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Reminders of Yesteryear trigger readers' responses

| Thursday, June 4, 2009

You know how it goes - one thing leads to another.

Readers of this weekly offering respond in a number of ways, some of which can actually be printed in this family newspaper. Many of their comments come as a reaction to other nostalgic items in The Valley Independent.

For instance, Bill Bruce, of Virginia Beach, Va., said the hoopla surrounding the future of the Charleroi-Monessen Bridge sparked some fond memories for him. After reading about the bridge being free of tolls for the public in 1957, he wrote:

"My father, Henry Bruce, was a machinist in the mill in Monessen and we lived in Fallowfield Township. One day, he was going to work and paid his toll (10 cents) on the bridge. Being a little frugal, he did not like the toll. Even though the bridge was an open-grate structure, ice could still form on the deck. My father hit an icy spot as he left the toll booth and headed for Monessen and his car did a 180 and was facing Lock Four (North Charleroi). Now he had to pay another dime to go back to Lock Four, which meant he was still on the wrong side of the river and had to pay a third toll to get to work. Needless to say he preferred the new route when they opened the big iron bridge between Speers and Belle Vernon."

Bruce, a 1957 graduate of Charleroi High School, said he thinks the opening of the Belle Vernon-Speers Bridge had "more to do with the removal of the toll (on the Charleroi-Monessen span) than the politicians."

"The story around 1956 was that the tolls on the Charleroi-Monessen Bridge and nine others in the state were being used to build new bridges all over Pennsylvania," he said.

Meanwhile, Barbara McLuckie Nalle, of Ligonier, enjoyed a photo by the late Joseph "Peppy" Martino, of Charleroi's Diamond Jubilee celebration in The Valley Independent's popular Yesteryear feature.

Nalle, a 1965 graduate of Charleroi Area High School, and many of her classmates called attention to the 75th anniversary celebration festivities that year. They were part of the Student Speakers Bureau developed and sponsored by CAHS teacher Mrs. Thelma Caruso.

A commemorative photo of the students in the May 19, 1965, edition of The Valley Independent spotlighted the students dressed in Gay Nineties apparel as they prepared to tell "The Charleroi Story" on behalf of Charleroi Diamond Jubilee Inc.

Among those lauded for addressing civic, church and service organizations in Charleroi were Nalle, Mary Louise Wittkofski, Mary Ann Kopach, David Guyd, Sandra Sabol, Pamela Swearingen, Ronald Dudas, Robert Reynouard and Bradley Krivacek, all seniors.

In addition to participating in the Diamond Jubilee promotions and other speaking engagements in the community, the Speakers Bureau students, all juniors and seniors, presented a radio broadcast every Sunday from 1:45 to 2 p.m. over WESA in Charleroi. Entitled "Youth Speaks," the panel discussion featured a variety of topics by the students.

"It was a lot of fun," Nalle said of the Speakers Bureau and being ambassadors for the Diamond Jubilee celebration. "We met so many wonderful people and enjoyed being part of that historic community event."

In addition to Mrs. Caruso, the Charleroi Area High students were given direction by Frank Buscanics, a long-time radio personality and veteran master of ceremonies who chaired the Bicentennial Committee's Lecture Bureau.

Recent references to the Donora Midget Football League basketball tournament in 1959 brought several inquiries about former University of Pittsburgh All-American Don Hennon.

Hennon played for the Donora 400 Club team that won the Senior Division championship on April 31, 1959, by defeating the California Merchants, 101-87, in the title game before some 2,000 fans at the Donora High School gymnasium. Hennon blistered the nets for 56 points to set a new individual scoring record for the DHS court. The previous mark was held by Eddie Cole, of McKeesport, who had scored 51.

In addition to the individual mark by Hennon, new records for total points scored by one team (101 by Donora) and two teams (188 by Donora and California) were set in the championship game.

Hennon, the former Wampum High School star who scored 39 points in a semifinal round game win over California, was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament. His 400 Club teammates were Bill Zito, Dick Woznicki, John Mesher, Billy Law, Frank Cicconi, George Mesher and Don Falenski. Armand Forlini was the coach and Earl Carbone served as club manager.

Roger Hotz, former California Community High School and California State Teachers College star, had 19 points in the championship game and finished the tournament with 110 points. Kenny Kulak paced California with 23 points in the finale. His teammates were Tom Saxe, Ewing Bell, Byron Parkins, Larry Papini, Jack McKay, John Gray and Ken Rager.

The Duquesne Colonials won the Junior Division championship by nipping Donora Zeffiro's, 67-62, in their title showdown. Bill Kusleika led the winners with 21 points and was named MVP of the Junior Division. Donora was led by Gene DeBerardinis, who led all scorers with 24 points. His teammates were Chuck Giuffrida, Sherman Ramey, Bill Bandalo, Ron Kosceleck and Jim Bell.

Billie Koday, a Donora High senior, was crowned as queen of the Donora tournament by Edward M. Gray, tournament director. Her attendants were Anita Valesko and Patty Mares.

They presented team championship and MVP trophies in post-game ceremonies.

Other winners noted in The Monessen Daily Independent's coverage of the tournament were Paul Zolak, of Donora, and Ted Simon, of Rostraver Township. They received portable radios donated as special prizes by AS&W Company.

(If you have memories to share or a story idea, contact Ron Paglia at or c/o The Valley Independent, Eastgate 19, Monessen, PA 15062.)

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