Stockdale dances rekindle memories
For Joe Rohaley of Chester, Va., the All Oldies, Only Oldies dances at the Stockdale Volunteer Fire Department's social center and banquet room offer a welcome journey down Memory Lane.
“Yes, it's a rather long trip but it's worth it,” Rohaley, a native of Daisytown, said of the 329-mile, six-hour drive from Chester to Stockdale. “I caught up with a lot of longtime friends tonight, and we had a great time. We came to the original record hops here in the 1950s, so there a lot of wonderful memories in this building.”
Rohaley, a 1959 graduate of California Community High School, was among the 520 oldies aficionados reveling at the most recent dance at Stockdale. So were George and Bernadette Soltis of Greensburg.
“It was another enjoyable evening,” said the former Bernadette Savarino of Monessen. Her husband also is a native of Monessen “Everyone there is always so nice. The firemen welcome you with open arms, the music is great and the people are so friendly. George and I always had fun at the dances here in the 1950s and 1960s and coming back rekindles so many fond memories of those days.”
Al Marcy, assistant fire chief and entertainment chairman at the Stockdale Fire Department, said that's the basic idea of the dances.
“We want to turn back the hands of time and offer a comfortable setting with the music they grew up with,” Marcy said. “Our firemen take great pride in the tradition that began here in 1957 and that has continued over the years. We are extremely grateful to the thousands of people who have supported our dances. They are the reason for the success of these events.”
Rick Sebak, the award-winning television documentary producer/writer for WQED and PBS, was a special guest at the recent dance at Stockdale.
“This is such a beautiful facility,” Sebak said of the firefighters' social center. “And it's filled with such wonderful people. They certainly know how to make you feel right at home.”
Marcy and SVFD chief T.J. Wilkinson presented Sebak with a commemorative plaque in appreciation and recognition of his 25-plus years of “excellence in television.”
“Rick's documentaries offer reminders of the past, of course, but they also introduce us a world of new people, places, sounds and sights in western Pennsylvania and across the country,” Marcy said. “It certainly was our pleasure and privilege to have him here. Stockdale has always enjoyed a reputation of presenting special guests and (Sebak) enhanced and advanced that tradition.”
The original Stockdale record hops for teenagers began in 1957 and ran through 1964. Crowds of 1,000 or more were commonplace during the heyday of the dances, which featured top artists in the recording business performing live on the center stage.
“It always amazed us as to how many big names entertained here,” Rohaley said as he viewed framed displays of such artists as Little Anthony, the Flamingos, the Skyliners, Lou Christie, the McGuire Sisters and the Orlons that welcome visitors to the Stockdale venue. “You would see these people on television and hear their music on the radio and the next thing you knew, they were at Stockdale.”
The recent series of dances evolved in February 2006 at a belated 50th anniversary hop that drew some 1,100 people from the Mon Valley, western Pennsylvania and across the United States. Seating has been limited since that event, and ensuing dances have drawn between 500 and 600.
Marcy also lauded disc jockey Ralph Trilli and his engineer, Carl Calcara, for their roles in the success of the dances.
“Ralph had a master play list based on the songs people like best,” Marcy said. “But he and Carl are very flexible and quickly adjust with special requests and dedications. Their knowledge of the music and ability and willingness to change course at a moment's notice are an integral ingredient of our efforts for customer satisfaction. The formula seems to be working well; the people keep coming back.”