Mystery solved

April 20, 2014

Two inches of rain fell on this corner of Southwestern Pennsylvania over that weekend, and Monday morning, March 6, 1967, the rain turned to snow. By evening, streams were overflowing their banks and the Monongahela River was heading for its highest level ever.

By Wednesday morning, streets and houses along the river were submerged and residents fled to higher ground. When the water reached the Patrice dormitory, an off-campus living facility for female students of California State Teachers College, the young women were evacuated.

“The flooding came that spring of my freshman year and filled our dorm’s rec room with four feet of muddy, sewage-laden water,” wrote Lois Elliott Core.

“We were told to quickly pack a suitcase and pile everything else on our beds,” said Sherren Elias Pensiero, who happens to be the young woman in the photo on the right in white.

Pensiero, who graduated from Washington High School in 1965, remembers that day in California well. “We were living in the first off-campus dorm for women; it was kind of edgy at that point,” she said by telephone from her home in Somerset. “The water had come all the way up to First Street. We were too young to understand the danger. It was just an adventure for us at the time.” They were moved to another women’s dormitory on campus, some of them sleeping on floors and in hallways through the weekend.

The 1967 flood remained the worst in Mon Valley history until an even greater flood in 1985.

Although this week’s Mystery Photo was never published in the Observer or the Reporter, a similar one with all of the same people in it was printed in the March 9, 1967, Observer. The caption identified them as, from left, Lois Langham, Judy Jeffries, Ada Vallecorsa, Joyce Cooper, Julie Acito, Sherren Elias and Tony Vitale, owner of the building.

Several of our readers informed us that Cooper grew up in Dunns Station, near Prosperity, but graduated from Wash High in 1966. She now lives in North Carolina.

According to Pensiero, Acito died in a car crash on Interstate 70 while returning to school from spring break in 1968.

Pensiero went on to teach at Hopewell High School, where Tony Dorsett was one of her students before going on to become at football star at Pitt and in the National Football League. She later taught at Somerset High School and retired from teaching after 31 years. She is owner of The Write Solution, a public relations and marketing firm that she ran with her husband until his death in November. Her two daughters live in the Washington, D.C., area.

“The dorm is gone and the name of the college has been changed, but the memory is still vivid,” wrote Core. “Not only does your Mystery Photo get people to read your newspaper, it helped me to connect with a friend, Joyce, whom I haven’t seen for years. Thanks for the memory from 47 years ago!”

Park Burroughs has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1972. He is the winner of numerous state and regional awards for feature, column and editorial writing. He is the author of two books, “Enter, With Torches: Recollections of a Grumpy Old Editor,” and "Washington County Murder and Mayhem." He retired in September 2012 but continues to contribute to the O-R’s news pages.

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