Ed Chabala has been a major supporter of the Bridgeville Area Historical Society since its inception. I visited the History Center last week to pick up his recent donations – high school yearbooks from 1945 and 1947, a photograph of the 1941 football team, and an aerial photograph of Mayer Field in 1940. I also dropped off my collection of Bridgers (1944 through 1949) to supplement the Society’s collection of the monthly publications of Bridgeville High School.
This experience has led me to reflect on the large amount of artifacts and documents the Society possesses related to our beloved school, which passed into obscurity six decades ago. The formal history of the school is well documented on the Society’s website in the record of the series of workshops we held a few years ago on that subject. It can be accessed via the heading “BHS History” in the masthead of the site. The final chapter is a comprehensive tabulation of all the students who graduated from BHS.
I am not certain when the students began to publish “The Bridger”. According to the record of our workshops, the earliest one in the Society’s collection was from 1942. Although the Bridgers are filled with trivial, often trite, information, the overall picture they paint of life in the mid-twentieth century is eerily accurate. It probably would be constructive for the Society to document this collection and identify specific missing issues.
Equally valuable is their collection of yearbooks. We originally believed the first BHS yearbooks were those for 1926 and 1927, that they were suspended in 1928 in favor of a class trip to Washington, D.C., and that it took till 1945 for publication to resume. Then we learned from Dana Spriggs that the Class of 1938 had mimeographed its own (Depression Era) version, a copy of which he provided.
When we conducted the workshops, we thought we had a complete set and were pleasantly surprised when Mell Dozzo showed up with one from 1925. Unfortunately, we failed to borrow it and copy it. Let’s hope another copy shows up so the collection can be completed.
The collection of BHS sports memorabilia – trophies, plaques, photographs, game day programs, and newspaper clippings – has already been the subject of a very well received exhibit. It is a valuable resource for anyone attempting to research sports history in this area.
In addition to all this, the Society has a large number of other high school related artifacts. They include programs for Class Night, Commencement, and class plays as well as memorabilia from formal dances. A particularly interesting set is related to the crowning of the very first May Queen, Mary Elizabeth Vidoni, in 1934.
Information on class reunions is another valuable resource. I recently found a collection of biographies for members of the Class of 1949, that we had compiled for our forty-fifth reunion. It is an excellent record of what had happened to us in the four and a half decades following graduation. Finding it has initiated another project for me – archiving whatever information is available on each of the “49ers” after they entered “the real world”.
The biographies my classmates provided are a good beginning, particularly in the cases of women whose married names I don’t know. Obituaries are a good source of information for those of us who have passed on; finding them for people who left the Pittsburgh area is a struggle. My success or failure in locating these folks will be the subject of a future column.
It is embarrassing to realize how little we know about some of our fellow classmates. The most recent member of our class to die was Leo Maruzewski. Even though he spent most of his adult life in Bridgeville, it has been many years since I actually saw him. I learned a lot about him when I paid my respects to him at the funeral home.
It turns out we both were Steeler fans, but certainly at much different levels. I am not sure that a non-athlete can ever appreciate high level sports the way an ex-athlete can. I had the privilege at one time of sitting with Coach Bob Hast at a high school football All-Star game. Hast was a legitimate football genius; I was astonished at his comments and his perception of what we both were seeing.
Leo was one of the best athletes in our class; I was probably in a three-way tie for worst. He had season tickets for Steeler games. I suspect that he, like Coach Hast, got a lot more out of watching a game than I did.
I also learned that Leo had been a medic during the Korean War and had “seen a lot of terrible battles”. A folded American flag was in his casket, with a Bronze Star pinned next to it. According to his citation, he “assisted and gave aid to wounded men during a heavy mortar barrage and small arms fire.” And “Time after time … disregarded his own personal safety by leaving his position of comparative safety and moving through the enemy fire to give medical aid.”
He was buried with full military honors at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies. A lot of my classmates, including myself, served in the military; none of us with the distinction of Leo Maruzewski.
The last graduates of Bridgeville High School, the Class of 1960, will become octogenarians next year. It behooves all of us who are left to do what we can to enhance the collection of BHS artifacts that is our heritage. We are grateful to the good folks at the Bridgeville Area History Center for archiving and maintaining this impressive collection.