Turney School c1940
These two school buildings were located near Albert Miller's farm behind Jefferson Coal Camp. The windows have been boarded up for the summer by Mr. White to safeguard against breakage by mishcievous boys. This was a regular summer time job for him. The lower building on the left accommodated grades 1 to 4 and the upper building, grades 5 to 8. The coal shed was located between the two buildings. In the background can be seen the coal camp called Penobscot. When this picture was taken, only a handful of houses remained of the more than sixty at one time. Now, there is nothing remaining but spoil piles. The houses were sold off for $25.00 apiece. The hill in the far background on the extreme left is in West Virginia.
A Remembrance of Turney School
In August this year a unique ritual will once again take place. The first time it occurred was in 1962, thirty years ago. At that time 67 year old A. D. White, former principal of Turney grade school, had a notion that it would be delightful if he could one more time, before going to his reward, see and talk to the students of that school who had passed under him during his tenure there. Therefore, he consulted with a handful of former students regarding the possibility of holding a reunion...not a class reunion but, instead, a school reunion. (NOTE: The reunions are held yearly but varies on the date year to year.)
A very rudimentary mailing list was compiled and invitations were sent. Due to the paucity of addresses, the invitations requested that the recipient pass the word on to any of his family or friends who had not received an invitation. That request still appears on today's invitations. If anyone reading this account has had ties of any sort to the area at that point in time, he is urged to pack a lunch and join in. Parents of the students have always been included but their numbers have diminished radically in the thirty years since.
The first reunion was held at Meadowcroft Village and it exceeded expectations despite the hardships involved in setting it up. It was so well received, in fact, that many favored another reunion five years hence. And so the ritual had its roots. From that tiny nucleus inspired by Mr. White thirty years ago, an institution was created.
Turney School first held classes in 1921. It was built of necessity due to the influx of immigrants who came to work in the area coal mines. It consisted of two wooden buildings, a wooded coal shed, two wooden outhouses and it accommodated eight grades supervised by four teachers. Drinking water was obtained from a hand operated pump located near the upper building. It produced water which tasted distinctly of iron and each pupil provided his own drinking cup.
Each school room was heated by a ductless furnace maintained by a boy from that particular room. Frank Muzopappa related how he was awarded the job in his room for one year. He had to get there early enough to clean out the ashes, haul in some coal and build a fire in order to have the room warm by start of classes. In return he received a monthly stipend of fifty cents, There was no electricity. A. D. White was named Principal in 1928 at the age of thirty-three. The school closed down following the '43-'44 term dur to lack of enrollment. Folks were leaving because deep mines had been replaced by strip mining.
Since its inception in 1962, the ritual has slowly evolved from a school reunion to a reunion consisting of anyone who ever lived in the area, even though it is still called a school reunion. Turney School no longer exists. The area has been strip mined and is now an unrecognizable wasteland. Several of the coal towns of that era, Penobscot, Waverly and Seldom Seen also have been strip mined in obscurity. Penowa and Jefferson still survive.
But the spirit of Turney is alive and well. It endures in the hearts of all those hardy individuals who were thrown together in the struggle for survival...people of all nationalities: Polish, Hungarian, Italian, Greek, Slovenian, English, who learned to live side by side as neighbors, who shared joy and sorrow.
And so, at noon, August 22, from all parts of the country the remaining pilgrims will gather once again on the grounds of St. John's Byzantine Church, in Avella, to renew friendships and recount tales of the old days. They will probably number about three hundred. Each time they meet, the numbers grow fewer due to natural attrition. The youngest Turney Student would now be sixty-two. Because of this, the frequency of the reunions has been changed from the original five years to the present two.
First to arrive on the scene will be members of the Korpos, DeFelice, Zick, Strho and Muzopappa family with Tony Zick acting as chairman of the committee. They will arrive at 10:00 a.m. to set up the tables and chairs, prepare the register, and arrange displays. As they work, each of them will now and then glance surreptitiously towards the entrance, excitement inside them growing to a fever pitch.
Inevitably a car will drive in before noon. Will it be the Yuroskos, the D'Ottavios, Havelkas or the Jaro's? Another car...maybe the Nemeths, Simons, Kolticks, Rotundos or perhaps the Underwoods. Now it is precisely noon and they are rolling in: the Lonchars, Bianchis, Volpes, DalBoscos and Klems. All are attempting to arrange their table settings while at the same time greeting other arrivals with glad hands, hugs and kisses. An outsider would think they were all one huge family. Here come the Klovanishs, Pollacks, Millers, Renchecks, Shores and Grigas's.
Some retire to their tables to eat while others forego lunch in order to mingle. They reason that one can eat at any time but these few hours they have with their old friends are too precious. Every single minute with them will by filed away in their memory banks, to be savored over and over again at a future date. Besides, they understand and accept the fact that, before the next reunion takes place two years hence, any one of them, age notwithstanding, may not be around to attend. Since the last reunion two years ago, their numbers have been dimished by five and those numbers will increase in direct proportion to the passage of time. But they do not dwell on such things. Today their eyes are filled with joy and their faces are beaming.
At last, to the delight of all, here comes the old patriarch himself, Mr. A. D. White, who steadfastly refuses to go to aforementioned reward. "I've got to stick around," he says "to make my car payments, Besides, someone's got to keep these youngsters in line." He has lost his hair at an early age, an unfortunate circumstance which earned him the nickname, "Baldy", by all the students. (Behind his back, of course.)
This remarkable man came into their lives in 1928, driving a tiny Willys auto and the people soon ascertained that there was something definitely different about him. He did not act towards them as did other so-called Americans.
This man was totally blind to race, color or creed. Terms such as Hunky, Wop, Spic or Johnny Bull were unknown to him and this at a time when such usage was prevalent. Possibly it was coincidence that, after his arrival, the roster of those on the teaching stat which, heretofore, had contained names almost exclusively American in nature now contained names of ethnic origin, such as Tranquill, Rusbasen and Bertamini. He addressed everyone on equal terms and with due respect. The people welcomed him into their ranks because they sensed that he had their best interests at heart. His primary aim was to ensure that their children have a chance at life by receiving a proper education at the onset. Mr. White is 97 years old now but his mind is as fertile and active as ever. Because of his efforts, many children living in hardship during those harsh times received shoes, glasses and various other items which, otherwise, would have been absolutely unobtainable. He would take the child with him, travel to the Red Cross in Washington, Pa. and importune them incessantly until they provided the requested items. He carried food to school for the hungry children, food which he and wife, Laura, had prepared in their home and paid for out of his own meager salary. He understood one basic tenet: A child studies much better with a full stomach. Small wonder that love him.
When any one of them hears the term "Turney" he automatically thinks of Mr. White. He instilled the principles of right and wrong into the children bring back to the fold many that might have gone astray. And so they converge in Avella, these people of such totally dissimilar backgrounds who suffered adversity together, to pay homage to this exceptional person whom they proudly consider one of their own.
No one can surmise how long this quaint custom will continue. Perhaps it will go on until only one Turney student is left alive. And then perhaps that last remaining student will make the pilgrimage to the grounds of St. John's Church on a balmy day in August and, with bowed head, murmur,
"I am here, my very dear friends, to carry on the Turney tradition and I miss you all so much. Standing here, I close my eyes and I can still hear your laughter and the sounds of your happy chatter but Oh! How I yearn to see you all again. I hope to join you for the next reunion, so don't start without me...please."
Alvin Dinsmore (A. D.) White
10 Nov 1894 - 4 Jul 1994
Educator & Historian
The first reunion was held in 1962 and 48 years later in 2010, above is the list of those who attended.
© 1992 by Anthony Muzopappa. All rights reserved.
If you would like to share any thoughts or stories on the Turney School, you can do so on the home page by emailing the Jefferson Township Historical Society. We would love to hear from you.