World War II POW, star athlete was a friend to all in Connellsville
John V. “Wally” Schroyer of Connellsville was a Fayette County Hall of Fame athlete, a WWII prisoner of war, a mentor and a coach. But more than that — he was a family man and friend to everyone who knew him.
Schroyer, 88, passed away Sunday at UPMC Montefiore, Oakland.
He graduated from Connellsville High School in 1942 and was first known as a standout athlete in football, basketball and track.
“He did it all,” said Art McGann of Connellsville, a friend who attended school with Schroyer.
Bob McLuckey of Connellsville knew Schroyer virtually all of his life. Schroyer and his wife were friends with McLuckey's parents.
“He was an outstanding athlete when he was young,” McLuckey said. “He and John Lujack were classmates and the old-timers would say Wally Schroyer was a better athlete.”
When Lujack, a Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL star, visited Connellsville in 2009, he said, “Wally was the best in high school I ever saw.”
During his senior year, Schroyer earned all-county, all-WPIAL and third-team all-state honors as a fullback for the undefeated Cokers. He competed in the pole vault, high jump and shot put for the Connellsville track team and won the Tri-State Pentathlon at Pitt Stadium. Schroyer also was a member of the school's section champion basketball team.
He went on to Penn State, where he quarterbacked for the Nittany Lions during his freshman year, taking them to a 6-1-1 record in 1942.
He appeared to be on track for a fine collegiate and possibly pro career in football, but that never materialized. He joined the U.S. Army in December 1942.
During his time in the service, he saw action in North Africa and the Italian Theater.
On Feb. 18, 1944, Schroyer was shot seven times during the Battle of Anzio, Italy. He was captured.
“The good Lord was with me. I had an experience when I was hit — a German captain came over — I had dived in a hole and he sprayed it and got me. He came over and asked if I could walk, and I said I couldn't. He said I'll get you some help,” Schroyer recalled during an interview as part of his bio with the Fayette County Sports Hall of Fame, which he was inducted.
McGann said Schroyer was carried and placed on top of a German tank.
Three of the bullets struck Schroyer in the right leg.
For 13 months, Schroyer spent time in five different German prison camps throughout Europe. His right leg was amputated. Schroyer was part of a prisoner exchange. He was discharged from service Aug. 16, 1945.
He received the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and several other awards for his military service, but his future of becoming a professional athlete was over.
“He didn't dwell in self-pity and never felt sorry for himself,” McLuckey said. “He got involved in community affairs and was very influential on young people.”
He returned to Penn State, but complications with his leg forced him to leave school. He underwent four follow-up surgeries.
In 1952, Schroyer became Fayette County's chief assessor and he worked for 28 years as the Fayette County Register of Wills. In 1992, he retired after 40 years of service.
During that time, he dedicated much of his time coaching youth baseball, football and basketball
“I got some kids on the right track,” Schroyer said in a 2012 interview with the Daily Courier. “We talked about football and baseball and basketball. But we also talked about things like discipline. When I realized I couldn't go back to college, I got into the sports programs with the kids. I probably worked with four or five thousand kids, and most of them turned out to be good.”
In fact, Bo Scott, Wilbert Scott, John Denvir and James Cunningham were coached by Schroyer, and each went on to play professional football.
“The top athletes in Connellsville from the ‘50s and ‘60s said he was an inspiration,” McLuckey said. “To me, he was a very, very nice person. He genuinely cared about other people and he genuinely cared about Connellsville and the entire area.”
Schroyer was honored for his dedication to the community when in 2006 he honored to be the grand marshal in the city's bicentennial parade.
“Wally was a very friendly person,” McGann said. “Everyone knew him and he knew everybody. He was a very outgoing guy, just a well-liked individual. He was the kind of friend you wanted to hold on to. I'm going to miss him.”
McGann remained so close to Schroyer that the two would meet up with friends every morning at McDonald's where they sat at the same table and the same chairs for years to, as McGann said, “sit with the other old farts and see who can tell the biggest lie.”
However, after receiving a call from Schroyer's son on Sunday, McGann had to deliver a sad truth on Monday morning when he went to McDonald's.
“Nobody knew about it when I walked in,” McGann said. “The first thing the girl behind the counter asked was how's Wally doing. I told her Wally didn't make it.”
“You come across people in your life and you're glad to say you happened to know them, and Wally was that 100 percent,” McLuckey said. “I think the world of Wally Schroyer.”
Schroyer was married for 56 years to the late Jane Ann Herbert and they had a son, John, and a daughter, Kim, and four grandchildren.
City Treasurer Judy Keller and her family, were close friends with the Schroyer family.
“My memories of Wally go back to my youth. As early as 1956, our families attended every home Coker football game and then would go up to Jane Ann and Wally's house for pizza. It was a Friday night ritual I'll never forget. He and Jane Ann took me and my parents to our first Penn State football game in 1960 to see Hank Oppermann play for PSU. My first vacation to the beach in Ocean City, N.J., was with my parents and Jane Ann and Wally in 1957. And we all took many a boat ride around Yough Dam in the boat my Dad built from a kit,” recalled Keller. ”I'm so grateful he was such a good friend and mentor not only for me but for my parents too. It was an honor to be in his presence.”
Arrangements for Schroyer are under the direction of the Brooks Funeral Home Inc., 111 E. Green St., Connellsville.
Mark Hofmann is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-626-3539 or firstname.lastname@example.org.