NORTH CHARLEROI –Skies that turned on a dime from bright to threatening didn’t dampen the festive mood on the John K. Tener Memorial Bridge Saturday morning, as the new, $26 million span that links North Charleroi to Monessen was dedicated.
Named for the Charleroi luminary who found success as a professional baseball player and the 25th governor of Pennsylvania, the dedication brought out a host of political heavyweights from Washington and Westmoreland counties, which you would expect at an event of this stripe. But it also boasted a few novel elements, such as a wedding that occurred at the bridge’s midpoint, and a release of white doves that saw the winged creatures soaring over the Monongahela River.
“I’m sure this is a bridge dedication everyone will remember,” said J. Barry Stout, the former state senator who was instrumental in getting financing from Harrisburg in order to complete the project. “It will last many, many centuries, for sure.”
Stout, who was the Democratic chairman of the Senate’s transportation committee and made transportation a specialty during his time as a lawmaker, put in a plug for generous road and bridge funding: “You see your tax dollars here. We have to remember to have proper funding for transportation.”
The bridge replaces one that stood on the same sight on Routes 88 and 906 from 1906 until it was imploded almost two years ago due to structural weaknesses and concerns that it was unsafe to cross. It connects North Charleroi and Monessen and, in the larger sense, Washington and Westmoreland counties.
The highlight of the event for many was the wedding ceremony uniting Rebecca Novotne of Monessen with Michael Castner of North Charleroi. A second assistant fire chief for the Lock No. Four Volunteer Fire Company, Castner was decked in a firefighter’s dress uniform while Novotne wore a traditional white wedding gown. Lee Hall, North Charleroi’s mayor, put a black robe over the T-shirt, shorts and tennis shoes he was wearing to conduct the wedding.
Brenda Castner, Michael Castner’s mother, noted the wedding carried symbolic value since her son is from North Charleroi and Novotne is from Monessen. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” she said.
The bridge is at least the third structure to be named after Tener, following Charleroi’s public library and a residence hall at Penn State University. Tener and his family came to Charleroi from Ireland when he was 10, and he forged successful careers as a pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago White Stockings, followed by a stint as a bank executive, before entering politics. He was a congressman for four years before becoming governor in 1911.
Some of Tener’s relatives were on hand for the dedication, including a great-great nephew, John E. Tener. The retired Boston lawyer was wearing a Red Sox cap and pointed out that now he can do his own variation of the “If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you” joke, except that if he told people there’s a bridge that bears his name (except for the middle initial) in Pennsylvania, he would be telling the truth.