by Everett Arthur Niemela
When the veterans came back into civilian life, they were given the opportunity to take advantage of what was known as the 52-20 club. The government would pay veterans twenty dollars a week for fifty-two weeks if they were not working. Even in those days that was not much money, so I went back to work in the steel mill at Allenport after two weeks of leisure. I went back to the department where I had started many years earlier. This is where they shipped out large oil well casings. It became apparent that I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in the steel mill. What to do was another question. I liked earning money, and the family needed my help. After a year of full-time work I discovered that a leave of absence could be obtained to attend school and that my seniority could be retained. Also, while on leave I could work part-time. This was a no lose situation since the government would pay my tuition and also an allotment of one hundred dollars if I declared my parents as dependents. California State College was the logical place for me to attend since I could stay at home and still work night shifts at the mill.
I registered in January 1947 for the second semester at California in the Industrial Arts curriculum. I wasn't really interested in becoming a teacher, but the challenge of getting a college education was there. If it didn't work out I would still have my job in the steel mill. I worked an average of three days a week while going to school, either on night shifts or weekends. I made my own schedule. They always needed men. At this time many men made a habit of not showing up for work. Since I knew how to do most of the jobs in the department, I was always welcomed. During this time I was never sent home. I soon settled down into my busy routine. In order not to miss work and not to give up my social life, I sometimes cut study time short. Somehow I managed to survive in school.
Something in the library began to catch my eye during my first semester at California State College. It wasn't the books, but it was a beautiful girl that came to study there. Every time she sat down at a table, she was soon surrounded by many young men. It was useless to try to become acquainted with her. Soon her picture appeared in the school newspaper as one of the candidates for campus queen. I voted for her, but she came in second place. The girl I thought should have been in first place was Virginia Bennati.
I went through college in three years by going year-round. In 1947, during my first summer at college, I registered for an elective course in environmental studies. Also registered in that summer course was Virginia Bennati. She was finishing her course work before going to teach school in the fall. We had a field trip scheduled to go to the Uniontown Mountains to study the streams and other works of nature. We were to travel by car. As the cars lined up to go on the trip, I held back to see which car Virginia would be using. As luck would have it, I was able to sit next to her. Years later she confessed that she was hoping to travel in the same car with me. Half-way up the mountain one of the cars overheated. We had to take extra passengers. As a result, Virginia had to move over and sit on my lap. Finally, I became acquainted with my future wife. There were other field trips that helped to turn this class into a pleasant experience. One thing I began to notice about Virginia was her neatness. Soon I was using her neat class notes to study. This was a girl who could put some organization into my life.
When I started to ask Virginia for dates I was amazed when she told me she would not be allowed to date until she was twenty-one. She was still five months shy of that magical number. Later when we dated, she had to be in at eleven o'clock. Using these guidelines we dated for two and a half years. We were finally married on August 12, 1950 at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Monessen. As we traveled to Canada on our honeymoon in my new 1950 Ford, we kept hearing the new hit tune Goodnight Irene.
After doing student teaching at Schenley High School and Arsenal Junior High School in Pittsburgh, I graduated from California State College in 1950. I was not ready to go into teaching. The pay was much better in the steel mill, so I stayed there another two years full-time while taking graduate classes at the University of Pittsburgh once a week. In order to have Monday nights free each week to go to school, I took a job on an annealing furnace at the mill. This was the only job that would assure that time slot free each week. Drill pipe casings were rolled through the furnace at set intervals to be reheated to normalize the grain.
In 1952 I finally took a job teaching in the Ingram School, which is in a suburb of Pittsburgh. This required a pay cut on my part. My salary went from $4,500 to $3,000. In the small school at Ingram, I taught Industrial Arts in the morning and Social Studies in the afternoon. Social studies and geography were my minor fields of study at college. During that first year of teaching I came down with rheumatoid arthritis. It was severe enough to have me spend three weeks in the hospital and then two months at home resting. After three years of teaching at Ingram, I then obtained a full-time Industrial Arts position in Sewickley. A year later the Sewickley School joined the Quaker Valley School District. In 1955 I obtained my Masters degree from the University of Pittsburgh.
In 1953 we had moved to Ben Avon from Monessen so that the struggle of traveling over thirty miles each way to work could be avoided. The next two years we rented an apartment on the east side of town. Virginia had obtained a teaching position at the Ben Avon Elementary School. We found a lot on Terrace Avenue in 1955, and then we started to have a house built there. Our ambition at that time was to have a neat little new house of our own. We were not interested in the large old houses in town. We moved into our new home in the spring of 1956.
On October 20, 1960 an event happened that would change our lives forever. A little bundle of joy entered our lives. Kimberly Ellen was born at the Bellevue Hospital. I remember seeing her for the first time in the nursery. She was the prettiest baby there. She wasn't red and crying like the rest. Besides that her little toes curled under her foot exactly like mine. When I saw that I knew she was my little girl. As the years went by I did things with her that I probably would never do otherwise. This included singing crazy little songs off key, driving around the country looking for rocks, and trying to identify leaves. She helped to make all of this interesting by being a bright little girl.
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