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Connellsville's Canteen Coffee Shop in the mood for World War II memorabilia

| Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, 6:21 p.m.
Lori C. Padilla | For the Daily Courier
A 1920 World War II Tuskegee Airman, Joe Gomer, seated at the controls in his fighters as well as in his dress uniform above, lent some of his Air Force photos and headphones to one of the wall displays in the Connellsville Canteen on Crawford Avenue. Daniel Cocks, vice president of the Fayette County Cultural Trust, explains that each display will have an explanation accompanying the images and memorabilia throughout the building.
Lori C. Padilla | For the Daily Courier
Dan Cocks, vice president of the Fayette County Cultural Trust, shows how the sign for the Connellsville Canteen will be put together to be hung outside once the building is completed. The building currently houses a massive train display depicting Connellsville's B&O Railroad Station, created by Harry Clark. Plans include a stage for musical and comedic shows, more displays and food service.
Lori C. Padilla | For the Daily Courier
Soldiers during World War II were treated to entertainment and refreshment during the days of canteens, usually operated by the women of the area. Many canteens offered live music for dancing. The Connellsville Canteen has been named after countless stories by servicemen of WWII who found respite within the walls with food, music and entertainment.
Lori C. Padilla | For the Daily Courier
Photos of women who were known for spreading propaganda during WWII will be placed on the walls of the Connellsville Canteen. Tokyo Rose was known for spewing false statements during the World War II and was arrested for being a traitor. She was later pardoned by Eisenhower as one of his last acts as president. Dan Cocks shows off an image of a bomber which had the name of Tokyo Rose emblazened on it's side.
Lori Padilla | For the Daily Courier
Images of the original canteen in Connellsville and the women who operated it hang on the wall in the Connellsville Canteen. The building holds memoriblia from World War II such as uniforms as well as a trombone played by Harold Betters, native son who played on 'The Mike Douglas Show' and continues to have a thriving jazz career. Dan Cocks, vice president of the Fayette County Cultural Trust, looks over the faces of the women who spent time serving refreshments to servicemen who traveled through town.

Connellsville's railroad display museum and canteen is in the mood, stepping back to the Big Band era of World War II.

The building, constructed as a replica of the old B&O train station, is being completed slowly but surely.

“When you walk in the front door, you feel like you've stepped into the 1940s,” said Daniel Cocks, vice president of Fayette County Cultural Trust, the group overseeing the project.

With the help of antique shops and local donations, the interior of the soon-to-be Connellsville Canteen Coffee Shop is flavored with World War II memorabilia.

“The ceiling fans look like airplane propellers, and there's an old-fashioned phone booth, to name a few things,” said Cocks, who noted that a gunnery sergeant's uniform jacket on display was donated by Alvin Sheetz, who served in Burma during the war.

War photos sought

Black-and-white photos from the war are hung on the walls. The cultural trust invites local residents with artifacts or pictures from World War II to share them at the museum to honor their family members who served.

“We especially need 8- by 10- (inch) photos, along with personal information, to tell the local story of the war,” Cocks said.

The full title of the project is the Connellsville Canteen Coffee Shop/Harry W. Clark Indian Creek Valley Railroad Display. The coffee shop takes its name from the Connellsville Canteen, a group of 500 local women who met and fed a half million servicemen at the B&O Railroad station from 1944 to 1946. The railroad display was the lifetime creation of Harry W. Clark of Normalville — a 25- by 50-foot scene featuring model trains and landscapes.

Purchased by local contractor Terry “Tuffy” Shallenberger after Clark's death, the display had been at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington. When Nemacolin needed the space to construct its Lady Luck Casino, Shallenberger brought the display home to Connellsville. Last September, it was trucked to West Crawford Avenue, and a building was constructed around it. Since then, the display has been kept safe and is now being fine-tuned for its public debut.

“We still don't have an opening date, as much work remains to be done,” said Cocks.

The coffee shop's kitchen has not been installed yet, as well as cosmetic touches such as baseboards, etc.

Stage door canteen

Cocks was happy to report that the coffee shop will have a small stage on which plays and musical groups can perform.

“It will be like the stage door canteens that were so big during World War II,” he said.

The cultural trust board, led by its president, Michael Edwards, is continuing to seek funding for the project via grants, foundations and donations.

Speaking of fundraisers, Cocks said the sale of Connellsville Canteen commemorative dog tags has gone well.

“We still have the tags for anyone who's interested,” he noted.

Tags can be purchased at ArtWorks Connellsville, next door to the coffee shop/railroad display building, at 139 W. Crawford Ave., downtown. The prices range from $25 to $500, depending on the tag's color.

ArtWorks is a nonprofit gallery and learning center that sells the creations of regional artists. All proceeds are put back into ArtWorks' programs, workshops and seminars, which are open to the public.

For more information about the gallery and the Connellsville Canteen dog tags, visit www.artworksconnellsville.org.

Laura Szepesi is a contributing writer.

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