Turtle Creek High School alums reunite before building is razed or remodeled
By M. Ferguson Tinsley,
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Salt and pepper hair, laugh-crinkled eyelids, poodle skirts and a 40-year-old mystery converged Saturday afternoon.
About 250 alumni, or “Creekers,” gathered inside what used to be Turtle Creek High School. The building was renamed Woodland Hills East Junior High when the Woodland Hills School District was formed in 1981.
Some of the grads had not been in the building since their graduation days decades ago.
They came because in several months, despite the protests of some, the interior of the 86-year-old building at Monroeville and Penn avenues could be revamped beyond their remembrance, or it may crumble under the wrecking ball.
Last winter, the Woodland Hills school board voted 5-4 to spend nearly $52.7 million to build or renovate school properties. The plan called for the demolition of East Junior and for a new school to be built on the site.
Christopher Baker, Woodland Hills facilities coordinator, said there is a possibility that portions of the building’s exterior could be salvaged. Planners could save some “architectural pieces” of the building, such as the huge stone columns on the facade,
The district is looking at spending $17.3 million to construct a new junior high school on the razed site, Baker said.
On Saturday, the school’s halls echoed with: “I know your face.” “I can’t remember your name.” “How is she?” “It’s nice to see you.”
A couple of the voices belonged to people who went to Turtle Creek nearly 50 years ago. One had traveled from Charleston, S.C.
Several alumni stood chatting in the hall outside the library when someone called out, “Hey, Ellen! Let’s go to the bathroom and have a cigarette!”
It was Peggy McKinney Gonano, class of ’67, joking with her sister.
High school was packed with “the emotions, the excitement, the fun” of being a teen, said Gonano, who still lives in the borough. She called it “the growing up part.”
Back then, “growing up” may have included enduring a teacher’s unorthodox, if not comical, method of discipline.
Filing a lawsuit or making a stink in public never occurred to Gonano when she was punished for talking in Don Cifra’s English class.
The class was held a couple of doors away from the library. One day, Gonano, who is still a talker, just couldn’t stop during class.
She said Cifra told her, “If I didn’t stop talking, he was going to tape my mouth shut. … I still didn’t stop talking, even under the tape.”
A wry smile playing across her lips, Gonano said Cifra shook his head and sighed, “Another McKinney!”
Her three sisters were Creekers, too.
Today, Cifra’s classroom is furnished with modern green and pink Formica-topped desks, different from the wooden ones Gonano remembered.
Bob Russell, class of ’64, had the same impression as he walked the halls and peered in classrooms.
“I remember some of the auditorium, but the rest is all new,” the Turtle Creek resident said. It almost seemed like a different school already, he said. “But it was nice … to see it one last time.”
Although they have homes in Monroeville now, Nancy McCleland Puskar, class of ’61, and Rick McGrath, class of ’62, headed the reunion committee.
Puskar said a visit to the school a few months prior to the event made her aware of how changing times are reflected already in the building.
“They have metal detectors now,” she said. “I just wasn’t ready for that.”
Passing rows of light-blue lockers, some noticed that the trophy cases in the halls were empty. Where are the football awards? Where are the basketball laurels?
Jeanne Flaherty, class of ’62, said, three years ago, she’d rescued 125 trophies that had been destined for the trash bin.
“There were girls basketball trophies, baseball trophies, football,” she said. “There was one from the [Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League] championship.”
Flaherty, also from Monroeville, said she has catalogued them and plans to turn them over to the borough’s fledgling historical society.
Gloria Rogulin Blake, class of ’63, hadn’t seen her class ring for about 40 years.
As the tour was winding down around 4:30 p.m., just as Blake and her sister, Kathy Rogulin, class of ’58, were about to stroll out into the late afternoon sun, McGrath made an announcement to the handful of stragglers that included Blake.
“We have a surprise for you,” he said, turning his gaze on her and reaching for a small white box. “There’s a lady who has been looking for you for … years. She couldn’t be here, but she wanted us to give you something.”
Maureen Duffy Maniccia, 55, of Monroeville, formerly of East Pittsburgh and McGrath’s barber for 20 years, had been searching for the owner of a 1963 Turtle Creek High School class ring with the initials G.R. etched on it.
Maniccia said she found the ring in front of her Sunnyside Avenue house in East Pittsburgh, shortly before her family moved to Monroeville in 1966.
But once she had children and other adult responsibilities, she couldn’t find the time to hunt down the owner. She’d stuck it in a jewelry box until McGrath mentioned the upcoming reunion a month ago. He did the legwork for her.
Turns out, Blake had left the ring on a sink in the girls bathroom at Turtle Creek High a few days after her mother Mary Rogulin, now 90, had given it to her.
She’d also given her a warning: “Don’t you take it off.”
“My mother worked in the Westinghouse [Electric] cafeteria,” Blake said, slipping the gold and onyx band on her finger. “She worked so hard to buy it for me. This will be like giving the ring back to my mother, too.”
But how the ring landed in front of Maniccia’s former East Pittsburgh home remains a mystery.
Correction/Clarification: (Published August 4, 2005) Although she got her class ring back after it was lost for 40 years, a 1963 Turtle Creek High School graduate’s correct last name was missing from a July 28 story about a reunion at the school. Gloria Rogulin’s married name is Blake.
(M. Ferguson Tinsley can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1455.)