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Monongahela centenarian recalls 44 years of underground toil

| Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, 7:53 p.m.

Forty-four years working underground didn't dampen Joseph Barnett's enthusiasm for life above ground.

Marking his 100th birthday, the Monongahela resident recalls toiling in the coal mines, but also the pleasures of his family and hobbies.

Barnett was only 20 when he first went into Montour No. 10 Mine. After a couple more short periods in other Pittsburgh Steel mines, he began a 38-year career in Mathies Mine. He retired in 1978.

“I was on a machine, cutting coal, when it struck an underground well and we were suddenly doused with water,” he recalled.

He still has his miner's helmet and water/lunch bucket.

Born on a farm in Mingo, Barnett and his new bride, Christine, moved to Monongahela shortly after their marriage. She died in 1993.

They were the parents of five children: Denise Shusta of Carroll Township, Mary Jane Lusk of Florida, Judy Bournique of Ohio, Carole Johnstone of West Virginia and Joseph Barnett of New York.

The couple saw to it that each child received a college education — and then a car after graduation.

Forty-five relatives came to celebrate Barnett's 100th birthday Jan. 19 in Mon Valley Care Center, where he has resided since breaking his hip in a fall.

In his more active years, he enjoyed fishing and bowling.

Barnett has left his mark at St. Damien of Molokai Parish, Main Street site, in Monongahela. There is a Christmas manger scene housed in an appropriate stable constructed by Barnett.

This is actually his third building.

“Father Paul Leger asked me to build his first one when it was Transfiguration Church,” Barnett said. “But then he said it was too small, so I built another one and he said that one was too big.”

He and his wife worked on the current one, which they put together in the family garage.

Barnett took responsibility of placing the barn and all the figures in front of the church each Christmas season. He also stored them away after the holidays.

Since he became incapacitated, the chores now fall to fellow parishioner Tim Matesick.

Barnett, who enjoyed cruising around in his 1985 Corvette even in his 90s, now has the sports car in storage.

“That car was my favorite. I kept it in the one-car garage we had at our home, and put the Cadillac outside,” he said with a big grin.

Emma Jene Lelik is a freelance writer.

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