Readers retain fond memories of people, places
It's not unusual for readers of these backward glances to respond with poignant personal recollections of people and places that affected their lives in special ways.
And we always appreciate the reminiscences of people like Alan Patrick and John I. Orrison.
Patrick, corporate metallurgist for Elyria and Hodge Foundries in Ohio and Pennsylvania, respectively, was one of the longtime friends and former teammates who participated in a Celebration of Life in tribute to Bernie Galiffa earlier this year.
Galiffa, one of Donora High School's all-time great athletes and a football standout at West Virginia University, died at age 63 on March 28 at his home in Wilmington, N.C. The memorial in his honor was organized by Speer Ruey and was held April 24 in the social center of the Donora Municipal Building.
Patrick recalled that he graduated from Donora High with Galiffa in 1968 and learned about more than just football as his teammate during the 1967 season.
“We all know Bernie was a spectacular athlete, probably the greatest football and basketball player ever to grace the halls of Donora High School,” Patrick said. “Put a ball in Bernie's hands and he could work magic. It didn't matter what kind of ball it was – football, baseball, basketball; it didn't matter.”
Patrick, a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh whose career in the foundry industry spans over 40 years, remembers watching Galiffa throw a perfect underhand pass from one side of the basketball court to the other.
“The ball left Bernie's hand three feet off the floor and in a split second arrived three feet off the floor at its target,” he said. “And in the process you could swear that the ball weaved its way through the other players to get there.”
Echoing the sentiments of others who heralded Galiffa, Patrick said his former teammate “was truly an incredible athlete with amazing athletic skills.”
“But that's not what impressed me the most about Bernie,” he added.
“There were some of us who attended Donora High School that came from Carroll Township,” Patrick recalled. “And coming from the ‘country,' we got a nickname; I like to think we were affectionately referred to as ‘the farmers.' At Donora High, if you didn't live in Donora, the term was used teasingly to get your attention.
“But I can't remember one being called a farmer by Bernie. That was Bernie. I don't remember him ever saying anything that he thought might offend someone,”
Patrick said he learned firsthand about “Bernie, the real man … what his real God-given gift was” when he played football with him.
“As a senior, I decided to go out for football,” he said. “It would be my first year playing the sport. During the tryouts, I impressed the coaches enough with my speed and agility for them to give me a chance to play. Although I possessed the athletic ability to play, I didn't know yet what to do in all of the rather complex plays. So in the first three games of the season I alternated as the left guard. It was my job to protect the man with the football and keep the opposing players away from him.”
In the season opener – a 30-7 victory over South Side Beaver on a rainy Saturday, Sept. 9, afternoon – Patrick got the call from the Donora coaches to take the play from the sidelines to Galiffa.
“(Coaches) had called a play I wasn't quite sure of,” Patrick said. “When I took the play to the huddle, Bernie could tell something wasn't quite right, so I told him the play and said, ‘What do I do?'
“Being the leader he was, Bernie took time to explain my assignment. The next time it was my turn to bring in the play, I didn't have to ask Bernie about my assignment; he just simply explained it to me before calling it.
“Now, some might say that he was doing this to make sure I was protecting him. But I could tell that Bernie did this out of concern for me – not himself – so that I was able to perform at my best. He continued explaining my assignments until he was sure I was confident in understanding all the plays myself. That was Bernie, that's who he was. He put others before himself.
“So if anyone ever wondered why the huddles at Donora's games took so long in the first part of our undefeated season, now you know why. It was because Bernie Galiffa was performing his God-given talents as a friend to others and a leader of men.”
Working for Mr. Boltze
Like many others, John I. Orrison enjoyed the nostalgic journey down Broad Avenue in North Belle Vernon that featured newspaper ads for former businesses there.
The one that caught Orrison's attention recalled the Paint and Wallpaper Store owned and operated by George A. Boltze, who became a partner in Dart Supply Inc., when it opened in 1958 at Tri-County Plaza in Rostraver Township.
“I worked Saturdays and summers for Mr. Boltze at Dart Supply,” Orrison, a 1963 graduate of Bellmar High School, said. “He had two sons, Gene and Bob, who also were there. During the school year, I swept floors, cleaned windows, stocked shelves and was a general extra hand on Saturdays. It was a great experience.”
Orrison, a resident of Gainesville, Ga., and managing partner of Draper & Associates Construction Service Division in Atlanta, said his duties with Boltze expanded in the summer.
“Mr. Boltze also was a commercial painter,” he said. “He had a truck loaded with wooden scaffolding. It was all painted bright purple. He explained to me that he did that to prevent people from stealing pieces. My job during the summer was to set up outside the Dart Supply store with the scaffold pieces on saw horses, scrape a year's worth of paint spills from the scaffold and touch up the trademark color.
“He had a lot of scaffold. Doing this annual cleaning would take me the better part of two or three weeks.”
Orrison also recalled that around Thanksgiving each year, he would accompany Boltze to the spacious Musser Nursery near Indiana, Pa., to “load up on Christmas trees to sell at Dart Supply.”
“He had done this for many years and knew the nursery folks very well,” Orrison said.
One year, the elder Mr. Musser invited Boltze and Orrison to his home, which was located on the business property.
“It was a very rustic home but extremely nice,” he said.
“I commented to Mr. Musser, who was a true gentleman, how the outside of his home looked like one of those scenic images you would find on a postcard. It was framed and surrounded by a beautiful complementary stand of fir and hardwood trees, which towered over the house. Mr. Musser responded that he and his wife had selected and individually planted each tree more than 40 years earlier.
“I was always grateful to Mr. Boltze for giving me the opportunity to enjoy that experience.”
(If you have memories to share or story ideas, contact Ron Paglia at email@example.com or c/o The Valley Independent, Eastgate 19, Monessen, PA 15062.)
Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.