Educator, public servant dead at 85
Joe Dochinez's mother emigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine at age 15, working on a railroad.
The son of farmers, Dochinez was the first member of his family to attend college.
Throughout his life, California's longest-serving mayor loved his alma mater and the hometown he served.
“He served the community and the college, which he was passionate about,” said Rebecca Oliphant, his oldest daughter.
Dochinez died Tuesday at the Residence at Hilltop in Carroll Township at age 85.
In June, Dochinez received the John R. Gregg Award from the California University of Pennsylvania Alumni Association for his loyalty and service to the school.
“We knew how much my dad was involved in the college and community,” Oliphant said during the award ceremony. “They were as much a part of our lives as his.”
When it came to California Borough or Cal U, Dochinez rolled up his sleeves and helped, Oliphant said.
“My dad would not just verbally commit to getting things done, he would lay bricks and pour concrete,” Oliphant said.
Oliphant said her father helped build Rotary Park in California and the Cal U student union.
He was also hands-on in planning homecoming events in the 1960s and 1970s.
“It almost seems appropriate that this is homecoming weekend,” Oliphant said.
A Monongahela native, Dochinez enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II.
After being discharged, he accepted a scholarship to Wake Forest and played one year there, helping the Demon Deacons to a 26-14 Gator Bowl victory over South Carolina.
He moved on to California State Teachers College – Cal U's former name – where he played offensive guard and linebacker – plus blocking back in the single-wing formation – in 1948-49.
“He said he didn't care where he played as long as he got to play,” Oliphant sad.
In 2005, Dochinez was inducted into the Cal U Hall of Fame for football.
In 1950, he was voted California State Teachers College's most representative student because he was involved in so many organizations. That foreshadowed his community involvement.
Dochinez received his bachelor's degree from California State Teachers College and a master's degree from the University of Pittsburgh.
He signed a $3,500 contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but was one of the final players cut.
“He blamed that on his stature,” Oliphant said of her father, who stood 5-foot, 9-inches tall.
Short in stature for a professional football player, he was long in tenure as a public official and leader in education and the community.
He served from 1981 to 2001 as mayor of his beloved California.
He taught at Meyersdale High School, Westminster College and California University. He also served as Cal U director of student activities and housing director, retiring in 2001.
Dochinez was committed to the students and encouraged them to obtain their degrees. And they would come back to thank him.
Dr. Lenora Angelone started out as Dochinez's secretary.
“He kept encouraging her and encouraging her to continue her studies,” Oliphant said. “She eventually got her (doctorate).”
Angelone rose to Cal U vice president for student affairs and then vice president.
California University issued the following statement: “Joe Dochinez is an example of our Cal U for Life philosophy. From his days as an active student and varsity athlete, through his long career in faculty and administrative roles, to his active participation in our alumni association, he was always a supporter of his alma mater. His service to the borough of California, and to so many community organizations, made an enormous impact. Our campus community is saddened by his passing.”
Committed to his students, Dochinez established a scholarship for Meyersdale students and encouraged them to attend Cal U.
His devotion to education served as an example for his family, said Oliphant, who holds a doctorate in education and has taught for 20 years.
“Five of his six grandchildren are in college – and the other one is 11,” Oliphant said.
Mon Valley Leathernecks Secretary Herman Bigi said the veteran regularly attended meetings and was active in the organization.
“He honorably served his country,” Bigi said of Dochinez. “He was a good Marine and, indeed, he will be missed by our organization.”
State Rep. Peter J. Daley served as mayor of California from 1973 to 1981. Dochinez succeeded Daley when the California Democrat was elected to the state House.
“Joe Dochinez was a remarkable man. He was one of my mentors, and he was one of my friends. He was a great man and had a big heart for public service and serviced the community well,” Daley said.
Dochinez served on the Mid Mon Valley Transit Authority board from 1999 to 2011.
“Joe was always very engaged with what was going on with transit authority, and he was always involved,” said Marc Roncone, authority executive director.
Mon Valley Progress Council Executive Director Joe Kirk recalled that Dochinez made a trip with local leaders to Washington, D.C., in the early 1990s to advocate for federal funding for the Mon/Fayette Expressway.
“He saw the value of the expressway and advocated on behalf of California for both the university and the industrial park,” Kirk said. “He was certainly a very good leader as mayor of California and as a mayor in the Valley.”
Visitation is scheduled 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Mariscotti Funeral Home, 323 Fourth St., California. A funeral service is scheduled 10 a.m. Friday in the funeral home.
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.