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'Once a Mule, always a Mule' for Dunbar Township High School grads

| Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

Bob Cole's four-volume series about Dunbar Township High School resurrected memories among classmates who received diplomas there.

Cole (DTHS Class of 1958) published the books in 2012, evoking enthusiastic input from Daily Courier readers.

Several DTHS graduates emailed or wrote to The Courier, sharing info about the good times — and great teachers — they had had as teenagers at the “buff brick school atop Leisenring hill.”

Two teachers' names popped up consistently: Joe Metil, who taught Latin, and math teacher Mrs. Lucy Sepesi. Sepesi died several years ago; Metil just this past December at age 87. But their students say they'll never be forgotten.

Metil, Sepesi inspired

Jim Stefano of Connellsville (DTHS Class of 1962), said Metil and Sepesi inspired him to become a teacher.

“Both of them always encouraged me to go to college, which I did (at California University of Pennsylvania, then called California Normal College),” he said. “Mrs. Sepesi was thrilled that I became a teacher, especially since I majored in math.”

Stefano taught for many years at Connellsville Area High School before he chose to leave the profession to help his father, James Sr., expand the family's printing company in Dunbar. Today he is semi-retired and his oldest son, Pat Stefano, heads the third-generation business.

“Mr. Metil would visit the print shop. He kept checking on me over the years,” Jim Stefano said.

Stefano often swaps stories about Metil while golfing with DTHS cronies. “He was strict but he'd cut you a break if you were struggling,” said Stefano, who was in Metil's homeroom one year and had him for Latin and ancient history classes.

“He was very intelligent and had a great sense of humor. Very dedicated, very ahead of his time,” Stefano said. “He believed that academics should come first, not sports.”

Stefano laughed, remembering Metil's favorite saying: “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”

Cheers to them!

Two DTHS cheerleaders were exuberant about their DTHS experiences. Marie Hudock Jones (Class of 1951) and Joyce Stevenson French (Class of 1959) remembered their class initiation: having their faces painted with lipstick by the upperclassmen.

“They did it to all the new kids,” recalled French, a lifelong resident of Leisenring who was DTHS's first African-American cheerleader. She and her husband of 51 years raised five kids and now enjoy their 15 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Jones, now in her 70s, still does cartwheels when she's not line dancing or doing Zumba. She headed DTHS's 1951 cheerleading squad.

“I used to do acrobatics on the field,” said the feisty Jones, who hand-makes the pierogies for fish fry dinners at St. John's RC Church in Scottdale.

Both women extolled Sepesi — both as a teacher and a cheerleading sponsor.

“Mrs. Sepesi was great! I just loved her,” said Jones, who has lived in Everson for 54 years with her husband and family. A graduate of Slippery Rock College, she taught at St. John's School in Scottdale for several years, but spent most of her career as an office manager for Woodruff Memorials in Greensburg.

French remembers Metil as a kind, gentle man. “When I needed a dime for a soda pop — which was almost every day! — I could depend on him,” she said.

Like Stefano, French and Jones keep mementos of their DTHS days. Jones still has her yearbook and can recite the lyrics of their school song. She remembers dancing at lunchtime “sock hops” to the tunes of Little Richard, Elvis and other rock ‘n roll pioneers.

“I was a member of The Cashmeres (a singing group at DTHS),” she said. “Our big song was ‘For I'll be Spinning Round and Round.'”

There were 105 graduates in the Class of 1959 — and no racial divide, Jones added. “We all got along just fine.”

Independent spirit

“The people who went to Dunbar Township High School had an independent spirit,” Stefano said. “Most of them came from nothing but they were determined to make something of themselves — and they did.”

Harry McDowell of Connellsville (Class of 1942) summed it up in a few short sentences. Soon after his class received high school diplomas at the football stadium in Trotter (the first DTHS class to do so at the stadium), many wore military uniforms serving in World War II.

“That (graduation) night we were all so proud,” McDowell noted. “It's been 70 years since that happy occasion and our numbers are growing smaller. But we will always remain the ‘Dunbar Mules.'”

Laura Szepesi is a freelance writer.

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