Immigrants add vital threads to tapestry of a nation's tapestry
A note: William R. "Bill" King of North Buffalo is a retired county agricultural agent. But he is much more, including devoted to his country and his community, and he maintains an avid interest in local history. With that introduction, I devote my column this week to his fine words, with an addendum of my own at the end
-- Michael O'Hare, news editor.
By William R. King
For the Leader Times
I asked my wife, Judy, the meaning of e pluribus unum. Without hesitation she said "Out of Many, One." It turns out she had a very good Latin teacher in high school. I must have picked up the meaning in a civics class.
E pluribus unum -- "Out of Many, One." It's America's motto required by law on all our coins. It's our motto because we are a nation of immigrants coming from all parts of the world. The ongoing debate and indecision in Congress has made it a hot political issue.
Immigration tended to come in waves. One of the great waves affecting Armstrong and neighboring counties came in the early 1900s. Factory owners and coal barons put out a call for immigrants from Eastern Europe and Italy. They were very successful.
There is an old black-and-white snapshot taken in 1892 of my great-uncle, Walter Blose, and his students standing in front of the Blose School in nearby Indiana County. All 49 students were English-speaking, Anglo-Saxon. I found a 1921 student roster for the same school. By that time, names like Bruno, Gentillo, Goydish, Menosky and Petras were mixed in with Wright, Clark, Cassidy, Walker, McMillen and all the other English-speaking students. The new names were all children of immigrant coal miners working in the coal mines of Montgomery Township, Indiana County.
I know there are hundreds of fascinating immigration stories right here in Armstrong County. They will soon be lost if we don't capture them now.
For one reason or another, my visits to the Kittanning Library are always enlightening. On a recent stop, librarian Linda Cunningham told me her grandfather, Santo Berasi, left Northern Italy and came to America when he was only 13. What's more, he came alone.
Linda graciously called her mother, and this led me to Applewold and a good conversation with Mrs. Bruna Warcholak, daughter of Santo Berasi. Here is a condensed account of her father's journey that eventually led him to Applewold:
At age 13, Santo Berasi started to work in the coal mines at Chickasaw (Madison Township).
Chickasaw is a once-thriving coal town that has almost disappeared. Located near the village of Widnoon, it was dependent on the deep mine for its livelihood. When the deep mine played-out, so did Chickasaw.
Mr. Berasi's next move was to the mines at Cowanshannock, on the hill above Buttermilk Falls. This was a time of hard work, marriage and raising a family of two girls and two boys. His wife, Gelsomina, came from Italy with plans for a family-arranged marriage to another man. When Santo and Gelsomina met, they fell in love and the prearranged marriage was discarded.
Mrs. Warcholak said their family moved to Applewold when she was 8 years old. Her father went to work in the Mohawk mines at the southern end of Applewold
Mr. Berasi developed a lung problem when he was in his 60s. Mrs. Warcholak said it would probably have been diagnosed as "black lung" today. During the last two years of his life, he was janitor at the Applewold School. Except for that time at the school, Santo Berasi, the 13-year-old immigrant from Italy, spent close to 55 years working in the coal mines of Armstrong County. Not only that, Santo and his wife, Gelsomina, proudly became American citizens. Santo also learned to read and speak English. Mr. Berasi died at 69.
Near the end of our conversation, when we talked about her father learning English, Mrs. Warcholak said, "I think we should have one language in America. What do you think?" I agreed and did so for several reasons. If I were to leave America and make a foreign country my home, I would expect to learn the language of that country. Also, it is entirely too costly in a country the size of ours to administer more than one language and do it properly.
The motto we adopted years ago states: e pluribus unum -- out of many, one." Not two, not several" One.
Addendum: I share Mr. King's interest in the stories of the immigrants who made Armstrong County their home, and stayed to make it grow. While I cannot accommodate long, detailed histories in this column, I encourage anyone who is interested to send in anecdotes as the ones shared above. You may send them to me at the Leader Times, P.O. Box 978, Kittanning, PA , 16201, or via e-mail to email@example.com. Put Meandering column in the information line.