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

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13 Responses to Voices from Duquesne – October 5, 2015

  1. Eileen Tokar Lilley says:

    Hello to Dave Adams ,
    If your parents names were Honey and Mike, we know each other. My aunt and uncle are Dave and Dorothy Howard on Glencairn. Uncle Dave is still alive and staying with his son David in Duquesne Annex. My parents were George and Agnes Tokar and I have a brother Tom. Please write back on this blog or you can contact me through Facebook or my email address elilley53@msn.com.

    Thank you again, Jim for your blog. Another contact made.

  2. Dave Forgash says:

    To Mike Bilcsik,
    After reading your post I plicked my dogeared copy of “And The Wolf Finally Came” by John Hoerr.
    Sure enough in this 680 page explanation of The Decline of the American Steel Indusrty Mike is mentioned frequently. Mike started out in the blast furnace and eventually became president of Local 1256. Mike is credited as being a reformer and tried to introduce Labor-Management Participation Teams and the plant superintendent turned him down flatly. He also made a valiant efforts to save Dorothy 6 that failed due to the short sightedness of others- managment – labor and politicians. As we all know these kinds of teams Mike proposed are common place in most business today and produce positive results, Mike was just ahead of his time. One thing in the book that struck close to home was Mike’s first day on the job having graduated from electronics school, he noticed noticed a defective wire on the electrical track and pointed it out to the veteran ” motor inspector” that they need to fix it now. The veteran motor inspector tells Mike we don’t fix that until the boss tells us to, then you fix it! What a start to a career.
    I worked 2 summers at Wheeling Pitt rolling mill in Yorkville OH while in college. (1964-65) My first day on the job I was given a bucket of solvent and told to wipe the excess palm oil off a very large rolling machine. In 4 hours I am finished climb down and feeling very proud of my accomplishment. Another worker approached me and asked what I was doing and I said I am looking for the foreman, I completed this job and I need something else to do. He said son that is an eight hour job, get your ass back up there and when the foreman wants you, he will find you. Being a Slovak from Duquesne with no Union Knowlege this guy was not going to tell me what to do so we got into a shouting and shoving match and soon there are three more employees on the scene to confront me and one says to me, “like the man said now either get back up there or we will break your legs” so without hesitation I climb back up on the roller. (Slovaks learn quick) I got the message and from that day on I had no problems, just did what I was told. Truth be told other than that one incident, I enjoyed my time in the mill especially the hard working Union men. I only had 2 summers, but still have many good stories of my time in the mill. But I was oh so grateful to graduate college and move on.
    Mike was at the blast furnace picnic this past summer. My brother Dennis worked with Mike
    when Mike was grievance man for entire blast furnace.
    I am guessing there are times when Mike thinks “what if”. Many of us who follow Jim’s Blog I know often wonder What If…………………

    • John aka Jack Berta DHS '62 says:

      Hi Dave,
      Good to hear from you again. Like you and Mike and so many others I’ve often wondered What If. This is mine. What If more of the talent that went through Duquesne High School could have stayed in Duquesne? What If?

      • Mike Bilcsik says:

        The talent didn’t stay in Duquesne, but Duquesne produced great talent. I’ll take that.

  3. Lisa Robertson says:

    Love reading The Duquesne Hunky. Though I was actually born in Elizabeth, Pa. in 1957, so many of your stories touch on very real memories of the places and people of that area for me. I moved to Reedville, Va. in 1984, but Pittsburgh and the Steel Valley will always be my home. Saurkraut and Kielbasa is still, and always will be, New Years Day. Hunky Hand gernades…oh how I love them. Islys chipped ham bbq, I would walk barefoot over hot coals to have just one more. And The Steelers, Pirates and Penguins….only teams I know. Keep writing and I’ll keep reading. Thanks for the memories.

  4. Carl Rumble says:

    Jim, What I’d like to see is a section of “What ever happened to” ? where you could just type in a name and find out what ever happened to.

  5. Jennifer Onaitis Legler says:

    For nutrolls you cannot beat Bubba Rolls. Great taste and customer service. http://store.bubbashomebaked.com

  6. Tom Wandless says:

    The one thing I remember was If you were driving past the Mill at quitting time it was damn near impossible to get thru,traffic was stopped because of one shift going home and one shift going to work … Workers coming out of the MILL GATE bar and workers heading to the Mill Gate bar. I knew the owner of the bar,he would keep $100,000 cash on hand to cash checks on pay day.. Guys would settle up on their tabs,have a shot & beer and go home !! This was in the 69-70″s !! We thought it would never end !!! Tom W

  7. Mike Korinko says:

    Greetings Jim,

    I want to thank you and all the folks who contributed to your Blog. I am 68 years old soon to be 69 and I cannot put into words the wonderful memories that your Blog brings back.

    Kind Regards Mike Korinko

    • stanbel says:

      Good to see you here, are you living in Duquesne?
      Stan Belbsck

      • Mike Bilcsik says:

        Hi Stan, I now live in Munhall, or Hunky Heaven as I call it. I drive through Duquesne often, and sometimes tour the neighborhoods. Aside from Duquesne Place and the Macedonia Church, the town is going through a dignified decline to nothing. U S Steel still controls any economic benefits that could benefit the town, and they don’t care. They won’t even let you on their property that taxpayers are paying to maintain.
        As a history buff, I see Duquesne as the quintessential company town. Mayor Crawford would be proud of what he started. When the Duquesne Works was being shut down, the politicians all fled our cause with one exception. His name slips my mind, but he’s now mayor. Phil K, I think.
        The people of Duquesne is another story. When you work in a steel mill you have to trust your buddy for safety reasons. You also work in teams. It builds a bond that goes through color. It produces good people who have good children. When the union asked the town for help, people turned out in droves. There was a parade supporting our cause. The Macedonia Church reached out to us. I ran into people who cried when they told me what the mill meant to them. I am proud to be from Duquesne, but not because of the politicians. Aside from that, isn’t life wonderful! Duquesne will disappear and something better will replace it.

  8. Kinndes says:

    Jim, I have a great article on Duquesne that I would like to get into your hands. It’s from The Daily News. Don’t remember the date. But I looked for it online with no luck. Bob Chermonitz could vouch for me, as he lived next door on Commonwealth. How can I physically get this to you? It’s newsprint and my scanner is spastic. Becky Wahly Woolsey

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Jim says:

      Becky, my home address is 4 North Pintail Drive, Ocean Pines, MD 21811. Feel free to mail it to that address. I will scan it and return it to you. Thanks for checking in with me!

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