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Mid Mon Valley Sports Hall of Fame seeking home for memorabilia

| Friday, Dec. 26, 2008

The Mid Mon Valley All Sports Hall of Fame is looking for a new home for its massive display of the history of athletes and athletics in this area.

A new site must be found very soon.

"We received notice that the Belle Vernon Hotel will close its doors on Dec. 31 and our display there must be removed," said Stephen V. Russell, general chairman of the Hall of Fame. "We're really in a quandary as to where our new home will be."

The Belle Vernon Hotel, located near the intersection of Route 51 and Interstate 70 in Rostraver, was formerly known as the Belle Vernon Holiday Inn. The venue has been owned and operated by Jay H. Lustig of Rostraver since 1995.

Lustig said the hall needn't worry about moving by Dec. 31.

"We are going to begin a major remodeling and construction project after the first of the year and our concerns are that the Hall of Fame display might get damaged," Lustig said. "The items on display are a very valuable part of this region's legacy of outstanding players, coaches and teams. We are just as concerned as Steve and his Hall of Fame colleagues as to where they might relocate. But they don't have to worry about a deadline to move."

The Belle Vernon Holiday Inn became home to the initial display of memorabilia in the fall of 1998.

"A home (for the display) had been under consideration and review since August 1997," Russell said. "We were able to move into the Holiday Inn, thanks to the cooperation of Mr. Lustig and the hotel manager, Robert Palmer. (Lustig) and his staff have been very gracious hosts to us over the past 10-plus years."

The display at the Belle Vernon Hotel site consists of pictures, trophies, banquet program books, newspaper clippings and general memorabilia. They are spotlighted in large glass-enclosed showcases.

Russell, superintendent of Belle Vernon Area School District, is the curator.

"The displays have changed from time to time to bring it up to date as new members are inducted into the Hall of Fame," Russell said. "But the basic tenet has remained the same; that is, to preserve and perpetuate the tradition-steeped sports history of our area and to share it with the public."

Lustig said the displays have been a popular attraction for patrons of his business.

"It has been good for the area in general," Lustig said. "It was a perfect fit for us and has been well received over the years. Patrons of our restaurant and lounge, as well as hotel guests, enjoyed looking at the individuals who are featured in the displays. Because (displays) are located in the main lobby of the hotel, people had easy access to view everything and we received very positive reaction. We felt it was a win-win situation for both parties when the Hall of Fame approached us (in 1998) and we were pleased to volunteer to provide the site."

Lustig, who purchased the Holiday Inn in 1995 from a business group that included the late Rose Calderone as part-owner and manager, said it is "unfortunate" that the 80-room facility is closing.

"It was a very difficult decision," he said. "This has been a second home of sorts, a regular meeting place to many people. It was like a family reunion on Sundays as people came here for breakfast or brunch. And there have been a countless number of high school and college class reunions, meetings of business and community organizations, and numerous social events over the years."

The Belle Vernon Holiday Inn opened in the early 1970s. Rose Calderone, who owned and operated the nationally known Twin Coaches supper club with her late husband, Tony Calderone, for nearly 30 years, was part-owner and manager, or innkeeper, of the facility.

Under Lustig's ownership and guidance the inn, which changed its name to Belle Vernon Hotel earlier this year, thrived as an 80-room hotel which also featured a spacious (and popular) dining room and lounge.

"We took pride in the fact that we offered a full service business -- lodging, food, drinks and entertainment," Lustig said. "We felt we were an asset to the community and we have been grateful for the support we received. Our decision to close was based strictly on the business of economics."

Lustig declined to discuss plans for future use of the building, Russell said. The closing of the hotel will impact the Hall of Fame.

"We have some ideas in mind, some places we are looking into," Russell said. "But it would be premature to get into that now. Our hopes are of finding a permanent home for the display and the Hall of Fame, something that would be a great tourist attraction."

The display at the Belle Vernon Hotel is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg as far as the entire collection of memorabilia goes. Hundreds -- perhaps more than a 1,000 -- other items are temporarily stored at Bellmar Middle School.

"It seems we're getting something every day," Russell said. "The Hall of Fame members and their families and friends have been very generous in providing such things as pictures, stories, uniforms and equipment. Many of the high schools in the area also have forwarded mementoes. You name it, and we probably have it."

Among the treasured additions to the collection this year were football games jerseys (high school and college) worn by the late Nestor Henrion (Charleroi and Carnegie Tech) and Bob "Red" Worrell (Centerville and Penn State). They were donated by Henrion's granddaughter, Pauline Glagola of Carroll Township, and Worrell's wife at the time of his death in 1957, Carol McConnell of Fredericktown.

More recently, Russell has received classic photos of Hall of Fame legends Bap Manzini, Jimmy Russell, James Weir, George "Beans" Chacko, John "Scissors" McIlvain, Joe Gladys and R. James "Rab" Currie.

"It's truly amazing what is out there in the way of pictures and other memorabilia," Russell said. "It's a virtual history of sports over more than 100 years."

The Hall of Fame was founded in 1951 by the later John R. Bunardzya, longtime sports editor of The Charleroi Mail and The Valley Independent, with help from the Mon Valley Sportswriters Association. Baseball great Stan Musial and football standout Bert Rechichar were the initial inductees.

Induction ceremonies continued at the annual Mon Valley Football Conference banquet until 1977 when the festivities ceased because of WPIAL football realignment.

In 1994, the Mon Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce, formed a Special Events Committee headed by the late Bernard T. Sarra Sr. and one of its first projects was re-establishing the banquet concept. Hall of Fame inductions resumed in 1997 and have continued since that time at an annual banquet. The 2008 ceremonies were held at the Willow Room in Rostraver Township and the 2009 event will be held at the same site.

The HOF Selection Committee will meet in January to consider candidates for the Class of 2009 inductees. That will mean more memorabilia for the display cases for which Russell is seeking a new, and hopefully permanent, home.

"There is too much history involved in everything we've collected to just pack it in a moving van and then store it away in boxes," Russell, a longtime historian, said.

Anyone interested in helping the search for a new home for the Hall of Fame is asked to contact Russell at 724-929-9030.

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