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Living life on his own terms

| Tuesday, March 12, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
In his Rostraver Township home, James L. Gallina, 99, talks about his life. In front of him is his engineer's license, which he received in 1977 from the City of Pittsburgh; and a picture of steel-toe safety inserts for work boots that he helped redesign and sell with the help of Irene F. and Leo H. Kwiecinski. They started a company called J.I.L. Corp. in 1953.

Marking 100 years is a milestone that surprises James Gallina.

“I didn't expect to live until 70,” Gallina said.

The Rostraver Township man has battled cancer and a heart attack. Doctors diagnosed Gallina with bladder cancer in the early 1990s. He suffered a heart attack a few years ago.

“The doctors are keeping me going,” Gallina said. “If it wasn't for the doctors, I'd have been gone years ago. I have three doctors who look after me.”

Gallina, who has been hospitalized a half-dozen times, is a fighter.

He was born May 2, 1913, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. He grew up on the family farm, but lived in the city.

Gallina went to work in the Algoma Steel Co. in Sault Ste. Marie when he was 16.

“At 16, they paid me a boy's wages, not a man's wages,” Gallina said. “By the time I turned 18, the Depression came and they shut down the plant.

“My dad had horses which he used to haul coal, wood. That was the only income we had during the Depression.”

Gallina eventually moved to Pittsburgh, where his aunt lived. He moved to Rostraver Township in 1971.

He worked various odd jobs before enlisting in the Army in December 1942. After a year stateside, he was shipped to England, where he served for six months.

He went to France right after the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. Gallina served with the 90th General Hospital in Bar Le Duc, France as a maintenance man. He worked in a small shop located just outside the hospital. Gallina still receives a modest pension for “a little scrape” he received during the war. The hospital was strafed on a few occasions by German fighter pilots, mostly toward the end of the war, Gallina said. During one such attack, he was struck in the forehead by a stone kicked up in the gunfire.

Gallina got his naturalization papers while in the Army, becoming a U.S. Citizen.

He was discharged in January 1946.

After the war, Gallina worked at Continental Can, retiring in 1978 after 30 years service.

Although neighbors to his mobile home in Van Meter look after him, Gallina said he enjoys his independence. He still drives his Jeep, but he doesn't go out after dark.

A golf bag with clubs sits near his front door. But Gallina admits he hasn't hit the links in 20 years, right before his cancer diagnoses.

Still he gets enjoyment tending his garden.

“I'm waiting for the warm weather so I can get out and work in my garden,” Gallina said. “I have a third of an acre. I grow everything, and give it to my neighbors.”

Gallina has a niece and nephew in Michigan, but no other family. Never married, he has outlived most of his family.

“I enjoyed my life,” Gallina said. “My life was OK.”

As he approaches the century mark, Gallina lives life on his own terms.

“I'm going to die here – I'm not going into a home,” Gallina said. “I have no intentions of going into a home. I've been to a few homes to look after some friends.

“I didn't like the look of them.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or