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.



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 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


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


Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

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.


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  


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.


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.


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.


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


      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



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!


Ashley Stabler


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. 


George Bornyek  








Posted in Christmas Memories, Church and School - Holy Trinity, Feedback From Our Friends, Food and Restaurants, Hunky Celebrations, Miscellaneous | 11 Comments

Merry Christmas My Friends!

After a very long absence and just about the time that things in my life are FINALLY coming together, I’ve been bitten by the ‘Hollybug’ and decided to reach out once again to all of my friends. It’s Christmastime and I’m ready to haul out all of the old traditions and memories that have been part of my life. To do so, I’m reaching back into my archives to one of the very first posts I wrote when I began this site. Call it an ‘oldie but goodie’ if you will. However, just as I will never get tired of hearing Perry Como sing “There’s No Place Like Home For The Holidays,” I will never tire of remembering one of my fondest Hunky traditions, the Christmas Eve Vilija! I hope you enjoy reading about it again and perhaps even trying some of the recipes for your own Christmas Eve dinner!!

Christmas VILIJA! What In The Hunky World Is That??

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

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Easter’s Big Production

I have gotten to the point in my life that I am no longer able to find any station on local radio that satisfies my musical preferences. I now defer and have become addicted to NPR (National Public Radio.) Today, I listened to a discription of the guest speaker’s trip to Germany and that he attended the 2010 performance of The Passion Play in Oberammergau,  Germany.

According to Wikipedia: The Oberammergau Passion Play was first performed in 1634 and is the result of a vow made by the inhabitants of the village that if God spared them from the effects of the bubonic plague then sweeping the region they would perform a passion play every ten years. A man travelling back to the town for Christmas had accidentally brought the plague with him. The man died from the plague and it began spreading throughout Oberammergau. After the vow was made, not another inhabitant of the town died from the bubonic plague and all of the town members that were still suffering from the plague recovered. The play is now performed in years ending with a zero, as well as in 1934 which was the 300th anniversary and 1984 which was the 350th anniversary (though the 1940 performance was cancelled because of the intervention of the Second World War). It involves over 2000 actors, singers, instrumentalists and technicians, all residents of the village.

Angela Gheorghiu sings to the pictures of John L. Stoddard’s trip to Oberammergan to see the Passion Play in the year of 1890. All photos copyright by John L. Stoddard 1898, All music credit to Angela Gheorghiu, song is: Sacred Romanian Orthodox Church Song.

As many of you know, an annual production of a play, similar to the Passion Play, was offer in Duquesne at one time. The play, called Calvery, was written in the early 19th Century by an Augustinian priest. A member of the Duquesne-West Mifflin chapter of the Knights of Columbus, which is putting on the play, had read it as a youth and saw his chance of producing when he became a chapter official. As situations changed in Duquesne over the years, the annual event ceased. Eventually, the demolition of our beloved Carneige Library on 2nd street and the fact that so many steelworkers left the area with the demise of the steel industry.

About three years ago, I published a post that was not only about Duquesne’s production of Calvery, but also featured the article published in LIFE magazine in 1960 about the uniquiness of Duquesne’s production. As we all think about the upcoming celebration of Easter, let’s also reflect on those who made our Easter season so special while growing up in Duquesne.


Last week, many of us made our annual midweek trip to Church to obtain the mark of our humanity and mortality. Ash Wednesday, as a child of Holy Name Grade School, was an ashevent that unlike five of the seven sacraments, was not age restricted. Wee ones were able to approach the altar side-by-side with parents and siblings, older kids, teens and adults alike. 

The good sisters at Holy Name did an outstanding job of helping every child understand the solemnity and significance of the Ash Wednesday. I can still hear Sister Martin DePorres telling us the reason behind the ashes as we sat in her 2nd grade classroom. At that age, ANYTHING that a nun would tell us was gospel in our minds. So with awe and wonderment we would proudly wear our ashes throughout the day and spontaneously begin all of our Lenten rituals and responsibilities. 

As a child, I remember the big decision I had to make at the start of each Lenten season. What was I going to give up for Lent? Of course my first inclination was to give up things like spinach or brussel sprouts, but those were never given the thumbs-up from Mom or the nuns since I would NEVER, EVER, consider eating them in the first place. My final choice was usually a STRONLY suggested one from Mom. Candy, cookies, donuts or cake were usually her “go-to” items. The 40 days of Lent were the longest I could ever imagine as a child. 

Here’s a bit of trivia about the 40 days of Lent that unfortunately, I learned too late in life. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia: 

Question: Lent, the period of prayer and fasting in preparation for Easter, is 40 days long, but there are 46 days between Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, and Easter. So how are the 40 days of Lent calculated? 

Answer: The answer takes us back to the earliest days of the Church. Christ’s original disciples, who were Jewish, grew up with the idea that the Sabbath—the day of worship and of rest—was Saturday, the seventh day of the week, since the account of creation in Genesis says that God rested on the seventh day. 

Christ rose from the dead, however, on Sunday, the first day of the week, and the early Christians, starting with the apostles (those original disciples), saw Christ’s Resurrection as a new creation, and so they transferred the day of rest and worship from Saturday to Sunday. 

Since all Sundays—and not simply Easter Sunday—were days to celebrate Christ’s Resurrection, Christians were forbidden to fast and do other forms of penance on those days. Therefore, when the Church expanded the period of fasting and prayer in preparation for Easter from a few days to 40 days (to mirror Christ’s fasting in the desert, before He began His public ministry), Sundays could not be included in the count. 

Thus, in order for Lent to include 40 days on which fasting could occur, it had to be expanded to six full weeks (with six days of fasting in each week) plus four extra days—Ash Wednesday and the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday that follow it. Six times six is thirty-six, plus four equals forty. And that’s how we arrive at the 40 days of Lent! 

Had I known this as a child, I would have definitely used this tidbit as a way to eat sweets on Sundays. DARN!!!! 

I have to toss out a big “thank you” to Mike Ferchak for the comment he made earlier this 4-18-60week. He reminded me of a Duquesne institution of sorts, and one that was featured in LIFE Magazine in April of 1960. Aside from the rudimentary aspects of the Lenten Season that I remember, I also recall attending one of the performances of the Passion Play at Duquesne Library with my parents. I was able to unearth the article from the April 18, 1960 issue of LIFE and wanted to share it with you.

Just in case your eyesight is as dicey as mine, I’ve transcribed the text from the article so that you can read it more easily.


For centuries, the story of Christ’s betrayal, trial and crucifixion has been retold during Lent in passion plays acted by laymen. This year an unusual troupe in Pittsburgh has given the play a special kind of homely realism. The actors are mostly steelworkers whose rugged bearing gives them a look that the apostles – who were workingmen – and Roman soldiers might have had. And their involvement in the roles gives their portrayals a sincerity that more than makes up for their lack of polish.

The play, called Calvery, was written in the early 19th Century by an Augustinian priest. A member of the Duquesne-West Mifflin chapter of the Knights of Columbus, which is putting on the play, had read it as a youth and saw his chance of producing when he became a chapter official. It took a great deal of coaxing to get the steelworkers to join the cast, but once they agreed, they worked hard. Preformed seven times during Lent, the play was gripped audiences – and also the actors. Long after the curtain has dropped, they find themselves still caught up in the play and their parts, as they explained in the captions with their pictures.

Passion Play 1


Foreman – Judas

The role of the traitorous apostle, above, counting his 30 pieces of silver, is played by John Ponist, a 47-year-old foreman at U.S.Steel’s Hempstead plant. He finds his role runs him “emotionally dry. . . . . . It takes something out of you to play the part of a man who committed the greatest injustice in history. You can’t help but feel the torture that was racking Judas’ soul.”


Guard – Christ

The 44-year-old policeman at U.S.Steel’s Duquesne Works and brother of the man who plays Judas. Joseph Ponist took the part of Christ only because he “figured somebody had to do it.” Now he finds that it “seems to have made me better. Every once in a while a guy cusses but now I watch myself on that. When you play that role you can’t help but act up to it.”

 Passion Play 2


Foreman – Abiron the Leper

Trainor, 36, a foreman at U.S.Steel’s Irvin Works, plays the part of a leper stoned by the Pharisees because he has overheard their plot. His part was originally a small one but it was made bigger as the rehearsals went on. The play made him “stop and think. . . . Now we know what Calvary is all about. It’s made better Christians of all of us.”



Draftsman – a Chief Priest

The Pharisee leader shown below stoning Abiron the Leper is played by a 31-year-old draftsman at the Ceco Steel Products Corp. in Pittsburgh. A friend persuaded him to try for the part. The play, he says, “really moves you . . . brings you a spiritual lift.” It has given him a sense of history that he did not have, “a feeling for what Calvary was.”

Passion Play 3

MEMBERS OF THE CAST assemble in the final scene (above) and on a Pittsburgh street after work (below).In the foreground of the stage is John Matico, the director of the play, who also plays a high priest. The Christ on the cross (Joe Ponist) stands on the far left in the picture below. The thief on the cross at right (Peter Kanski) stands next to him in the street. Next are Joe Timko (Saint Peter) and Larry Trainor (leper). The others had small parts.

Thank you again Mike for reminding me to remember! I can’t help but wonder if the “Pittsburgh Street” identified in the last picture was actually taken in Duquesne. Any thoughts?


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Slovak Easter Cheese

Spring has officially arrived and I have given myself a kick in the rear end and decided to revitalize my committment to my blog, The Duquesne Hunky. There is so much to catch up on and as begin to collect my thoughts and begin to write, I thought I needed to address a request for a favorite Easter subject. With less than two weeks before Easter, there’s still time to gather your ingredients and recreate an Easter treat that our mothers and grandmothers may have made……..


Richard Terek added a comment yesterday, March 20, 2012, in response to my posting about the wonderful treats our mothers and grandmothers used to make at Eastertime. Specifically, he mentioned the hot cross buns and the puska. Richard then added:

” I remember my grandmother making Sirecz (Egg Cheese) for Easter too!”

In honor of your grandmother and all of our “Bubbas” and mothers who cooked from their hearts, I found a recipe that duplicates the Easter Egg Cheese of our youths.


Called cirek, sirets, sirok, sirecz, Hrudka or just Easter egg cheese since it traditionally served on Paska (Easter Bread) A traditional Slovak Easter Cheese served with the Easter meal. This is served sliced and cold. It tastes like a sweet custard.”


12 eggs

1 quart milk

1 cup white sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 pinch ground nutmeg


1. In an electric mixer, beat the eggs until mixed well.

2. Transfer the eggs to a double boiler and stir in milk, sugar, vanilla and nutmeg. Cook over a medium heat for 30 minutes. Use a metal slotted spoon and constantly stir the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching.

3. When the mixture looks just like cooked scrambled eggs, pour it carefully into a cheesecloth-lined colander. Carefully gather the ends of the cheesecloth in your hands and pull them together until the cheese forms into a ball. Tie the cheesecloth tightly at the top of the ball. Tie the cheesecloth ends over a faucet or to the handle of a kitchen cabinet (place a bowl under to catch the whey dripping down) and let hang for about 3 hours.

4. Untie the cheesecloth and wrap the cheesecloth ball in plastic wrap before refrigerating. The cheese will keep for about a week. Slice and serve.


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Be Sure To Tune In

Hello friends! Long time no see, or should I say long time, no hear from me. More on that later, I promise a new post very soon.

I received an email from Dennis Ragan and Jim Ragan informing me that there is going to be a special broadcast of  Jim Ragan’s documentary,“Flowers and Roots, Ambassador of the Arts,” on Sat. Nov 5 at 9 pm on “Filmmakers Corner.” Arina Films had chosen to document his life in the arts, including the influence his Duquesne upbringing and ethnic roots have had on his poetry, drama, and films, as well as his role on the international stage.



Dennis, Jim’s nephew has also sent me some valuable Hunky information as we roll into the beginning of the holiday season! Learn how to make a REAL iconic Hunky dish…

“Real Potato” Halusky Class

For anyone interested in learning how to make “real” halusky like Baba (grandma) made it, I’ll be doing a cooking class at Westmoreland County Community College in Youngwood (on the Duquesne side of Greensburg).  This is the real stuff made with potatoes and flour (not noodles), a real Slovak dish brought to this country by our grandparents and great-grandparents.  The class is this Tuesday, Nov. 1, from 6 pm to 9 pm.  I do a brief talk about halusky, then we proceed to the WCCC culinary kitchen to make it.  Then we have a halusky meal afterward. I’m from Duquesne of course and have been teaching this course for about seven years.  WCCC charges a tuition fee of $22 plus $5 material fee. To register, contact Sylvia Detar, director of Continuing Education, at WCCC.  800-262-2103 x 4190 or email her at

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In Memorium – Tim Chonko


I received the following from Tammy Chonko on April 5th:

From Tammy Chonko:

This Easter, well March 10th, my husband for 39 years and high school sweetheart from DHS class of ’76 passed away suddenly from an aneurysm. Our time on earth is precious. Live every moment as though it is your last. He was in the hospital talking with me one moment, called out my name, and slumped into the chair with his last breath.
He and I lived in Duquesne all but for 3 years while he was in the Army. I will never forget him saying as we rode through the streets recently, “Tam, I love this town. I just love it.”
There IS something about Duquesne that sticks in your heart. Tim knew someone everywhere we went, mainly because he grew up in the Burns Heights projects. He shared many fond memories of that time. Funny, but he even knew someone who was buried about ten stones down from him in the crypt at Cemetery of the Alleghenies. forgive me if I get this wrong, but I think it was his baseball coach, Mr. Ted Barker.
I write to say Tim’s good-bye to all he knew. He loved everyone and treated all is if he knew them forever. His Chonko laugh and sweet blue-eyed infectious smiling face will be missed in this world.
Hope lives in the resurrection of Our Lord that we will meet again.
Tammy Chonko



Thank you for your beautiful heartfelt tribute to Tim. I am sure that he is smiling down on you, proud of your incredible strength of character to remember him to the people and city that he loved. As remarkable a husband that he must have been, you too are an incredible wife. Thank you for your thoughts and conveying his love for Duquesne. God bless you and your family on behalf of all of those who shared Tim’s love for the place he called home.

Jim Volk – The Duquesne Hunky


Tim ChonkoTimothy M. “Tim” Chonko, 57, of Duquesne, died Thursday, March 10, 2016, at UPMC Shadyside. He was born Aug. 22, 1958, in McKeesport, to the late Joseph and Marian (Koontz) Chonko. He worked for Field Environmental Instrument as an electrical technician. He formerly worked at Pittsburgh Brewing Co. as an electrical foreman. He proudly served his country in the Army. He was the husband of 39 years to Tammy Chonko; father of Jeffrey (Erin) Chonko, Julia Chonko and Kara (Ryan) Sharp Dixon; grandfather of R.J. Dixon; brother of Esther (late Joseph “Bud”) Kratzenberg, Patricia (late Carl) Bucy, Ruth (George) Pisko, Virginia “Ginny” (Ralph) Lemak, Ona (Mark) Horgas, James “Jimbo” (Marie) Chonko, late JoEllyn “Jody” (late Calvin) Wigton; also nieces and nephews.



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