Dunbar Township graduates lose teacher, dear friend
George Zubeck delivered more than medicine to a Greensburg area nursing home this past summer. He conjured up long-lost memories of Dunbar Township High School for one of its teachers, Joseph Metil.
Metil passed away at age 87 in December, but during the summer before his death was able to share tidbits of information about his years at DTHS, which merged with Connellsville Joint High School in 1966-1967. He was one of DTHS's last surviving teachers — maybe the last. His death marks the final chapter of “The buff brick school atop Leisenring hill,” as so many loyal Dunbar Township Mules call it.
Zubeck arranged to visit Metil last summer, taking the “Beal twins” — Joan Beal John and June Beal — with him.
The lifelong Leisenring resident worked for UPS for 30 years and after retiring found that he missed making deliveries to people. He now works part time for Hunter Pharmacy in Connellsville and is back on the road, delivering prescriptions instead of packages and envelopes. One day last year, he was handed medication for a Joseph Metil.
“I didn't graduate from Dunbar Township; I went to Connellsville after the merger,” Zubeck said. However, his older siblings attended DTHS and Zubeck recognized Metil's name.
Just by coincidence
Curious, he made it a point to meet Metil when dropping off the medicine. “I said, ‘I knew a Joe Metil who taught at Dunbar Township High School,' and he replied, ‘That's me.' I couldn't believe it; I just ran into him out of the clear blue,” Zubeck exclaimed. “It was like a miracle!”
Armed with old photos of the school, Zubeck and the Beal sisters went back to visit the elderly teacher, whose eyes misted with tears at the sight of his old workplace. “Yoy, yoy, yoy. Oh, boy. Oh, my Lord!” he said, kissing the black-and-white photograph. “Beautiful, beautiful Leisenring!”
Frail and feeble, Metil haltingly recalled teaching at DTHS as the best years of his life. He must have loved it, indeed, as he trekked to Leisenring daily all the way from Marguerite, a former coal mining “patch” located between Mt. Pleasant and Latrobe. He traveled by streetcar.
Born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Metil immigrated to America as a child. His family settled near Marguerite, where his father found work — like thousands of other immigrants — in the area's coal mines.
“Marguerite was named for the coal mine superintendent's wife,” Metil explained.
‘Rusyn – NOT Russian'
His eyes twinkling, he remembered that he was called a “Hunky,” but emphasized his heritage as “Rusyn – NOT Russian.” (Rusyn is an Eastern Slavic language spoken by the Carpatho-Rusyns of Central Europe.)
Lacking transportation when he was growing up in Marguerite, Metil walked to Latrobe High School when he was a teenager, hitchhiking when he could thumb a ride. After high school, he received a college degree at St. Vincent College in Latrobe and attended its seminary, but he didn't enter the priesthood. He found another calling instead. After serving with the Marine Corps in World War II, he wound up teaching Latin to high school students in Leisenring.
June and Joan Beal — who, now well into their 60s, still look like two peas in a pod — fondly remember Metil's kind instruction. Their Class of 1962 had 83 graduates and memories galore, they said.
June, a retired Connellsville Area School District custodian, had Metil for study hall. “He was so nice to us but was a strict disciplinarian. You paid attention and did your schoolwork!”
“He came all the way from Marguerite,” marveled Joan, who retired as a licensed practical nurse. “Bad weather, good weather, he was always there.”
By the time Metil retired, “The buff brick school atop Leisenring hill” had burned to the ground and he was teaching in the Trotter school that eventually became Connellsville Junior High West.
Smiling at the photo of Dunbar Township High School this past summer, Metil shook his head in wonder.
“I can't believe it. I can't believe it,” he whispered. He cleared his throat and declared, “Those kids, in my estimation, were the best kids in Fayette County. They were just different.”
Laura Szepesi is a freelance writer.