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Greenridge Drive reunion enables Whitehall natives to relive childhood

| Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Stephanie Hacke | South Hills Record
Theresa Petrone, 84, left, laughs, with Ray Doyle after she was named 'Mrs. Greenridge Carnival' and given a proclamation declaring Saturday Greenridge Carnival Day in Whitehall by Mayor James Nowalk.
Theresa Petrone, 84, is crowned 'Mrs. Greenridge Carnival' by Betsy Young Kubacki (left) as Whitehall Mayor James Nowalk (right) hands her a proclamation declaring Saturday Greenridge Carnival Day in the borough.
Whitehall Mayor James Nowalk reads a proclamation declaring July 27 Greenridge Carnival Day in Whitehall Borough.
Bob Nowalk welcomes friends and family to the 50th reunion of the Greenridge Drive carnival.
Bob Nowalk (from left), Mary Faith (Nowalk) Wood, Nancy (Nowalk) McKinnis and Mayor James Nowalk (back right) sing a song during the Greenridge Carnival 50th reunion.
Chris Young (right) leads the carnival-goers, including Janice Rutherford in a song.
Chris Young leads the carnival-goers in a song.
Mary Faith (Nowalk) Wood (left) and Nancy (Nowalk) McKinnis sing along with the other carnival-goers at the Greenridge Carnival 50th reunion.
Sarah O'Neill Switalski, Margaret (Peggy O'Neill) Welsh and Richard Whalen converse at the Greenridge Carnival reunion.
Posters filled with pictures of children growing up on Greenridge Drive 50 years ago filled the tent at the 50th reunion.

Summer days were spent on the street lined with apple blossom trees, and they played kickball and Red Rover with any of their more than 100 friends.

Boxes of clothing were used as costumes by the youngsters, who often performed shows for family and friends in their front yards or in living rooms, when the weather became cold.

Growing up on Greenridge Drive in Whitehall was a magical experience, full of fun and excitement, and many happy memories of songs, dances and games, those returning to the street years later say.

Days often were filled with organized events, from the street's midget league teams, to contests — such as counting the number of beans in a jar for a prize hosted at the Youngs' house — and, of course, the road's biggest festivity, the Greenridge Carnival.

This was the brainchild of three youngsters that became a large variety show performed by the neighborhood children. The event even had corresponding song and parade and launched into a true street carnival in ensuing years.

“It was pretty idyllic,” said Stephanie (Galiardi) Patricoski, 57, who grew up on Greenridge Drive and now lives in Aurora, Ill. “You could walk out of your door and play with whoever was outside, and the parents that were out would take care of you. You didn't have to worry about stranger danger.”

Fifty years later, nearly 70 people gathered Saturday on Greenridge Drive to reunite and reminisce about their youth and find out how growing up in such a special environment affected their lives, they said.

Whitehall Mayor James Nowalk, who grew up on Greenridge, issued a proclamation declaring July 27 “Greenridge Carnival Day,” asking residents to “celebrate a time when neighborhoods were strong and children lived innocent, uncomplicated, unstructured lives in which their fun and enjoyment of life was limited only by their collective imaginations.”

Greenridge Drive truly was a special place to grow up, those who lived there remember.

Moms and dads in the nearly 40 homes along the winding street that passes the St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin Parish grounds jointly parented all of the 110 children growing up on the street, said Betsy (Young) Kubacki, 59, of Economy Borough.

“If someone fell, whoever was there would take care of them and send them home,” she said. “We really did grow up as a group. Our parents were so wonderful, wanting to create this idyllic childhood for us, and they did.”

In 1962, Kubacki, Bob Nowalk and Marlene (Petrone) Boas, came up with the idea of starting a neighborhood carnival on Greenridge.

“We were just kids,” said Bob Nowalk, 59, who now lives in Culver, Ind. “The thing that's wonderful about childhood is that you have unlimited dreams.”

The youngsters were so excited about the idea that their parents decided to help them put on a variety show, said Theresa Petrone, 84, who has lived on Greenridge for 58 years.

“They were enthusiastic, these kids, and so full of ideas,” Petrone said. “These kids were full of energy.”

Petrone hosted the variety show and made costumes and curtains.

The youngsters, though, went all out, organizing practices.

“Although I'm not sure how much we actually practiced after seeing the video,” said Kubacki, laughing about the 8 mm film her mother, Dorothy Young, had taken of the event. “We sang songs, we had magic acts. There had to be 100 people there that came to see our show.”

Bob Nowalk had imagined being an acrobat for the show. Instead, he was given the task of being a clown.

“I did what they wanted me to do,” he said. “If they would have allowed me to swing from the trees, I would have done that.”

There was a neighborhood newspaper — the Greenridge Gazette — produced by the youngsters that told of all of the happenings on the Whitehall street. The paper states that the variety show raised $38.

The next two years, the events were moved to larger yards along Greenridge, where the children held a traditional carnival. They built their own fish ponds — all with mom and dad's help, of course.

“I think they thought they were keeping us busy at first. Then it grew, and I think it ended up that they were doing most of the work,” Kubacki said.

The carnivals were accompanied by a song, “Come one, come all, to the Greenridge Carnival,” set to the tune of Robert Schumann's “The Happy Farmer.” The children had a parade, with a large sign, and marched along Greenridge advertising the carnival.

As the Greenridge children — now adults in their late 50s — gathered last weekend, they burst into song, recollecting the tunes from their youth. There even might have been a second verse to the Greenridge theme, some think.

Chattering with familiar friends, they talked about what growing up Greenridge meant to them.

“We negotiated our own conflicts,” Marlene (Petrone) Boas, 58, said. “We really didn't have the pressure or the expectations that are put on kids today.”

Even though she worries technology might have changed today's youths, Theresa Petrone said, her neighborhood has remained mostly the same. Children on the street bring her garbage to the curb for her.

“I'm never moving,” Theresa Petrone said.

And for those who have moved, they've tried to recreate Greenridge in their own way in their own neighborhoods.

“I found that what I have now is similar to what I had here,” Mary Faith (Nowalk) Wood, 57, of Whitehall, said. “We grew up this way, and we paid it forward.”

Coming back to Greenridge was coming home, said Janice Rutherford, 61, of Champaign-Urbana, Ill.

When Rutherford came back in the past, something was missing, she said.

“I like that I could see all of my friends this time,” Rutherford said.

“It's marvelous to have everyone here,” said Anne (Murphy) Whalen, who has lived on Greenridge for 47 years. “It was absolutely the most wonderful place to raise your child. It was like one big family.”

And even though many of the faces have changed, Greenridge has the same community feeling, she said.

“The magic lives on on Greenridge Drive,” Whalen said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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