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Memories of 'carefree days' in Valley remain strong in Ocean City

| Thursday, March 27, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

He lives some 350 miles away in Ocean City, Md., but Daryle Ruby's thoughts are never far from his hometown of Belle Vernon.

And that bond is filled with fond memories.

“The 1940s. '50s and '60s “were the best time to grow up in a small town,” said Ruby, a 1961 graduate of Bellmar High School. “There are many lessons I learned while living in Belle Vernon and the Mon Valley.”

That formative education outside the traditional public school setting began at home for Ruby, the son of the late Stephen W. and Elizabeth Geraldine Parry Ruby of Belle Vernon.

“My mom and dad set the standard for me early in life,” said Ruby, who continues his nearly 50-year career as a physical therapist at Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Ocean City.

Those ideals included the importance of a strong work ethic.

“I peddled newspapers in junior and senior high school, from eighth grade through 12th grade,” he recalled. “I delivered the morning newspaper from Natalini's News Stand and my brother Steve had the afternoon route. We learned so much from those experiences – responsibility to your customers and to yourself, money and time management.”

Ruby's parents also emphasized the importance of academics before sports.

“Dad encouraged sports but he was not overbearing,” he said. “My parents were very supportive of my participation in athletics. Dad would shoot hoops with me, play catch with a baseball and throw football. I think I got my ‘never quit' attitude and toughness from him.”

Ruby's passion for competitive sports led him to stellar careers in basketball at Vernon Junior High School, Bellmar High School and the University of Pittsburgh. But that penchant began much earlier.

“In grade school we were carefree,” he said with a knowing smile. “We played sockie with a ball made of socks folded over and over again and then soaked in water and dried. We played street baseball using a broomstick as a bat and the sockie ball. We played Midget League Baseball in the mornings. Jack Flora and Ken Clark were the umpires for our baseball games. There were no other adults involved – no parents. It was great.”

Memorable, indeed.

“I remember coming home one day and telling my Dad that I hit a home run,” Ruby said. “But I neglected to tell him the ball went through the legs of the shortstop and the outfielder. It was a true inside-the-park homer, albeit with a little help from the opposition.”

Competition was keener when Ruby began his career at Bellmar High School, where he was a three-year starter and finished that tenure with 995 points.

He was recruited by a number of Division I colleges and myriad smaller schools before accepting an academic scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh, where he also played for three years and captained the Panthers in 1964-65.

“I was fortunate to score 15 points in the first quarter of the junior varsity game against Perryopolis when I was a sophomore,” Ruby recalled of his Bellmar debut on December 2, 1958. “I was removed from the game and told to dress for the varsity game. I sat on the bench until late in the fourth quarter, when Mr. (Jim) Hoffman, the assistant coach, convinced our head coach, Mr. (Ken) Clark, to put me in the game. I scored 10 points within a few minutes and Mr. Clark elevated me to the starting varsity lineup after that. I guess I was in the right place at the right time, but I was really fortunate to play with some talented teammates.”

Other highlights during his career at Bellmar included two wins over Donora in 1960, “the year they won the section championship.”

“We always had difficulty with Charleroi and Monessen,” Ruby said. “We did not get into the WPIAL playoffs during my years at Bellmar because only the section winners made it to the post-season tournament at that time. We were a Class B school, in terms of enrollment, playing in a Class A section.”

Ruby recalls such outstanding opponents as Jim Chacko, Al Thiry, Bob “Tex” Coulter, Ollie Payne, Art Artis and John Verkleeren of Charleroi; Dwayne Cruze of Brownsville; the Johnson twins, Bob and Bill, of Monongahela; Gene DeBerardinis and Sherman Ramey of Donora; Don Yates of Uniontown and “of course Willie Ross” of Rostraver.

“Willie and I had a friendly rivalry from junior high school through our freshman year at Pitt and Duquesne, where he went on scholarship,” Ruby said. “We never met again on the basketball court after that season (1961-62). Willie was a great player and there was never a cross word between us. We traveled together to several schools when we were being recruited.”

Although Bellmar didn't make the WPIAL playoffs, Ruby did play in a post-season game at the end of his senior campaign at Bellmar.

“The Monessen Ozarks arranged a game between the Section 5 All-Stars and the WPIAL All-Stars,” he said. “Abe Everhart of Uniontown coached the Section 5 team and Dick Black of Mt. Lebanon guided the WPIAL club.”

The game was played at the Monessen High School gym on March 30, 1961, and Ruby's teammates on the Section 5 team were John Unice, Rich Curry and Don Yates of Uniontown, Willie Ross of Rostraver; Joe Russell of Donora, John Cassin of California, Bill Ducoeur and John Verkleeren of Charleroi, and Ben Jones and Tony Romasco of Monessen.

The WPIAL stars comprised Denny Ferguson of Springdale; George Suder and Eugene Vallicorsa of Aliquippa, Joe Kruzewski of Har-Brack, Jules “Buddy” Quertimont of Albert Gallatin, of McKeesport, Fred Mazurek of Redstone, Jerry Holder of Fort Cherry, Larry Hathaway and Bob Bennett of Mt. Lebanon and Carey Moore of Bentleyville. Miniotas was a replacement for Ron Allen of Wampum, who broke his ankle a week before the game.

“We practiced at the Uniontown High gym, where Coach Everhart divided us into two teams and watched us play with no directions from him,” Ruby said. “He stopped play after a half-hour and then instructed us in his half-court press defense. As for offensive strategy, he said, ‘Just freelance.'” Everhart's strategy worked as the Mon Valley crew defeated the WPIAL's best 69-64 before some 1,000 fans in the grand finale of the Ozarks Athletic Association's annual tournament. Ruby led all scorers with 15 points, while Ross and Russell added nine each. Ross paced the rebounding efforts with 13. Bennett and Mazurek topped the losers with 10 points apiece.

Away from basketball, Ruby recalled such popular places in his hometown as Dolfi's grocery store, Handelman's Pharmacy with a soda fountain, Wasicek's meat market, Hackinson's flower shop, Vic's clothing store, the Verdi Theater, Red's bowling alleys and pool hall, Natalini's news store, Valdiserri's bakery, Vizza's car dealership and Yuschak's Little Store on Fell Street, where “we feasted on candy and pop … no one worried about too much sugar.”.

“Going to the Verdi was a big deal,” he said. “Admission was only 15 cents and it cost a nickel for a box of Jujubes or popcorn. And the movies were great – the Three Stooges, Dracula, Frankenstein and of course John Wayne.”

Community spirit also was emphasized in other ways.

“You could walk into the bank and negotiate a loan with Tom Malpass,” he said.

During the winter, Ruby added, the high school gym was open on Saturday morning for grade school children to play basketball.

“It was free and was run by a man named Bootsie Githens,” he said. “Friday night football games and basketball games in the old North Belle High gym also were a lot of fun for young kids.”

Junior high school “changed everything,” Ruby said.

“The boys discovered girls and there were Canteen dances at Vernon and Marion,” he said. “This was how students from those schools met. We went to both dances – Marion on Friday and Vernon on Saturday. Vernon and Marion had a big rivalry in sports, so we were regulars at the football and basketball games, too.”

As those students got older and moved on to high school, the adventures grew.

“We cruised the Dog House restaurant on Friday and Saturday nights,” Ruby recalled. “Drag racing on State Route 71 (now Interstate 70) also drew a lot of attention late on Saturday nights on the Smithton Bridge. The best drivers I remember are Art ‘Monk' Monack of Charleroi and Don Coulson of Belle Vernon.”

Dances throughout the Mon Valley also continued to play a major role in the lives of Ruby and his friends.

“The ultimate was going to the Stockdale Fire Hall record hops on Saturday night and listening to the top tunes played by our favorite DJ,” he said. “It was the in-place to be.”

Ruby's closest friends during those years were Mike Sylvester, Stan Badock, Walt Nogy, Bill Lachman, Cary Lehew, Dave Yuschak, Ben Butler, Carolyn Moore and Tom Johnson. Randy Jesick. a 1960 Bellmar graduate, also was a good friend and he and Ruby were roommates for two years at the University of Pittsburgh.

Ruby and his high school sweetheart, the former Nancy Lee Manown, daughter of Mrs. Clara Lee Nelson Manown of Lynnwood and the late Jack Manown, will celebrate their 49th wedding anniversary on June 8.

“In addition to cruisin' the Dog House and going to dances, Nancy and I enjoyed the movies at the Super 71 Drive-In, Coyle, State and Manos theaters,” Ruby said. “We frequented Crystal Pool in Fayette City and went on family picnics to Kooser and Laurel state parks. The community picnics at Kennywood Park also were a big deal. Boy and girl friends would dress alike in the same color shirts and pants; we called them our Kennywood outfits.”

While he carved a solid niche in basketball, Ruby also enjoyed baseball.

“I played American Legion ball for the Charleroi Magicians,” he said. “I had moderate success as a pitcher and attended an open tryout at Forbes Field when the Pirates were looking for players for their farm system. The tryout lasted ten pitches before their pitching coach called out, ‘Next!'”

In addition to his parents, his older brother Steve and his coaches and teammates, others who offered guidance and words of wisdom that have remained with Ruby throughout his life include two teachers.

“Miss (Georgette) Nega, my sixth grade teacher, reinforced the importance of a good education and enabled me to improve my grades,” he said. “Miss Ruth Frost, my English and French teacher at Bellmar, pushed me hard, encouraged me and pointed me in the right academic direction.”

Those fond memories always offer food for thought when Ruby and his wife a 1962 Bellmar graduate, return to the area.

“We have attended all of our class reunions and also enjoy the All Bellmar reunions,” he said. “We have stayed in close touch with Stanley and Nancy Badock and Mike and Elaine Sylvester and join them for golf outings each year. It's always fun coming home.”

Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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