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Donora native living a big league life

| Sunday, March 15, 2009

Anyone from the Mon Valley, Fairless Hills or Newtown areas visiting the New York Mets' spring training facilities in St. Lucie, Fla., might find a familiar face greeting them, especially if they remember Bernie Bires.

"I've worked the past two years for (the Mets) at spring training and also with their minor league team, the St. Lucie Mets, in the summer league here, and I was rehired this year," said Bires, a native of Donora who was a youth sports leader for many years.

Bires and his wife of 51 years, the former Donna Faye Gandley of New Eagle, have lived in Fort Pierce on South Hutchison Island since 2004. They moved to Florida from Newtown after Bires retired after 40 years with U.S. Steel Corp.

The "retired" label is misleading because Bires, a 1950 graduate of Donora High School, also works part time for the St. Lucie Department of Parks and Recreation as well as with the New York Mets organization.

"I like to stay busy, it's as simple as that," Bires said.

Bires worked in the production planning department at the Donora Works of U.S. Steel and as a supervisor in the business planning department at the Fairless Works in Fairless Hills. He also worked as a human resources consultant for Laclede Steel Co. in Fairless Hills. His family lived in Fairless Hills for 17 years, moved to Newtown and then to Florida.

Bires, an Army veteran who served with the 11th Airborne Division during the Korean War, launched his avocation of community involvement in 1955 with the Donora Boys Club. He then helped reorganize the adult basketball league in Donora, served as president of the Donora Pony League Baseball Association, and was active with the Monongahela Midget Football League.

Being involved with the 1957 Donora team that participated in the Pony League World Series in Washington, Pa., remains one of his most memorable experiences. He still has a box seat ticket stub among his souvenirs. The trophies won by the Donora entry and a team photograph are on display at the Donora Historical Society's headquarters.

Mon Valley Catholic days

Bires' passion for being involved in sports took him to the new Monongahela Valley Catholic High School when it opened in 1959.

"When MVC was being built, it was a big thing," he said. "Jack McHugh of Monongahela, who was a superintendent at U.S. Steel, and his friend, John Schaeffer, superintendent at Combustion Engineering who later become my stepfather-in-law, were very active in getting the school going. I worked with Jack at the Donora plant and asked if I could get involved with the sports teams at the new school. He said OK but reminded me that it was a Catholic school and the budget was very tight."

Bires recalled that Bentleyville native and former Pittsburgh Steelers star Val Jansante was named the first football coach at Mon Valley Catholic.

"He did everything else at the beginning, and he needed help," Bires said of Jansante. "He was seemingly tireless, but it was difficult for one man to handle all of the extra responsibilities such as fundraisers, banquets, raffles, etc."

Bires and others joined the effort and formed the Sparks for Spartans booster organization, which became one of the busiest and most successful groups of its kind in the region. Among the myriad memorabilia photos in his collection is one that shows Bires with fellow Sparks board members Joe Ravasio, Ed Orsini and Don Powell and the Rev. Gerald Lutz, assistant headmaster at MVC.

Bires also served as a "reporter" for the Spartans' away games and worked with longtime Valley Independent reporter Fred Hevia in that capacity.

"Fred was a godsend to us," Bires said. "He used to tell me, 'No matter what time you get home, call me.' He was a good friend of Mon Valley Catholic and, more important, he was a great personal friend."

Bires expanded his affiliation with the school by serving as assistant athletic director in 1965-66.

Mon Valley Catholic officials honored Bires for his "tireless efforts" on Dec. 22, 1966, as he prepared to leave the area for a new assignment with U.S. Steel in Fairless Hills.

Fairless Hills move

When U.S. Steel closed its Donora facilities in 1967, Bires was transferred to the Fairless Works. But he didn't miss a beat with his career or his community involvement.

He served as president of the Fairless Hills Baseball League, president and purchasing agent for Levittown Babe Ruth Baseball and program director of activities at the USX Fairless Works Sports Association. He also was athletic director at Bishop Egan High School from 1986-1990; served 10 years as an officer and activities director with the Headley Community Association; and 12 years, including six as chairman, with the Newton Township Park and Recreation.

On April 17, 1998, Bires was inducted into the Bishop Egan Wall of Fame.

On Nov. 19, 2003, the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors honored Bires for his 12 years of service with the community's parks and recreation board. The supervisors commissioned artist Craig Hackett to produce a portrait of the Clark Nature Center, one of the many projects Bires oversaw, and presented it to him.

Board chairman Scott Harp presented the painting to Bires and emphasized he has "always had the community at heart first and foremost ... your thoughtfulness and your contributions will be truly missed."

"There are other communities who can certainly say they have citizens in their boundaries who are truly great, but I can honestly say there are none better than we have in Bernie Bires," Harp said.

Bill Wert, director of the Newtown Park and Recreation Department, praised Bires for "unselfish service, commitment and leadership in the betterment of the parks and recreation for all residents of Newtown Township."

Steelworker heritage

Bires, 76, is the son of the late Paul and Mary Balent Bires. His father, who died May 16, 1971, at age 70, was retired from the American Steel and Wire Division of U.S. Steel in Donora, where he worked as a millwright in the blooming mill. His mother died on Bernie Bire's birthday, Oct. 13, in 1984.

Bernie Bire's sister, Ruth (Cissy) Bosson, lives in Maple View and his mother-in-law, Dorothy Schaeffer, resides in Charleroi.

Bires and his wife, the daughter of the late Bob and Dorothy Cowan Gandley of New Eagle, met at one of the popular dances run by legendary disc jockey Francis "Slops" Delmastro at the Italian Citizens Club in Monongahela.

They are the parents of three children: twins Tim and Tam, 50, and Andrew, 48. Tim lives in Holland, Pa., and works as a district manager for Siemens Corp; Tam works at Doylestown Hospital in Doylestown; and Andrew is employed by the federal government in Dallas.

Tam is a graduate of the Art Institute of Philadelphia and is studying to become a registered nurse "just like her mother," Bires said. Tim and Andre, both graduates of Bishop Egan High School, received baseball scholarships to Philadelphia Textile School (now Philadelphia University) and Biscayne College in Florida, respectively.

Bernie and Donna also have eight grandchildren.

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