Day, so our excitement will be short-lived, but such is life.

bingI am reminded of Bing Crosby’s hit, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, right now. I found out this year that it was one of my mom’s favorite Christmas songs, and I understand why. On a happier note, I am reposting a few previous articles that I wrote previously to conjure up some very special memories of Christmas in Duquesne. I hope you enjoy them.

Merry Christmas Everyone!!!


I’ll be home for Christmas,
You can plan on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree 

Christmas Eve will find me,
Where the love light gleams.
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams. 

There is a wonderful story that relates to this song and it occurred the very same Christmas this holiday classic was first released. While I’ll Be Home for Christmas was not written about this account, it very well could have been.

The story is about the crew of the Battleship North Carolina, and it will now forever be cemented in my mind when I hear I’ll Be Home for Christmas around this time of year.

The story goes that around Christmas in 1943 the chaplain onship the Battleship North Carolina knew that the crew was feeling homesick as they were expected to still be overseas during the holiday season. He had an idea and collected $5 from every crew member that had children back home.

The chaplain made a list of all that gave him money for their children at home and he sent that money along with the addresses of the sailor’s home to Macy’s department store. The request was made for Macy’s to buy gifts using the money provided for the crew’s family and have the gift mailed to their homes in time for Christmas.

As Christmas approached, the service men on the ship gathered for the annual Christmas show that involved songs, skits and entertainment for the troops aboard the Battleship North Carolina. When the entertainment had ended, the chaplain had a surprise to reveal.

When Macy’s had received the money from the chaplain along with the list of the addresses, they thought that in addition to just giving gifts to these military families at home, they should give a one of a kind gift to the soldiers as well. Since they had the addresses for all the sailors’ homes, they reached out to each family and asked if they wanted to come to the Macy’s store and send a special message to their loved one who would not be able to be home for Christmas.

The mean aboard the Battleship North Carolina sat there and saw their wives, children and loved ones appear before them on the screen as Macy’s had videoed each of their families sending them a Christmas message. These rugged sailors watched, wept and rejoiced. They weren’t home for Christmas, but what made their homes special was the Christmas gift they received on that December 25th in 1943.

Now that you know this story you can see how that sentiment is also found in the song, I’ll Be Home for Christmas. I know that I can’t hear that song without thinking of the brave men and women serving overseas to protect the freedoms we all enjoy.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Jim and Steve SantaPerhaps some of my fondest memories growing up in Duquesne are those associated with the Christmas season. Being part of a HUGE hunky family, Christmas always meant LOTS of celebrating, visiting and fun.

Each day leading up to Christmas brought more and more excitement. Christmas activities and preparations never really began until well after Thanksgiving, quite different than the present day “overkill” that exists. In our house, timing always seemed to be centered around “how long will it be before the tree drops its needles?”

The concept of an artificial was not even in the vocabulary of people in those days. The irony is that my dad, in his own way, created an artificial tree of sorts. You see, he was never satisfied with the shape that the good Lord had bestowed on any Christmas tree he decided to purchase. Instead, he spent at least two days, tucked away in our freezing cold garage sculpting the “perfect tree.” In addition to any “Charlie Brown” tree that he had drug home, he also brought piles of extra greenery. He would spend hours and hours drilling into the tree truck and inserting the extra branches until the tree took on the “perfect” shape! I remember being in the garage with him, coaxing him to hurry, and all the while enjoying the crisp, clean smell of fresh pine needles and pine sap.

Once Dad had completed that transformation of our Christmas tree, he would then begin the next step of the transformation. For the next couple of hours, the garage became an indoor blizzard of sorts as my dad began spraying each and every branch of the tree with artificial snow. Within a short amount of time, a perfectly shaped white Christmas tree stood ready for its entrance into the house. Transformation completed, the last step was to let the tree stand overnight in a bucket of water that had been laced with aspirins. The aspirins apparently had some mystical power to extend the life of the tree. Hey, it works for humans with heart issues, why not trees??

Our white flocked tree was always decorated with blue lights. There was always that special smell the lights had when they were first lit up for the year. The scent may have just been my excited imagination that sensed the smell, or it could have been the hot lights next to the fake snow or the crusty old frayed wires heating up that caused the smell. Fortunately, the magic aspirin always did its job and prevented any smoky result!

The introduction of the tree into the house and then the lights to the tree always seemed to produce the discovery that at least a dozen of the blue lights were burnt out. Of course for some reason, my dad and mom would never anticipate this dilemma, and Dad and I would soon be out and about to buy a few packages. The trip always took us to one of my favorite haunts, a virtual  wonderland in Duquesne, Schink’s Hardware Store on Grant Avenue. As we drove down Grant Ave. on the way to Schink’s, the traditional street decorations shined brightly as we drove under each one. Although they were simple in design by today’s standards, to me they are legendary! Simple straight wires with multicolored standard incandescent light bulbs provided the magic. In the center of the span was a circle of the bulbs that I suppose symbolized a wreath. These light strings were alternated with similar lines of lights which held three oversized illuminated bells. Each bell in the set of three would blink independently in order  to try to created a special effect of sorts. Hey, I was a kid, it worked for me!!

Schink’s always had their Christmas items gathered into one area of the store. Since energy conservation was not a thought in anyone’s head in the 50’s, the lighting area glowed with Christmas lights. There were no mini-lights that are used today virtually everywhere. There were basically light sets in two sizes, small bulbs for indoors and larger bulbs for outdoors. Of course, there were one type of lights that we unfortunately were unable to afford, bubble lights!

After our excursion to Schink’s, Dad and I made our way back home to finish the tree.  The ornaments were the same from year to year. No theme, just tradition. There were drummer boys, angels, Santas and snowmen that were all made of wax, As fragile as they were, somehow my mother always was able to keep them intact from year to year. There were silver colored filigree bells and shiny bright silver balls as well. Our tree top was an angel of course, and when the tree was lit, the blue, silver and white looked magical.

The tree seemed to kick off our holiday season and the holiday preparations! Things seemed to shift into high gear at that point and didn’t stop until well after Christmas Day. Check back later and see what I mean!

Merry Christmas!

Veselé Vianoce

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 

My mother was Croatian, my father was Slovak. As a result, I was immersed in two different Eastern European cultures, each with their own set of traditions. It seems that these traditions came to the forefront during the holiday season.

As a Slovak, I was fortunate to be able experience one of the most beloved Christmas traditions, the Vilija (pronounced vă – lē´ -yă.) Vilija is the traditional Christmas eve gathering and dinner that is rich with traditional foods, religious symbolism and family.

The vilija continues to this day in my family, and although the venue may have changed, the traditions and symbolism remains intact. What an incredible testimony and homage to the parents, grandparents and hunky culture that helped to set our moral compass.

As part of this posting, I have included a 2005 article from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review by Karin Welzel. The author does an outstanding job of explaining the tradition, the content and the meaning behind the celebration. Rather than be redundant, allow me to give you my impressions and memories of the event as I experienced it in the 50’s.

The vilija always took place at my Uncle Gary and Aunt Helen’s home in West Mifflin. Just like a scene from “A Big Fat Greek Wedding,” I remember entering their house and immediately getting drawn into the crowd of family that were already preparing the feast.

Their home was always decked out with Christmas decorations galore and every light in the house seemed to be burning. Usually, by Christmas eve in Western Pennsylvania, the weather had usually taken a definite turn and it was normally either snowing or on the verge of doing so. For that reason, whenever I entered their home, it felt so toasty warm compared to the outdoors. Their windows were usually steamed up from all of the cooking that was occurring and from the cranked-up thermostat (Grandma was always cold you know). And then there were the smells! The freshly cut Christmas tree scent hit me as soon as I entered the house. (It must have been the magic aspirins!) Combined with the smell of fresh pine was the amazing aroma emanating from the kitchen and dining room.

All of my aunts were buzzing around a rather cramped kitchen preparing all of the traditional foods. Somehow, all of the foods which were part of our every day lives growing up as a hunky smelled so much better on Christmas Eve!  Stuffed cabbages, pirogies, kielbasa and poppy seed rolls smelled like food for the gods! I was a very picky eater in those days, but somehow, a became a modern day foodie during the vilija.

My uncles had the responsibility of creating a dining surface large enough to accommodate our ever growing family. Since my dad was one of 8 children, the number of people attending was quite large. There was no such thing as a “kids table” in those days, so the eating surface had to accommodate approximately 25 people PLUS the feast itself. The table was usually assembled using two tables which supported large sheets of plywood. It was at least 16 feet long, extended from the dining room into the living room and was always covered with crisp white linens. There were never any decorations on the table, only food, lots and lots of food! The chairs that surrounded the table were a potpourri of chairs from around the house, the out-of-town neighbors and often times from St. Michael’s Church hall. Your seat may not have matched with the neighboring chair, but every family member had their place.

The timing of the dinner was very strategic. It was essential that we ate and were finished with dinner by 6 p.m. In those days, it was important that we allowed for the correct about of time before receiving communion at midnight mass. The Roman Catholic Church has very specific rules governing communion.

Grandpa would always begin the vilija with a blessing. This would be followed by the passing of oplatky (non-blessed communion bread). We would pass a large square piece of oplatky and each person would break a small piece off to be consumed in unison at the end of Grandpa’s blessing. I remember tha the oplatky would always come to the table in an envelop that was decorated with a colorful representation of the birth of Christ.

Once we had taken our oplatky, the feast began. With amazing speed and dexterity, plates and bowls of food were passed around the table and plates were loaded up to the max. Jokes, teasing, memories, and plans for the holidays were just some of the discussions that occurred during the meal. My dad would always be yelled at by my mom and my Aunt Helen for something he might have said to instigate some trouble, but that was expected, and welcome. After the main courses were completed, out came platters and platters of goodies. Poppyseed, apricots and walnuts seemed to be part of every creation. Each would probably be capable of clogging any artery in the room, but somehow, it either didn’t happen or didn’t matter in those days. Naivety was bliss in those days.

Once the dinner was over, my aunts would begin clean-up. Sexist or not, that was the way it was in those days. The men would gather and have some celebratory “shots” and beers, the kids would share their wish lists with each other and the ladies would clean-up the remnants of the feast. There seemed to be an unspoken exception to the communion rule in our family that shots and beers didn’t count when it came to abstaining before communion. Go figure.

After everything was in order, each family departed to get ready for midnight mass at their own parish church. Fully stuffed and raring to go, the remainder of the Christmas Eve activities still laid ahead.

More later………


Celebrate Slovak Style

By Karin Welzel
Sunday, December 11, 2005

From the straw scattered under the dining table to the honey that is spread onto thin oplatky to share among diners, the Slovak Christmas Eve meal — called the Vilija table — abounds with religious symbolism.

Christmas Eve is the most awaited day of the Christmas holiday season, according to Albina and Joseph Senko of Mt. Lebanon, members of Western Pennsylvania’s Slovak community.

“The big day is Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day,” says Albina Senko, a native of Spis in Slovakia. She is a director of the Western Pennsylvania Slovak Cultural Association, founded by her husband in 1997.

A certified public accountant with McKeever Varga & Senko and a certified financial planner, Joseph Senko also is honorary consul to the Slovak Republic.

The Senkos continue to observe the customs and traditions of their ancestry — Joseph Senko was born in Pittsburgh to Slovakian immigrants — and have made it a personal mission to educate Slovak-Americans and the general public about their culture. They are Roman Catholic, as are most of the inhabitants, but they say Byzantine and Orthodox Rite worshipers might follow similar traditions. Slovakia features a wide variety of dialects and customs, varying from region to region, village to village, family to family.

Albina Senko has her home decorated Slovak-style, including a table-size tree festooned with edible ornaments, such as whole walnuts and wrapped candy. There are intricate ornaments made from straw. On larger trees many years ago, family members used apples, paper roses and candles for decorations, too. The top of the tree often was a star made from straw.

Slovak cooks are busy on Christmas Eve, Albina Senko says. Sauerkraut-mushroom or pea soup, bobalky (sweet dough dumplings) and a variety of fish are a must, as well as meatless pirohy, to maintain the fast observed by the faithful during Advent, which begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas.

In anticipation of the celebration, hay or straw is placed under the tablecloth or under the table — or both places — to symbolize the poverty of Christ in a humble manger. Some families place straw in the center of the Advent candle wreath, Albina Senko says, and a figure of the baby Jesus is placed on top.

The table is covered with a white cloth as a symbol of the swaddling clothes of the Christ child. Another tradition is to set an extra place setting to receive a stranger or in honor of a deceased loved one.

The dinner starts at the sighting of the first star of the evening.

“You tell the youngest child to look for it — it may be that it’s just to keep them occupied, because there is a lot of expectation,” says Albina, adding that there is just as much merriment at her house for Christmas Eve now as when her six children were small. She has grandchildren who are excited about the lights, the dinner and gifts.

After the house and table are blessed using a pine bough and holy water, a mulled red wine steeped with cinnamon sticks or herbs and honey is served to diners. Albina Senko sweetens her wine with cranberry juice, cinnamon-sugar and a dash of nutmeg.

The ceremony then focuses on a waferlike “bread” called oplatky (altar bread) that is broken, dipped in honey and distributed to each family member, starting with the husband to his wife. The head of the household dips his thumb in honey and makes the sign of the cross on the foreheads of each member of the household so they will be reminded to keep Christ foremost in their thoughts and praying that harmony will sweeten their lives.

Part of this ceremony focuses on daughters who are eligible for marriage.

Says Albina Senko: “The mother takes honey on her finger, makes a cross on their heads and says, ‘May you be sweet and find a husband soon!’ I did it with my own daughters.”

The next course usually is a tart soup — sauerkraut and mushroom is a popular choice — to represent the bitter destiny of Christ and his suffering for humanity. The family then loads up their plates with bobalky, sweet dough balls baked and mixed with sauerkraut or poppy seeds, symbolic of a plentiful crop. Joseph Senko likes a topping of cottage cheese on them, too.

Platters display a variety of fish that has been floured and quickly sauteed in oil. Because Slovakia is land-locked, carp and trout are common, but Albina Senko likes white fish such as tilapia to grace her table.

Also served are pirohy stuffed with fillings ranging from sauerkraut to cheese and potato; and English peas, which represent a bountiful growing season. Albina Senko folds peas into a mayonnaise-rich potato salad; other families fold peas into hot mashed potatoes. Holubky are cabbage rolls stuffed with ground mushrooms and rice.

The Vilija ends on a sweet note, with nut and poppy seed rolls. Walnuts in the shell and apples also are placed on the table.

None of the foods contain meat, still keeping with the Advent fast.

To wrap up the meal sweetly, Slovaks traditionally serve kolaci, pastry rolls made with sweet dough filled with poppy seeds, dried fruit or nuts.

In recognition of the empty seat at the table, none of the food is removed from the table after the diners are finished. “It’s for the people who couldn’t be there,” Albina Senko says. Before midnight in Slovakia, the animals in the barns are given remnants of the meal — the food from the table is supposed to make them healthy and productive for the coming year.

The Senkos host tours regularly to Slovakia to acquaint Americans with their culture. Albina Senko is a retired travel tour operator, as well as a frequent translator for Slovakian visitors and officials who visit Pittsburgh. It is their wish to improve the lives of their countrymen across the sea and bring Slovakian culture into the homes of the general public.

These traditional dishes of a Slovak Christmas Eve table feature simple, earthy ingredients — plus a bevy of sweets.

Slovak Christmas Eve Soup
(Sauerkraut Soup)

This recipe is adapted from one by Albina Senko, a native Slovakian who lives in Mt. Lebanon. Senko is from Spis in the northeast region of the Carpathian Mountains. Although Slovakia is only about the size of West Virginia , with 5.5 million people, Senko says, there is a lot of variety in customs among the towns and villages.

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium-size yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 can (16 ounces) sauerkraut, drained but rinsed only lightly
  • Water
  • Paprika, to taste
  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 vegetable bouillon cube, optional
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1 potato, peeled and diced

Heat the oil in a soup pot. Add the onions and mushrooms and saute until translucent. Add the drained sauerkraut, water to cover the sauerkraut, paprika, salt, black pepper and the bouillon cube, if desired. Let simmer — do not boil — adding more water so you still have broth.

Add the carrot and potato and simmer until tender, for about 15 to 20 minutes, adding more water as needed to keep a souplike consistency.


These bite-sized dumplings can be made from frozen and thawed sweet bread dough to save time. Form portions of the dough into 1-inch rolls, then cut small pieces and bake. The National Slovak Society offers this recipe.

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour, more for dusting board
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil, more for greasing baking sheet
  • About 2 cups tap water
  • Boiling water

Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water. Add the salt and 1 tablespoon sugar. Let set to proof, for about 10 minutes.

Sift together the flour and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Add the yeast mixture, 1/4 cup oil and enough of the 2 cups tap water to make a workable dough. Knead well. Let the dough rise until doubled.

Meanwhile, grease a cookie sheet with oil.

Punch down the dough. Cut off portions of the dough about the size of an egg. Roll each out on a floured board by hand to make rolls about 1 inch in diameter. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Place the pieces on the prepared cookie sheet and let rise for about 20 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bake the dumplings for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool, then separate. Place in a colander and pour boiling water over them. Drain quickly to prevent sogginess.

Combine these mixtures with half of the bobalky.

Sauerkraut: Saute 1 small onion, chopped, in 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Add 1 pound drained sauerkraut. Cook for about 15 minutes. Add to half of the bobalky.

Poppy seeds: Combine 1 cup ground poppy seeds, 2 tablespoons honey and 1/4 cup water. Add to the remaining bobalky.


Commercially prepared Oplatky — the thin wafers coated with honey and then broken at dinner on Christmas Eve and shared among diners — is available from specialty food markets, Slovak and Polish churches and can be purchased through the Internet. Or, you can make your own, using a hot iron form or mold. This recipe is from the National Slovak Society.

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 5 teaspoons butter, melted
  • 2 cups cold milk
  • 3 3/4 cups cold water

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl until the mixture has a “pancake” batter texture — smooth and thin. Pour small portions — about a heaping tablespoon — onto a very hot iron form or mold.

Makes 98 oplatky, about 5 inches in size.

The Slovak Christmas Eve dinner does not contain dairy or animal products because the day before the Feast of the Nativity is one of strict fast and spiritual preparation. Here are some foods likely to be served. Their appearance depends upon whether the family is Roman Catholic, Byzantine or Orthodox.

Bandurky — Potatoes, usually boiled, to which onions sauteed in oil have been added. Many families prepare potatoes that are mashed and mixed with peas or prunes.

Bobalky — Small balls of dough prepared with honey and poppy seeds or sauerkraut

Borscht — Beet soup sometimes prepared with cabbage

Fasolji — Prepared brown bean paste spread onto bread

Garlic — Eaten raw on the Christmas bread dipped in honey, intended to keep away the evil spirits

Holuby — Cabbage rolls stuffed with ground mushrooms and rice

Hribi — Mushrooms sauteed with onions in oil

Kapusta i bandurky — Sauerkraut mixed with grated potatoes

Kasa — Rice, sometimes served as a separate dish with zapraska or macanka over it as a gravy

Kvasna Kapusta — Sauerkraut

Loksa (Loksha) — Unraised biscuits

Med — Honey, symbolic of the sweetness of being with the Lord.

Mezanec — An unleavened Christmas bread usually dipped in honey and eaten with a slice of raw garlic

Orehi — Nuts

Pagac — Two layers of dough between which cabbage or potatoes have been spread, then baked

Pirohy (often spelled pierogies) — Dough packets filled with sauerkraut, potatoes, sweet cabbage or prunes

Riba — Fish, usually a white fish baked or smoked, which is symbolic of the Christian faith because Christ was the fisher of men

Sol — Salt

Suseni slivki — Stewed prunes

Zapraska — A thick brown sauce used to prepare various soups and gravies. Among the soups prepared with Zapraska base:

Macanka (Machanka)— A thick mushroom soup

Sauerkraut Soup, with sauerkraut juice added. Usually single ingredients such as green beans, peas, lima beans, mushrooms or butter beans can be added.

Lima Bean Soup

Mushroom-Sauerkraut Soup

Green Split Pea Soup

Caraway Soup

Green Bean Soup

Rice and Mushroom Soup

— National Slovak Society, Canonsburg

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

When I was just a wee one in Duquesne, I remember shopping at Christmas with my mom. Although it is had to imagine if you visit Duquesne today, but as I was growing up, there were a number of shops and stores where my mom enjoyed. The shopping Mecca in Duquesne, as I remember it, was primarily located on First Street between Grant Avenue and Hamilton Avenue and on Grant Avenue between First and Second Streets. There were several other shops that Mom enjoyed going to that were further up Grant Ave. such as Salkowitz’s Dress Shop, but for the most part we stayed in main shopping area.

There were no such things as malls in those days. Stores were street front and we were exposed to the elements as we shopped from store to store. The stores I remember shopping in with my mother were Sally Fashions for her clothes and Adler-Green for men’s and boy’s clothes. There were two other stores that I remember that I enjoyed visiting. One was the G. C. Murphy 5 & 10 on First Street. I think it was located right behind Alexander’s Market which was on the corner of First and Grant. Just like Perry Como’s song “Its Beginning to Look A lot Like Christmas”, at Christmas, Murphy’s was glistening with candy canes and silver lanes aglow.

And then there was Elsie’s, otherwise known as Avenue News. Just two doors up from First Street on Grant Ave., Elsie’s wasn’t really a Christmas shopping destination, but rather a meeting place for the locals. I remember being in the vicinity of Avenue News around shift stage time at the mill. 7 a.m., 3 p.m. and 11 p.m. were the crazy time at Elsie’s. The steel workers who worked from 7 a.m. till 3 p.m. called it the “Daylight Shift.”  If they worked from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m., they worked “Night Turn.” But for some reason, the 3 p.m. until 11 p.m. shift was only know as “3 to 11.” Go figure! However, I’ve digressed…..

I have stronger childhood memories of Christmas shopping in McKeesport than in Duquesne. Shopping in McKeesport was our equivalent of shopping in New York City! What a wealth of stores; Cox’s, The Famous, Jaison’s, Immel;s, Katzman’s, David Israel’s, and Kadar’s. Then there were the specialty stores like; The Golden Rule, National Record Mart and the variety stores like; G.C.Murphy and H.L.Green,

I remember going to McKeesport with my dad once when he was Christmas shopping for my mother. Dad was never the type of guy who planned too much ahead. To this day, it never surprised me that we were shopping on Christmas Eve. It seemed perfectly normal. I remember going to Katzman’s with him to buy my mom a slip. The lingerie department was on the mezzanine of the store. The saleslady pulled out several different slips from the wall of drawers that lined the wall behind the glass showcases. She pulled out dozens until Dad finally settle on the perfect color. Leopard skin!!!! It was like the 1950’s of Victoria’s Secret!

Yet another early memory about Christmas shopping was my Christmas Club check. Every year, my mom would start a Christmas Savings Club account for my brother and I at Duquesne City Bank. She would put 25¢ a week in my club account and the same in my brother’s club account. By the time November rolled around, we each received a Duquesne City Bank check what we view as an astronomically large amount………… $12.50!!!! It was amazing how I was able to make that $12.50 cover all the gifts I wanted to buy; Mom, Dad, my brother, 3 of my aunts and 2 of my cousins. Bubble bath was always a top choice for Mom, big bottle, low price, the perfect combination. My dad used to roll his own cigarettes back then, so rolling papers were always a good and thrifty choice. (Today, I would be accused of trying to buy drug paraphernalia when I bought rolling papers, times have changed!) I was always able to find some kind of sports magazine or book for my brother and my aunt and cousins always seemed to end up with lavender soaps. I really made it stretch since there was always enough left for me to buy a pound or so of sugar wafers at the cookie counter at the 5 & 10!

It was always exciting counting the days down until Christmas. I remember that  on the very last page of the McKeesport Daily News, there was always a small block that indicated the number of shopping days left til Christmas along with a reminder to by Christmas seals. Oh, those were the days……..





Posted in Christmas Memories | 7 Comments