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Walk will battle breast cancer

| Saturday, Oct. 2, 2004

When Tom Ducoeur decides to tell you about his mother, he warns in advance that he may cry.

"When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, the doctor told her if she could stay cancer free 10 years, she could survive," Ducoeur said, his voice trailing off.

"She was cancer free for nine years, six months."

His mother's memory will come back to him when he walks in the "Lois Orange Ducoeur Memorial Walk for Breast Cancer Awareness" Tom Ducoeur admits, his eyes welling up.

Lois Orange Ducoeur, whose family owned and operated Orange's Gift and Department Store since 1893, lost her battle with cancer in 1965.

In business for 111 years, it is the oldest continually operated family-owned business in Charleroi and possibly in the Valley.

Registration for the walk will begin at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 9 in Magic City Square with the walk beginning at 10 a.m. and spanning First through Tenth streets in downtown Charleroi.

Registration is $18 for walkers, which includes a t-shirt, or $12 for junior walkers under 12. Pink memorial or survivor ribbons are also available for $5 and will be placed on lamp posts along the walk.

Prizes for the most money raised by an office or place of work as well as individuals will be given. Details and applications are available on-line at charleroipa.org or at Orange's Gift Department Store, Ducoeur Furniture or The Petal Basket in Charleroi.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the Charles L. and Rose Sweeny-Melenyzer Pavilion and Regional Cancer Center at Monongahela Valley Hospital.

Ducoeur said he jumped at the opportunity to sponsor the walk to honor his mother.

"Because of the situation with my mother, I decided we were going to do it," Ducoeur said. "We're going to do it next year too."

Orange's was started by Ulysses Simpson and Emmy Wise Orange in 1893. By the 1930s, Lois and F.C. (Duke) Ducoeur took over operations.

Lois Ducoeur was very active in the United Methodist Church, Tom Ducoeur recalled.

"She was a very friendly person, always talking to people," Cora Ducoeur said. "She knew all of her customers by name."

Lois Ducoeur raised four children, three while operating two stores alone while her husband was in the Merchant Marines during World War II.

Orange's initially featured a lunch counter and sold fruit and homemade candy. It has always been located in the 500 block of Fallowfield Avenue, eventually expanding to include 506 and 508 Fallowfield Ave.

Duke's was located two doors down from the Coyle Theater. It featured popcorn, candy and other items to take into the movies.

Today, the Ducoeurs operate Orange's, Ducoeur's Furniture and Ducoeur Indoor Storage.

Tom Ducoeur's earliest memories of the store were as a pre-school child sweeping the store with his own push brooms. He has lived all of his life in Charleroi.

Cora Ducoeur laughs when she tells the story of a very young Tom Ducoeur opening all of the cans of peaches in the store with the new can opener. A sale on peach pies followed.

"I've been in that business since I was in grade school," Tom Ducoeur said. "School was out at 3:15 and If I wasn't home, changed, and in that store by 3:30 or so, my dad wanted to know where I was."

Although Lois Ducoeur never saw her grandchildren, Tom and Cora Ducoeur named their first-born daughter Lois Ruschak in her honor.

Ruschak said she has always felt a connection to the grandmother she never met, but feels she knows.

At one time in her life, Lois Ruschak corresponded with her Aunt Leila to learn about her grandmother and to learn tales about the store.

"That brought me closer to the past," Ruschak said.

Ruschak in turn chose to honor her parents when she named her children. She named her first daughter Coral for her mother and each of her sons has Ducoeur as a middle name.

"It shows your children you care enough about your relatives to name them after them," Ruschak said.

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