In a tiny town of Koroschenko (means "pretty little village") in the western edge of the Ukraine, there were several families, unrelated, with the name of Mukema (in Cyrillic alphabet). The pronunciation is Me k eta since "u" is long e "k" is "kh '", "e" = e and "m" = t in Cyrillic. One of these families consisted of Wassail I (Wassail means Charles) Mukema. Wassail I and his wife had five children. The oldest was Ubah (evan , which means John, since u = e, b = v, and h = n) who was born in 1828. (He shall be called "John the Original" for identification purposes.) When "John the Original" was 16 he joined Franz Joseph's Army (ed. note: of the Austro-Hungarian Empire). His section of the army was captured and "John the Original" was imprisoned for seven years. His betrothed (Catherine Melnyk, our great grandmother) remained unwed during these seven years. She had received no word from any source that he was even alive. Finally she decided that she would marry another. On the eve of her marriage, "John the Original" appeared. This was in 1851. He was greatly changed and after proving his identity he was believed and accepted. The wedding was canceled and ultimately "John the Original" and his original betrothed, Catherine Melnyk (born 1832) were married. "John the Original" received 100 acres of land from the country of Ukraine for his Army services. He and Great Grandmother Catherine had only one child, Wassail II (Charles), born in 1854. Apparently he was quite spoiled. He gambled, drank heavily, and partied a lot. When his father, "John the Original", died in 1908, Wassail II inherited the 100 acres of land. He sold pieces of the land to pay for his partying, drinking and chasing around and ended up with 10 acres. In 1886, WassailII married Anna Machnyk (born 1864). They had three sons, John (born 1889), Frank (born 1891), and Steve (born 1894). When Wassail II's wife, Anna, died in 1905 he remarried a very young girl and they subsequently had two daughters, Katherine and Bertha.
The three boys, John, Frank, and Steve, shepherded the sheep, cattle, pigs, and chickens on their remaining 10 acres of land (they also used 30-50 acres of government land). None of the boys or girls ever went to school of any kind since there were no elementary schools in this part of Ukraine in the early 1900s.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s the owners of the American steel mills were having a great deal of trouble hiring a sufficient number of coal miners to supply fuel and coke for their operations. Most of the companies sent representatives into Central, Eastern, and Southern Europe and offered a job along with free passage and $25 cash (equivalent to $2,500 in 1980 U.S. dollars) to any male over 16 years of age. These males (some were married and had families) were met at the port of entry, (either in New York or in Baltimore) by a representative of one of the steel companies who provided further railroad passage to southwestern Pennsylvania (to the bituminous mines) and also to central and eastern Pennsylvania (to the anthracite mines).
In 1903, when John Mukema was 14 years old, (Frank was 12 and Steve was 9), he heard of the offer from the steel companies. Even though he was only 14 years old (but large in stature) he applied (stating he was 16 years old) to be one of the fortunate ones to be invited to America. He was accepted and began his journey toward the United States in January of 1904. He received a train ticket for a ride from Ukraine to Brest, France where he then boarded a ship for passage to Baltimore, Maryland. He also received $25 cash. He gave $20 to his father who was a very poor farmer and he kept $5 in his pocket (in 1904 the $5 would be the equivalent of more than $500 in 1980 dollars.) The train trip across France lasted three days during which time this strong, young 14 year old boy did not eat since he did not want to spend any of his money. On the evening of the third day he boarded the ship at Brest and about midnight young John went down to the ship's kitchen and confided to one of the cooks (who was Polish and understood Ukrainian) that John would like to buy some food since he had not eaten for 3 days. The cook then advised this young man that the food was free and was included in the train and ship fares. Thereupon young John spent the rest of the night eating in the ship's kitchen.
The ship docked in Baltimore. When John passed the immigration desk he was asked his name. John had never been to school, did not know how to spell his name, and in fact, the name was Mukema in Cyrillic which has no spelling but is only phonetic. So John said his name was Me k eta, whereupon the immigration officer gave John the spelling of "McKetta" on his entrance papers. This remained John's name the rest of his life. He was met by a representative of the Youngstown and Ohio Steel Company (Y&O) who had a coal mine in a small town called Wyano, Pennsylvania. The representative sent John (by train) from Baltimore to Wyano which was a distance of another 200 miles. He was met in Wyano , taken to a boarding house, and assigned a job in the Wyano Coal Mine. He started digging coal the next day. There were six working days per week with free Sundays.
Four years later (1908) John saved enough money to send for brother Frank and then after an additional two years (in 1910) John and his brother Frank, saved enough money to bring brother Steve over to the United States.
It is interesting that when brother Frank came to Baltimore his name was spelled by the U.S. Immigration Officer as "McKita " and two years later brother Steve's name was spelled "Meketa ". Later, because John was the oldest brother, all three brother's names were spelled the same as John's - "McKetta".
After the three brothers (John, Frank, and Steve) came toAmerica they contributed heavily to their father's support. Later in the early twenties, when Uncle Frank McKetta and Uncle Charles Gelet went to Europe for a visit they found that Granddad McKetta and family were living "high on the hog" because they were getting money from their three sons in America. At the same time Wassail II continued to sell parts of what was left of the 100 acres. Needless to say, the three sons discontinued the contributions.
Grandmother (nee Anna Calanich (born 1871) and Grandfather (John) Gelet (born 1859) had an interesting romantic background. Grandma was a maid in Great Granddad's (Louis) home. Grandmother Anna and Granddad John fell in love, but unfortunately, Grandfather was betrothed. In those days the family selected the brides and grooms for their children. A dowry had been exchanged and Granddad married the girl his family had selected for him. Grandma left and no one knew where. Three years after his marriage Grandfather's wife died and Grandfather Gelet hunted for his love for many years. He heard she came to America, and he followed. He finally found her, married her, then they went back to Ukraine to live. After having three children, they both came back to America leaving their two daughters with relatives. John and his son, Charles (born 1893) were also invited by the Y &0 Steel Company to come to the United States. They also ended up in Wyano Pennsylvania. This family had a name- change also. There were many Geleta families inSouthwestern Ukraine and this family referred to themselves as "Geleta from Kanich ". When they arrived in Baltimore the Immigration Officer gave John Geleta and his family the name of "Geletkanich ". They suffered with this name for about fifteen years before they changed their name to Gelet.
They left Mary (born 1895) and Julia (born 1897) behind with relatives. Both of these girls worked from sunup to sundown watching sheep, and had very little to eat and very sparse clothing. When Mary was 11 years of age her Parents sent for the two sisters. Mother (Mary) often talked about the ship they came over on (they were on the Orlop deck -the lowest deck of a vessel). She thought it was wonderful to have the delicious meals. Granddad and Grandmother Gelet met the ship in Baltimore and took the girls shopping. Mom (Mary) used to say she thought she had died and come to heaven. She never failed to love America for all the riches she always enjoyed even though she kept 10 or 11 boarders and did all their miner's clothing by hand. This was heaven?
John Gelet and his son, Charles, had jobs in the coal mine, while John's wife and the two daughters operated a boarding house in their home. Two of the boarders were John and Frank McKetta. Later Steve McKetta lived there also. Young John McKetta took a great shine to pretty little Mary Gelet while Frank took a great shine to the beautiful younger sister, Julia. In 1909 John and Mary were married and later Frank and Julia were married. John and Mary had three children, Charles William born on January 27, 1911, Anna Mae born on July 1, 1913, and John J. McKetta Jr. born on October 17, 1915 (Mother Mary was only 19 when John J. Jr. was born). Frank and Julia had four children named Anamae, Frank Jr., Maryan, and Steve. Later In 1923 brother Steve McKetta married the very attractive Mary Yacynch in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. They subsequently had two daughters, Irene and Helen.
It is Interesting to insert here that the parents of Stan Mikita the hockey great of Boston, and also the parents of Don Meketa, the professional football great of several years ago, came from the same Koroschenko area. However, when John, Jr. contacted both of them, it was learned that they were not related to the McKetta family even though their names were originally also the same as the three brothers -Mukema. Incidentally, there are many tombstones in Koroschenko engraved with the names of Mukema, even though many of the families were not related. It was a common name.
John McKetta, as well as his brothers, was very ambitious and aggressive and wished to be successful. He enrolled in an International correspondence school course (ICS from Scranton, Pennsylvania) wherein he took a correspondence course to become an electrician. He applied for this even though he was unable to speak, read, or write in English. He taught himself to speak and write in English and took this course over a ten-year period (it normally was a one-year course). He did all of his writing and all of his reading with a Ukrainian-English dictionary at his side. Within 7 years he was given an opportunity by West Penn Power Company to work in an electric sub-station in South Connellsville, Pennsylvania. Subsequently, he was very instrumental in electrifying many coal mining plants which previously had been steam-driven. This meant that his family traveled a lot and moved often during the next 15 years. They moved from Wyano to Johnstown in 1919, then to Moxin , Cambrook, back to Wyano, then to Connellsville, Bunker Hill, and finally Brier Hill (all In Pennsylvania). In all these towns he assisted in replacing the steam-driven plants with electrically powered plants. In Brier Hill he was named the chief electrician. This was the highest position held by a non-American in Brier Hill. Ultimately he and brother Frank bought a 185 acre farm In Yukon, Pennsylvania where they raised dairy cattle and also mined the coal that was under that land. In 1935 the McKetta Coal Company was formed. This was a very small coal mine employing 26 miners at its peak operation.
The three brothers achieved their first lifelong ambition of being independent, having wonderful families, and having a name of high recognition and respect in their small communities while living in a country with all its freedoms. Their other ambition was to have their children all graduate from high school since none of the three brothers had any education, including elementary education. It was a great day for them when the youngest child in the family graduated from high school. Several children went on to college and completed graduate studies in professional areas.
This little saga is of absolutely no significance to the development of the world or the United States, except that it represents the type of people brought into this country from all over the world who were highly motivated, worked hard, expected no handouts, had great ambitions, and desired to make a personal living in a country where they had the freedom to do what they wished and to express themselves as they wanted. Their descendants are tremendously proud of them -- especially the McKetta-Gelet family.
I was born in Wyano, Pennsylvania on October 17, 1915. I was the third child of John Sr. and Mary McKetta. The oldest was Charles William (born January 27,1911) followed by my sister Anna Mae (born July I, 1913). Charles, five years older than I, was always my idol, my protector, encourager. All of my life he was sort of my Lodestar; my sine qui non who was always there to cheer me on at every occasion, whether it was an athletic competition, a spelling bee or any event where his presence gave full support for my effort. Unfortunately, Charles lost his life in a steam shovel accident when he was 25 years old, February 24, 1936. The loss was a terrible one for me but his memory remains vivid until this day. Fortunately, a little later in my life, May 1943, I met Helen Elisabeth Smith, who became my life mate on my birthday, October 17, 1943. Since that time she filled a great spot left behind by the loss of Charles, encouraging me on and cheering me on from the sidelines with her wonderful sparkle and encouragement. Often I would find on my working desk little hand written gems from her such as "big shots were once little shots that kept shooting" or "a man's success is made up of accumulation of his failures, because he experiments and ventures every day, and the more falls he gets, the faster he moves on...". These are under the glass of my desk where I see them daily. But back to my brother Charles -he urged me to go the second mile in all of my efforts; to be curious and judiciously discontented; to maintain an appreciation and respect for others, to have high morals and never to compromise my principles. I do not recall receiving any recognition in the future that I did not picture my brother Charles as I received the award. This continued long after his death until the present.
The first memory that I really have, is that in 1919 a moving truck came to our home in the coal mining town of Wyano (population 180) and took our furniture and family to a town named Franklin, a suburb of Johnstown,Pennsylvania. Dad had an opportunity to practice his studies of electricity. As stated earlier, he was taking a correspondence course with international correspondence schools. I remember my parents' joy that now we had an indoor toilet. It happened to be in the basement of a four-story brick building. All the tenants used that one toilet. There was no elevator and our one-room apartment was on the fourth floor. The one room was very large and included the bedroom and the kitchen as a combination. At the beginning we had no cot, just the one big bed where the parents slept at the head of the bed, and the three children slept at the foot of the bed. Later we purchased a cot which was used by my brother and me while my sister continued to sleep at the foot of our parents bed. There was no running water, but we had ample water in the basement and carried water up the four flights for our drinking, cooking and bathing purposes. Needless to say we were stingy with the use of the water. This was in 1919, but I can recall that at the age of 4 years I attended a Ukrainian pre-school class. All of our speaking was in Ukrainian and I never learned to speak English. It was during this year that my brother and sister who were now 9 and 6 years of age, would wash my face and comb my hair carefully and take me down to the street corner and hide behind the building while I stood at the corner and sang songs with a cup in my hand. Occasionally someone would drop a few coins in the cup during which times my brother and sister would run out and remove the coins. As I understand from my sister later, this activity ceased when one of the neighbors advised my mother that they had observed this activity on the corner. I also remember that it was this year that Uncle Frank and his family came from Wyano to Johnstown (a distance of 50 or more miles) in a Graham Paige automobile. They took our family for a ride and then later on that evening when it became dusk Uncle Frank let my brother and me light the acetylene headlights with a match. This was long before automobiles had electric batteries for lighting purposes.
In the early 1920's Pop concluded the conversion of the steel mill from steam power to electric power and we moved to a little town called Cambrook which was a suburb of Johnstown. In another six months when he completed the work at Cambrook we moved to a nearby town called Moxin. At the end of the year we moved from Moxin back to Wyano.
In the fall of 1921, although I could not speak English at all, I went to first grade at school. We were told to take our seats (at least I saw that all the students were taking their seats after the teacher, said something-in English) and I happened to sit on the left of a young student who could draw. He was drawing steam shovels and I was extremely impressed. The teacher asked some kind of a question and several of the students raised their hand, as did the artist sitting next to me. For that reason I also raised my hand. (I later found out that what she asked was "who has been in the first grade before?"). Thereupon, she marched eight of us to a room across the hall to what turned out to be the second grade. The second grade teacher lined eight of us against the wall and handed us a little primer that had some very nice pictures in it. The first person in line was asked by the teacher to read and she proceeded to read in English from the primer. The second did likewise, third likewise and finally the teacher looked at me (I was in the fourth position) and asked me something in English which I did not understand. Fortunately, I had a cousin in the class who yelled at me "chit-tai!"' which means "read" in English. I told her I did not know how to read and she explained this to the teacher. The teacher then told me, with my cousin as interpreter, to go back to the first grade. Instead, when I got into the hall between the two grades I ran out the back door and was through with my education. I did not go back to school for three days. I went to the woods, near the streams, or anywhere until 3:00 o'clock each day, then I would go home. Fortunately, my cousin Anamae told my mother that I was not attending class. When I was confronted by mother and dad I told them that I was embarrassed because I could not speak English. That was the time when dad made the decision that there would be no more speaking in Ukrainian between the parents and the children. The parents always spoke in Ukrainian to each other from then on, but they always spoke in English to the children. This was quite difficult for mother because she had trouble speaking English also. I went to school the rest of the year at Wyano, and must have done all right because I was promoted to the second grade at the end of the year.
In May of 1922 Dad had completed the work at Wyano Mine, and we moved to Connellsville where he was working on electrical sub-station conversion. We lived there only three months, but during that time I saw an airplane flying overhead. This was the first airplane I had ever seen. It was also in this town that I saw my first movie, this was Douglas Fairbanks in Robinson Crusoe. I also saw Emil Lincoln playing the part of Tarzan in a series of movies in this town. In late August of 1922 we moved to Lynn, Pennsylvania which was four miles from Brownsville. I attended second grade in Lynn, (actually the school was in the neighboring coal mining town of Braznell, which was one-mile away). All of the students walked to school in those days. The Lynn coal mines had as an adjunct a series of bee-hives coke ovens, which were spewing the black products of combustion into the atmosphere. Unfortunately for us our home was within 200 feet of one of the ovens, and mother never would hang her clothes up to dry outdoors. That December we moved from Lynn to a small town 10 miles away named Bunker Hill. Here Dad was an operator of a large sub-station for the West Penn Power Company. The school in Bunker Hill was a one-room schoolhouse that handled all grades from first grade through eighth grade. The school was approximately one-half mile from our home and had a teacher by the name of Mr. Herbert Hibbs, who taught all grades. Since he had no students in the second grade and had two students in the third grade, he asked me if I would mind being upgraded to the third grade. I was delighted to do so, and worked hard so that I could read as well as the other two students in my class. I thought there was a great advantage in being in a one-room schoolhouse since each class would take their turn in coming to the front to recite, do arithmetic, have geography lessons, questions on history, etc. I could sit and listen to their answers and learn an awfullot of things and then I could spend a half-hour or an hour each evening to do what little homework that I had to do.
Unfortunately, before the end of the year, Dad received another nice offer to come to the Brier Hill Coal Mines to change their steam-power unit to electrified power. Therefore, I completed my third grade in the spring of '23 in Brier Hill. We remained in Brier Hill until the coal mines closed in 1932. In the meantime, after Dad had completed electrifying the plant, the Superintendent of the mines asked him to stay on as the Chief Electrician of the coal mines which was the highest position ever held by a non- American at that time. I was now approaching the age of 9 and my recollection of the events in Brier Hill are much, much clearer than those from the earlier towns. It was here that I met people who became lifelong friends. I am in contact with many of them who are still living to this day.
One of my very dear friends was Paul Hovanic . One Sunday he and I went to a farmer's field and stole a dozen ears of sweet com. We then went to Paul's house and cooked and ate the com. Somehow, word got to my Dad that this had happened and he asked me to go with him to the farmer, Mr. Higinbotham, which I did. When Mr. Higinbotham answered the knock on his door my Dad told him that I had stolen a dozen ears of com and that I wanted to pay for it, and more important that I wanted to apologize. I was so embarrassed, but Mr. Higinbotham made it very easy by saying that he had a lot of com and that I was welcome to it. Dad countered with "that's all right, Mr. Higinbotham but Johnny should have asked you first for permission". Mr. Higinbotham agreed that was so, and he took the 50 cents as payment for the com which Dad insisted upon. I was even more embarrassed because a girl that I liked very much was Grace Higinbotham, the farmer's daughter, who was my classmate in all grades beginning with the third grade. I still see her at our Redstone High School reunions.
My parents were Greek Orthodox in religion, but since there were no Greek Orthodox churches in Brier Hill I had to attend the Catholic church. The priest was not a very nice person to set examples since he was often seen drunk around town, and several times came to the church in a drunken mood. (I should have prefaced this anecdote by saying that I had a fungus in one ear which made the ear extremely painful. Incidentally, I continued on with this pain until the early 40's when penicillin became available which killed this fungus, and that was the end of my pain). During catechism class the priest asked me a question, and when I had an answer that did not please him he called me a bad name, reached over and grabbed me by that ear that was so sore, and lifted me off my feet. While I was off my feet and, facing the priest I kicked him in his shin as hard as I could with my hob nailed shoes. It was almost humorous to see a long tall priest in a black robe hopping around the church aisle on one foot holding the other shin. In order that he would not pick me up again or beat me, or do something to me, I left the church. After a couple of days mother suggested to Dad that he should talk to me because I did not look as though I was feeling good. It was then that I admitted that I had kicked the priest in the shins. Whereupon Dad said, "come with me", and he grabbed me by the hand and said "we are going to see the priest". I was so embarrassed because I felt that Dad was going to ask me to apologize to the priest as I had apologized just recently to Mr. Higinbotham for stealing his corn. When we got to the priest's house Dad knocked on the door and when the priest came to the door Dad said "If you ever put one hand on my son again, or on any child in this town, or any person that I know of, I'll come over here and punch you hard on the nose, and maybe even break that hand of yours. I don't want my son nor any person that I love to ever attend any of your functions again. Why don't you sober up and start behaving?" I was so proud of my Dad for having the faith and love in his son.
As a result, I still had to go to church on Sundays but there happened to be a new church started by Mrs. Harry Kelly and Mrs. Beck. The church was called the Church of Christ. I went to see Mrs. Kelly and asked her if I could attend church. She said "better yet why don't you come to Sunday school first and then to church, and you will be most welcome". I really was! I attended that church all the time that I was in Brier Hill. Mrs. Kelly gave me the first book I ever owned by myself, a very small New Testament Bible. I read every word of it several times. It was a beautiful gift with such lovely stories. By the time we moved from Brier Hill in 1932 I was already teaching some of the younger students in Sunday school. Mrs. Kelly (I later called her "mom" Kelly), incidentally, at that time was only 34 years old but I thought she was 100. Incidentally, also, Mrs. Kelly did live until she was 103 years old, and I have visited her many times since the Brier Hill days and have been in contact with her every year, by more than just sending her a birthday card.
In 1927 when I became 12 years old I was very interested in joining the Boy Scouts Club. Unfortunately the nearest club group was in Republic, Pennsylvania which was 3 1/2 miles by road and two miles by railroad track. I walked each Tuesday evening to Republic to attend the Boy Scouts Club for about three months. Reverend Manley was the Scout Master and was just delightful to me and made a big thing about the fact that I walked both ways each Tuesday night in order to be a Scout. Eventually I got tired of the walking there and back, and decided to form a similar club of our own in Brier Hill. It was then that I formed a club for young boys of my age, which we called "Frontier Boys". Our meetings were held in our cellar at home. The club broke up when I moved in 1932. Our aim was to try to help various people in any way that young boys could be of help to older people and to poorer people. Ultimately we had twelve boys in the Frontier Boys Club.
One time a bakery truck turned over about a half-mile away from our home. I was on a bicycle peddling my papers at the time and ran over to the truck to find that the driver was unhurt but somewhat shaken. He asked me to go to a phone to call a certain number which I did. When I came back he told me to fill the front basket of my bicycle and the paper box that I had on the back wheel of the bicycle with cakes of all kinds. I did, but I waited until the wrecker came and when he was well settled I went on home and gave all the cakes to mother and the family, and those which we could not eat we used for the Frontier Boys meetings in our basement for a long time.
It was also in Brier Hill where they had a beautiful reservoir and where I learned to swim, crab, fish, skate, and play hockey, baseball and football. Being a newsboy I got to know every person of the coal mining town of Brier Hill. There were only 200 houses in Brier Hill and I delivered newspapers to at least 90% of the homes. I peddled the newspapers to the people of Brier Hill. The newspapers included the Brownsville Telegraph, The Uniontown Morning Herald, The Pittsburgh Press, The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, and the Grit. These were all beautiful people and they were so considerate of me in rain, sleet or snowy weather, to make sure that I was well clothed. Many people such as Mrs. Dulik, or Mrs. Mikan would insist early on Sunday morning (before Sunday school and church) that I have egg and bacon and toast with her children. These were all kind hearted people, and I have had the pleasure of remaining in contact with many of them even to this date.
In May of 1929 I graduated from Brier Hill Grade School (Grade 8) and that fall I entered Redstone High School in Republic, Pennsylvania which was about 4 miles from home. There was a school bus to drive us to school each morning and to bring us home each evening. Since I had played a little bit of football during the 7th and 8th grades at Brier Hill I went out for the football team at Redstone in September of 1929. Clyde Smith was our Coach. He had graduated from Geneva College in Pennsylvania and was an Assistant Coach to Bo Macmillan at Geneva for several years. He was an outstanding individual, a sort of a boy scout type of a coach. We were not allowed to smoke, swear or misbehave on the field, or at any time that we were associated with his team. David Ficks , a classmate since the 3rd grade, and I went out for football the same day and both chose to be ends. We both made the 3rd team at the beginning of the year but both of us were playing 2nd team by the beginning of the 3rd football game.
I enjoyed high school very much and had many nice classmates whose friendship I have to this day. It was in the freshman year that I met a young lady who I felt very enamored with. Her name was Mary Bair. I thought that it was the romance of the century. In fact I became poetical about it and wrote a poem for her as follows:
Mary had a little lamb,
she also had a little bear
I saw Mary's lamb
but never saw her bare.
She enjoyed the poem and showed it to many people. This great romance of the century actually lasted as long as I was in Redstone High School which was to the end of the football season in 1932. However, 50 years later at the 50th Reunion of the High School Class, Mary Bair did not remember my name, nor our great world famous romance in high school. When I reminded her that I wrote the poem she then remembered the poem, but still could not remember me. That was in 1983 but in all the reunions since then Mary did remember my name and we are again close friends. This was the first serious romance I had ever encountered. I suspect that in the subsequent romances the individual girls do not remember my name any more than I remember their names.
At the beginning of the football season of the Fall of 1930, both David Ficks and I were 1st team ends. Coach Smith asked me to try out for quarterback since I was able to throw forward passes quite well, and also able to punt very well. In those days with a single wing formation the quarterback carried out these activities in addition to calling signals. By the end of the football season I was quarterback on offense, played left-end on defense during the first three downs for the opponents and played safety man during punt formation. Frankie Filchock, who was a classmate of mine in the second grade, and who was an excellent passer threw the long forward passes from his tailback position. Redstone always had a highly successful season. We lost one game during my freshmen year, one game during the sophomore year, lost no games during the junior year, and lost one game during my senior year. During the senior year, my mother and dad and brother Charles and his wife Nelle along with my niece MaryAnn moved from Brier Hill to Yukon, Pennsylvania. I remained behind living in Republic at the home of Clyde and Ruth Smith, the football coach and his wife, intending to remain there until after the football season. We had a very successful season until the sixth game during the middle of October when my right knee was badly hurt during a game. Several ligaments were torn which meant the end of high school football for me. I then moved from Republic to Yukon to live with my folks and began classes in Wyano, Pennsylvania in South Huntington High School. I was so glad at the time, and have bragged about it to this day, that from this small Redstone High School (330 total students) four (yes, four) of my football team members made All-American Football Selection in 1937. These were Frankie Filchock, tailback, Indiana University (he later played professional football with the Washington Redskins and then with the New York Giants); Gus Cardarelli, guard, Kansas University ; George Delio, halfback, W. Virginia University; and John "Peewee" Kavashansky , tackle, Maryland University.
Back to the Fall of 1931 at Brier Hill. We had a semi-professional football team. My brother Charles played tackle on the team. My mother and dad and sister Anna Mae and I traveled every Sunday to watch Charles play. My brother Charles was a tiger and an excellent football player. He also happened to be an outstanding free-for-all fighter and was the strongest young man in town. I remember one weekend when my dad said he could run the football through the entire Brier Hill team with no protection and with nobody running interference for him. The team members laughed at him and said "We will kick the ball to you and you run toward the other goal". They kicked, Pop caught the ball, and ran the entire distance to make a touch down against the team with no other player on his side. Much later Charles told us that he asked all of the Brier Hill players to fake the tackle attempts or else they would have to face the consequences. In the meantime, my happy dad felt that he had pulled a real coup.
During my days at Redstone and during the off-football season, I decided to take up boxing and joined the Pleasant Valley Boxing Club in Fairchance, Pennsylvania. The club was financed by a local dentist. The trainer was Red Richardson who was a flyweight champion during the 20's and also an outstanding individual similar to my football coach Clyde Smith. We were not permitted to use tobacco in any form, swear or misbehave at any time in the gym. This is unusual for a boxing gym. Red Richardson was a very successful trainer and had national AAU champions from his stable by the name of Rabbit Ely, Sonny Boy Horne, Buttons Brokenbaugh, George Bittner, Mike Makarun and others. Several made the Olympic teams. It was a delight to work out with these people. I started the club in early 1931 and ultimately had 34 boxing matches, winning 33 of them. The last boxing match I had was in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1936 while I was a student at Tri-State College. I was very fortunate to have had such excellent training because I have very seldom been hit in the face, and was never out pointed. My only loss was during my 11 th bout in Uniontown, Pennsylvania when I was fighting a young amateur who had no business being in the ring. He had had no training and absolutely no defense. I hit him with ease and several times looked to the referee to ask him to stop the bout because the poor young man could not defend himself. Early in the 2nd round as I turned around to ask the referee if he would stop the bout, I was hit in the right temple with a haymaker by this "defenseless" young man. My lights went out! I really did not know where I was until an hour or so later when I was walking out of the boxing hall, fully clothed and already having taken a shower. I was told later that I finally did get off of the floor much later after the count of 10 and walked to the locker room, showered myself, changed clothes and behaved normally. All this was done in a stupor. The record of 33 wins out of 34 fights was highly satisfactory. It is very interesting that most of the people think that the one fight that I lost was the last one. I never did have a very strong knockout punch (only 6 of the 33 wins were by knockout) but I was in excellent physical shape, had extremely good foot work and boxing skills thanks to Red Richardson and his trainers.
It really made me very unhappy to leave Redstone in October, 1932 to go to another high school. I was so surprised when I entered school at South Huntington that I was accepted so well by the classmates. This was a very small country high school (110 students), the students were extremely friendly and helpful. I was welcomed by the students and faculty and helped in every possible way that I could be helped in arriving at my senior year at mid-semester. Ultimately, I graduated fromSouth Huntington in mid-May of 1933.
The only bad incident at my new school happened soon after my arrival. There was a big bully junior student named George Menser who kept teasing and taunting my cousin Frank who was a freshman. Frank was 6ft. 4in. tall but weighed only 95lbs and had no fighting experience. I was warned about George Menser by Frank the day before I started going to the new high school. Several days after I enrolled George Merser met me in the hall and said "I hear you think you are pretty tough and are a boxer. I'd like to have you come to the back of the building to see how tough you really are." I replied with a fact which was, "George, I'd like to accommodate you but as an active boxer my two hands are classed as lethal weapons and I could be arrested and serve time in jail if I ever hit someone with these hands. But ...I would love to show you a few things I learned in the ring." He replied, "That doesn't scare me at all. Why not go to the back of the building with me." I said that I would if we could have at least one witness. He called several students and we four went to the back of the building. I said "George, I would feel better if you would take the first swing at me." Without a word he threw a hard haymaker at my head. It was hard, but slow, and I was able to get under it easily. I countered with a very hard right uppercut to his solar plexus. He grabbed his abdomen and gasped for air for almost a full minute. He lay on the ground and tried to breathe. Finally he was able to get up but couldn't talk. I told him I was careful not to hit him in the face. I was also glad to have the two witnesses who could testify that he swung his fists at me first. (In our boxing training we were always warned by Red Richardson not to swing a fist first because they were classed as lethal weapons). Incidentally, from that day on George and I were on friendly terms and he never teased Frankie again. The two student witnesses told everyone in school about the incident.
After graduation from high school all of the male members of the class (8 of us out of a class of 33) tried to get a job in the coal mines. Of course, this was during the deep depression days and most of the coal mines were only working several days a week if at all. It would be necessary for those of us who wanted a job to be at the mine mouth at 5 in the morning so that the pit 'boss would select us to work that particular day. Rightfully, he always chose the older workers who had families and he would let each of us young guys work one or two days per week. This was in the Westmoreland' Coal Company. The first day I got a job digging coal my partner was my brother Charles. Before we started to dig coal Charles would make sure the place was clean and everything was in its proper location. He insisted that you do this preliminary work before you would start digging coal because this would expedite matters later. This lesson stayed with me throughout my years, in any chore that I had I always made sure that all the preliminary work was done so that the ultimate goal could be achieved easier. Unfortunately on my 1st day in the mines we heard a very loud noise and Charles said "there's been a bad cave-in somewhere". We ran up the track to another digging location to find that sure enough there had been a cave-in. We found out this was the location that one of my classmates Andy Labosky and his father had been working, and they were under the heavy fall of rock and debris. To make a long story short it took about 36 hours to clean-up the place before they found both Andy and his dad, both dead of course, lying beneath the fall. Needless to say I was the yellowest and most scared coal miner that ever existed. I hated it.
The next time, several days later, that I was selected to go into the mines my partner was a man by the name of Frank Hielman . His religion was what we used to call "Holy Roller". He spent the whole day on his knees screaming to God, out loud, asking him to fill the wagon with coal. Here I was, doing the digging all by myself, and shoveling the coal into the wagon while Hielman was asking God to help. You see, the way you get paid for digging and loading coal is that in each 2-ton wagon that you fill there is a little hook whereon you and your partner place your brass checks. These brass checks are about an inch in diameter and have your particular number on it, so that when the coal is taken to the surface you are given credit if your check is in the wagon. In this case it was Mr. Hielman's check and my check so we would each get credit for the 2-tons of coal. At that time we were getting 20 to 25 cents per ton of coal dug and loaded. Later, on subsequent days whenever we would be selected to go into the mines, I would ask that I not be partnered with Mr. Hielman or any other "Holy Roller".
In the coal mines, if you were assigned a working area that already had a fall then it would be up to you to clean up the place and to lay track for the coal wagon. This would be done at no compensation. You were only paid for the amount of coal that you dug and loaded into the wagon and sent to the surface. There have been times when 3/4 of the day was spent in cleaning up the area before we were able to dig coal. Several times my partner and I made less than 25 cents for the entire day because we did not complete a wagon of coal because of the dirty spot we were assigned to work. Naturally, the workers did not like this. John L. Lewis, who was the "King" of the United Mine Workers Union asked us all to go out on strike so that we could get hourly pay for cleaning up the place before we would dig coal. I was highly in favor of John L. Lewis, in fact I considered him our "God" and savior. Ultimately, the strikers won and we did start getting paid 20 cents an hour for clean-up work in addition to the 25 cents per ton for each load of coal that was delivered. If there were 2 tons of coal delivered to the surface the two partners each received 25 cents, since the going rate was 25 cents per ton. The partners shared and shared alike. Immediately after that the men talked about striking for "portal-to-portal" pay which meant that they wanted to get paid for walking to the place where they would dig. That was when I quit the union because I thought we were asking too much. I was happy enough to have a job.