1943 Valentine among Canteen's WW II treasures
A couple of years ago, an enthusiastic octogenarian gathered some of her husband's World War II memories and delivered the items to Michael Edwards.
Edwards is president of Fayette County Cultural Trust and executive director of Connellsville Redevelopment Authority. He and Daniel Cocks, who serves on the cultural trust's board of directors, have been impressed by Connellsville's history ever since they moved to town a decade ago.
They accepted the World War II memorabilia from Gloria Rock, whose late husband, Albert Rock, served with the Army Air Force from 1942 until the war ended in 1945.
“If I remember correctly, Gloria was the first person to donate historical items to the cultural trust,” Edwards said.
Along with photos of her husband, there were embroidered “I love you” handkerchiefs and two fancy greeting cards, including a Hallmark valentine that Albert Rock gave his wife in 1943. Edwards set the items aside until he could figure how best to use them.
The time is now. Gloria Rock's treasures are prominently displayed at the Connellsville Canteen Coffee Shop. World War II is the backdrop at the canteen, which is located along West Crawford Avenue in downtown Connellsville. It is modeled after the B&O Railroad train station that stood along Water Street during the war years.
From 1944 to 1946, 600 women volunteers served food to soldiers and sailors who passed through Connellsville via the railroad en route to the war — or on their way home. By 1946, it was estimated that 500,000 service personnel had enjoyed hot coffee, sandwiches and homemade goodies at the canteen.
Canteen opens soon
Since the new Canteen Coffee Shop has been built — it will open officially in May — the cultural trust has received World War II memories from many local veterans and veterans' families.
Promoting the cultural and historical assets of Connellsville is included the cultural trust's mission statement, Edwards explained. The Canteen Coffee Shop is a perfect example of the cultural trust's attempts to enrich the quality of life for local citizens and to draw visitors to town as well.
Gloria Rock is now 90 years old and has shared many mementos from her husband's military days with friends.
“What am I going to do with this stuff now? I'm not going to be around forever,” she said. “These things should go to people who appreciate their historical significance.”
Gloria Rock decided to donate memorabilia to the cultural trust because Edwards was so friendly to her when she applied for a government grant to repair her basement.
“The forms the government sent me were so confusing. I didn't know what to do,” she explained. “I knew Michael (Edwards) was involved with the redevelopment authority. I went to see him and he was so kind. He filled out the application for me.”
Afterward, she donated her husband's World War II items, simply to say thanks.
That donation has turned into a monthly routine.
Edwards said he and Redevelopment Authority administrative assistant Paula Grubach can expect to see Gloria Rock like clockwork when she ventures from her West Side home to do her banking and shopping.
“When I go downtown to get my (monthly retirement) check cashed, I always stop by and visit Michael and Paula. I've grown quite fond of them,” Gloria Rock said. That feeling is mutual, Edwards echoed.
Laura Szepesi is a contributing writer.