Thursday, February 8, 2018

Bridgeville High School, 1944 and 1945. January 25, 2018

Copyright © 2018                                      John F. Oyler

January 25, 2018

Bridgeville High School, 1944 and 1945

Our “Second Tuesday” workshop at the Bridgeville History Center this month focused on the Bridgeville High School graduating classes of 1944 and 1945. These were war years, when the impact of World War II dominated every aspect of our lives, especially for those of us on the Home Front. The facilitator set the stage for the workshop by reviewing the war news of the time, culminating with VE Day at about the time the 1945 class celebrated Commencement.

The very first newspaper clipping reported a strike at the Universal Cyclops plant in the summer of 1943 and its adverse effect on fighter plane production. Dale DeBlander remembered that his father worked at Universal at that time. The strike only lasted four days fortunately.

Another one included a photograph of the Gardner twins, Buddy and Jim, being sworn in to the Army as prospective aviation students. It reported that they had identical scores on their entrance exam.

Included among the successful local candidates in the November election in 1943 was J. Edmund Croft as Justice of the Peace. This job supplemented his highly publicized role as “Colonel Eddie Croft” in the Junior Commandos, a role that was recorded in a clipping two months later reporting his coordinating a massive scrap paper drive.

The article lists the Commandos who pulled off this impressive feat, including the name of the facilitator of the workshop. His memory is that this was actually a project of Boy Scout Troop 245, whose Scoutmaster was one Eddie Croft. He had a marvelous knack for getting publicity, one way or the other!

The high school football team won two games, tied two, and lost four. Most embarrassing was a 6 to 0 loss to South Fayette featuring a blocked punt. The winners were treated to a spaghetti dinner at Fatigati’s Restaurant.

A clipping reporting the memorial mass for Seaman John Fabeck was the first of far too many notices of wartime fatalities of BHS alumni. It was followed by those for Sammy Allender, Wayne Carson, James McCracken, Joseph Kasprczk, Raymond Kramer, Robert Kovacevich, Robert Bogdeweicz, and Jacob Yapel.

My brother filled in details on each of these sad stories, based on his research for his book, “Almost Forgotten”. Jacob Yapel graduated from high school in June, entered the service on September 11, went to Europe in January, and was killed on April 5. Nineteen years old. He is just one of so many “Greatest Generation” members who must not be forgotten.

Another sad story is that of the McCool brothers. Nineteen year-old Lieutenant Lawrence McCool, co-pilot of a B-24 Liberator bomber and recipient of a Distinguished Flying Cross, was killed in July, 1944, just six months after his brother, Lieutenant Louis McCool, was killed in a training accident in Florida.

Despite the war Bridgeville High School managed to function, sometimes with great difficulty. Mary Weise remembered having five different biology teachers one year. Apparently the Draft Board had a preference for biologists that year.

Stella Reed was May Queen in 1944, with Norma Collavo her Maid of Honor. The Class of ’44 had seventy-two members, including the aforementioned Jacob Yapel.

There were eighty-six students in the Class of 1945. Geraldine Harmuth was May Queen; Doris Boyer, Maid of Honor. Jim Hofrichter was their Class President; Andy Papanek, Vice President.

We are fortunate to have two copies of “The Bridger” from the ’45 Class – October and December, 1944. The December edition is printed on newsprint so it could be mailed to the (then) 344 BHS alumni in the service.

The October edition included an eloquent editorial exhorting our students to excel. It ended with the charge, “Wake up America, and make this country far better than we have ever known!”

“Glitterbug”, the fashion column reported that the girls had given up the sweaters that were popular in “Bobby Sox Days” in favor of feminine drawstring blouses. Also popular were moccasins with a pocket to hold a dime – “mad money” to call home when your boyfriend deserted you.

The football team won four, tied two, and lost four. Fortunately one of the wins was a 20 to 6 trouncing of arch-enemy South Fayette.

The Senior Play that year was “Sixteen in August”, starring Gerre Harmuth, Bob DeGrosky, and Marcia Munnell. In those days a high school play was a major cultural event in Bridgeville, supported by the entire community.

An item in “Water Under the Bridge” mentioning Ira “Skip” Bryant brought back memories of the facilitator’s best friend in those days. Skip’s father was superintendent at Mayview; Skip commuted via the Bigi Bus.

The Bryants left for Arizona in 1945; our contact lasted only a few years. I learned later that Skip went on to a successful career as a sports writer in Tempe, and then in Phoenix. He was an ardent sports fan when I knew him and apparently lived out his life’s ambition.

The Alumni section of “The Bridger” included an interesting story about Alex Corey (’37). While in the Army in California Alex managed to pick up another $10.50 acting as an extra in the filming of “Anchors Aweigh”. He played a Marine listening to Frank Sinatra sing.

The December edition reported the sad news that Peter Calabro, a turret gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress, had been killed in action over Yugoslavia. Months later it was learned that he was in a German prisoner of war camp, the same one that housed cousins George Shady and George Sam, who were B-24 turret gunners.

John Shipe commented on the large number of Bridgeville boys who ended up in the Air Corps. Was this a coincidence or by choice?

The 1945 BHS basketball team was probably Bridgeville’s best ever. Led by Sammy David and Tom (Dreamer) Lytle, they outclassed their Section 12 opposition and then beat Findlay handily in the first playoff round. Their run ended at Dormont with a heart-breaking loss to Avalon 34 to 32, a game the facilitator remembered distinctly.

Our memories of those years are dominated by the contrast between the comfort of the Home Front and the horror of the War, with the much too frequent arrival of a telegram from the War Department connecting the two.

Our next workshop is scheduled for the second Tuesday of February, which turns out to be the thirteenth. We will meet at 7:00 pm in the History Center and discuss the Classes of 1946 and 1947 and the era of euphoria following the end of the War.

The Octogenarian Brunch. January 18, 2018

Copyright © 2018                                      John F. Oyler

January 18, 2018

The Octogenarian Brunch

Despite being in the midst of a bone-chilling series of single digit temperature days, we had an excellent turnout for the first Octogenarian Brunch of the New Year. My school schedule last semester restricted my attendance for the past few months, but Wednesdays are free for me now and I am looking forward to lots of good sessions this year.

We were comfortably settled at two four-person tables pushed together when Paul Love showed up to push our total to nine; we quickly found an extra chair and rearranged the condiments to find him a place. Paul, who lives in Cecil, is a recent and welcome addition to our group. He graduated in 1951.

I think we are about to begin our twenty-fourth year of getting together on the first Wednesday of each month to tell war stories about our growing up and going to school in Bridgeville in the 1940s. After the forty-fifth reunion of the BHS Class of 1949, Sam Capozzoli suggested that those of us who lived in this area get together once a month and compare notes.

We enjoyed it so much that some of us began to add another date each month, on the third Wednesday. And, as our numbers began to dwindle, we began to welcome members of other classes. At this point we range from the Class of 1948 (Alfred Barzan) to the Class of 1955 (my brother Joe), all now legally Octogenarians.

This time I was joined by two fellow ‘49ers, Don Toney and Lou Kwasniewski. Fellow classmates Dick Rothermund, John Rosa, and Sam Capozzoli attend occasionally The 1953 class was well represented by Dale DeBlander, Russ Kovach, and Ron Rothermund.

When we first started getting together I thought this was a unique happening. Since then I have become aware of numerous other similar groups of old fogies sharing a common interest who share this habit with us. There is something very civilized about a bunch of old men sharing memories as well as opinions on the world’s problems.

This group started out equally divided between liberals and conservatives, but its changing makeup has shifted more to the conservative side. Since I consider myself an open-minded moderate, it is easy for them to characterize me as a liberal. I am also involved in another group of chronologically challenged men, a book review club made up primarily of retired attorneys. They are passionately liberal and, consequently, view me as an alt-right redneck. I enjoy baiting both sides, frequently in regard to the same topics.

I also enjoy stumping both groups with trivia, especially if it is sports related. I recently read an article about Franco Harris and his visit to the Pope, and their discussion of the Immaculate Reception. My trivia question is “What record did Franco says was on his mother’s phonograph at the moment the Immaculate Reception occurred?’ The answer is “Ave Maria”, which is either a joke or a remarkable coincidence. Neither group guessed the answer, but my son-in-law Jim did! So much for the imagination of my associates.

The conversation at our brunches generally begins with an update on folks we know who have died recently and those who are in bad health. George Maioli was a good friend of all of us; we mourn his passing. We then usually go through the tabulation of problems we share – hearing aids, cataracts, root canals, etc. – before getting down to the serious discussion of whatever professional sports team is in season.

The one thing about which we all agree is that, despite growing up in the Depression and World War II, we were fortunate to be live where we did when we did when we were kids. Officially over half of the families in Bridgeville had incomes below the poverty line. Nonetheless the memories we retain are mostly happy ones.

I recently have been struggling with the recollection of a childhood game in which the loser was subjected to being pounded until he was able to “name three cigarettes and whistle”. I remember memorizing “Camels, Chesterfields, and Luckies”, then struggling to produce an audible whistle. I had difficulty whistling under normal circumstances; duress made it nearly impossible. Unfortunately, none of my colleagues remembered that game.

We frequently make enough noise that other folks in the restaurant will come over and comment on something we have discussed. At this point we are meeting at Bob Evans at 10:00 am the first and third Wednesday of each month. If you happen to there on those dates, we are the scraggly looking collection of Alzheimer’s candidates hidden back in the southwest corner of the dining room. Drop by and say Hello!

Senior Design, Fall 2018. January 11, 2018

Copyright © 2018                                      John F. Oyler

January 11, 2018

Senior Design, Fall 2018

At the end of each year, it is appropriate that we pause and reflect upon “the big picture” – the state of our nation and the world. Lots of things currently, especially the schism between the extremes in our society, encourage a pessimistic view of our future. Fortunately, however, my continued contact with the young people in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of Pittsburgh provides me with a lot of reasons to resist that temptation.

In the last semester before they graduate our students participate in our Senior Design Projects program, a program that I am privileged to coordinate. In this program they implement “near-real-world” civil engineering projects in a cooperative team environment. This semester we had forty-two students representing six different specializations organized into six teams.

The culmination of the semester’s work is a formal presentation to an audience made up of fellow students, faculty, family, friends, and representatives of local engineering firms. It was made in the ballroom of the O’Hara Student Center in an environment that replicated a major “real-world” public meeting. Each team was “on stage” for about forty–five minutes, followed by a ten-minute comment and question period involving the audience. The poise and obvious competence of all of the students was particularly impressive.

The first project focused on sustainability. Civil Engineers traditionally have been concerned with infrastructure design that is consistent with the long-term health of our environment, with special emphasis on energy and water. In recent years this concern has been formalized and is a fundamental part of our curriculum. This team set out to demonstrate quantitatively the application of these principles to a practical project.

Their goal was to design a facility to demonstrate sustainability, somewhat similar to the Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory. Their site was a 40-acre agricultural property in Butler County. They designed a “Net-Zero” facility which would generate electricity by a combination of solar panels and wind turbines and have self-contained water supply and waste disposal systems. The main feature in the facility is a large two story public building designed to minimize heating and cooling requirements. It was an excellent example of the application of qualitative principles to a practical example.

The second project involved a team made up primarily of construction management students. Our department is quite proud of this program, which was initiated twenty years ago in response to numerous requests from local construction firms for engineers with the special capability of managing construction projects. Its graduates are doing highly responsible work all across the country.

This team chose to develop a comprehensive plan for the construction of a hypothetical 600 vehicle parking garage to be built on a specific site on the University campus. The garage was designed to be constructed using precast, prestressed concrete components, a technology that initially was unfamiliar to the students. The product of their work was extremely impressive; one practitioner in the audience commented that they had demonstrated all the skills an actual construction management firm would be expected to exhibit.

The third project came very close to being a “real world” one. Upper St. Clair Township is in the early stages of planning a hiking/biking trail connecting Boyce Mayview Park with the Montour Trail. Our team expanded this concept to include Fairview Park and the planned Hastings development on the site of what was Mayview Hospital, both of which are in South Fayette Township.

Their design resulted in a trail that would serve the needs of both townships. The trail winds along Chartiers Creek, providing an attractive venue for casual walkers and nature lovers, as well as a link to the Montour Trail for serious cyclists. A representative of Upper St. Clair attended the presentation and commented that their report would certainly influence the next phase of their deliberations. The development of trails of this type has become a significant area of interest for civil engineers.

The fourth team accepted the challenge of independently developing a design and construction management plan for a real project that was implemented this Fall. In October the Pennsylvania Turnpike was shut down for fifty five hours one weekend to permit the demolition and replacement of a major bridge, a remarkable feat that was accomplished “without a hitch”. One of the engineers involved in this achievement is also an Adjunct Professor in our Construction Management program; he provided our team with sufficient background information and mentored them during their design effort.

The team designed a two-span continuous steel plate girder bridge, to be erected adjacent to the existing bridge, and then developed a plan to demolish the existing bridge and then slide the new bridge into place using Teflon slide plates. The team’s bridge design and implementation plan were not identical to their actual counterparts, but were quite appropriate alternatives, according to their mentor.

The fifth team also had a project that was close to “real-world”. One of our students is aware of a real problem in Volant, his home town. A very old dam on Neshannock Creek was breached recently and must either be demolished or replaced. The dam originally provided water for a turbine driven grist mill, a mill that the local residents would like to see put back into operation as a tourist attraction. Other complications include recreational use of the Creek by kayakers and by fly-fishermen.

This is a classic example of an engineering project with complicated social and economic constraints. Our team met with the various stakeholders and concluded that the best interests of all parties concerned would be met by constructing a new dam similar to the original one, incorporating the useable remnants of the old one. It is our opinion that their design will function as a feasibility study that will eventually result in its implementation by a professional engineering firm.

For the past five years a student organization known as Pitt HEADS has executed a series of humanitarian projects benefiting disadvantaged people in Latin America, frequently with the support of our Senior Design Project teams. This semester’s project was an ambitious one, the installation of solar panels, storage batteries, and a microgrid in an indigenous village in a rain forest in Panama. Transporting material to this site required the use of powered canoes and back-packing through the jungle.

A team of construction management students produced a workable plan for the project, provided the necessary logistics, and participated in the actual on-site installation. Of equal importance was their initiation of planning for the phase of this project, based upon their hands-on experience. Although this project lacked the technical challenge of our typical projects, the experience of performing a difficult task in a hostile environment and benefitting needy people provided our students with an invaluable sense of accomplishment.

I realize that three and a half dozen Civil Engineering students at the University of Pittsburgh is a tiny sample of all the young people across our country who are making the transition into adulthood, but I have a very optimistic view of the future once this generation begins to influence our society. They are intelligent, well-educated, sensitive to the needs of people lacking their advantages, and committed to preserving our environment for the benefit of future generations. I am sure we are leaving our future in good hands.