Holding onto a dream
When Roselene Kurtanich Yambrovich graduated from Mercer High School in 1947, she had a burning desire to go to college. She enrolled at the Penn State Shenango Valley Campus, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in “Human Development and Family Studies.” As part of her studies, she completed an internship with the Adult Day Care Program at the Shenango Valley Senior Center.
You probably didn’t notice, but there are a few odd things about that statement. “Human Development and Family Studies” was not a common college major in the 1940s and 1950s. The Penn State Shenango Valley Campus did not exist until 1964, and the Shenango Valley Senior Center didn’t have adult day care program until the late 1970s.
The explanation is simple. Like many young people, Roselene took a few years off to have some fun and cut it up a bit before starting college. Actually, more than a few years: 54, in fact. The fun included raising six kids, volunteering in community organizations, and traveling. She did the cutting up mostly with knives and saws in her husband’s butcher shop.
Born in January, 1929, in Struthers, Ohio, Rose was the youngest of Alexander and Agnes Kurtanich’s six children. At that time, Alexander workxc ed in a tin mill in the Youngstown area – but he had a better idea.
“My father thought the best place to raise a family during the Depression was on a farm,” Rose said. “And he was right. He bought a 160-acre farm on Vickerman and Stone Base Road, in East Lackawannock Township. We were never hungry, and there was always something to do. I love the outdoors.”
Rose attended a one-room school for a year and a half until Mercer consolidated the school system.
“After high school, my dream was to go to nursing school,” she said. “Back then, you couldn’t go if you were married, and I was planning on getting married.”
So Rose went to work at the Mercer Agway. A fellow employees introduced her to Steve “Pete” Yambrovich. Two years older than Rose, he was starting a slaughterhouse and retail meat store about four miles north of Sharpsville. In 1949, they got married at St. Michael’s Church in Farrell. Their first child, Mark, was born in 1950, followed by Marianne (1955), Carolyn (1957), Edward (1959), Christine (1960), and Paul (1964).
“My husband Pete was a big guy, six foot four inches tall, broad shouldered, very kindhearted, and extremely strong,” Rose said. “He was a hard worker, a workaholic. He was also a very generous man, always giving of himself to make others happy.”
Pete bought livestock at the New Wilmington Livestock Auction and brought the live animals back to his butcher shop.
“Bidding at a livestock auction is an art,” Rose said. “You have to be able to look at the animal and see how it’s built, and what kind of profit it’s going to bring.”
Pete slaughtered on Monday night and cut the meat up on Tuesdays.
“Then we would make the sausages and do the various smoked meats and special cuts. I learned how to use the saw to cut the chops, and how to use the grinders. But I never slaughtered.”
The shop was a family affair. Rose not only worked in the shop, but also was the bookkeeper, banker, and gofer.
“When the children were growing up, they didn’t have to look for things to do,” Rose said. “There were always things to do in the butcher shop, so it was finish homework, get something to eat, and go to work. They all had a nice childhood.”
When you’re in business for yourself, living so near your work is a mixed blessing.
“Your customers know where you live,” she said, “so if on Sunday morning someone got unexpected company, they would stop by and ask us to help them out with a roast or something. Pete would always oblige. He was very accommodating.”
Although Pete stayed busy with his shop near his home and a second one on Roehmer Boulevard in Farrell, he managed to find time for several hobbies. He made homemade wine, and hunted rattlesnakes at a camp near Sinnemahoning, in the Allegheny Forest. He also loved to farm his land.
Rose, too, had a lot of interests. She belonged to the South Pymatuning Home Makers for 57 years, and the Mount Pleasant Grange, where she and Pete attended box socials with their neighbors and learned to square dance.
“I taught sewing for 13 years with the 4H,” she said. “Some of my students won prizes in state competitions with their garments. I used to make all of my own clothes. Now I just do specialty items, just for family. I made all of my daughters and daughters-in-law’s wedding gowns, and now I’m making them for our grandchildren.”
Rose also raised vegetables in their garden and canned 600 quarts of vegetables and fruit every year.
Because we had access to so much meat, I thought I was balancing the diet by doing that.”
In the early 1960s, the Yambroviches were affected by the Shenango River Dam project, since their land bordered the expected lake shore.
“We were kind of in limbo for four years, because they were telling us that everything to the road was going to go, we didn’t know whether we were going to stay or go. Finally they made up their mind, and they bought all the property behind our house.”
That may have had an impact on a decision Rose made in 1965, the year the dam was completed.
“Penn State started the Shenango Valley campus in 1965, and I was among the first to enroll. But I had five children, and I was pregnant with number six, so I decided not to go on with it.”
As a spinoff from the butcher shop, Pete and Rose loved to barbecue. He had a little barbecue spit at the shop so he could provide his customers with barbecued beef, chicken, or pork. As the years passed, they barbecued for church picnics and other charitable events. After Pete retired, they set up their barbecue trailer at fairs and festivals across the state line in Ohio.
With Pete not having to work every day in the shop, he and Rose were also able to travel more.
“As my children grew up and got jobs, their careers took them elsewhere. So they’re scattered all over. That’s nice, because it gives you lots of places to go.”
In 1995, they went to visit one of their daughters in North Dakota. When they got back, Pete complained of a pain behind his knee.
“We went to Notre Dame Church, and just as we got inside the door he just dropped dead of a pulmonary embolism. We believe because of the air travel, he had a blood clot in his lungs.”
But there was no stopping Rose. She ran the restaurant at the New Wilmington Auction Barn for eight years, and started operating the big chicken pavilion at the Crawford County Fair, which she still runs.
At the age of 72, she learned of a Penn State program called “Go 60,” which offers free tuition for Pennsylvania residents over the age of 60. She seized the opportunity.
“I didn’t know whether I’d be able to do the work, and I didn’t know how I would be accepted. But the experience was most gratifying. I was treated with the utmost respect by students and faculty.”
Rose had to do the same work as the other students – same homework, same tests, no mercy.
“I started with biology, with the professor who was supposed to be the toughest one down there. I ended up with a B+. I thought if I made it through the class, maybe I stand a chance.”
She was certainly right about that. The B+ was the lowest grade she got. All the rest were A’s.
As part of the degree program, she interned at the Shenango Valley Senior Center’s Adult Day Care program.
“I was very impressed with the program, which is an alternative for people who don’t yet need to be put into a nursing home or other geriatric institution. Their families can usually care for them at home, but they and their caregivers need the respite we can give them. And the program can enhance their abilities through crafts and activities that promote hand-eye coordination, motor skills, and social skills.”
Although she was going to college only for self-enrichment, not for a job, she ended up with both when she graduated in 2008, at the age of 79. Halfway through her internship at the Senior Center, the director asked her if she would like to work there.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to work, but I thought with my age and the age of the clients here, I might have something to offer them. Maybe I could put a little spark in them because I can relate to where they are in life. So I accepted the job. It’s a challenge sometimes, just to bring a little happiness into their lives, but it’s very rewarding.”
Rose offers the program a double whammy – the wisdom and sensitivity of advanced age, combined with the knowledge and enthusiasm of a youthful recent college graduate. Those strengths are the culmination of a never-ending commitment to living life to the fullest and to holding on to a dream, no matter how long it took to fulfill it.
And that makes Rose an inspiration to both old and young.
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 4, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2010