My parents. . .
. . My father Sulo was the second son born to John and Mary (Kivisto’) Hakanen. His birth date was November 17, 1909. He was born in the section of Nanty-Glo known as Finntown. He was born near the house that became the Hakanen homestead, now the home of My aunt Helen.
My mother’s maiden name was Fleming Rodella Whitsell, born July 14, 1913 in Twin Rocks, Pennsylvania. She was fourth of six daughters born to Joseph Pearl and Sarah Sophia (Snedden) Whitsell.
Fleming and Sulo were married October 3, 1931, in Cumberland, Maryland. Fleming was 18 and Sulo was 22.
Two sons are born. . .
. . I was born at home, as was the custom at that time, on Friday June 17, 1932. The house was on Roberts Street next to the Finnish Graveyard, just two houses from where the family later moved and lived until leaving Nanty-Glo in 1945.
The interesting circumstance during that week was that six mothers in different parts of the town were expecting their babies about the same time and there was only one doctor to deliver the babies. It turned out that one woman had her baby boy on Wednesday, June 15. Another had a girl on the 16th. My mother and two others gave birth just hours apart on Friday the 17th and the remaining woman had a boy on Sunday the 19th. One of the babies born on the 17th was a cousin, Genevieve Whitsell. Her father was grandpa Whitsell’s younger brother James. Genevieve was born at My Mom’s older sister, Mildred’s home in Nanty-Glo. Genevieve’s parents lived in the country on what was known as Rager Mountain and temporarily came to Aunt Mildred’s to be closer to the doctor. The other boy born on the 17th was Wilber Bo’ Swanhart who became a cousin many years later when his father and my aunt, Blanch married. Bo, Mimi and I became friends in college during the 1950’s. Small town happenings in a small world!
My brother Dennis Keith, was born September 12, 1942. There were many advances over the ten years between our births, so Dennie was born in the hospital in Spangler PA.
Tragic change. . .
. . Mom and Dad were married 13 years when my father was killed in a mine accident, March 27, 1944. Dennie was only 18 months old.
The accident, as it was told to me, was somewhat of a freak occurrence. It seems my dad and two or three others were standing together checking the roof at the corner of one of the columns left for support. My dad was the boss of the crew or a safety boss called to check noises heard around the spot they were examining. As they talked the roof collapsed, crushing my father and not touching any of the others. Uncle Ernie told me that Mike Hakanen was part of that crew and was one of the men standing there. Mike said my dad spoke just a couple words before he died. If he was directing his words to Mike they would have been in Finn. I’ll have to investigate it, see if anyone knows.
Other than worshiping the ground he stood on, I can’t remember a lot about my dad. We never did get to bond when I became ‘of age’. I remember he was preparing me for that day. He took me hunting and fishing a few times, I was not yet of the age to ‘really’ hunt. I just tagged along. I suppose he was ‘prepping’ me for when he and I could share what he did with his youngest brother a few years before.
At the 2010 reunion I got a chance to talk to Uncle Ernie and he related some things to me ( I hope to have more discussions with him soon). He has found memories of my Dad. My Dad was only eleven when Uncle Ernie was born. So they grew-up together. Ernie was in the service in New Guinea when my dad was killed. Ernie said my dad wrote to him regularly when he was in the service. Dad would take him hunting and they would walk miles and miles in the woods. Ernie remembers one time they ended up at Domens Dam, probably 20 miles from home.
During our 2010 reunion discussions, Ernie said when he came out of the Army he asked my dad how he could get a job in the mines. My Dad, a boss at that time, went and talked to someone and came home and told Ernie, ” You’ve got a job”.
My Dad’s death had a traumatic effect on the family and dramatically changed the course of our lives. I was eleven at the time and tried hard not to accept the fact that my father’s death really occurred. Mom, faced with raising two young children alone, rushed into a second marriage barely 13 months after the tragic accident. On April 5, 1945 she married John (Bud) Bentley, ten years her senior and moved our family to Turtle Creek, PA. Bud had a problem with alcohol and most of the marriage was an unhappy union. One good thing that occurred from the marriage was the birth of our sister, Sandra Lee Bentley. Sandra was born June 3, 1950, Dennie was in 3rd grade and I was a junior in high school.
A different world. .
. . The move from Nanty-Glo to Turtle Creek was one of the most horrifying things I have ever experienced. Nanty-Glo is a small mining town in Cambria County PA. At that time coal was the major heating fuel and most all the men in town were actively employed. There were three large mines in and around the town plus several small ‘house coal’ mines. My family had just recently got rid of our outhouse, many families still used them.
We lived in a small close-knit part of town called ‘Finntown’. We kids roamed the hills and valleys unrestricted all day long. We had our own baseball team; Went swimming in water ponds created by abandon strip mines; picked berries of all sorts; occasionally helped with farm chores; Cheered our Dads and Uncles as they played ‘Industrial League’ baseball. Our part of town had its own team, called the Voimas. Voima is a Finish word meaning strength. It was like growing up in paradise for a young kid. Some of my thoughts and views about growing up in Nanty-Glo can be found in my Retrospective Page by clicking here.
Then we moved to Turtle Creek! As I mentioned, my mother faced with raising two children with no income hurried into marriage very soon after my father’s fatal mine accident. I reluctantly made the move to this strange town with a man I did not know and who couldn’t possibly replace my dad, who I adored!
We moved into and apartment over a music store on Braddock Avenue, a few blocks north of where East Pittsburgh and Turtle Creek meet. It was a new experience for me since I had not been aware of apartment buildings and don’t know if there were any in Nanty-Glo. Turtle Creek is one of many industrial towns that run up and down the Turtle Creek valley. They begin at Pittsburgh and run north and east to Greens burg. First there is Homestead (Steel), Braddock (Steel), East Pittsburgh (Westinghouse), Turtle Creek (Westinghouse), Wilmerding (Westinghouse), Pitcairn ( Pennsylvania RR Yards), Tr afford (Westinghouse) and on through Jeanette (Glass), and Greens burg (Glass). The towns’ buildings ran up one side of the street and all the industrial plants and facilities ran up the other side. It was hard to tell when you left one town and entered another.
Across from our apartment, the three story Westinghouse factory sprawled about ten feet back of a rod iron fence built right up to the sidewalk. The Hugh stamping machines inside ran constantly three shifts a day. In the summer the open windows made the noise even louder. The Avenues that separated the town buildings from the plants were narrow cobblestone streets just wide enough for two street-cars to pass one another. One going north-east and the other going west-south. To park on the street, cars had to mount the curb and park partially on the sidewalk. A clanging streetcar passed by every ten minutes. The music store below our apartment had a loudspeaker over the door playing music during the hours they were open. Railroad train track, carrying freight up and down the valley, ran behind our apartment. The collection of noises seemed to be constant.
It is hard to explain how frightening the experience was. A ‘country’ boy from a small quiet town surrounded by farms with a ten o’clock curfew for kids. Over night, was living in a noisy, 24 hour a day hustle-bustle city suburb. Frightening is the best description I can come up with.
Leaving Turtle Creek behind. . .
. . Bud died January 5, 1975, he was seventy-two. After Bud’s death mom got a job with J.C. Penny working in their warehouse in near by Versailles twp. She learned to drive again, something she hadn’t done since her teen-age years. She bought a little Honda automobile to get to work and back. She lived in our house in Turtle Creek until she retired around 1975. She then sold the house and moved back to Nanty-Glo. She died September 9, 1989 , she was seventy-six. More about our family, our life int Turtle Creek and our Ancestry can be found in my Reflection page and other parts of this site.