Growing up on the South Side in the 50s and 60s as a “Baby Boomer” I was never at a loss for friends.
World War II was over and many of the GIs along with the new immigrants were filling the positions at our mills on South Side. Our three public and eight Catholic schools were filled to the hilt with students. Most of the immigrants were from Eastern Europe and it was not unusual for them to have their own church and schools where their customs and language could still flourish.
For the kids growing up in South Side, both the Flats and Slopes, our one common denominator was a new community center on Sarah Street called Brashear. Brashear gave us the opportunity to meet and make new friends with the many other kids from outside of our own school, nationality and religion. Brashear offered many after school classes and activities Monday thru Friday.
The lovable Mrs. Roach was the sewing teacher. It wasn’t too long into the sewing class when I realized I would never be making my own clothes or even a simple pot holder for that matter.
I dabbled in a ceramics class there where my talent was ok, but just barely. I realized I was not that bad at playing ping pong or shooting pool in our rec room. A favorite activity of most of the kids was the “rumpus” room where we played dodge ball, did acrobatics, which came in handy when I became a high school cheerleader, and just let out steam after a long day of sitting still in school.
Girls cooking class with Miss Jan was also a fun class where we explored our culinary skills and at the end of the year prepared a wonderful spaghetti dinner for family and friends. When I joined the drama club with Tom Keenen as our moderator, the “drama queen” which had been lurking inside of me came out.
Our first production was the “Kings Cream Puffs,” I had a small part but I loved it. Although I never made it to Broadway, drama has still remained a part of me.
As our weekend approached, we all looked forward to the Friday Night Dance which took place in the Social Room and was always jammed. I remember my friends and I practicing the latest dance steps we would see on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand so we could show them off at the weekly dance contest.
As it often was and probably still is with school age kids, the girls for the most part stood on one side of the dance floor and the boys were on the other side, usually goofing off. However, when a favorite slow song such as “Since I Don’t Have You,” by Pittsburgh’s own Skyliners would play, some of the brave boys would venture over to dance with the girls.
When the Christmas season arrived Bob Furuno, our wonderful and caring Program Director at Brashear, would take a group of the older girls out to sing Christmas Carols as we walked up and down Carson St. stopping to sing at South Side and St. Joseph’s hospitals and our local convents. As a treat, our local Salvation Army Center on 8th Street would invite our group in for hot chocolate and cookies as a thank you for our community work and to warm us up on a cold winter’s night.
At the time, we didn’t realize it, but we were learning socialization skills along with everything else we were learning in the classes we took. Junior high had several of us joining the Junior Leaders Club where we learned about and performed community work at Brashear and within the South Side community.
Throughout all of my years associated with Brashear, the person who was the biggest influence in my life and who actually believed in me when I myself and others did not, was Bob Furuno. I am not quite sure where my path in life would have led me without his constant encouragement and belief in me, and for that I am eternally thankful.
I went on as a teen to be a CIT (Counselor in Training) and later a counselor at Brashear Camp. With all of my volunteer work with children and special needs young adults at Brashear, my path naturally led me to the University of Pittsburgh and a degree in Child Development.