A Journey to Christmases Past

Well, Christmas 2018 in the Jim Volk Household came to a halt about an hour ago. My grandsons pooped out about 30 minutes before they left, and their mom and dad ended up carrying them to the car. My youngest daughter and her husband busily helped to unearth our home from the mountain of  giftwrap that cluttered the family room, while my wife feverishly began splitting up the remaining ham and sides for each family to take home to enjoy the next day. Without a doubt, it was a wonderful, beautiful Christmas Day.

Christmas-EveningSo, as I was finally able to relax after a delightful day, I began to think about Christmases past, and how they differed from today’s event. I listened to my daughters talk about how they had such an easy time this year shopping for the perfect gift. Both talked about the simple process of online shopping and how less stressful it was compared to battling crowds of shoppers at the malls, or at big box stores like Target or Walmart. They marveled at how they were able to review a store’s entire assortment of merchandise from the comfort of their living room sofa. Ahh…. Technology has made life so easy for them. Since I too did much of my shopping online or via QVC’s TV broadcast, I couldn’t disagree. It was easy. However, as they talked about the merits of online shopping, I thought about similar conveniences that were available to everyone when we were young.

robesI don’t think anything could ever replace the joy and excitement I felt when shopping with my mother or father at Christmastime. The stores in Duquesne and McKeesport were brimming with a bounty of Christmas gifts and trimmed in their Christmas finery. Nothing could ever compare to the feeling of the cold wintry air and the warmth that you felt when entering the stores. I don’t recall anyone being grumpy. Salespeople would be smiling and helpful , the need for fighting the crowds was never an issue and people always seemed to have a happy look on their face. It was a magical experience.

After my mother died when I was 12, my dad put me in chargedoll of shopping for the aunts, uncles and cousins that we exchanged gifts with each Christmas. Since I was too young to drive, and school work didn’t allow me a great deal of extra time, I took advantage of the precursor of today’s online shopping, CATALOGUES! Since my dad worked for JCPenney, he received a discount for items purchased in stores, but also for items purchased through the Penney Catalogues. I was able to achieve the same level of shopping simplicity as today’s online shopper, all from the comfort of our living room sofa.

Each year, JCPenney, Sears, Montgomery Ward, Aldens, Spiegel, and Key Distributing produced a Christmas Catalogue. Sears called theirs “Sears Wishbook” while Penney’s was simply “JCPenney Christmas Catalogue. Our local department stores, Gimbels, Joseph Hornes, and Kaufmanns also produced a Christmas catalogue, however I rarely purchased items from them due to their prices and the fact that we didn’t receive a discount! I was a glutton for collecting these catalogues and would have a full collection each year.

searsI remember taking hours and meticulously combing through each and every page. I took the job of shopping for the perfect gift very seriously. Each year, after deciding on what I thought was the ideal gift for my aunts, uncles or cousins, I would sit with my dad at the kitchen table and present my ideas to him. I don’t recall a single time when he objected to any selection I had made. Once past that part of the process, I would then be charged with the responsibility of calling in our orders to the Catalogue Desk at JCPenneys in the Eastland Shopping Center in East McKeesport. I would anxiously wait for receive a confirmation that the merchandise was available, and ultimately, when it would be shipped to the Eastland store to be picked-up. This annual process took place for 9 years until I turned 21 and decided to move to California…oh the joys of youth.

I was curious about the availability of these old catalogues. Most of the major companies ceased catalog operations by the end of the 1990’s. Some attempted to test online shopping, but the successes initially were few. I decided to check out eBay to see ifmens anyone was selling the old Christmas catalogues. I was thrilled to see that there were many vintage catalogs were available, but the ones that interested me were too pricey in my opinion. Some were selling for up to $100! Then, like a beacon in the night, I came across a website that featured full color Christmas catalogues from Sears, Penneys, and others. Catalogues from 1937’s 102-page Sears Christmas Catalogue through JCPenney’s 632 page Christmas Catalogue are able to be viewed in their entirety.

So, here’s your chance to recover from the Christmas craziness by checking out some of these catalogues from Christmases past. See what toys were popular in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and so on. Listen to some classic Christmas songs like White Christmas or Silent Night, make yourself a cup of hot chocolate while you look through the catalogues, and just enjoy the journey back in time. Let’s keep the spirit of Christmas alive like the traditions of old until January 6th.

Many thanks to Jason from WishbookWeb.com who gave me permission to use images from his site, as well as direct access to the catalogues. To reach the site and begin exploring the spirits of Christmas past, click the link below and ENJOY!!

WISHBOOKWEB.COM

Merry Christmas My Friends

Jim Volk – The Duquesne Hunky

 

 

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Christmas Music To Me Revisited

Up until roughly 1960, we had an old Crosley floor radio and phonograph that sat in our dining room. The turntable only had the capacity to play 78 rpm records, and our selections were limited to say the least. I remember Mom would occasionally play some of the Big Band records that she had purchased years earlier. The records were full of crackles and pops, but we were still able to hear the sounds of Glenn Miller or Les Brown fill the air.

In 1960, Dad decided to purchase Mom a modern piece of equipment that excited her beyond belief. The occasion was their wedding anniversary which was in October. I distinctly remember the day when he decided to give her the present. He wasn’t much into wrapping presents, and so he simply carried a huge cardboard box into the dining room. When Mom opened the box, she was speechless. There before her was a sparkling new Hi-Fi Stereo portable record player! The speakers folded together on the front and were black with a glittery finish. When the speaker were opened, they revealed a silver glittery fabric. The rest of the casing was pink and as “mid-century modern” as you could get. I don’t remember the brand for certain, but it may have been Phillips, Motorola or Zenith. I have not yet been able to locate a photograph of the machine, but I found one that resembled it closely, shown on the left.

Mom loved her new stereo. Imagine, being able to still play her old 78 rpms PLUS being able to buy and play new 45’s and LP albums! Dad had purchased the stereo from his friend Dom Torretti at Dom’s TV, so he knew he got the best. As an added bonus, Dad had received a box of 50 albums when he purchased the stereo. Granted, they were not the most sought after artists, but my parents enjoyed them. There were albums with the Ink Spots, Connie Boswell, Hawaiian music, Big Band Music, Tangos, Beer Drinking Songs (as if Duquesne men needed that type of encouragement!) and dozens of other genres.

Surprisingly, among all of the albums, there were only two Christmas Albums. The first was an album featuring Jack Benny and Dennis Day. It featured a photograph of Jack Benny dressed as Santa Claus and standing in front of what appeared to be Dennis Day’s family who were dressed in their pajamas. Jack was playing his violin and the family appeared to be singing along. It was as hokey of a photo as you could come by, and the album was just as corny. There were songs performed by Dennis Day, some by Jack Benny and even some tracks containing dialog of Jack Benny and Rochester. Believe it or not, I still have the album and I still play it every Christmas since it immediately brings back the memories.

Another of the freebies that Mom received was an album by Fred (?) that featured a pipe organ and bells. It was about as traditional of a Christmas album as you could find. Somewhere along the way, that album was either lost, borrowed or thrown away and I no longer have it. However, thanks to the amazing reach of technology and the internet, I was able to locate a copy of the records on eBay and now have it back in my collection. It too is dragged out every year and played, especially when I’m trimming the tree.

Beyond all other Christmas music, the one album that immediately “brings it home” for me isn’t one that you would expect. In the early 60’s, as a student attending Holy Name Grade School, we were charged with the job of selling a Christmas album that was recorded by the Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden, Pa. The album was titled “In A Manger Lowly” and contained primarily just the voices of the sisters at the Motherhouse in Baden and occasionally some pipe organ accompaniment.

On the back of the album, aside from the lyrics to the songs that were included, there was narrative about the origin of the title song, “In a Manger Lowly.” It reads –

The feature carol of this record, “In a Manger Lowly,” was written in 1916 by Sister M. Victoria, S.S.J., who at present is completely blind, and a patient in the Sister’s Infirmary at Baden, Pennsylvania. Although handicapped, Sister still assists in the work of the community through her apostolate of prayer and suffering. It is the wish of Sister Victoria that all who hear this carol may have a special share in her daily prayers for the needs of all Christians.

I spoke to Sister Sally, the archivist for the Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden, and she gave me some interesting information regarding Sister Victoria.  The Sister was born on 8-6-1869 and died on 10-27-1963, a short time after the album was released. Sister Sally indicated that Sister Victoria was born the very year that the Sisters of St. Joseph expanded into Western PA. – Thanks for the information Sister Sally! 

On a whim, I visited the Sisters of St. Joseph – Baden website and discovered that their album was available on CD through their Gift Shop! I immediately ordered a couple and they are a direct recording from the album master still as magical as when my mom would play her album repeatedly through Christmas. If you would like to get a copy for yourself, here’s how:

Click HERE for CD order form.

Click HERE to visit The Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse Website

Click Here to Listen to In A Manger Lowly

Or you can call the main number, (724) 869-2151, and order by phone. Just ask to be connected to The Book Nook Gift Shop and they will take care of you. You can pay by credit card and have it mailed out immediately. As a final alternative, you can print out the order form and mail it to the Motherhouse at the following address:

The Sisters of St. Joseph

The Book Nook Gift Shop

1020 State Street

Baden, PA 15005-1338

And so my friends, I hopefully sign off leaving music in your heart. I am heading up to Duquesne this weekend and will be staying for 5 days. I can’t wait to get home and I’m hoping I encounter some snow along the way as I did at this time last year. I will hopefully return with lots of stories and pictures to share with you.

If there is anything you’d like me to check out, please leave a comment and let me know!

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My 12 Days of Hunky Christmas Revisited

After spending over 35 years as a retail manager, I have formed some rather strong opinions about the celebration of Christmas in the United States. Granted, I realize that I was party to the commercialization and the ensuing chaos that occurred with the change in everyone’s focus from “for-Christ and Family” to a “for-profit” mentality.

As I accumulated years of service in the retail industry, I began to become more and more cynical about Christmas. My chosen career path placed me in the heart of the action during the holiday season. It thrust me into a routine that was the complete opposite of what I grew up with. I think it would be considered a rare occurrence to actually experience a major cultural shift in values in a person’s lifetime. However, I believe that is what has actually occurred.

My Cousins during a visit at Christmas in 1960. L to R – Tim (T.J.) Stepetic, Joanne Carr and Lou Goldman – all Duquesne HS Grads

Whenever Mom prepared the Christmas menu, she would always prepare enough to feed an army. The large amount of food was necessary since every relative made their “rounds” during the days that followed Christmas day. When I was young, the spirit and celebration of Christmas extended well beyond December 25th. Families visited one another throughout the weeks that followed. Tradition steered the visits. The day after Christmas meant a visit to Aunt Rose and Uncle Sam, 2 days after meant Aunt Babs and Uncle Clell….and so on, up until the Epiphany on January 6th. During those evening soirees, every home set-up a beautiful holiday buffet for their guests to enjoy. Since the menu was virtually the same at every home, it came down to the either the buffet decorations or the subtle nuances of seasonings and ingredients that identified who had prepared the food. Aunt Mary’s stuffed cabbages were always larger than most and very hearty, Aunt Helen’s were perfectly formed little chunks of delight, while Aunt Jane would serve porcupine balls (the meat filling without a cabbage leaf wrapping) and kielbasa with the cabbage rolls.

This year, my wife and spent Christmas in the Philadelphia area with our two daughters, my son-in-law and my very first grandchild, Jackson! Seeing Jackson, at 5 months of age, delight with just crinkling up wrapping paper and exploring the many toys Santa brought him was worth the trip. It was a very special treat to be able to share his first Christmas with him.

Unfortunately, our trip only lasted a few days, and we made our return trip on the day after Christmas. I began thinking about one of the largest changes in the way we celebrate Christmas today versus our youth, specifically the length of the celebration. As I indicated above, when I was a boy our families continued to visit and celebrate for 12 days after Christmas. Trees kept their Christmas vigil in living rooms throughout Duquesne for the same time period. Outdoor decorations remained brightly lit as well. The spirit of giving also continued, and often the kids received presents at each and every relative they visited during the holidays. What an incredibly joyous time of year!

As we drove home yesterday after our two day visit to our daughters, it seemed that the plug was pulled on Christmas immediately. Radio stations that featured Christmas carols WAY too early reverted back to non-seasonal songs at the crack of dawn on the 26th. Christmas displays and the Holiday environment that had been created in every store, vanished overnight. Christmas merchandise was clumped together haphazardly with a 50% off sign slapped on it and bargain hungry shoppers ravaged the shelves. Store employees were dealing with people trying to return items and were demanding their money back. Arguments teemed and store managers tried their best to contain the anger and hysteria. To me, Christmas felt like one of those huge inflatable Christmas lawn ornaments that had the plug pulled. The sum total of most people’s Christmas spirit lay heaped in an unidentifiable pile of nylon in the middle of someone’s front yard.

Prior to the holidays, I did a great deal of research in the Duquesne Times. The emphasis on gift giving during the holidays was evident in issues surrounding Christmas, but for the most part it began with the issue published during the second week of December. The Duquesne City Bank’s ad announcing their Christmas Club Savings Plan for the upcoming year was usually the first evidence of the approaching holidays. From the turn of the century until the 1950’s, the Bank’s ad was always a presence in the paper.

When I think about how much has changed from my early days in retailing, I shake my head in disbelief. During the late 60’s, I worked at Gimbels in Eastland Mall. Although I worked in several departments initially, I eventually landed in the Camera Department. I recall that the Christmas shopping season and the Holiday advertising season was contained within the month of December. However, somewhere between then and now, the Christmas season was turned upside down. Stores began opening earlier and earlier each year. Opening an hour before regular store hours in December was about the extent of the “extra hours” at Eastland back in the 60’s, and that only happened one or two weeks prior to the 25th.

After the appearance of “Big Box” stores such as Walmart as part of the retail landscape, things dramatically changed…. probably forever. The length of time that stores were open got longer and longer. Advertising that dealt with Christmas began appearing weeks before Halloween. Stores were trimmed for Christmas as early as November 1st. As a General Manager or District Manager in retailing, I often had to deal with the complaints of people that dealt with the early set-ups of holiday. In my heart of hearts, I had to agree with them. As if the longer store hours wasn’t bad enough, now we are invited to begin our shopping at Midnight after Thanksgiving and continue all night. Is it me, or has this become completely maddening????

By the week after Christmas, stores will be complete stripped of any reference to Christmas. Any remaining items will be segregated to some obscure corner of the store and priced at 75% to 90% off. Valentine’s Day will hit us at every turn and the stores will be screaming “Summer’s Coming!” Of course, the fact that we are still facing the entire winter season doesn’t register anywhere. Oh, for those good ol’ Duquesne days!

With all of that said, I am committed to enjoying the holidays until January 6th , even if it is just Judy and I. I intend to continue to consume mass quantities of Christmas cookies, cheese balls and kielbasa. My Christmas tree will remain standing, my outside decorations will remain lit and I vow to continue to wish people “Happy Holidays” until the 6th of January. To me it isn’t a chore to do so….. it’s a pleasure!! So, to all my friends who are reading this…. HAPPY HOLIDAYS! And in true hunky spirit… play it forward!

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Homage to a Duquesne Icon

Today, I learned of the passing of Mrs. Rosemary Denne (nee’ Curran). Mrs. Denne  was the city Treasurer and Tax Collector for the City of Duquesne, retiring  in November 2014 after 12 years of service for the city.

MrsDenne

 

I met Mrs. Denne when on a visit to Duquesne after I had begun writing this blog. She was still at City Hall, working diligently as City Treasurer. She was kind enough to meet with me and talk about her myriad of memories of Duquesne and the people. She wasn’t familiar with my blog at that time, so I gave her the necessary information to access the posts, and she seemed very excited about reading it.

Months later, I heard from Mrs. Denne about the difficulty she was having in being able to find the time and resources to read the blog. As a favor to her, on my next visit to Duquesne, I had printed a large collection of my posts and the subsequent comments from those who had been reading the blog. I gave her a rather weighty binder, full of  posts for her to read and hopefully, enjoy.

I am reposting an excerpt from a post on this blog from 2011 that speaks to the spirit and love Mrs. Denne possessed for her community. She had written a comment about Duquesne High School sports and her enthusiasm for the teams.

Mrs. Denne…… you will be missed.

Homage to Duquesne High School Sports!

A devoted fan of the Duquesne High School sports teams, Ms. Rosemary Denne, has followed and cheered for Duquesne High School for over 70 years! A few months ago, Ms. Denne sent in some information about herself:

Rosemary Denne

Maiden Name = Curran, my dad was a Dentist here

Years in Duquesne = I have lived here since 1936 and still do

Comments = I am so excited about this [blog].  I am the city Treasurer and Tax Collector for the City of Duquesne and use my computer here at city hall.  I am very busy now, since the Real Estate taxes have just gone out, but I want to keep getting these pictures and comments.  I don’t know whether anybody still remembers me, as I am 83 years old.

Ms. Denne has graciously allowed me to post the article that she wrote that was published in the local newspapers:

FAREWELL TO DUQUESNE HIGH SPORTS

Farewell faithful followers of the red and white! From John Donelli to Pat Monroe, from Bill Lemmer to Montel Staples, from Alex Medich and the hundreds in between, to Elijah Fields, the Dunn brothers and all of the Washingtons, I have been here cheering you on and I have loved every minute of it.

Because you did your best for Duquesne High, I have stood a little bit taller all of my life as I have stood right there beside you.

My dad played football and baseball in 1916 and 1917. Among our most treasured family heirlooms are team photos of my father and his teammates on the front steps of our alma mater. The 1917 team finished their season without a coach since Vance Allshouse (a Duquesne dentist) was called away to World War I in midseason.

From 1936 to the present, I have been there. When I was a child, we didn’t have an automobile, but my father, my brothers and I walked to every home game. We took the streetcar and walked up Cardiac Hill in Oakland for playoff basketball games. Powerful, positive memories of those bygone days and those of the ’90s and 2005 don’t fade with the passage of the decades. I am grateful!’ Following Duquesne athletic teams was our main form of entertainment.

After I got married, I turned my husband into a Duquesne fan and he was one of the most faithful and loyal of them all. Our marriage was strengthened through our mutual devotion to “our Dukes.” Our oldest child played football under the firm direction of Mike Kopolovich, who was instrumental in securing a. fine football scholarship for him. One of our daughters played basketball and two others were cheerleaders. Our grandson scored the first three points in our beautiful new gym and another grandson received the John Phillip Sousa Award for his talents in the band. We worked in the refreshment stand, arranged fan buses and helped organize banquets.

During the past 20 years, if anything, our support for Duquesne athletes only became more important to us. The dedicated coaches, as well, as the cheerleaders and athletes, treated us like family When my husband’s health started to fail, Montel Staples made sure that we could ride on the cheerleader or team bus to playoff games. I am convinced that my husband lived longer because of his anticipation of the 2002 playoff run. On some of those days, when his heart was so weak that he slept for 16 hours a day, his first waking words were, invariably, “What about the Dukes? Call Montel.”

Since my husband died five years ago, Duquesne coaches and fans have made sure that my life’s best form of entertainment has continued. I am so grateful! My grandson holds the record for the most three-pointers scored in any game by a DHS player.

As of the last home basketball game, I was still selling 50/50 tickets and I really enjoyed it. I will miss all of the good friends I have made and love. I will miss the thrill of winning and the painful important lessons of losing. We won so many more times than we lost. Between 1941 and 2005, I attended seven state championship games with my Dukes.

During the last 40 years and particularly during the last 20 (since our steel mill closed), we reveled in the role of underdogs, consistently finding ways to demonstrate excellence while competing against bigger, stronger, and much larger (in population) opponents. We were survivors! We were champions! We consistently overcame the odds. With the deck stacked against us, we. never blinked. What a glorious ride!

I went from a little girl fan to a surrogate grandmother. I worked hard to support the athletes through the years. But they gave me so much more than I gave them. We are told to “Bloom where you are planted.” I was planted in Duquesne arid I thank God for the opportunities provided to me as a DHS fan over the past decades.

I will remain a high school sports fan, but the thrill will be gone forever. I’ll never again holler “Let’s go Dukes.” Thanks for the memories and may the Lord go with all of you.

Rosemary Denne is the current City
Treasurer of Duquesne and longtime
Duquesne High School fan.

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The love inside – you take it with you.

There’s a final line in the movie “Ghost” when the recently departed Sam (played by Patrick Swayze) tells his very much alive girlfriend (played by Demi Moore) “The love inside – you take it with you.” The purpose of this post is to just confirm that for the vast majority of us who grew up in the Duquesne – West Mifflin area, we carry a love for our childhood home. See if you agree.

I received the awesome photograph and email below from a former West Mifflin- Duquesne resident, Tony Pinkovsky. The photo was taken at the previously named Duquesne Country Club located off of Commonwealth Avenue in West Mifflin. The County Club is under new ownership and is now named WestWood.

Here’s a tidbit of information that I just came to realize. Most of the main roads in Duquesne that would crossover into West Mifflin Borough would change names at the point of intersection. For example; Crawford Ave. would become Pennsylvania Ave., Kennedy Ave. would become Texas Ave., Grant Ave. becomes Homestead Duquesne Rd., Duquesne Blvd. turns into Kennywood Blvd, etc. However the only road that continues with the same name from Duquesne into West Mifflin is Commonwealth Ave. Interestingly enough, When Commonwealth Ave. intesects with Homestead Duquesne Rd. in West Mifflin, it suddenly changes to Briery Lane. I wonder why? Any clues?

Duquesne Golf Course 12-25-2017

Photograph by Tony Pinkovsky

Well another great Christmas visit at home in West Mifflin.  I no longer live there but I was born and raised there.  Dad worked at Duquesne Works, and I can still remember like it was yesterday.  

Back in the 70’s we would get hammered with snow, the streets would be covered and us kids would go out to shovle snow to earn a buck or two.  Then when night came we would go sled ridding at the Duquesne Golf Course, not sure if it was legal, but we never got kicked off.  Then back home to enjoy some hot cocoa and tell Mom what we did all day.  

Dad would come home, read the Daily News paper, eat dinner and turn in after a hard days work at the mill.  On Christmas day we would go Saint Peters and Paul Church then visit relatives and sit around and talk.  

We had a tradition where we would wash our hands in a bowl filled with coins and water; the prayer was that we would have money throughout the year.  But times have changed, Mom’s still alive but Dad is no longer with us.  My sister and her family came over for Christmas and we washed our hands once again, but I still long for the yesteryears of the past, but am grateful I got to grow up in West Mifflin and Duquesne, what a great place to experience life.

Tony Pinkovsky

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Back to Duquesne Christmases

Retrospective time! In celebration of the Holiday Season, I thought it would be interesting to look back in time to past Christmases in Duquesne. 

Note: The images below are from newspapers that have been scanned at the loving hands of Mifflin Township Historical Society volunteers. As such, the clarity may be muttled or blurred, but I hope you are able to read most of the content.

1917 Top

The year, 1917. World War I (WWI or WW1), also known as the First World War, the Great War, or the War to End All Wars, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918.

On April 6, 1917, the U.S. joined its allies–Britain, France, and Russia–to fight in World War I. Under the command of Major General John J. Pershing, more than 2 million U.S. soldiers fought on battlefields in France. Many Americans were not in favor of the U.S. entering the war and wanted to remain neutral.

100 years ago, it was Christmas, 1917. American had been at war a little over eight months. For the first time, Duquesne was dealing with their sons away fighting a war at Christmastime. The following are two articles from the December 21, 1917 issue of The Duquesne News.

Christmas 1917 - 1

As not to disappoint the children of Duquesne, an effort was made to keep the spirit of Christmas alive. The not so subtle warning for the kids to behave themselves made me smile.

1917 Treat

Merchants in Duquesne were still trying to capture their share of gift giving revenue as well.

Ad 1917

Cars

1917 bottom

Let’s jump ahead 20 years to The Duquesne News published on December 23, 1937. The country, as well as Duquesne, had been in the Great Depression for over eight years yet spirits of the season remained high.

Ad 1937

Xmas 1957

In closing, let’s fast forward another 20 years to Christmas, 1957. This time, I thought it would refreshing to view that Christmas from the eyes of the boys and girls who shared the joy of growing up during Duquesne’s heyday. I dare you not to smile as you read through these Letters to Santa. I’m sure you’ll even recognize either your own or a friend’s letter!

Santa Letter

In closing to my family, friends, and fellow hunkys

223436-Wishing-You-A-Blessed-Peaceful-Christmas

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Voices of Duquesne – Christmas 2017

Hi James,

I am in need of a recipe for Christmas Eve mushroom soup that uses fresh mushrooms and NO sauerkraut. That was my mothers recipe from a long time ago. My mother was born in Slovakia and must have gotten that recipe from her youth.

My wife has struggled with a reproduction for many years. My mother did not write down a lot of things.

I now need something written for a grandson attending college. My extended family is growing up.

Edward (Ed) Salaj , (Homestead Hunky)

Lincoln Place

Hi Ed. Merry Christmas! My Aunt Peg was always in charge of the mushroom soup on Christmas Eve. The recipe below is the one she always followed, however she would omit the sauerkraut juice. Everytime I taste it I think of family, snowy Christmas Eves and warm memories. Good luck. Let me know if you like it.


Merry Christmas Jim and to all the hunkys in Duquesne & West Mifflin. This blog always brings back extremely fond memories especially at Christmas. This posting was virtually identical to my recollection in my mind’s eye. Again, thank you and your contributors. I have a question however, what is the hunky name of the fried dough cakes sprinkled with powdered sugar? I have seen various names however none ring a bell with me.

Again, Merry Christmas and a safe and Happy New Year

Mike Korinko

Hi Mike! Merry Christmas to you too! 

I think you are refering to Cheregis. I remember my dad getting them from a church in Duquesne on Fridays. I still remember the brown paper bags, spotted with frying oil,  full of cheregis that were covered with powdered sugar!

Now here’s a challenge for you Mike…… I found two different recipes for cheregi in an old Slovak cookbook I have. You need to make Vera proud and whip up a batch to enjoy over the holidays! Good luck!!


Good Morning, Merry Christmas.

My parents and grandparents were all from Duquesne and I had many other relatives that lived there… Most all worked for Duquesne Works U.S. Steel. I also lived there with my parents as a child. I worked there during college summer vacations.

Although I moved with a job many years ago, I always went home for Christmas with the family, and still have very fond memories. Most of my family is now gone as I am 70 years old, and haven’t been back for some time… 

Anyway, I’m writing to ask if you can give me the name of a Bakery that would sell Christmas rolls, cookies and especially bobalki. One of my favorite “Pittsburgh” ethnic Bakeries is in McKeesport called Minerva’s… but they don’t ship/sell on-like. If you know of a place and can share, I would really appreciate it.

Thanks,

Ron Yurick

Hi Ron, here is my Aunt Peggy’s recipe for bobalki. I used to look forward to it every Chirstmas Eve. Enjoy!


I’m trying to figure out at what point did the GBU start accepting Hunky members. My father, my grandfather and I all belonged. Lots of strong inexpensive drinks, lots of bosses and union reps talking civilly with each other, great bartenders and free sandwiches. You had to be sponsored and risked the chance of a blackball, which was common. My father told me a little about the GBU being investigated by the feds for ties to subversive German American Bunds in the late 30s. He also talked about the pressures put on German management in the Duquesne Works. Is there something to this?

Mike Bilcsik, Late 70’s


 


 Submitted by Colleen Byrne Travis                                                                                           Written by: Steve Mellon                         Published: September 12, 2017  / Yinz

This is from a special section of The Digs featuring images provided by their readers.

Heartbreak and tenderness in a steel town

Murt Shaughnessy Jr. and little brother Michael. (Courtesy Eileen Connelly)

Finches hopping on a cracked sidewalk in Duquesne’s devastated business district took flight one morning last week, the birds flapping upward as a cluster toward Grant Avenue, several narrowly avoiding a fast-moving sedan. Then the cluster disappeared behind a storefront building that stood defiant and alone, a middle finger to departure.

Duquesne these days is a monument to a thousand goodbyes. So many vacant lots, vibrant green in the morning sun. Library Place minus its library. The pharmacy empty, spiderweb cracks across its storefront windows.

Truth is, folks here have been saying painful goodbyes for decades, long before the steel mill stopped shooting its vibrations through town, long before endless fluorescent isles of inexpensive goods and easy parking in the suburbs drained the business district of people and prosperity.

Farewell stories flutter from this battered community’s history. They offer glimpses of perseverance, compassion and hope in the face of overwhelming sadness.

Rosemary Terza (now Fuga) grew up in Duquesne. One of seven children brought into the world by Sylvester and Elizabeth Terza, she remembers the day in January 1941 when her sister Jean bathed 3-year-old brother Johnny and noticed a boil on the boy’s leg. Jean, 13 years old, knew the boil was trouble. She immediately told her mother, who summoned a doctor.

The open boil oozed liquid. Blood poisoning, said the doctor. Don’t move the boy or the poison will spread.

Alarmed family members pushed two chairs together and created a small bed in the living room of the family’s home on a hillside above the rumbling mill. There Johnny would stay, watched over, fed and bathed by his parents and siblings.

The doctor visited every day for two weeks and treated Johnny with sulfa drugs. But the boy couldn’t be saved. He died in his makeshift bed shortly after 7 p.m. on Feb. 6, 1941.

 

Johnny Terza. (Courtesy the Terza family)

The loss devastated Sylvester and Elizabeth. For months they grieved. Rosemary was 12 at the time, and to her the sadness seemed unbearable. Guilt and depression wracked Elizabeth. Rosemary wondered, would happiness ever return to the family’s Overland Avenue home?

Family friend Murt Shaughnessy noticed the the gloom enveloping the Terza family. Murt owned and operated a funeral home on North Duquesne Avenue. He embalmed, restored and dressed the bodies of those whose days were ended by disease, old age, auto crashes, industrial mishaps or suicide. Grief to him was unavoidable in the way sawdust is unavoidable to a carpenter.

But something about the Terza family’s sadness moved him. One day early in the summer of ‘41, Murt stopped by the Duquesne post office, where Sylvester worked as a mail carrier.

“Have your family ready on Friday afternoon,” Murt told Sylvester. “I’m going to take you up to the mountains to our cabin.” Murt owned a small cabin in Stahlstown, about 50 miles from Pittsburgh.

The prospect of a vacation shot a bolt of excitement through the Terza house. The family had little money, no car and no phone. Vacation was a dream.

On Friday, Murt arrived at the Terza home in a big funeral car. The Terzas piled in and, after a drive that seemed to last forever, Murt dropped off the family at his small cabin. “I’ll be back in two weeks to take you home,” he said.

The mountains buoyed the family’s spirits. The kids played in a creek, splashed in a swimming hole, the parents walked among pine trees, attended square dances. Sylvester was a skilled carpenter and, as a gesture of gratitude, made a few repairs on the cabin.

“It was a complete change for all of us,” recalls Rosemary. Her family eventually acquired land near Stahlstown and built its own cabin. “Murt was so wonderful to have that insight.”

Murt Shaughnessy with son Murt Jr. and daughter Eileen. (Courtesy Eileen Connelly)

In addition to running a funeral business, Murt and his wife Margaret were raising three children of their own — daughter Eileen and two sons, Murt Jr. and Michael. On a snowy Friday, Jan. 25, 1946, Murt Sr. drove past a section of Mifflin Street where 10-year-old Murt Jr. and several of his friends were sledding.

The day was a special one — students had been dismissed from school early after completing exams, and a blanket of snow covered the Mon Valley. Murt Sr. stopped his car and spoke briefly to his son, who said he was having a great time. Then the father continued on his way.

A few hours later, around 5 p.m., Murt and Margaret received a phone call. It was from McKeesport Hospital. Murt Jr. had lost control of his sled and plowed into a fire hydrant. The impact fractured the boy’s skull. The parents were urged to come quickly to the boy’s side.

Murt and Margaret kept a vigil, waited for their son to regain consciousness after surgery. Friday night passed, then came Saturday. Priests visited, anointed the boy and gave him Holy Communion. The next day, Sunday, daughter Eileen, 12, saw her father break down and cry. At 8:40 p.m., Murt Jr. died.

The parents found rosary beads in the boy’s coat pocket. Murt laid out his son, a devoted altar-boy, in a white casket. The child was dressed in a cassock and surplice.

Murt Jr.’s death shocked Duquesne. Over a three day period, hundreds of friends and residents arrived to say goodbye to the boy and offer comfort and condolences to the family.

Thursday, Jan. 31, arrived bright and clear, the sky blue. By 9 a.m. Holy Trinity church was packed with mourners and students who’d been dismissed from school to say goodbye to a classmate. Six altar boys served as pallbearers.

Shaughnessy Funeral Home on North Duquesne Avenue. (Courtesy Eileen Connell

Seven decades later, Eileen (now Connelly) remembers her attempts to ease her mother’s grief by lying next to her in bed and telling silly jokes. Murt, Eileen says, made a number of changes to his life. He sold the building that housed his funeral home on North DuquesneAvenue and moved the business to Second Street, across from the police station. He sold the family cabin in Stahlstown, quit drinking and attended Mass every day.

Murt remained an active member of the community and in 1983 was named “Man of the Year” by the Duquesne/West Mifflin Chamber of Commerce. He died in 1987, three years after the silencing of the town’s famous mill.

— Steve Mellon  


Hello,

My Grandfather, Steve Turlik, was one of the original members of the Zemps.  Family folklore has it that he once pitched a no-hitter and that it made the newspaper.

I tried some years ago to find this article, but at that time I assumed it was in the McKeesport paper (I didn’t know about the Duquesne paper).

I would love to find an early roster with his name on it or even the elusive article recapping that big game.

Would you know of any resources that I could use to investigate those early teams?

Thank you!

Frank Fiori

Hickory PA


Hi Jim

My name is Cheryl Wilson and I am the great granddaughter of Lawrence Furlong. He was the first Burgess of Duquesne, and responsible for bringing gas street lights to Duquesne, and also went around lighting them.  He also brought the first doctor (Dr. Botkin)  to Duquesne.

Attached is a copy of that article of their anniversary, but as you can see it is very hard to see the picture and also the writing. I was wondering if you might have any idea where we could get a clearer copy for our family bible and also to pass on to family who have are in family history.

I think it might have been in either the Duquesne Times of the McKeesport Daily News, since they would have been the only two newspapers in the area at the time.  I know that the picture would have been taken at their home on Earl Street.

I recently did my DNA thru Ancestry and one of the names on my list and also my cousin Bob Woods is the granddaughter of a lady in the picture, so we would balso like to get a copy for her.

Thank you for any help that you might be able to give us.

Cheryl D. Wilson

 


                                                                                                                                                       I recently did a Google web-search, for:

Ruben’s Quality Furniture – McKeesport, PA since 1902

I didn’t see any specific mention of …. Ruben’s ??

Do you know when it closed , or where I could locate a news article, or something (anything) about it ??  

I recently discovered a piece of furniture, with their “tag” on it …….. and was wanting to get any idea, of how-old …. it might be.

Cynthia


I just posted this on Monongehela WordPress regarding Holy Trinity Church in Duquesne. Thought you’d be interested. Love your website. The research you have done is amazing. 

Ann Marie

I’m late to the party here, I realize, but I’d like to comment that in all the articles I have read on this subject, no one has mentioned one of the main reasons that Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Duquesne was relocated to the West Mifflin location on West Grant Avenue, and there were several. And Vatican II changes had nothing to do with the move. 

When the church was built in the early 1900’s, it was built in one of the finest parts of town, with many gorgeous mansions and a beautifully landscaped area. Over the years, especially in the 60’s the area declined greatly, along with other areas of the cities. It was not safe to walk in that area at night, there were very few parking spots near the church and to worship, you had to walk several blocks sometimes. There was an illegal abortionist ‘clinic’ just a few doors down the street and drug sales in this area were rampant, not to mention the homeless and alcoholics we had to pass, who even sat on the church steps as we entered and exited for services.

In addition, the structure of the church was already declining: the wooden altar (not marble) was falling apart and had to be ‘topped’. The organ pipes were disintegrating and became like ‘sugar’ particles. The choir loft was no longer safe.

The pastor at the time held a vote of all the congregation, and it was nearly unanimous, save SEVEN parishioners: build at the cemetery, where there was plenty of land which the church owned and would not have to purchase anywhere else. The location was not far from the core of the congregation which was already visiting its deceased relatives there anyway as well as moving more north toward the West Mifflin area if not leaving the area completely. 

The church was sold to a local (Baptist?) group, deconsecrated, and few looked back. The Catholic Church in the entire Pittsburgh area was declining at the time. Decisions had to be made. I recently was ‘home’ and drove past the lot where the beautiful church stood. No one wishes more than I that that church still stood and would have been remodeled to its previous glory that some of us remember from our very early childhood. (I was an organist for the church for nearly 10 years.) But if it had been remodeled, it would almost be a stand-alone structure with nothing around it to support it, and for what purpose? The best we can say about Duquesne today is that the population seems to have stabilized recently with no further dramatic drop. Another good thing we can say is that we have many, many wonderful memories of a church structure that served many immigrant Slovaks well in their faith. Mine was planted and nourished there.


James,

I enjoy reading “The Duquesne Hunky” and I hope you will keep it current again. 

I did not live in Duquesne but, I had a relative that did Sophie Evkovich Vargo – she was a clerk at Sally’s Fashion.  Her first husband was Steve Robert Vislay and her second husband was Roy Merle Vargo.

Roy Merle Vargo parents were George Vargo Jr. and Olga Margaret Furia. He had a brother Edgar George Vargo.   The Vargo family owned the Vargo Insurance in Duquesne, Pennsylvania.

I’m doing my family genealogy and any information you have on the Vargo Family or Sophie Evkovich Vargo I would truly appreciate.

Attached is the recent death notice for Roy Merle Vargo.  Maybe your readers will remember this family.

Sincerely,

Denise Gotch


Jim, there’s way too much on your site to go through everything and so if this is old news, sorry. You mentioned listening to music or rather lack of, Terry Lee was doing an internet thing once or twice a week. I haven’t sought it out for quite a while (Pandora is easier) but it was pretty cool. He’s was selling reverse mortgages or some kind of thing for all of us old people.

BTW, don’t come to Florida waxing the virtues of our youth in Duquesne. No one has even heard of Pittsburgh, let alone Duquesne down here. If we see three Pennsylvania plates a season (when the snow birds attack us), it’s a miracle.

I was born on Polish Hill and spent most of my “growing up” across from the water tank on Highland Avenue near Mayor Kopriver’s home. His son “Buddy” used to go down to Kennedy News (or something like that) right on the corner of Peter St and Kennedy Ave and buy up all the baseball cards. We’d go with him and he’d give us the duplicates he already had. Before someone asks, no, it was not Kennedy Market, it was catty corner to them, small place, junk food for kids, I think that’s where I saw my first “Playboy” magazine.

Does anyone remember Boy Scout Week in the 50’s? Everyone had a retailer’s window down on Second Avenue; one of the images that glides past my brain every once in a while.

Cheerio, Alex Baranyi


Hello,

      Good site on Duquesne.  My Dad’s parents lived on Priscilla Ave, I can remember having to walk to St Peter and Paul Church for my Saturday classes.  As for my Dad, he passed a few years ago; born and died in Duquesne.  But I’m sure he would of wanted no other way.  And was wondering if you ever heard our name, Pinkovsky, he worked at the bar mill gate.  Ok, good site and keep up the great work, you take care.

Tony Pinkovsky

Ohio


 Jim, 

I have enjoyed your site, Thanks for your time and effort. I was born in 1959 with a lineage from Duquesne that starts with a Slovak emigrant Grandfather named Andrej Polakovic whom had 2 sons. One was John Polakovic (who changed his name to Plake) and my dad Stephen Polakovic. My uncle was the one and only teacher John Plake, and my dad worked at homestead. My childhood on 2nd street has many memories; Holy Trinity school, the barber in the alley, the Slovak club Christmas parties, etc. Once our family moved out of Duquesne to West Mifflin it never really felt the same. Anyhow, I get the Hunky part, we were all the same, just trying to live the dream. I am very proud of my roots and try to explain it to my adult 4 daughters but they somehow don’t get it. In ending, thanks again.

Mark Polakovic


Good afternoon James!

I came across your blog about Duquesne, Pennsylvania while doing some genealogical research on my great-great-grandfather. His name was John/Johan Peter Viktor Stabler and he lived on Mill Street near River Avenue. I’m trying to find out any information about that section of town. Johan subsequently moved to Clairton about 1899/1900 but I can’t seem to find information about what happened to that section of town.

If you have any information that may shed some light, I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you!

Sincerely,

Ashley Stabler


Jim,

Recently discovered a living legend who was born in Duquesne, PA.  His name is James Ragan and he is an internationally acclaimed poet.  If you have not already done so, perhaps you might do a feature with him and the other three VIP intellectuals from Duquesne. (of course, I am not one of them) He is a super nice person and resides in LA.  His poetry, that I have read, is as fluid a Spring’s breeze. I like it – a lot. Perhaps, with his permission, you might in your publication, quote some of his earlier work that deals with his youth in Duquesne. 

Regards,

George Bornyek  

 

 

 

 

 

           

 

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