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Connellsville — 1990s until now: Years of great sports, bad blizzards and hope on the horizon

Connellsville Chamber of Commerc - State Sen. J. William Lincoln (left) and State Rep. Richard Kasunic at Yough River Park in Connellsville during the Yough River Trail Grand Pening circa 1995.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Connellsville Chamber of Commerc</em></div>State Sen. J. William Lincoln (left) and State Rep. Richard Kasunic at Yough River Park in Connellsville during the Yough River Trail Grand Pening circa 1995.
Submitted - The state historic marker designating the Water Street sign of the Connellsville Canteen. The sign was dedicated at ceremonies held in April 1994 at Central Fellowship Church, which is the site where the Canteen operated. At left is Lavina Maricondi, who served with the Canteen. With her is Florence Shutsy Reynolds, who flew with the Women's Airforce Service Pilots during World War II.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Submitted</em></div>The state historic marker designating the Water Street sign of the Connellsville Canteen. The sign was dedicated at ceremonies held in April 1994 at Central Fellowship Church, which is the site where the Canteen operated. At left is Lavina Maricondi, who served with the Canteen. With her is Florence Shutsy Reynolds, who flew with the Women's Airforce Service Pilots during World War II.
Submitted - Connellsville officials pose outside Connellsville Post Office in 1994 during ceremonies at which a bronze plaque is unveiled, naming the facility to the National Register of Historic Places. The post office operations date back 101797; it was one of the pioneer postal operations in Pennsylvania. The current building was constructed in 1911-13 at Arch and Apple strees. Attending the 1994 celebration were (from left) Bill Balsley, Connellsville Area Historical Society; Dennis Young (kneeling), postmaster; C.J. 'Frank' Ellis, retired postmaster, who purchased the plaque; J. R. Dunston (back), retired postal worker; and Carmel Caller, historical society; and Nick Manzella, retired assistant postaster, who helped compile the application for the national register.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Submitted</em></div>Connellsville officials pose outside Connellsville Post Office in 1994 during ceremonies at which a bronze plaque is unveiled, naming the facility to the National Register of Historic Places. The post office operations date back 101797; it was one of the pioneer postal operations in Pennsylvania. The current building was constructed in 1911-13 at Arch and Apple strees. Attending the 1994 celebration were (from left) Bill Balsley, Connellsville Area Historical Society; Dennis Young (kneeling), postmaster; C.J. 'Frank' Ellis, retired postmaster, who purchased the plaque; J. R. Dunston (back), retired postal worker; and Carmel Caller, historical society; and Nick Manzella, retired assistant postaster, who helped compile the application for the national register.
Submitted - Connellsville's last active World War I veterans, in 1990. At left is Earl Shank, who read the roll call of deceased veterans every Memorial Day for more than 25 years. He died in 1994 at age 95. With him is Frank Showman, who saw active combat duty overseas in France in 1918. He also died in 1994 at the age of 97.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Submitted</em></div>Connellsville's last active World War I veterans, in 1990. At left is Earl Shank, who read the roll call of deceased veterans every Memorial Day for more than 25 years. He died in 1994 at age 95. With him is Frank Showman, who saw active combat duty overseas in France in 1918. He also died in 1994 at the age of 97.
Daily Courier File Photo - Ground was broken for construction of the bike trail, linking Connellsville to Ohiopyle on March 13, 1992.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Daily Courier File Photo</em></div>Ground was broken for construction of the bike trail, linking Connellsville to Ohiopyle on March 13, 1992.
Submitted - Florence Shutsy Reynolds of Connellsville speaks at the 50th anniversary celebration honoring the Connellsville Canteen. Reynolds is a bit historic herself; she was a member of the Women's Airforce Servie Pilots during World War II.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Submitted</em></div>Florence Shutsy Reynolds of Connellsville speaks at the 50th anniversary celebration honoring the Connellsville Canteen. Reynolds is a bit historic herself; she was a member of the Women's Airforce Servie Pilots during World War II.
Submitted - Johnny Lujack returned home to Connellsville in 1994 to participate in a 'Stars of '44' honorary banquet. With him is his 1947 Heisman Trophy that he won while playing football for Notre Dame.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Submitted</em></div>Johnny Lujack returned home to Connellsville in 1994 to participate in a 'Stars of '44' honorary banquet. With him is his 1947 Heisman Trophy that he won while playing football for Notre Dame.
Submitted - No one could ever call Francis 'Bud' Murphy biased against women's sports; he sonsored ladies volleyball and softball teams for nearly 60 years in Connellsville, along with his men's sponsorships. Murphy, who operated his popular spots bar and restaurant on McCormick Avenue for most of his life, poses here with his last volleyball team in 1994, shortly before his death at age 76.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Submitted</em></div>No one could ever call Francis 'Bud' Murphy biased against women's sports; he sonsored ladies volleyball and softball teams for nearly 60 years in Connellsville, along with his men's sponsorships. Murphy, who operated his popular spots bar and restaurant on McCormick Avenue for most of his life, poses here with his last volleyball team in 1994, shortly before his death at age 76.
Submitted - Amedeo Molinaro, a leader of the Molinaro brass band, celebrated 60 years with the band as director in 1996. He was involved with the band even longer.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Submitted</em></div>Amedeo Molinaro, a leader of the Molinaro brass band, celebrated 60 years with the band as director in 1996. He was involved with the band even longer.
Connellsville Chamber of Commerce - Local dignataries gather for the grand opening of the bike trail that comes through Connellsville.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Connellsville Chamber of Commerce</em></div>Local dignataries gather for the grand opening of the bike trail that comes through Connellsville.
Connellsville Chamber of Commerc - Bicyclists travel along the Great Allegheny Passage, circa 1995, after an official grand opening ceremony was held, celebrating the completion of the trail.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Connellsville Chamber of Commerc</em></div>Bicyclists travel along the Great Allegheny Passage, circa 1995, after an official grand opening ceremony was held, celebrating the completion of the trail.
Connellsville Chamber of Commerce - Bicyclists travel along the Great Allegheny Passage circa 1995.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Connellsville Chamber of Commerce</em></div>Bicyclists travel along the Great Allegheny Passage circa 1995.
Connellsville Chamber of Commerce - Bicyclists travel along the Great Allegheny Passage circa 1995, at Yough River Park in Connellsville, during an official grand opening ceremony was held, celebrating the completion of the trail.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Connellsville Chamber of Commerce</em></div>Bicyclists travel along the Great Allegheny Passage circa 1995, at Yough River Park in Connellsville, during an official grand opening ceremony was held, celebrating the completion of the trail.
Connellsville Chamber of Commerce - Hundreds gather at Yough River Park for the opening of the trail through Connellsville.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Connellsville Chamber of Commerce</em></div>Hundreds gather at Yough River Park for the opening of the trail through Connellsville.
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Daily Photo Galleries

By Laura Szepesi
Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, 8:33 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 1990s was a great sports decade for the Connellsville area. High school wrestler Kevin Saniga won the national title in 1990 and 1993. The Falcon football team defeated Upper St. Clair in 1991 for the WPIAL Quad A Championship, coached by longtime gridironer Dan Spanish. Geibel's girls' basketball team snagged several WPIAL AA championships, too.

The Falcons' wrestling squad pinned its way to two WPIAL championships in the 1990s, and Connellsville Little League went to the state championship in 1993. In 1997, the Lady Falcons softball team won its first WPIAL championship, defeating Franklin Regional 2-1. As a capper, Penn State University won the coveted Rose Bowl on New Year's Day 1995.

Mother Nature dumped two blizzards on the Fay-West area, the first in March 1993, the second in January 1996, which resulted in the flooding of West Side Connellsville when the Youghiogheny River crested at 21 feet — nine feet about flood level.

Decade of the trail

Bike trail construction was in the full swing during the 1990s. In July 1995, official opening ceremonies were held at Yough River Park for a section of Yough River Trail between Connellsville and Ohiopyle State Park. Trail work continued north from Connellsville toward Dawson and Layton. By June 2013, the path — now called the Great Allegheny Passage — extended from Point State Park in Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland. At Cumberland, it links with the C&O Canal Towpath Trail to Washington, D.C.

The 1990s saw the startup of Sony Manufacturing, at the site of the former Volkswagen of America plant near New Stanton. The industry flourished for more than a decade, manufacturing large screen televisions, until an economical downtown shuttered the plant in 2008.

In the mid-1990s, the first refurbished combat vehicles rolled off the lines at United Defense (now BAE Systems) along Route 119 near Penn State's Fayette/Eberly Campus. BAE continued to turn out military vehicles and equipment throughout the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and will finally be phased out at the end of this year.

Tragedies

There were tragedies during the 1990s, such as the 1992 death of bride-to-be Beverly Davis of Mt. Pleasant, who was killed the day before her wedding by a tour bus at the intersection of Route 119 and Kingview Road. With her was her mother, Betty Davis. In 1994, 131 people died in a jet crash near Aliquippa — four of them from Fayette County. On New Year's Day 1999, Deana K. Mitts, 24, and her young daughter, Kayla, were killed in an explosion at the Rose Square Apartments in Connellsville.

Economically, Connellsville remained stable but stagnant during the 1990s and into the New Millennium. However, positive things have happened in recent years — accelerated cleanup of blight, refurbishment of parks and buildings, new development of such things as the vacant Aaron's Building and plans for a hotel. New businesses have opened, especially during the past several years, and others are on the horizon.

A new year is right around the corner, one which city officials believe will bring better times with it.

Tuesday: Former mayor, James Wagner, muses about city's past, future.

Laura Szepesi is a contributing writer.

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