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Home is never too far away for Charleroi native Tom Duttine

| Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Tom Duttine of Mission Viejo, Calif., always has reason to smile when he returns to his hometown of Charleroi. He returned for a visit in September 2013.
Ron Paglia | For The Valley Independent
Tom Duttine of Mission Viejo, Calif., always has reason to smile when he returns to his hometown of Charleroi. He returned for a visit in September 2013.

He lives nearly 2,500 miles away in the comfortable climate of Mission Viejo in Orange County, Calif., but Tom Duttine will always call Charleroi home.

“You should never forget where you came from, your roots,” said Duttine as he enjoyed the seafood platter special at Rego's restaurant in Charleroi. “I have so many wonderful memories of growing up in Charleroi – good times and great friends. The town was vibrant in those years, so many businesses from one end of the community to the other. I look forward to coming back at least once every year.”

Duttine, 83, is the son of the late Howard and Emma Nagy Duttine. The family lived at 213 Meadow Avenue and then 727 Lincoln Avenue.

His father worked at MacBeth Evans and its predecessor company, Corning Glass Works, in Charleroi for nearly 52 years before retiring from the quality control department in 1968.

“Our family had strong ties with the glass-making industry in Charleroi,” said Duttine, a retired teacher and sports official. “In addition to my father working there for more than a half-century, my grandfather, Michael, was a glassblower in the early years of the company and my uncle, Art Duttine, worked in the payroll department.”

Tom's mother was well known in Charleroi for her membership in numerous community and church organizations for nearly 50 years, perhaps most notably with the Goodwill Club. She was a charter member of the Goodwill Club and served as its president during a time when membership reached 500. She was honored by American Legion Post 22 as Charleroi's Citizen of the Year in 1979.

“My mother was truly dedicated to serving others,” Duttine said.

That commitment also involved membership with the Auxiliary of the Hilltop Athletic Club (HTAC) in Charleroi, a haven for outstanding amateur and professional boxers..

“My father was a member of the HTAC for many years,” Duttine said. “When I was a just a kid, he often took me up there to watch the fighters train. I remember George Humphries and Jimmy George, who had a shoeshine shop downtown, being among the managers and trainers at the club. They gave me the chance to be a water-boy at the club and at the actual boxing matches. That was a big thrill for a young kid.”

He also enjoyed working as a pin-setter at the Elite and New Moon bowling alleys.

“The Elite was located above Rego's restaurant when it was across the street (at 532 McKean Ave.),” Duttine said. “Jimmy Monack was the owner and operator when I worked there as a pin-boy in the 1930s. We made 50 cents a night, which was a lot of money for a young boy in those days. They also had billiards tables, so we were able to shoot pool and bowl free when business was slow.”

Duttine later worked at Grant-Bliss Hardware at 424 Fallowfield Ave.

“We would often walk to Rego's for lunch when I was working at the hardware store,” he said. “Tito (Giorgi) and his brother Rego always took good care of us, were very nice to us. I enjoy talking with Tito and his wife Lorraine when I get back to town.”

He also appreciates the hospitality of his cousin, Jerry Strelick of Charleroi, whose brothers Paul and Art live in Rochester, N.Y., and Alexandria, Va., respectively. Duttine's mother and the Strelick brothers' mother, Margaret Strelick, were sisters.

“Jerry is a great host, always makes me feel at home,” Duttine said.

Duttine graduated from Charleroi High School in 1948 and was a lineman for the football Cougars for three years.

“I didn't set the world on fire as a football player but it was a lot of fun being part of the team with a great bunch of guys,” he said. “Our senior season (1947) was (James R.) Rab Currie's first year as head coach at Charleroi, so we became part of history.”

One of Duttine's teammates in 1947 was Milford “Bud” Pritchard, a junior running back who had transferred from Monongahela High to Charleroi.

“I still think Bud is the best all-around (high school) football player I have ever seen,” Duttine said. “He could run, pass and catch the ball, he had great speed and moves, and he could kick the ball high and long. Sadly, he was killed in action while serving with the U.S. Marines in Korea in 1950. He was only 20 years old.”

Among Duttine's closest friends during those formative years were the Barcelona brothers, Joe and Chuck, Pete Gregory, Gene Konick, Bill Courtley, Blaine Courtley, Leo Rach, Jim Bayens, Fred Uhlman and George Zuraw.

“Joe (Barcelona) and I keep in touch and always get together to shoot the breeze when I come back, but he was on vacation this time,” Duttine said. “I did see Leo and had a great time talking with him and John Mollenauer and some others. We talked about the good old days, of course, and they brought me up to date on what's happening in Charleroi and the Mon Valley.”

Duttine continued his formal education at Findlay College in Findlay, Ohio and graduated in 1953 with a bachelor of science degree.

He enlisted in the U.S. Army and was stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland when he married Agnes Zilka of Monessen on Dec. 26, 1953, at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Roscoe. They will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary this year.

“Agnes was working as a secretary at the Monessen offices of The Prudential Insurance Company when we got married,” Duttine said. “Later on, when we moved from Ohio to California, she also did administrative secretarial work.”

Like her husband, Agnes, the daughter of the late George and Julia Futey Zilka of Monessen, still has family and friends in the area. Her brother John Zilka lives in Monessen and another brother, Joseph Zilka, lives in Carroll Township. Her sister, Sister M. Julia (Irene) Zilka, is a Catholic nun in Pittsburgh.

Duttine's service with the Army included an overseas assignment with an ordnance depot in Tokyo.

“We shipped out from Fort Lewis in Seattle, Washington and spent 10 days at sea before landing in Tokyo,” he said. “It was a good assignment, however. Leo Rach, who was in the Navy, also was stationed over there, so we got to see other quite often and exchange news we had received from back home.”

When he was discharged from the military in 1955, Duttine had job offers to teach in Ohio, pursue a baseball umpiring career or work at a psychiatric hospital in Toledo.

“I began officiating football, basketball and baseball games while I was in the Army and really like the experience,” he said.

He continued officiating and took a teaching job in Sycamore, Ohio, directed a summer sports camp, and also taught at Findlay College before he and Agnes moved to California in 1961. Duttine had received a science scholarship to Occidental College in Los Angeles and earned his master's degree there.

The couple drew national attention on July 18, 1961, when they appeared on the popular television show, “Truth Or Consequences.”

“Bob Barker was the host at that time and he later became well known with ‘The Price Is Right,'” Duttine recalled. “Being on ‘Truth Or Consequences' was a memorable experience. We had fun and we won one of the big prizes.”

Duttine continued his role as a football official on the high school and college levels while in California and estimates that he worked “well over 2,000 games” during that career.

“I finally gave it up in 1990,” he said. “It just got to be a little too much. I was working three or four games a week.”

His was a teacher from 1955 through 1989 and included assignments in Irvine and Santa Ana, Calif., before he retired and moved to Mission Viejo.

Among his students at Lincoln Junior High School was a young girl named Kelly McGillis. The actresss went on to star with Tom Cruise in the film “Top Gun,” and Harrison Ford in “Witness.”

“She was beautiful and very talented and knew she wanted to be an actress,” Duttine said.

His wife held various secretarial jobs before she retired.

Duttine's passion and commitment to Charleroi was emphasized in 1990 when the borough observed its 100th birthday with a long and colorful centennial celebration.

“I wanted to do something special for the town, even though I lived in California,” he said. “I talked with the mayor (Fred McLuckie) and suggested we get a commemorative silver dollar minted for the centennial. He agreed and I had a friend in Las Vegas who created and produced the coins. We shipped about 3,500 of them to Charleroi and they were among the most popular of the anniversary mementoes. Corning Glass also issued commemorative coffee mugs with the Charleroi, Pa., and Charleroi, Belgium, logos and I treasure the one I got. That was a big time for the community.”

Duttine remains a devoted Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers fan.

He looking forward to returning to his hometown next year to rekindle old memories and create new ones – and he added with a smile, “enjoy another delicious meal or two” at Rego's.

“There's no place like home,” he said.

Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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