June 14, 2008

Mining Heritage Runs Deep for Memorial Speaker

By Randy Griffith, Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.

Jun. 14--WINDBER -- Robert Roza Sr. has two starkly contrasting memories of his early life in the Seventh Street neighborhood: Playing darts and his father's mining-accident death.

"Back then, they showed the body at the house," Roza said. "That and the cemetery are" ingrained memories.

Gazel Francis Roza died was operating a mining car in Berwind Mine 36 when he was crushed against a wall by the engine at age 29.

Lives and achievements of miners like Gazel Roza are being celebrated this weekend during Miner's Memorial Day Weekend in Windber. His grandson, Robert Roza Jr. of Detroit, will talk about the miners' contributions and continuing importance.

"At the turn of the century, coal was utilized to run other machinery that was used in the Industrial Revolution," Rob Roza said. "That technology was used to bring us to the point we are now: Cell phones, electronics and so on."

Rob Roza learned about the mining industry while researching his family's genealogy.

It was that research that reunited the Rozas with relatives in Windber last year. Robert Roza Sr. got in touch with an aunt, who put him in touch with Mayor Art Palumbo -- his first cousin.

"The last time I saw the kid I was 3 years old playing on Seventh Street," Palumbo said. "For 64 years, we never saw them. We couldn't find them. They found us."

After his grandfather died, Rob Roza said, the family lost touch with his relatives. His grandmother, Agnes Roza, moved with her two young children to Dearborn, Mich.

Robert Roza Sr. spent one summer with his mother's relatives in Windber as a teen, but never regained contact with the Roza side. It took his son's curiosity to return to his roots.

"On the Roza side, I never knew how many family members there were," Rob Roza said, stopping off at Cambria County Library, 248 Main St., Johnstown. He and his father made three trips to the area, researching their family.

Last summer, Palumbo showed them around Windber, locating Gazel Roza's grave and the family home, the location of Mine 36, and other historical features.

There was one disappointment:

"I was dumbfounded that my father's name was not on the Miners Memorial," Robert Roza Sr. said, adding he hopes to discuss the omission this weekend.

Rob Roza looks forward to another visit to the Windber Coal Heritage Center at 501 15th St.

"We got a chance to see what it was like, instead of reading about it," Rob Roza said. "We could see what they were wearing and the carbide lights and the work environment."

The Coal Heritage Center will be a popular stop for Miners Memorial Day events.

The newest exhibit, "[email protected]," highlights three days 2002 when rescuers tirelessly worked to successfully free nine coal miners trapped underground in the Quecreek mine. This weekend, artwork by Windber native Tom Antonishak, now of Poland, Ohio, is featured.

Miners Day events continue through Sunday afternoon, with music, food, crafts and a motorcycle show, all in downtown Windber.

A Windber Medical Center Community Celebration will feature a rock climbing wall, displays, health screenings, therapeutic drumming and displays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at the hospital.


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