Remembering: Working at Bethlehem Steel
In this continuing series, my friendly neighbor, Catherine Csencsitz, remembers her parents from Nanticoke. Her father served in the Army during World War II, and her mother worked at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. When her father, John Swiderski, returned home, he needed employment. He joined a painting firm. One of his jobs was painting rooms at the Pennsylvania State Hospital near Nanticoke.
There, he met an attractive young lady, Ms. Philamay Wadzinski, a secretary at the hospital. A romance developed, and they dated for two years.
Many of his neighbors traveled to work at the Bethlehem Steel because coal mining was declining. John joined the group and was also hired. He resided in the home of the Gufroviches in Bethlehem. The Gufroviches were natives of Nanticoke.
In 1948, John married Philamay at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Nanticoke. The bride didn’t wear a white dress. She wore a regular dress. They just didn’t have the money. Their reception was held at home.
John worked in the beam yard, moving steel beams on a carrier to cranes to load on railcars and trucks. There were accidents, even deaths, so extreme care was taken by the employees. Housing was scarce. They were able to rent an apartment on Ridge Avenue in Allentown. The rent was $36.50 a month. Rents were controlled by the Office of Rent Stabilization. This sounds like another bureaucratic office!
The Swiderskis were actually evicted, as the owner filed to increase the rent. Pressed for an apartment, they resided in a Bethlehem Housing Authority home. The rent was $35 a month. Frustrated, they searched for a new home.
The Stevdon Realty Corp. was constructing new homes in Sherwood Park. They obtained a veterans loan through FHA and purchased a split-level home for $13,765.50. Their deposit was $25; the mortgage, $66 a month. Guess that’s why we called the period the good old days!
Catherine still has the bedroom furniture of her parents. She showed me a $17.50 mahogany chair. Mr. Swiderski worked at the Bethlehem Steel for 35 years, through layoffs and strikes. He was a member of the U.S.W. (United Steel Workers). The union held meetings on the south side of Bethlehem.
Catherine and her brother, John, enjoyed the union Christmas parties and the gifts they received. Her father attended my union meetings; after the meetings, there was fellowship with bountiful food and a glass or two of beer.
Her father was very personable and was an avid Penn State fan. Her mother was a great cook and baker and was the frugal family money manager. After 32 years at the Steel, Mr. Swiderski retired as a proud steelworker.
Catherine was born in 1950. Her education journey included Notre Dame Elementary, Bethlehem Catholic High School, Mansfield University, Bloomsburg University and Northampton Community College.
Before her education and business journey, she was employed at the Bethlehem Steel and, later, Western Electric, but company layoffs resulted in Catherine being hired as a teacher by the Colonial Northampton IU, where she met her husband, Gregory Csencsitz. Her salary was $7,600.
After purchasing her new Chevy (automobiles were a bit cheaper, at $4,800), Catherine was hired in the business office of Pocono Mountain High School. She was later hired by the Parkland School District, being employed for 19 years as an assistant business manager. A true professional, she was very precise in her daily office duties. After a fruitful, dedicated career, she retired.
I am happy to say Catherine and her husband, Greg, are our friendly neighbors.
In two weeks, Catherine will be taking us to two local hospitals. Why?