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Connellsville woman's memories of marriage reside in her heart

| Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, 12:56 a.m.
Laura Szepesi | for the Daily Courier
Gloria Rock of Connellsville may be 90 years old but it seems like yesterday that her husband Albert swept her off her feet in 1941. The couple married in 1942 and spent 56 years together - and shared many valentines – before he passed away in 1998 at the age of 83.
Laura Szepesi | for the Daily Courier
When Gloria Rock wasn’t with Albert on base during World War II, she looked forward to reading his love letters, many of which she has kept for more than 70 years.
This photo, taken during World War II, shows the happy young couple, Albert “Ab” and Gloria (Pistilli) Rock of Connellsville. They were married for 56 years.

No one could accuse Gloria Rock of seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. She says what she feels and doesn't mince words. Period.

So, when the 90-year-old Connellsville woman said she still loves her late husband, Albert (“Ab,” to her), you can bet she means it.

Albert Rock passed away in 1998, but to Gloria Rock it seems like yesterday that she met him in 1941 at Anchor Hocking Glass Cap plant in South Connellsville.

“We took one look at each other and that was it,” she said.

They were married in 1942 by the Rev. Henry DeVivo, pastor of St. Rita's Roman Catholic Church. It was less than a year after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, destroying the U.S. Pacific fleet and thrusting America into World War II.

“I was in a car on Crawford Avenue with some friends that day,” she said. “We had just returned from a trip to Pittsburgh. The news came over the radio and none of us said anything. We were too shocked.”

In April 1942, Albert Rock enlisted in the Army Air Force at Patterson Field (now Wright-Patterson) in Dayton, Ohio.

War bride

“He was never sent overseas, so I was relieved about that,” said Gloria Rock, who accompanied her husband, something women rarely did back then. The couple was sent to Lockbourne Air Base, where Albert Rock worked as a mechanic on B-17 Bomber airplanes. He had been trained at Stewart Technical School for Aircraft Mechanics. The B-17s were so large they were nicknamed Flying Fortresses.

By the time the war ended in 1945, the couple had seen a lot of the United States, including Scott Field, Ill.; Buckley Field, Colo.; and Carlsbad Army Air Base, N.M.

Gloria Rock briefly returned home to Connellsville during the war and served as a volunteer for the Connellsville Canteen. The dedicated group of more than 600 women fed half a million soldiers and sailors at the B&O Railroad station on Water Street between 1944 and 1946.

Sheppard Field in Wichita Falls, Texas, was Albert Rock's last assignment. Stationed there at the same time was Hollywood actor Stanley Clements, who befriended the Rocks. Clements starred in many B-movies, including several of the East Side Kids and The Bowery Boys series.

After the war, Albert Rock worked for many years as a policeman for B&O Railroad and the Chessie System.

Looking back through the decades, Gloria Rock wonders how she had the nerve to pull up stakes and leave Connellsville when she was so young. She had just graduated from Connellsville High School and was still in her teens when she married Albert, who also worked at Anchor Hocking at the time.

Raised by Browning family

However, she had grown up in a hurry. When her mother died, she was only 2 12 years old. Her father, Florentine Pistilli (an Italian immigrant from Naples), had been trained as a tailor. When he came to America, he worked at his brother's shoe shop but eventually turned to photography, opening Windsor Studio on South Pittsburgh Street.

“On her deathbed, my mother asked a neighbor, Catherine Browning, to take me,” she recalled. “I took Mrs. Browning's hand and walked right up the street with her and I stayed there. They were good to me and I loved them.”

She still saw her father often and remembers him as a stern but lovable taskmaster.

As she grew up, her father taught her the art of photography, especially the craft of color tinting. Back then, black-and-white tinted photos were washed in a sepia (light-brown toned) bath. When the photo dried, the photographer used oil paints to tint the eyes, cheeks and lips of the portrait, as well as the clothing. “With the invention of color film, oil paints went out,” she said.

Gloria Rock's background in photography served her well throughout her life. One job she held was as a photo-grapher for Spellman's Studio in Uniontown for more than a decade. At one point, she and her husband planned to reopen her father's studio, which had closed after his death. They took classes to update their photography skills, but Albert Rock's health began a slow decline after he was injured in an automobile accident.

Married 56 years

When Albert Rock passed away in 1998 at age 83, the couple had been married for 56 years. Their daughter, Michele Kooyman, is a retired Connellsville Area teacher, and their son, Albert “Nick” Rock, lives in Etters. He is also retired. His daughter, Christina, is Gloria Rock's only grandchild.

Today, Gloria Rock has difficulty getting around but soldiers on. Lately, she's been cleaning closets and drawers during which she's unearthed many memories of what she calls “the good times.”

She has given many of her memories away to others, including beautiful greeting cards, handkerchiefs and photos of Albert Rock, which are displayed at Connellsville's new Canteen Coffee Shop scheduled to open in May.

Among the World War II memorabilia at the coffee shop is a lovely Hallmark Valentine card from 1943. Bearing Gloria's name and Albert's signature, it is housed in a glass case along with other World War II treasures.

The coffee shop also features a large model railroad display.

Asked why she held on to the valentine for all these years, she answered in her typical, no-nonsense way: “I saved it because he loved me. Ab was so kind. He was a family man. And he loved me.”

Laura Szepesi is a freelance writer.

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