PITTSBURGH KDKA TV – February 3, 2015 5:45 PM
More funeral homes and cemeteries in our area are now offering services catering to animal lovers and their pets.
It’s now possible to hold visitation for your deceased dog or cat. You can also be buried next to your faithful companion. More . . .
Includes video (scroll down – click on photo of grave marker)
Nourishing his community
Bill Marks is a unique example of someone who was rooted in a community, and who grew and blossomed there – and nourished his community, figuratively and literally.
Bill is still living in the Farrell house in which he was born on July 13, 1920. That’s 88 ½ years in the same house.
His dad, Ralph Marks (name changed from Marta at Ellis Island), came from Italy, married Mary Stone from Hillsville, and settled in Farrell. He worked at Myer Frank store, then at Westinghouse and the Farrell schools, and ended up as head of the Farrell Street Department. He and Mary had nine children. Anne died at age 18 months, and Edward at 17. The rest – Frank, Carl, Arthur, Ralph Jr., Mary Lou, Loretta, and William – grew up together.
According to Bill’s sister, Mary Lou Cimoric, the five boys were frequently in trouble with their father.
“They did a lot of mischief,” she said. “Our father set a curfew for us. He would whistle, and it didn’t matter where you were in the block, you’d better get home.”
There were a lot of boys in the neighborhood. The Millers, who lived across the street and owned the Nehi bottling works, had 13 children.
“We played ball in the street, even before it was paved,” Bill said. “I remember the big long steam shovels when they paved the street in 1933. We had a lot of fun with the bricks. We took some and used them in the back yard to make places to sit and other things. You would have thought they would have gone looking for them, but they never took them back. They were all local people anyhow. The city did the work themselves.”
Bill had some health issues early on.
“When I was nine months old, I had an ulcer in my right eye,” Bill said. “When I was four or five, my mother would take me on a train to a specialist in Pittsburgh. There were no specialists around here. They spent a lot of money on me, but I ended up totally blind in that eye.”
When he was 17, he had a tumor on his face, but it was treated successfully with radiation therapy.
Bill was too small to play on high school sports teams. He weighed less than 100 lbs in his senior year. But he, his brothers, and their friends took advantage of their father’s working at Farrell High School.
“We’d get a bunch of kids together from the neighborhood and take over the gym on Saturdays.”
While in high school, Bill delivered newspapers, worked at a couple of neighborhood grocery stores, and worked at the Nehi Bottling Works. When he graduated, he couldn’t work in the steel mills because of being blind in one eye. That also kept him out of military service.
During World War II, Bill served in whatever way he could. He took a course in Auxiliary Police Procedure from the Public Service Institute of Pennsylvania and became a Civil Defense warden.
Not being able to work in the mills, Bill had to find another line of work.
“I started to bar tend before I was 21 down at the Eagles Grill. Jerry Chicarino’s father owned it, and he broke me in. He and Emil Stone, who was terrific. They used to give me all the private parties upstairs. Sometimes I’d get 50 or 75 bucks in tips.
After eight or so years working at the Eagles, Bill started working evenings at the Hilltop Inn while working at the Eagles during the day. He continued working at the Hilltop for 19½ years. Then, in 1967, he got the chance to become manager of the Italian Home, a.k.a. The First Italian Social Club.
The Italian Home had been around since the very beginning of the last century. It grew out of the Christopher Columbus Society, which was a fraternal organization exclusively for people of Italian descent.
“The Italian home and the Slovak Home got started about 1902,” Bill said. They both put up their buildings in the same year.”
They were just two of the many ethnic clubs that sprung up in Farrell. Some nationalities had more than one.
“The Polish got into an argument among themselves, so one group built a club on Spearman Avenue and another group put one on Wallace Avenue.”
The Italians themselves weren’t completely free from internal rivalry.
“Our club was comical, back when it was first started,” Bill said. “The Italians had what they called seven different dialects. As it went along, they were all trying to take over the club. The Calabreses and Sicilianos, they’d go at it, try to take over. One other group got thrown out. The impression I got was that they belonged to the Communist Party. They went to California.”
While the Home was never a place where people actually lived, it became a home away from home, not just for Italians, but for people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Maybe that’s because Bill, along with several members of his own family, made it feel like home to others. Over the years, Bill’s mother, brother, two sisters, one brother-in-law, three nieces, and two grand-nieces worked there.
The first was his mother, who started in the kitchen when Bill took over. The Home just had a small sandwich kitchen and a bar. Bill and his mother transformed it into place where people could enjoy full-service meals, as well as snacks.
“There was an unbelievable gang down there,” he said. “My mother started in the kitchen from the beginning. My sister Mary Lou and her husband Tom worked down there. After my mother left the club, my niece, Carol Baker, and with her girl friend in the kitchen, and they did a terrific job. Now they’ve got their own catering company called Classic Catering.”
Bill’s brother-in-law, Tom Cimoric, started tending bar there after he finished school.
“I worked there 17½ years,” he said. “Bill helped build up the business in the way of serving dinners, especially fish fries on Friday nights. The place was jammed. The line would be out the door.”
“At one time we had more than 6,000 members,” Bill said.
Bill also started Saturday morning breakfasts, which are still popular today, 12 years after Bill retired.
Bill’s backyard garden provided some of the produce, especially peppers and tomatoes, for the Home. He put up 800 jars of peppers and sauce for use in the kitchen.
Food wasn’t the only thing that Bill improved.
“Bill expanded the bocce complex,” Tom said, “and was responsible for establishing a lot of the bocce leagues and tournaments. The tournaments brought in a lot of people from out of town.”
“One year had 44 teams from Canada, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, all over,” Bill said.
He took the Home’s teams to out-of-town tournaments, even to Las Vegas, where they played celebrities such as tennis star Pancho Gonzales and singer Jerry Vale. Of course the team members never forgot the celebrities; on the other hand, the celebrities also remembered them.
“The second year we went to Vegas,” Bill said, “I remember Jerry Vale saying, ‘Damn, are we going to have to play you guys again?’”
As much time as Bill’s work absorbed, he still found time to contribute his services to the community in other ways. When he was 23, he joined the Farrell Volunteer Fire Department and fire police, and remained active in them for 65 years.
“The city police would even call me sometimes to have me direct traffic around a traffic accident,” Bill said.
He also served four terms on the Farrell City Council. He was a council member when the new Farrell City Building was built. He was also an avid supporter of the Farrell High School sports team. He was a long-time season ticket holder for the basketball games.
“When we were kids, four of us would get the four seats next to the team,” Bill said. “Some of the guys connected with the rackets would come and give us forty or fifty bucks for our seats – all four of them. We’d run home and give the money to my mother. The gym had a balcony on the opposite side from us. My mother and dad would sit up there and watch us to make sure we behaved. My mother loved Farrell basketball.”
Bill is now the oldest member of the Farrell Boosters Club. He is still a major fan, rooting for his grand-nephew, Nick Cimoric, who is a member of the current basketball team.
Bill has overcome a few health issues through the years, in addition to the problems he encountered as a child. Through the years, a little too much of the good food at the Italian Home caused him to grow to 240 lbs. Then in 1994, he had to have a bone replaced in his back. After the operation, he contracted a staph infection and had to stay in the hospital for two months. He came out weighing 170 lbs.
Today he still spends a lot of time at the Italian Home, plays bocce, and – even though he never married – enjoys the support of a loving family – his siblings, their children, and grandchildren.
What’s so romantic about alphabetical order? Not much. But in the case of Vernon Mook and Mary Alice Momyer, it provided a context for true love to blossom and grow.
Vernon, from Girard, PA, and Mary Alice, from Smithton, PA, were classmates at Slippery Rock State Teachers College from 1948 to 1952.
“At that time,” Mary Alice said, “you didn’t go into the classroom and just pick your seat. You had to sit in alphabetical order. So he always sat either right in front of me or behind me.”
For the first couple of years, they knew each other, but that was about all. What they needed was a spark to light the fire.
“One time he asked me to go out on a blind date with a friend who was coming for the weekend from Girard,” Mary Alice said. “I said sure. So we all went out together. Vern told me later that after that night he saw me in a different way. He thought, ‘I’m going to ask her out.’ So that’s how it started. We dated pretty steadily through our Junior and Senior years.”
Vern had joined the Marine Corps Reserve before he started college. During the summers he went to Quantico, Virginia, for training, and through his four years in Slippery Rock, he completed the Reserve Officers Training Program. Upon graduation, he went on active duty as a Marine Corps Second Lieutenant. The summer active duty had taken care of his basic training, so he was assigned to Pensacola, Florida, for flight training. Unfortunately, he was disqualified because of his eyesight. He was reassigned to the Naval Air Station in Cherry Point, North Carolina, where he served in the east coast radar surveillance.
Meanwhile, Mary Alice got a teaching job in Jamestown, PA, but the separation didn’t last very long. They got married in Smithton on December 22, 1952. Mary Alice finished out her year of teaching, then joined Vernon at Cherry Point.
Vern really loved the Marine Corps, but he had to face the question that most married military personnel have to face: Which is more important, a military career or marriage and family? Vern chose the latter. He resigned his commission and started teaching high school in Conneaut Lake, PA. After one year there, the Mooks moved to Hermitage, where he taught high school math for 33 years. During this time, he earned a Master’s Degree in Education at Westminster College.
After leaving the Marine Corps, Vern wanted to continue to serve with it in some way. Unfortunately, the military was downsizing after the Korean War, so they had more officers than they needed.
But Vern continued to be active in many ways that you might expect from a Marine who no longer wears a uniform. While teaching, he coached and assisted with the football and track and field programs. He also loved to travel, camp, hike, backpack, and ski cross-country. He would include his whole family whenever possible – Mary Alice, daughters Karen and Robin, and son Wesley.
“Vernon wanted to circumnavigate the United States,” Mary Alice said, “and we did. We had a Nimrod pop-up camper at that time. He would have it ready for wherever we were going to. The kids would get out of school, grab whatever last minute stuff they needed, get into the car, and we were off, usually to the East Coast – the Outer Banks. After the kids were gone, the two of us would travel, often with Robin.”
Vern continued to serve his community through the Shenango Valley Conservancy, ARC of Mercer County, YMCA, and Meals on Wheels. He and his family were faithful, active members of the New Virginia Methodist Church, and he regularly participated in the Sharpsville Men’s Prayer Breakfast.
. As was written in his obituary after he passed away on May 6, 2015, his deep faith in the Lord Jesus Christ defined and touched every area of his life.
Vern and Mary Alice were committed to serve the youth of the church and community through the international non-denominational Christian organization called Youth with a Mission.
“We went to Germany, Switzerland, Panama, and Hawaii,” Mary Alice said. “We did a lot of stuff. He would trim bushes and trees. I did laundry and set beds up for the people who were coming. On weekends we were free to travel to see what was around us, and to see what the rest of the world was doing “
Vern also continued be a student of history and the military through the Civil War Roundtable in Youngstown.
“When he was in the hospital, a couple of the guys came to visit him on their way to the Round Table,” Mary Alice said. “After they left, he said, ‘Boy, I wish I could have gone with them.’”
Vern passed away on May 6, 2015. He is interred among the flags near the War on Terror Veterans Memorial in America’s Cemetery, a fitting place for a man who never doubted that “once a Marine, always a Marine.”
The Avenue of 444 Flags Foundation was incorporated on April 25, 1990, as a charitable organization under the IRS Code § 501(c)(3). It has a multi-fold mission:
- To advance patriotic spirit and civic pride in our nation
- To construct and maintain monuments that honor our military veterans
- To educate the public not only about the Iranian Hostage Crisis which precipitated development of the Avenue of 444 Flags, but also about the sacrifices of members of the armed forces and their families throughout the history of our country.
- To provide a beautiful, permanent resting place for the cremated remains of veterans (and their families) who have honorably served in our armed forces. They can be interred in the Cremation Garden among the flags surrounding the War on Terror Veterans Memorial.
With the establishment of the Cremation Garden, the Foundation has started the Veterans Left Behind Project. Its purpose is to inter, at no cost, the cremated remains of thousands of veterans that lie unclaimed in funeral homes and crematories across the country. It is a joint project of the Avenue of 444 Flags Foundation, funeral homes, mortuary schools and students, and others wanting to provide honor to those who have been deprived of it, some for many years.
The land in which the Cremation Garden is located was deeded directly to the Avenue of 444 Flags Foundation by Hillcrest Memorial Park on February 1, 2013.
In the center of the Avenue of 444 Flags are 11 steel and glass monuments, 12 feet tall by four feet wide, in a circle around a beautiful fountain. The first two feet of the towers are stainless steel; above are five glass panels, each two feet high by four feet wide. Etched in the dark glass are the names of all military personnel who have died in the War on Terror since 1974.
The memorial is part of the War on Terror Foundation, a tax-exempt 501 (c)(3) organization and educational resource honoring those who gave their lives to preserve our way of life. Not connected with the government or the military, the foundation receives all funding from private and public donations. Tom Flynn, foundation president and owner of America’s Cemetery, said the mission of the foundation is to teach people, especially children, that there is a price to be paid for freedom.
The first panel begins with the names of Col. Paul R. Shaffer, Jr., And Lt. Col. Jack H Turner wh0 were assassinated in Tehran, Iran, on May 21, 1975. Two lines below are the names of the eight servicemen killed on April 25, 1980, trying to rescue the 53 Americans held captive during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Also listed are the names of the 53 service members who died in the Pentagon in the 9/11 attacks.
The second monument begins with Air Force Master Sgt. Evander E. Andrews, the first serviceman to die in Afghanistan, killed on October 10, 2001. Eight lines below are Marine Major Jay T. Aubin and the members of his helicopter crew, the first servicemen killed in Iraq, on March 21, 2003.
One of the things you will readily notice on the War on Terror Memorial is the number of women who have been killed in action. Few of the tablets are without a woman’s name; some have three or four.
At the end of 2010, the ten monuments completed monuments display over 6,0900 names, all in chronological order of death. New names are added as soon as possible after confirmation of casualties by the Department of Defense.
The Memorial was designed by IKM Architects and built by Wesex Corporation.
Visit www.waronterror.org for more details.
All contributions to the War on Terror Foundation are tax deductible. Your contributions help maintain this beautiful symbol of freedom, thus assuring that those who have paid the supreme sacrifice will never be forgotten.
(courtesy of Visit Mercer County PA)