Hunkys and Turkeys and Snow, OH MY!

Well folks, we are approach an auspicious occasion! In just 3 days, this blog will be celebrating its 4th Anniversary! Its hard to believe that it has been 4 years already! I have really enjoyed talking to all of you but more importantly, I’ve been thrilled to reconnect to so many of my Duquesne cronies. I’ve enjoyed seeing so many other friends reconnecting after so many years as well. I really feel like my labor of love has been well worth it.

I’m sitting in my living room as I’m writing this 275th post to my blog wishing I was about to see some of the snow that is supposed to hit the eastern seaboard over Thanksgiving. Alas, we’ll be cold but not cold enough to get any snow. I really do miss the snow. I know I’m crazy, but I’ve always been a fan of the white stuff! 

So, in celebration of two different anniversaries, I am reposting some past pieces for your enjoyment. First up, in celebration of the 64th anniversary of the infamous Thanksgiving Snow of 1950, here are two posts that discussed that event:

 I was rummaging through some old photos that I had forgotten about and unearthed two photos dated on the back. However, the date on one was different than the other. I was reminded of the big storm in 1950 and think these may have been taken at that time. The largest recorded snowfall in the Pittsburgh area was 27.4 inches from November 24-26, 1950. I am not sure who took the photos, but I assume it was my father. If I recall, both were taken in different directions, but from the same vantage point, Hamilton Avenue. They struck me as poignant and at the same time, peaceful. Allow me to surmise about each photo.

This photo shows First Street looking toward Grant Ave from Hamilton Ave. I couldn’t believe that I had a photo that showed the Christmas lights that I described in a previous post. I can still see them lining Grant Ave in my mind. The car nearest the camera seems to be in the process of being dug out. The store is Rosenzweig and Gross, one of two furniture stores that I remember. The other furniture store that I remember was at the corner of Grant Ave. and Prune Alley (the name of the alley behind Holy Name between First and Second Sts.) I don’t recall the name of the store, but if anyone does, please fill me in. I don’t recall any other businesses in the photo, but I remember that Bud and Jerry’s Donuts was located on the left hand side of the street and many have been about a block up from Rosenzweig’s. If you look almost dead center in the photo, you’ll see the building that appears in the header of this blog. You can detect the curved facade if you look hard. Onto photo two:

Placing the vantage point in this photo is a bit tricky. I think it is taken from the intersection of First Street and Hamilton Ave looking up Hamilton, but I could be wrong. It is definately looking up Hamilton, but it may have been from the intersection at 3rd Street. I recall a variety store that was located across the street from my grandfather’s home at 307 Hamilton Ave. The store in the picture looks just like the store I remember AND there was a bar, which is no suprise, on the corner just up from the store. I found it remarkable that there were still horses around in 1945. I wish I had living relative who could tell me more about this picture, but alas, they are all gone.

I came across some additional pictures of the BIG Thanksgiving Snow Storm of November, 1950. I have no idea of who the people are in the photos, but I am fairly sure of the vantage point from where they were taken. Again, I am fairly sure my dad was the photographer. I think they are rather cool looking. He’s like the hunky Ansel Adams!!

This first photograph was taken while he was standing in the middle of Kennedy Avenue just above 3rd Street looking toward the mills. The snow obviously put an immediate hault to any vehicular taffic!

This second photograph was again taken from Kennedy Ave looking toward the mills. This time, it appears to have been taken just above 1st Street. I recognized the homes on the right. I owuld love ot know who the poor soul is that is walking in the middle of the road, but I am afraid that her name is lost forever in history.

If anyone has any other vintage pictures of Duquesne or places there in that they would like to share, please email them to I am certain that we all would love to see them!

Now, in honor of the 4th Anniversary of the Duquesne Hunky Blog, here is my very first post, appropriately titled “”HUNKY” Is Not A Four Letter Word!”

Let me get one thing straight. I am an authentic Duquesne Hunky. I use the term “hunky” in the most endearing and loving way possible. I am a hunky, my entire family were hunkies, I grew up in a world of hunkies and my kids are hunkies….well, at least in part!

According to Wikipedia:

  • The use of the term Hunky as a disparaging reference to a person, especially a laborer, from East-Central Europe, is falling into disuse.
  • The “Hunkies” are a composite Polish, Hungarian (Magyar), Rusyn, Slovak ethnic group which primarily inhabits western Pennsylvania and Upstate New York (Binghamton) and speaks English.[1] The immigrants came en masse prior the turn of the century (starting around 1880) searching opportunity and religious freedom. The Hunkies image was a departure from Hungarian prestige that peaked around Lajos Kossuth‘s visit in 1851-1852, aka Triumphal Tour[2].
  • The term Hunky or “bohunk” can be applied to various Slavic and Hungarian immigrants who moved to America from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Many of these immigrants fled religious persecution and loss of personal freedoms in their native land. Deriving from a rich culture, the people are entrenched in music, food and family. Hard work and traditions of family are considered important. Traditional food of the hunky culture include: fried cabbage, halušky / galuska, stuffed cabbage or ‘pigs in a blanket’ (halubki/gołąbki), kalacs and pierogi.
  • “The overwhelming majority of these economic immigrants (initially 85%, later 65%) consisted of young working age men. Originally they planned to spend only a few years in America, and then return to Hungary with enough capital to transform themselves into independent farmers or self-employed artisans. This was precisely the reason why, instead of moving into agriculture in line with their traditions, they went to work in the coal mines and steel mills. Only in heavy industry did they have a chance to collect enough money to be able to fulfill their goals back in the Old Country.[3]

 Hunkies settled in highly industrial areas: they worked in steel mills in western    Pennsylvania;  .more……..

Now, with all of that said, I have my own very concise and direct definition. Hunkies are love, family, food, warmth, compassion, fun, tradition and religion. That’s how I remember my childhood in Duquesne.

I plan on using this blog as an ongoing documentation of my memories of life in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, “the great years.” I am referring to the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, before the decline and eventual closing of U.S.Steel’s Duquesne Works facility in 1984. There is no set path that I plan to take. Who knows, perhaps I’ll jump decades from one posting to the next. When the mood strikes, I’ll go there.

I hope that you will enjoy reading my ramblings and occasional very mild diatribes. Childe in when you disagree with something, but most importantly, let me know if something I have mentioned stirs up similar memories. I intend for this blog to be as loving, family oriented, warm, compassionate, and fun as the hunky life I remember.

Welcome or as we said in Duquesne…… Dobrodošli!!!

Finally, with all of that said, I decided to add just one more repost. This one in honor of the Thanksgiving Holiday!

I am always scouring The Duquesne Times or Observer for interesting tidbits of information to share with you. As I was rummaging through decades of issues, I came across some interesting facts about Thanksgiving in Duquesne. For instance, in the November 23, 1900 issue of The Observer, an article outlined the fact that not all businesses were closed on Thanksgiving Day. The Post Office observed shortened hours, although some merchants closed their businesses early, many were open for their regular business hours. Banks were closed, but telephone and telegraph offices, freight and shipping stations, and of course, the mills, were open for business as usual. (Doesn’t make Wal*Mart and other stores being open on Thanksgiving Day this year such a shocker, does it!) In 1900, for those not working, the day meant church services, turkey dinners, daytime football games in nearby cities and evening dances. By 1910, the paper validated that virtually all business and the post office had begun closing for the day. The steel mills however, continued to function non-stop.

In my family, real Thanksgiving traditions were rather obscure. The day would progress as most any holiday celebration throughout the year. While Mom, Steve and I would park ourselves in front of the TV to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, my dad would take over breakfast duties. Bacon, eggs, pancakes were always on the menu. In those “pre-cholesterol worry days,” heaps of real butter, Log Cabin syrup and eggs fried in bacon grease were always part of the menu.  Today, I’m sure I’d either go into sugar shock or feel like there was a lead weight in my stomach if I ate a breakfast like that!

While my parents prepared to cart us off to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, I remember sitting at the kitchen table making a Thanksgiving decoration out of a potato. Using toothpicks, construction paper and crayons, I would try to “build a turkey” to take to our Thanksgiving feast at my grandparents. Although it was always rather “Picasso-like” in its appearance, it was MY tradition.

Once we arrived at my grandparents house on Duquesne Ave. in West Mifflin, my mother and all of my aunts went into “auto-drive.” They’d all march into the kitchen and go about their meal prep assignments. It was like a room full of Harriet Nelsons, complete with 1950 dresses and frilly aprons! Aunt Peg and Aunt Helen had begun preparing, stuffing and roasting the mammoth turkey in the pre-dawn hours. The remaining tasks were preparing the side dishes, baking the rolls, setting the table and so on.

In the meantime, all of the guys would park themselves in the living room and begin watching the football games on TV, toasting the holiday with shots and beers, and basically assuming the male-chauvinistic posture of the era. They would spend their pre-meal time arguing about the game, making their plans for their post-Thanksgiving deer hunting expedition and discussing “the good old days” and growing-up in Adrian, Pa in Armstrong County.

By the time the guys were getting a bit “hammered,” it would be nearing dinnertime. My dad, as the eldest son in the Volk family, had the responsibility of carving the turkey. He would carefully slice the bird and divide the meat into light and dark platefuls of juicy goodness. By the time he was finished, the ladies had prepared the gravy and everyone was called into dinner. Of course, the children were relegated to the “kids table” in some remote corner of the kitchen, while the adults gathered around the oversized, makeshift banquet table. I always felt sorry for my aunts during the meal. They would normally sit near the stove and constantly bounce up and down from their seats, refilling the bowls and platters of food, as they were practically inhaled by everyone. No one walked away from the table hungry. The food just kept on coming until everyone was satisfied.

Immediately after the main meal, all of the men would retreat from the table and reposition themselves to their former seats in front of the TV. (I’m not saying it was the correct thing to do, but it was the reality of the era!) All of the ladies would be stuck with the post-meal clean-up chores without the aid of their brothers/husbands. Tables would be cleared, leftovers stored, dishes washed and dried (no dishwashers in those days,) and as a treat for themselves, fresh coffee would be perked. After all of the duties were completed, the ladies would begin a much deserved rest, sitting around the kitchen table, drinking coffee, and taking part in a “gabfest.”

In the meantime, all of the husbands would practically be in a tryptophan induced coma in the living room for hours. The only way they were awakened, was through the enticement of dessert! Everyone would re-gather at the table and enjoy the numerous pumpkin pies that my aunts had prepared. The sounds of Reddi-Whip aerosol cans squirting mounds of whipped cream on top of the pies filled the room. There was always someone trying to squirt the whipped cream directly into their mouths, only to be yelled at by one of the aunts! Some things were so predictable!

After approximately an hour after enjoying the wonderful desserts, platters of sliced turkey, dinner rolls and other leftovers would re-emerge and make their way back to the table. One by one, everyone began gleaning the remaining food. Turkey and stuffing sandwiches, additional pieces of pie and every other left over made their way back onto plates and into the stomachs of all those attending.

And so went our Thanksgiving Day, and as I stated earlier, a blueprint of practically every other family get-together throughout the year. So here’s to good food, families and the good life in Duquesne. We had so much to be thankful for!

Here’s a little Thanksgiving retrospect from the Duquesne newspapers:

Below – 1929

Below – 1932

Prosperity Makes a Comeback – 1935

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16 Responses to Hunkys and Turkeys and Snow, OH MY!

  1. Michael Bashista says:

    Jim, great blog as usual. You bring back so many of our memories of the life and celebrations we had growing up in Duquesne. Your Thanksgiving dinner description sounded a bit like the one we just had but not quite as male/female segregated like it was in the old days. Had most of my children, grandchildren and a few close friends in for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
    Loved the snow pictures and need to find mine to sendto you. I think that 1st Kennedy Ave shot is “approaching 4th St.”. As the stone bldg on the right is the Lutheran church which was at corner of 4th and Kennedy.
    Hope you, your family and all our “family” on this blog had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  2. Sharon Denne Beal says:

    This is my first experience of your blog….thank you for the memories.

  3. Eileen Tokar Lilley says:

    Fourth year, 275th blog and 417,000 hits by us “Hunky Junkies”. Quite an accomplishment……congratulations! Keep up the great writings and we will keep up the reading! Happy Holidays to you and your family and all your readers.

  4. Regis Lesko says:

    The pix showing a store with a man at the doorway was maybe the store we once owned. In 1951 or so my dad bought from my uncle Dan Toboz. I have no idea when Toboz bought it. The mill gate was still open at the Hamilton street entrance until the 837 and the shopping center opened. By my calculation the building was razed in 1957 and my family moved up the street and opened a bar and another store in the Jacobs building which my parents bought. To this day I think the building is still in my family.Across the street was the Atlantic gas station and up from that was a small church that was a Sunday gathering of Afro Armericans singing great Gospel music.

  5. Lou Andriko, RPh says:

    Lou A. says: On
    December 7, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    …those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end….

    As your 1st replier, I figured this is still appropriate. I applaud your efforts for gathering memories and old acquaintances. Stay well and enjoy your accomplishments, my friend.

  6. Jeri McLaughlin Lemak says:

    I remember the store as being Hershbergers when I was growing up. My mother bought all of our furniture there. The big snow on Thaksgiving day, we got stuck at my sister’s on the topof Grant Ave. for 5 days and we only lived at the bottom of Crawford St. Couldn’t walk home. Remember I said walk

  7. Susi Davis says:

    Enjoyed this blog tremendously!
    I’m a newcomer to Duquesne (moved here in 1990) and have always been interested in it’s history!
    Thank you!

  8. Dan Polinsky says:

    I love reading your blog! I was born in Duquesne back in 1955. My Uncle Frank (Blackie) was a bit of an icon in Duquesne since he worked for many years at Schinks Hardware. My father Steve moved us all to West Mifflin but we always had great ties to Duquesne. As a child, my dad used to take me to Adler Greens mens store for clothes and we used to visit the Moose each year to visit Santa Claus. I spent time working at the mill serving as the Fire Chief and I worked closely with the Duquesne Fire Dept. Anyway, keep up the great work! I love the pictures!

    Dan Polinsky

  9. says:

    Happy Thanksgiving all!   Russ Svitlak Acheson

  10. Lou Weber says:

    Thank you Jim, may your family enjoy this day of thanksgiving together, if possible, remembering the past, enjoying the present and looking forward to the future.

  11. Fantastic blog. My sincere appreciation for the labor of love…………Thanks!

    • Marlene Yarosik Prosnik says:

      Are you related to the Simerals on Meadow St. that owned a small grocery? I lived in the next block w/my parents and sister next to the Protz family (the Yarosiks).
      Marlene Yarosik Prosnik

      • My dear, I am the Simeral that lived on Meadow street and my dad had the grocery store on the corner. I was very surprised to hear from you. Remember you very well. Those were much simpler days a d a lot of fun. I went by Chuck Simeral back then and we owned Meadow street, or so we thought. Please give my best to you and yours, really glad you sent message. Please keep in touch and maybe we can relive the good ole days. My love to all.

  12. Bob Chermonitz says:

    A Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, Jim. Also, to all of us from Duquesne. My memories of Thanksgiving in Duquesne are always with me. God Bless! 🙏

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