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By any name, Charleroi native keeps on dancing

| Saturday, June 22, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Bob Pendleton and Jane Johnson 6-22-13
Bob Pendleton and Jane Johnson 6-22-13

As a teenager growing up in Charleroi in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Bob Polacek developed a keen penchant for dancing.

Today, more than 50 years later, Bob Pendleton perpetuates that passion as a highly respected dance instructor and award winning competitive dancer in Phoenix.

Confused? Don't be.

Polacek and Pendleton are one in the same.

“I guess it is a bit confusing, especially to those who remember me by my nicknames in school, ‘Hersh' or ‘Hershal,'” Pendleton, a 1963 graduate of Charleroi High School, said. “But the transition of names was a necessity. In 1965 my brother Bill and I were discussing the constant problems with all new acquaintances mispronouncing – or, in some cases, slaughtering – our last name. This was especially a hindrance in business situations and we both felt we needed something more simplified. Bill came up with Pendleton and I went along with his decision.

“We didn't feel we were rejecting our Eastern European heritage; rather, just eliminating some obstacles in our careers.”

Bill (Polacek) Pendleton was only 48 when he died of colon cancer in Malibu, Calif. He was a 1958 graduate of Charleroi High School, where he was a standout wrestler and tennis player, and a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University, where he also wrestled.

“Bill was a main frame computer specialist and in his final year was a leader in inventory control systems that we are now so used to at the supermarket with those scanning bar codes,” Pendleton said.

Bob Pendleton, 67, also graduated from Penn State, earning a bachelor of science degree in business administration and finance in 1968.

He was drafted into the U.S. Army after leaving college and served as an accounting specialist from 1968 to 1970 at Fort Indiantown Gap in Annville, Pa., and then in South Korea.

He worked as a successful marketing representative for Johns Manville, which manufactures insulation, roofing materials and engineered products. It was during those years that he lived in Marina Del Rey, Redondo Beach and Long Beach (Belmont Shores) in California.

“Things were going very well until my career was cut short when the company experienced a dramatic change from a billion-dollar annual income to bankruptcy because of the avalanche of asbestos lawsuits,” Pendleton recalled. “That's when I made the transition to become a real estate broker and moved to Arizona in 1979. I'm still doing that today.”

It was in Phoenix that Pendleton took a major step forward through Toastmasters International, which offers courses and experiences in public speaking and leadership skills.

“For many years, I had a fear of speaking in public,” he said. “(Toastmasters) cured that problem and I eventually became president of two clubs in this area. That led, in 1981, to another career move – teaching. It began in the local community college system and then grew to include real estate licensing, business and basic computer courses and speaking at seminars.”

It also led Pendleton, who makes his home in nearby Tempe, to becoming a dance instructor and creating an Internet-based group called the Phoenix Dance Network.

“In high school we would mostly ‘partner dance,'” he said. “But during college and later, I discovered that most people danced ‘freestyle.' In 1990, even though I didn't like country music, I took some country dance lessons, which grew into an enjoyable time of partner dancing similar to the fun of the old record hops of the 1950s and '60s at the Stockdale Fire Hall.”

This, he said, led to trying West Coast Swing dancing at a Phoenix swing dance club.

“This developed into a true passion for me,” he said. “I served on the board of directors of the swing club. Winning a dozen or so contest trophies in recent years increased my desire to teach and share that commitment with others.

“After hearing complaints that there was never anyone to dance with at the local clubs I created, in 2009, the Internet-based group known as Phoenix Dance Network. We started with a dozen people so we could have friend to dance with when we go out to various designated locations in the Phoenix Metro area. The response has been great; we now have over 360 members and we attend major swing dance events in the Southwest.”

Because of his involvement in the network and success in competition, Pendleton is now considered a leader among Arizona dance afficionados. He is featured in YouTube videos and on various websites.

“After seeing, in some cases, a poor quality of dance instruction, I launched my college basic five-week dance courses in Country 2-Step and another in West Coast Swing,” he said. “We present instructions in a simple, understandable manner and have been fortunate to receive very positive reaction from the students.”

He said local country venue and local swing dance clubs generally draw 20 to 30 competitive couples and audiences of about 150. He and his dance partners have established themselves as steady Top 3 finishers. At the major swing events outside the Phoenix area there are between 40 and 100 competitors and 800 to 1,000 spectators. Pendleton has been a finalist (Top 10) several times. In his most recent competition he and partner Jane Johnson finished first in the Masters Division.

Lori Ross, a former Miss Nevada in the Miss America Pageant, is another frequent dance partner.

“Lori is a well-known tango trainer for national contestants,” Pendleton said. “We get together once or twice a month, just for fun, for country and swing social dancing.”

Pendleton, who has a stepdaughter, Ashley, 38, is the son of Anna Maruschak Polacek and the late Edward Polacek. The family lived at 615 First St. until Bob went to first grade and then at 424 Shady Ave. through his high school graduation. His mother, a native of California, Pa., is now 95 and lives only three miles from him in Mesa.

“Charleroi was a great place grow up,” Pendleton said. “We roamed all over town as young kids with no sense of fear at all, compared to big city life here where parents get nervous if their children are only a few houses away. In Charleroi we had caring and thoughtful adults who looked after us throughout the town and kept us in line.”

Pendleton was a member of the Charleroi High School marching band while he was still in junior high and also played varsity football and competed in track at CHS.

His closest friends during those years were Bill Ercoline, Joe Pfile, Bill Lee, Mike Lee, Augie Peltonen, Harry Johnson and Joe Destefon.

“We did all the usual things teenagers did,” Pendleton said. “We cruised around the Dog House in Rostraver Township, went swimming at Redd's Beach and in the (Monongahela) river and enjoyed late night snacks at the JIB restaurant, homemade ravioli at the Italia Unita Club on Eighth Street and fish fries at the Slovak Club. There were dances at Stockdale, the Lock Four Fire Hall and the junior high hops. We walked the railroad tracks to the football stadium, played basketball at the Hill Top Athletic Club, feasted on corn-on-the-cob and kielbasa sandwiches at summer picnics and savored those treats at Dairy Queen in North Charleroi. We always looked forward to the community picnic at Kennywood Park, going to Pittsburgh to watch the Pirates play and always being in awe of Roberto Clemente.”

Other memories were created at the Coyle Theater, playing Release the Belgian, taking trumpet lessons with Professor Ed Sweadner and “going for endless hikes through the forest at First Street and eating fresh cherries off Ross's trees.”

Pendleton also kept busy as a news carrier for The Pittsburgh Press and selling the Sunday paper in front of St. Jerome Catholic Church.

“I keep in touch with Augie (Peltonen) and Harry Johnson, who lives in the Virginia/Washington, D.C., area,” Pendleton said. “I also see Ron Cosner (another Charleroi High graduate) and his wife, who live in Tempe. Ron played football at Arizona State University and was a successful high school coach for a number of years. Tom Duttine (CHS Class of 1948) and I have mutual friends and we also enjoy exchanging stories about those proverbial good old days. Tom loves returning to Charleroi and keeps me up-to-date on what is happening there.”

Several individuals stand out as mentors in Pendleton's life, those whose guidance and words of wisdom have remained with him over the years.

They include his cousin, the late Don “Ducky” LeJohn of California, who was a player, coach and scout with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and was “always very supportive of me,” Pendleton said.

“My uncle, Mike Maruschak of California, epitomized the meaning of a steady and loving family man,” he said. “And my godfather, ‘Toot' Pennline was a good listener with great advice and encouragement. Ed Hank, who was a longtime police officer and eventually became police chief, was very caring and helpful in times of need.

“All of those people who were present in my life in my formative years have my deepest gratitude. Family and friends are those who are there for you in good times as well as bad. We could always count on each other.”

One other aspect of that era remains solid with Pendleton – the record hops (dances) for teens at the Stockdale Fire Hall.

“I was delighted to learn that they have revived the oldies dances at Stockdale,” he said. “I vividly remember the pleasure that those original dances provided for so many of us – great music and live entertainment every Saturday night. All of that is connected to the enjoyment that I still get from dancing to the old songs and the new music of today. That early influence continues to motivate me in this rather healthy challenging pastime of dancing. My life is richer today because of those early experiences.”

Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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