Oh, how I hate posting sad news. Just received this email from Dolores.
"I wanted all of you to know that my beloved husband David went to be with the Lord at 2:45 a.m. on September 12, 2007.He fought a courageous battle with brain cancer for five months.I was with him in his final hours and I held his hand when he passed away.
A memorial service will be held for him on Sunday, September 16th at 2:00 p.m. in Tarpon Springs, FL.Please say a prayer for him.I know he must be in Heaven.He was truly a good man.Thanks to all of you for your thoughts and prayers during his illness. He will be sadly missed."Dolores Paydo Zihar
Ron has been very busy writing articles about our classmates from Brownsville: great writings indeed. I decided to simply include the articles instead of the links to the Tribune-Review. The articles are very long, but very interesting. First article posted in paper on September 2, 2007:
Road to careers, retirement began in Fayette coal mines: By RON PAGLIA,TRIBUNE-REVIEW
As a student at Brownsville High School, William Leon "Willie" Byrd enjoyed playing the trumpet in the marching band. But thoughts of getting a job after graduation was the real music to his ears. "Oh, I enjoyed being in the band," Byrd, now a resident of Baltimore, MD, said. "We had a great time going to the (football) games and marching up and down the field before the game and during the halftime shows. But many of us were looking forward to getting out of school, going to work and earning some money. Those were lean years for most families and having a job provided stability." With that goal firmly planted, Byrd knew his music career would end when he received his diploma from Brownsville High in June 1948."No, I never gave any thought to a career in music," he said. "As much as I loved playing the trumpet and being in the band, I realized (music) was not in my future."Then, flashing a broad smile that is part of his warm personality, Byrd said laughingly, "Let me put it this way: I was an OK musician, but you won't find me in the first row of the band picture in our yearbook. I was not the lead trumpet."
Byrd, 78, was raised by his aunt, Eunice Byrd, 87, in LaBelle. Eunice also cared for her mother and was raising her daughter, Lenora, at the same time. "She is such a wonderful woman," Willie Byrd said of his aunt. "She is an incredible person with a big heart, compassion and concern for everyone around her. We didn't have a lot in terms of material things, but (Eunice) gave us a warm and loving home, and no one can ask for more than that when you're growing up." Byrd and a boyhood friend, Mike Bogovich, went to work in at the nearby Maxwell Mine owned by the H.C. Frick Coke and Coal Company.In 1951, they transferred to the United States Steel Corporation's Coal Division's Karen Mine near Brownsville.
It was during his tenure at the Karen facility that Byrd and several fellow miners drew media attention because of their unique method of getting to work on most days of the year. They crossed the Monongahela River in an outboard powered skiff. The boat was christened "Germaine" in honor of Byrd's wife.A November 15, 1954 media release from U.S. Steel shows Byrd, identified as the craft's "Skipper," with his "chief mate," Albert Lee and a passenger, Roy Harvey, leaving the Karen Mine dock for their homes in Mawell. Byrd and Lee were both mining machine operators at the Karen Mine at the time.The news release noted that the trip across the river "takes about three minutes." And Byrd jokingly pointed out that he did not have any sonar or radar equipment on board."I just point the skiff at a 45 degree angle and Al and I shove off in the general direction of the Karen tipple," he said at the time. "The only difficulty they occasionally encountered was when fog shrouded the river."That made (navigating) a little tough at times," he recalled at the recent Brownsville High School multiple class reunion at The American Legion in West Brownsville.
Winter weather and Mother Nature also cancelled the river trips at times."If there was ice in the river or if the water was running too high or too choppy, we would take the long way around by car," Byrd said. "We took turns driving our cars. It was a longer in terms of miles and time, but it was also much safer."Byrd's mining experience also included work at the Colonial Docks, and his efforts gained recognition on several levels.
He received a certificate from the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Mines, for completing a course in safety instruction in coal mining and was lauded with two Miners' Certificate of Service awards from U.S. Steel. In 1952, the Pennsylvania Department of Mines presented him with a certificate for completing a course of instruction in administering first aid. The certificate was signed by Commonwealth officials Richard Maize, secretary of mines, and W. Garfield Thomas, deputy secretary of mines. A year later, the federal Department of the Interior honored him with similar recognition.He also received achievement certificates from the Department of Interior for Accomplishment in Safety and Coal Mine Accident Prevention for Miners.
In a letter dated November 10, 1954, R.C. Beerbower Jr., superintendent of the Karen Mine, thanked Byrd and his fellow miners for "so generously giving of your time and effort in making the Accident Prevention Course at Karen Mine so successful. Beerbower invited Byrd and his family to a safety rally at German Township High School in McClellandtown "in appreciation of the interest you have shown." Also taking part in the rally were company officials, representatives of the United Mine Workers of America and the heads of state and federal agencies. Byrd didn't limit his career options to the mines."I liked the work, but I was looking for something else," he said. "I studied welding and blueprint reading and went to school during the day while working the night shift at the mines."That led to a lengthy career at the Freuhoff Company in Uniontown. In 1965, Byrd left the area to take a job with Westinghouse Corp. in Baltimore. He worked there for 29 years before retiring in 1994.
Born in Luzerne Township in 1929, Byrd attended Maxwell Elementary School before going to Brownsville junior and senior high schools. He and his late wife had two sons, Delmus, who lives in Hopwell, VA and works for Ford Motor Company, and Greg, a 1977 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who served 20 years and retired with the rank of commander. Greg now lives in Virginia Beach and works as the city planner in Suffolk, VA.
As a younger man, Byrd enjoyed hiking the nearby woods and fields of Fayette and Washington counties looking for rabbits, pheasants and squirrels. "It was, for the most part, small game," he said of his hunting adventures. "I always wanted to get the big prize, a buck deer, but I guess it wasn't in the cards."Although he retired from Westinghouse 12 years ago, Byrd wasn't about to slow down."I liked being busy," he said. "There was always something to do at home, renovations inside and out, and I enjoyed working on cars." Three years ago, however, his son Greg encouraged Byrd to "slow down and relax." "He kept after me to start enjoying life and wanted me to learn to play golf," Byrd said. "I listened to him and followed him around the course before finally deciding to take his advice. He gave me his old clubs to get started and now I play about three times a week." Heeding his son's advice has been beneficial to Byrd."My doctors tells me it's good for me, that it helps my heart, body and soul," he smiled. "And playing golf has given me the opportunity meet a lot of nice people."
Byrd doesn't return to the Brownsville area as often as he used to, noting that the 220-mile, four-hour journey "takes it toll" at times. "I took my time and (the trip) was OK," Byrd said at the Brownsville High School reunion. "But I'm not up to making those long drives anymore." The drain of drive notwithstanding, Byrd emphasized how much he enjoys the reunions."I wouldn't miss this for anything in the world," he said. And he stressed the pride he has in his cousin Lenora's first efforts as an author. She recently published her first book, "WAC Major: Herstory, A Black Woman In The White Man's Army," and Willie Byrd draws attention in the autobiography. "There I am on Page 14," he said with another wide smile on his face.He was making reference to a picture of him as a young child holding a bayoneted Japanese rifle, a souvenir of World War II and a family treasure."I was a lot younger then," Byrd said of the picture taken when he was about five or six years old. "Man, where do those years go?"
Byrd also reflected the sentiments of the more than 300 people in attendance at the BHS reunion. "A lot of good people came from here," he said. Willie Byrd is definitely one of them.