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1960s Connellsville graduates experience: Vietnam, less college — and more blue collar

Roxanne Abramowitz | Daily Courier - Carmalee Porter, 67, of West Side Hill, Connellsville, shares memories of the 1960s with others who graduated then.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Roxanne Abramowitz | Daily Courier</em></div>Carmalee Porter, 67, of West Side Hill, Connellsville, shares memories of the 1960s with others who graduated then.
Roxanne Abramowitz | For the Daily Courier - Ron Shaffer, 67, of Connellsville reminisces about the 1960s during a recent gathering with other 1960s graduates.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Roxanne Abramowitz | For the Daily Courier</em></div>Ron Shaffer, 67, of Connellsville reminisces about the 1960s during a recent gathering with other 1960s graduates.
Library of Congress - By the time the 1960s ended, protests against the Vietnam War had escalated from coast to coast. The U.S. didn’t begin to withdraw troops until 1973, amid much controversy and violence at home.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Library of Congress</em></div>By the time the 1960s ended, protests against the Vietnam War had escalated from coast to coast. The U.S. didn’t begin to withdraw troops until 1973, amid much controversy and violence at home.

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These “Kids of the 1960s” met recently at the Daily Courier to reminisce about “the good old days” of growing up in Connellsville. Although they graduated high school in the 1960s, some of their fondest memories of town travel back to the late 1950s, a time when America's economy — and babies — boomed.

• Jack Kozel, 68, is a Mt. Pleasant resident who grew up in Everson and lived for 21 years in Connellsville. He graduated from Immaculate Conception High School in 1963 — the last year before the school moved and changed its name to Geibel High School. A licensed barber who still cuts his family's hair, Jack sold insurance and retired from the sales department of Montgomery Ward's. He and his wife, Mary (who has worked at the Daily Courier for more than 30 years), have been married for 43 years.

• Carmalee Carbonara Porter, 67, is a lifelong Connellsville resident. She is a member of Geibel High School's first graduating class (1964). “Carmie” has been married to her husband, David, for 48 years. She retired from Healthland Pharmacy, “One of many jobs.”

• Ron Shaffer, 67, of Connellsville, retired from Connellsville State General Hospital (now Highlands Hospital), where he was a cook and security officer. He and his wife, Marsha, who is a receptionist at the Daily Courier, have been married for 10 years. Ron is a 1965 graduate of Connellsville Joint High School.

• Judy Keller Haines, 65, of Connellsville, worked for 34 years as an elementary teacher for Connellsville Area School District. The retired vocal music instructor taught at Zachariah Connell and South Side schools. The 1966 Connellsville Area High School graduate has been married to her husband, Rodney, for 42 years.

The 1960s “teens” shared memories of a Connellsville that rock ‘n rolled; a place as lively as “King” Elvis Presley himself. There was, they declared, no place better to live — and they still feel that way.

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By Laura Szepesi
Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, 7:18 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 the month of December.

The teenagers of the 1960s — those earliest of the Baby Boomer generation — grew up with the thundercloud of Vietnam hanging over their heads.

The '60s were among the worst years of the war in Southeast Asia, which lasted more than a decade and claimed the lives of 58,000 Americans.

“We prayed a lot about it in church,” recalled Carmalee Carbonara Porter, 67, a longtime resident of Connellsville's West Side Hill.

Ron Shaffer, 67, married young and had a child, so he wasn't drafted. “A lot of my friends were killed,” said the Connellsville resident, who retired from Connellsville State General Hospital, where he worked as a cook and a security officer.

Jack Kozel, 68, was drafted but was in an accident before he left for basic training. A back injury sidelined him.

“All of my buddies were in the war, though,” said Kozel, a Mt. Pleasant resident; he and his wife, Mary, raised their family on Connellsville's South Side.

Porter, Shaffer and Kozel, along with Judy Keller Haines of Connellsville, gathered together recently at the Daily Courier to share memories of their youth — years they recall as simpler and more satisfying than the world facing today's teenagers.

College not as common

Of the four local residents, only Haines went to college. Times were different in 1950s and 1960s Connellsville, which was largely a blue-collar town. Many high school boys entered the workforce after they graduated; the coal mines, factories and steel mills were still chugging along and paid decent money. There were also the trades: Mechanics, electricians, carpenters, etc. — which is still true today. It was common in the 1960s for girls to marry young. If they worked outside the home, it often was in the clerical or retail fields.

Kozel, who retired from the sales department of Montgomery Ward's, went to barber school in Pittsburgh after graduating in 1963.

“The nuns (at Immaculate Conception High School) thought that I could have gotten into Duquesne University. When I found out that the tuition was $2,850 a year (this was in the early 1960s, remember), it might as well have been $28 million,” said Kozel, who grew up in Everson. “That was so much money.”

He added, “There were jobs here, good jobs — the railroad, the steel mills and mines and Anchor Hocking Glass and Cap.”

“I wanted to be a nurse,” said Porter, the youngest sibling in a family of 13. Over the years, she had several jobs and retired from Healthland Pharmacy in Connellsville. “Times were just different.”

“You played the cards you were dealt and just did your best,” Kozel interjected.

Haines attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a teacher's degree. “But I went on loans — and I worked while I was in school,” said Haines, who taught vocal music to elementary students in Connellsville Area School District for nearly 35 years, at Zachariah Connell and South Side schools.

Earliest baby boomers

The 1960s high school graduates were the first of the post-World War II Baby Boomers. Kozel was born in 1945 — the year World War II ended. He arrived in the world just before the Boom exploded. Porter and Shaffer, both 67, and Haines, 65, came along just as the Boomer generation escalated.

According to The History Channel website, as well as other sources, 3.4 million U.S. babies were born in 1946 — 20 percent more than in 1945. The number of infants grew to 3.8 million in 1947, and to 3.9 million in 1952 (don't forget, the Korean War was just ending). From 1954 until 1964, more than 4 million babies were born annually; then the number tapered off.

More than 75 million people were — and millions still are — Baby Boomers. By 2030, it is estimated that one in five Americans will be older than 65.

Those who graduated in the early- to mid-1960s experienced their formative childhood years in the 1950s, a time that Kozel, Porter, Shaffer and Haines remember as some of the best of their lives.

“There were no Sunday sales in those days, which was fine. Things slowed down; it was sacred,” said Porter. “We need to go back.”

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

Laura Szepesi is a contributing writer.

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