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Oyler: Bridgeville icon Huck O'Neil dies

| Thursday, May 17, 2012, 1:33 p.m.

I learned of Huck O'Neil's death in an email from Russ Kovach; Huck's cousin, Gary Casciola, had notified Russ by phone. I immediately began to plan a column in Huck's memory.

I asked Russ to find out more details and at once found myself in a thread of emails between Russ, Dorothy Maioli Stenzel, another cousin, and Huck's son Bob.

I requested a copy of Huck's obituary, in the hopes it would provide some information I lacked. What I received was a wonderful recounting of his life by his son, based on Huck's recollections.

It is far too eloquent for me to paraphrase, so I have incorporated it verbatim into this column.

"Robert ‘Huck' O'Neil was born Feb. 21, 1931 in Bridgeville to Anita (nee Maioli) and Patrick O'Neil, the youngest of seven children. Fiery red hair, he was a terror in and around the area, known to his mother as a ‘little red- headed brat.' Huck got his nickname from his adventurous spirit and dislike for shoes like a little ‘Huckleberry Finn.' There were a number of Maiolis in the area and they had a very strong impact on his life as he grew up.

Huck was a man who went from local high school three-sport legend (football, baseball and basketball) to Duquesne, Notre Dame and Steelers standout, a football player who dived into the middle of life and NFL lines with every ounce of fervor in his large, muscular body. Not interested in the fledgling NBA, hoping for an MLB spot (his first love was baseball), drafted into the NFL in 1953, before he could play, Huck was sent to France to serve in the Air Force during the Korean War.

One of the only Americans ever to play rugby in the French Rugby League, Huck continued to astound us with his athletic prowess. Returning to the U.S. after his deployment, Huck played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Calgary Stampeders (CFL), Montreal Alouettes (CFL), and the NY Titans (now Jets), retiring in 1962. Hall of fame quarterback Johnny Unitas was a camp mate (Johnny got cut, but Huck made the team!) Huck chose football over an offer to play for a professional baseball team, because his mother wanted him to be the first of the family to get a college degree.

Huck met his lifelong love, Margaret ‘Peggy' O'Neil (nee McGrath), at a Steelers function where she was working as a model. His degree in hand, Huck joined Ryan Homes - now Ryland International - and began a career of building single family communities throughout North America. One of his designs led to introducing affordable, single family homes into the mainstream of the 1970s through 1990s. Eventually achieving the title of vice president development and sales, Huck's career brought him and his family around the U.S. and Canada. He was past President of the Homebuilders Association and ‘Kentucky Colonel' - bestowed as an honorary title by the governor of Kentucky - a testament to his popularity.

Huck retired in 1980 and went to work for himself as a general contractor. Some accomplishments that he was proud of were building a seminary campus in Calgary, Canada and Habitat for Humanity homes in California and Arizona.

Centralia, Wash., was where he and Peggy lived the longest continuous stretch, enjoying hunting, fishing, and the Pacific Northwest lifestyle.

He was active in St. Mary's Church in Centralia, a member of the Knights of Columbus and doting husband.

Huck was preceded in death by wife Peggy (2008) and daughter Colleen (1966) and survived by seven children and their families: Glenn (Newton Mass.), Anita (Chicago), Bob (Kirkland Wash.), Kevin (Centralia, Wash.), Sean (Rochester, Wash.), Erin (Denver), and Brian (Olympia, Wash.), 15 grandchildren, and one great grandchild."

Huck's life was celebrated May 5 by a rosary and mass at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Church, in Woodinville, Wash., followed by an Irish wake at his son's home. I emailed Bob condolences to the family from our Octogenarian Brunch group and added that we all wished we could participate in the wake.

Huck was an important part of our class of 1949 at Bridgeville High School. I think our youth could be symbolized by the image of his leading newly-crowned May Queen Sally Russell to the middle of the dance floor, and then waltzing with her. We were all so young and so optimistic, and they were our king and queen.

Reach columnist John Oyler at 412-343-1652 or joylerpa@comcast.net.

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