Civil War soldier 'exists' once more
By Rick Bruni Jr.
Published: Friday, July 19, 2013, 2:01 a.m.
Rich Senko kneels in the thick grass of Grandview Cemetery in Monessen as his wife, Lucille, places artificial flowers at the base of at a glistening marble tombstone proclaiming the final resting place of John A. Woleslagle.
A year ago, the only memory of the Civil War solider was a diminutive headstone, nearly consumed by earth and grass.
But after hitting several dead ends, the Monessen couple – thanks to Woleslagle's great-great niece, Joanne Wright – were able to hurdle the official procedures required for a new government-provided headstone for the long-forgotten Union solider.
Rich Senko revels in the sight.
“To see that flag over there by that gravestone, you feel like a kid at Christmastime,” he said Thursday. “There was nothing here before but a hole in the ground. Looking at it now, it's hard to put into words.”
Woleslagle, a private in the 149th Pennsylvania Infantry, died in 1909. His last known residence was in Rostraver Township.
A history and Civil War enthusiast, Rich Senko's journey into the past began with a handwritten paper from his mother. It contained information about a soldier buried in town.
The Senkos, with the help of cemetery caretaker Don Gregory, scoured the cemetery and found Woleslagle's grave.
After months of seeking a Woleslagle descendant to sign off on a headstone – an action required by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – the Senkos had nearly given up hope.
“We were scratching our heads at that point,” Rich Senko said. “We thought we'd reached a dead end.”
The couple initially found and contacted an elderly relative of Woleslagle's in Youngwood. They were referred to the woman's daughter, who never returned the Senkos' calls.
Lucille Senko persisted with the mission, eventually finding a Woleslagle nephew in North Huntington Township who said he was willing to sign off on the headstone.
“He was real enthused, real enthused, but when he was to call back, he never called back, and (Lucille) kept leaving messages,” Rich Senko said.
“He didn't want to get involved. He never came out and said it, but that was the reason.”
The phone calls were tough to make, as the Senkos realized people might be suspicious of their motives.
“There are so many scams going on in this country anymore. … How would you feel if a perfect stranger called you and said, ‘I can get you a free tombstone for a relative of yours that died 150 years ago,'” Rich Senko said. “These could be decent people, but you're on the spot and so are they. Because they might think you're some kind of con artist. That's basically what I think happened.”
An article about the Senkos' quest ran in the July 16, 2012, edition of The Valley Independent, which was posted online.
“It was that article that brought this lady to us,” Rich Senko said.
In November, Joanne Wright, 60, of Laceyville, Pa., was searching online for information on a relative and came across the story.
Woleslagle is Wright's maiden name, and her great-great-grandfather, Abraham, was John's older brother.
“I was pretty excited about it,” Wright said. “There was a name I could relate to.
“My brother, Allen, is into genealogy, so I called him to find out how we were related to this person. I mean, Woleslagle is a pretty unique name.”
At first, she tried contacting more direct descendants of John A. Woleslagle – as to not “step on any toes” – but was unable to contact any, including a great-great granddaughter in Philadelphia.
Although records show Woleslagle worked as a pharmacist in the Mid-Mon Valley, it's still sketchy how he ended up being buried in Monessen. Wright said her ancestor's wife is buried elsewhere in the state. Wright soon realized the onus was on her to acquire the tombstone.
“I thought, ‘I have to do something about this,'” Wright said. “I think any veteran should be honored. He obviously wasn't anyone I knew personally, but he should be honored for his service … and remembered.”
Jimmy Pallini, commander of Allison-Lescanac Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1190 in Monessen, prepared the necessary documents, which were mailed to Wright. Wright signed them, mailed them back, and Pallini and Rich Senko filed the papers.
The tombstone arrived in the spring and was installed in June by Gregory, who later placed sod around the stone.
The Senkos had hoped for a ceremony conducted by Civil War re-enactment groups – including one honoring Woleslagle's 149th “Bucktail” regiment – but nothing developed.
Still, the Senkos feel a sense of pride and accomplishment.
“To do this is an honor to us and an honor to John Woleslagle,” Lucille Senko said.
“It's not about me or my wife, as I've said many times. It's about that poor guy that was lost to history,” said Rich Senko, pointing to the gravesite. “The guy exists now. He's not lost anymore.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-684-2635.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Belle Vernon theft suspect, wife taken into police custody
- Monessen traffic stop leads to car, foot chases
- Valley native exits troubled Ukraine
- Ailing Monongahela girl’s medical info missing from hospital
- Donora man accused of assaulting girlfriend
- Washington Co. needs poll workers
- Monessen drug probe yields arrest
- Local money pushed Shady Grove to front of amusement scene
- Dances, concert will lead Mon Valley oldies buffs down Memory Lane
- Ringgold students to stage ‘Tarzan’ for spring musical
- Dozens nailed in historic Washington County drug sting