Shoe leather, not tire rubber, got 1960s teens to fun destinations

| Monday, Dec. 16, 2013, 6:15 p.m.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Today the Daily Courier continues “The Way We Were,” followed by “Where We're Headed,” a series of articles tracing Connellsville's past through the eyes of residents who lived it. From the 1930s through the New Millennium, “The Way We Were” will give a human perspective of Connellsville's boomtown years as well as its hard times and will end with a flourish, focusing on good news — we hope — for the future of our town in particular and Southwestern Pennsylvania in general. The series will run throughout December.

The teenagers who graduated from high school in Connellsville in the early to mid-1960s wore out more shoe leather than tires, but they sure got around. And, they had fun along the way.

Jack Kozel's shoe soles were the thinnest. He grew up in Everson and hitched a ride to Immaculate Conception High School almost every day. “Those were times when you could stick out your thumb, hop into a car and not have to worry about getting mugged,” he said.

At 68, the 1963 graduate is a member of IC's last senior class.

Carmalee Carbonara Porter, 67, walked to school from Connellsville's West Side hill, all the way to Geibel High School, which was brand new when she was a senior in 1964.

Judy Keller Haines, 65, grew up in the city's Third Ward, near Vona's Dairy Bar. She well remembers walking to Connellsville Joint High School (now the junior high). “We walked everywhere and stayed outside as much as we could. We even walked home for lunch on school days,” remembered Haines, who graduated in 1966.

Ron Shaffer, 67, did plenty of trekking on foot during his Connellsville High School days, both to and from class — and selling newspapers. In particular, Saturday was a good sales day, said the 1964 graduate.

“I carried the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph and the Post-Gazette for John White (the father of local vendor Jack White),” Shaffer said.

Shaffer made out like a bandit, too, because Connellsville was wall-to-wall people on Saturdays back then.

Jeans were called overalls or dungarees — and no one wore them to school. Kozel remembered the uniform requirements of parochial school. “Dress pants and ties for boys; skirts and blouses for girls.”

Former paperboys

Shaffer and Kozel have newspapers in common; Kozel carried The Daily Courier and The Scottdale Independent Observer — that is, when he wasn't wearing out more shoe leather playing baseball.

“Were were always outside, playing baseball or football,” added Shaffer, who grew up in Gibson Terrace and learned to work hard at a young age, shoveling bushels of coal for his family's furnace. “We'd often walk to South Side School and hang out at the playground.”

When they weren't at school, 1960s teenagers would do what they still do: Gather after class to flirt, gossip and slurp down their favorite drinks. Pharmacies and stores with lunch counters were the places to hang out in the 1960s, such as Hetzel's and Swan's and McCrory's. They'd alternate from day to day, enjoying cherry Cokes and milkshakes, pickles and potato chips.

Sometimes Atkins store would broadcast music on Brimstone Corner, in the heart of town, the cool tunes of the day — those by Fabian and Bobby Vinton, Jan and Dean and the Beach Boys.

“We'd go to movies — and it only cost a dime,” said Kozel, who fondly remembers Connellsville's Orpheum Theater (but not so fondly The Paramount, “It had rats!”). Because he grew up in Everson, he often went to The Strand in Scottdale, where he saw such “quality” movies as “Tarantula Ants.”

Getting some pizza

After basketball games, Porter recalled “getting a slice” at LaFiesta Pizza, which was across from Spotto's Hardware on Crawford Avenue. “It was 15 cents and then it went up to a whole quarter.”

Shaffer often frequented Harry's Pizza on Arch Street. “It was only a dime a slice; he baked it on big cookie sheets. It was great!”

For something a bit fancier, there was always the Crawford Tea Room and the Wonder Bar; if one was low on cash, there always were cheeseburgers at Ding's on the West Side — they were cheap but delicious.

In the summer, no one missed the Thursday night movies at East Park, and they stayed out late on Halloween, collecting treats. “Mrs. Allen on 11th Street made the best homemade cupcakes,” Porter declared. “We kept going back for more. She must have baked 2,000 of them!”

Porter also recalled the good times she had at the Slovak Club, which held concerts, attracting popular bands like Gene Pitney, Tommy James and the Shondells.

Shopping downtown

Reflecting on the current holiday season, Haines said there was no reason to leave Connellsville. “You did all your Christmas shopping downtown. It was full of shops.” Kids lined up in Troutman's to sit on Santa's lap and whisper their wishes for toys.

“I remember playing jacks, hide and seek and mothering my baby dolls — and I must have been 13 years old,” Porter said. “Kids today grow up way too fast.”

The group waxed nostalgic, recalling bouffant hairdos and learning to type — on manual typewriters, not computers; there weren't any. According to them, Lucky's Market on North Pittsburgh Street had “the best ham loaf in the world.” Walt's on East Fairview Avenue did, too. As for food bargains, one could purchase “nine cans of peas” for a buck at The Marketbasket.

“When I first got married, we got a week's worth of groceries for only $26,” Porter said.

Every neighborhood had its own mom-and-pop shops, such as Capo's on West Side Hill, Greitzer's on West Crawford Avenue and Miller's in the South Side.

Cruisin' McDonald's

For fast food, teenagers had to go to Uniontown Shopping Center, which had the area's first McDonald's. Those lucky enough to have access to a car headed there on weekend nights, where teenagers “cruised” while munching on burgers (19 cents each), fries (29 cents) and nickel Cokes.

“Those were real french fries,” Shaffer declared. “Boy, those were the good old days.”

Porter longs for those long-ago evenings when she and her high school sweetheart, Dave (they've been married for 48 years), would cruise the shopping center in his 1960 black Chevy Impala convertible — always with the top down to show off its red interior. “That was some car, tail fins and all.”

One thing was certain, however: Those who cruised had better be home early enough on Saturday night that they'd wake up in time for church on Sunday morning. “You had two pairs of shoes back then; school shoes and black patent leather shoes for church,” Porter remembered. “That was it.”

The group said the city's 150th anniversary — the sesquicentennial — was a capper to their childhood. The 10-day festival in 1956 involved thousands in Connellsville, who flocked to the curbs for a parade full of bands, floats and civic groups. The event's climax was the crowning of Judy Swan as sesquicentennial queen.

“I wanted to ride on the queen's float, but I didn't get to do it,” Haines confessed. “I thought Judy Swan (Nardone) was so beautiful!”

Wednesday: 1970s grads: Home is where the heart is.

Laura Szepesi is a contributing writer.

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