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'63 Monessen grads keep memories alive, classmates informed

| Thursday, June 16, 2011

What started as a favor to friends from the Monessen High School Class of 1963 has turned into a labor of love for Jack Demchak — a full-time job that keeps him busy in retirement.

"I created the Class of '63 website in February 2009," Demchak said from his home in Pasadena, Md., which is located only 12 miles south of Baltimore and 12 miles north of Annapolis. "I had never done anything professionally in the way of web page designing or even working with websites. In 2004, I learned HTML (HyperText Mark-Up Language) on my own and produced a small family website, mostly for my dad. I still support the site for a few surviving relatives who still enjoy viewing it."

In sharp contrast, there are more than a few people who enjoy the Monessen High School Class of 1963 website.

"It has become an excellent means of communications among our classmates," said Norma Jean Kamenicky Morris, of Belle Vernon, class contact and events coordinator. "As webmaster, Jack has poured his heart and soul into making the '63 website a first-class presentation. Response has been very favorable and we're confident it will continue to grow, thanks to the efforts of Jack with the day-to-day administration of the site."

Demchak admits he was a little hesitant about taking on the assignment when Morris contacted him in December 2008.

"Norma called to wish me a Merry Christmas and to encourage me to attend our 46-year reunion on Aug. 31, 2009, at the Elks Club in Monessen," Demchak recalled. "She said she was nervous about being the chairperson of the reunion for the first time and mentioned the idea of creating a website. Because I was retired and somewhat computer literate, I offered to be of assistance by creating an electronic database for contacting classmates.

"Norma said thanks but told me another classmate, Dick Vagley, had taken on that task and was compiling the names and other information. I got in touch with Dick and it was apparent from talking with him that he had the electronic classmate contact list under control. His goal was to collect as much contact information from as many classmates as possible - home addresses, phone numbers, e-mails, etc. That can be a daunting task but Dick has done an outstanding job of keeping that database as current as possible."

Demchak turned his thoughts to creating a "simple one-page website to help promote the 46-year reunion."

"I figured it might be a basic way to alert classmates about the reunion and urge them to respond," Demchak said. "The reaction of Norm, Dick and the reunion committee was, 'Wow!' so this inspired me to move forward with an enhanced website, although not knowing exactly where I would be going with the project."

What has evolved is one of the best high school class websites on the Internet.

And in line with the Class of '63 motto, Demchak apparently is "Not Finished; Just Begun."

The home page introduces visitors to Morris, Vagley and Demchak and also offers information about fund-raising efforts for the 50-year reunion in 2013, a daily birthday tribute to classmates and a table of contents that leads to myriad reminders about the legacy of the Class of '63, Monessen and its people and other recollections of the Mid-Mon Valley and western Pennsylvania.

There's also a Class of '63 blog that affords classmates and others the chance to exchange information about their families, careers, current events, etc. in an up-to-the-minute format.

Demchak credits classmate Martha Cain Anderson for the blog site.

"It was around October 2009 when Martha asked be to create a blog on our website," Demchak said. "I was busy with some projects at home and really didn't want to take that on because of the maintenance and monitoring requirements as well as some other technical reasons.

"I did tell Martha that, if she wanted to, she could create a class blog on another site and then maintain it. She did that and supports the World Press Class of 1963 Blog site.

"As a convenience, I merely provide a link on my website to the blog for the class. Martha is committed to the blog and hopefully more classmates will get involved."

Among the nostalgic features on the Class of '63 website are:

- Top Songs of 1960-1963 - These include but are not limited to "Big Girls Don't Cry," The Four Seasons; "The Loco-Motion," Little Eva; "Alley Oop," The Hollywood Argyles; "Blue Moon," the Marcels; "Dominique," The Singing Nun; "Surf City," Jan and Dean, and "I Can't Stop Loving You," Ray Charles.

- Popular Television Shows - Among the many listed are: I Love Lucy, American Bandstand, Mickey Mouse Club, Ponderosa, Roy Rogers, Sea Hunt, 77 Sunset Strip, Colgate Comedy Hour, Rocky King: Inside Detective, Gomer Pyle, Addams Family, My Three Sons, I Dream of Jeannie, The Brady Bunch, The Flintstones.

- Hot Social Spots in the Mid-Mon Valley - Demchak has posted newspaper ads calling attention to the Super 71 and Hilltop drive-in theaters, The Coyle and Manos theaters, Redd's Beach, a roast beef dinner at the Monessen Slovak Home ($1 for adults, 50 cents for children under 12) and a teen dance featuring the Satellites at the Belle Vernon Fire Hall. He also has a special link dedicated to the original record hops at the Stockdale Fire Hall. It includes photos and newspaper ads, and it is updated with a focus on the current Oldies dances at Stockdale. The nostalgic presentations also offer pictures of The Diaper Ice Cream Bar, The Dog House drive-in restaurant and Camino's, all located in Rostraver Township. Demchak is seeking pictures of similar sites, including Tall Tom's in Monessen.

- Stories and pictures about the City of Monessen and its legacy with references to the Monessen Heritage Museum, former businesses, the Monessen Public Library and other people and places of interest.

- A strong focus on the Class of '63's educational journey from elementary school to graduation from high school. This section offers numerous photos from yearbooks and other sources and spotlights scholastics, sports and a variety or extracurricular activities. There's also a tribute to the late Frederic Feldman, longtime Monessen teacher, coach and community leader, as well as a neat video of the Monessen Class of 1960 cheerleaders doing the traditional "Locomotive Cheer" at one of their reunions.

- Information about a Class of '63 cookbook that will include favorite family recipes from the classmates' childhoods. The book is scheduled for publication in September and will be available to the public.

- Links to the websites of other Monessen High School classes -1957, '60, '61, '68, '69, '77 and '91.

"I have no affiliation with those other class sites,?" Demchak said. "The links on our site are there only as a courtesy to them."

Demchak retired in June 2007 after more than 40 years of service with Northrop Grumman in Baltimore. When he began working at the plant in April 1966, it was Westinghouse Electric Company, which was bought by Northrop Grumman in 1996.

"My title at the time of retirement was senior software engineer, but I truly was a 'Jack of all trades, master of none' when it came to hardware and software," Demchak said. "Most of my years were spent working in the production test department. Our basic business was centered on military contracts for avionics, ground base radar and other military electronic systems."

Demchak was graduated from Allegheny Technical Institute in 1965 and later earned a bachelor of science degree in computer science from the University of Maryland.

His education and career experiences lend themselves to his ongoing efforts with the Class of '63 website. A technical tips page on the site details the technology he uses.

"I suppose our website is like others of that nature; that is, the response could be better," Demchak said. "Of the 195 graduates in our class, 24 are deceased and 21 have not shown any interest in class activities. We have 122 classmates with computer access but not as many view the website as we'd like. It's a good way to stay in touch, and those who do check in have expressed how much they love the history and pictures."

Morris remains confident that interest among Class of '63 members will continue to increase.

"When I decided to accept the job of chairing the class reunion, I remembered something my mother taught me: 'If you are going to do something, do it right,'" she said. "I personally called classmates for whom I had phone numbers and, with the help of Dr. Richard Vagley. compiled the class directory. Jack has done a remarkable job with the website and Martha Cain Anderson's work with the blog it something special. Many friendships have been rekindled and correspondence has been great."

According to Morris, those who preceded her as reunion chairman are Louise Arnoldi Toth, Janet Kurylo Laszewski and and Alice Sepesky Bialon.

"All of them did a great job with the reunions," Morris said."Anyone who organizes reunions will tell you that it is often difficult to create interest and attendance. But our 46-year reunion in 2009 drew the largest number of class members ever."

Morris is quick to credit LaVerne Crisi Martin, who serves as co-chairman of the reunions and other events, and committee members Mary Bedner Hickton, Betty Rozycki Hawranko, Mary Sarantinos Leogas, Marge Bill Bridge, Alice Sepesky Bialon, Louise Arnoldi Toth, Anna Marie Borriello Roberts, Diana Kachur Dominick, Ron Godla, Vernon Smith and Michael Tetteris for their untiring efforts.

"It's a lot of fun," Morris said. "Everything we do as a class has been well accepted and we enjoy staying in touch with each other."

Doing that involves occasional luncheons.

"If a classmate comes to Monessen to visit, we plan a get-together, just to enjoy a good meal and great conversation in a casual setting," Morris said.

Complementing those gatherings as well as the traditional reunions is the presence of Norma Maatta, a longtime English teacher at Monessen High School and California University of Pennsylvania, and retired football coaching legend Joe Gladys.

"Our classmates acknowledge and appreciate the excellent education they received at Monessen High and the influence Ms. Maatta and Mr. Gladys had on their lives," Morris said. "We are always very pleased when they are with us."

One of the topics of conversations at those luncheons is the Class of '63 website. It is a valuable community resource.

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