‘An important part of who we are’
More than 50 members of the Liberty HS Hurricanes varsity football team devoted a warm and sunny Saturday to cleaning up the Steelworkers Memorial at the foot of the Fahy Bridge on June 10.
The student athletes pulled weeds by hand and then used screwdrivers to painstakingly remove roots and debris from between each commemorative brick. The football players finished the job by sweeping the area with leaf blowers so that the inscriptions on the memorial bricks could be read clearly.
“We’ve got about 52 kids here,” said John Truby, Hurricanes head football coach. “They’re all of various ages, freshmen up to those who will be seniors, so it’s a good mix for this crew. They also cleaned up leaves on the side (of the memorial). It was pretty bad. This is probably the worst we’ve seen it, with the growth in between each stone. It was overrun.”
While awaiting refreshments in the shady area by the gazebo, the Hurricanes fielded questions about their knowledge of Bethlehem Steel from Truby, who also serves as a history teacher at Liberty.
“They built the Golden Gate Bridge,” said one student. “They made arms for world War I and World War II,” said another. “Hitler wanted to bomb it!” chimed in another, alluding to the importance of Bethlehem Steel in the war effort.
The players will get credit for community service as required by the school district, said Joe Mayer, a member of the Steelworkers Archives who spearheaded the annual cleanup effort.
“Joe Mayer has been really influential in doing this,” Truby said. “I have family that worked in a steel mill out in Pittsburgh so, for me it’s a nice way for giving back a little bit, and also for the city. The kids do a really good job with it, I’m happy with them. For the most part it’s the heart and soul of the team who show up to do this. They’re a great group of kids.”
Explaining the genesis of the annual event, Mayer said, “About five years ago, the Steelworkers Archives checked out the memorial, looked at the condition of the memorial. We approached the city and our concerns seemed to fall on deaf ears. So then it was brought up at our meetings, where I said why don’t we get the football team, who needs community service, to do it every year? They’ve been doing it ever since and it’s been working out really well. This is the sixth year. It’s been a really good thing for the kids and a good thing for the Steelworkers Memorial.”
The Bethlehem Department of Public Works is responsible for maintaining the memorial area.
Chris Sule, superintendent of grounds maintenance, said his crew cuts the grass weekly and does landscape work every seven to 10 days at the site.
“We sprayed that entire area Monday (June 12)” Sule said. “We sprayed the entire plaza and the sidewalks, so it was definitely taken care of. We usually spray it with pesticide a couple times a year.”
Sule said the memorial site is one of 114 properties his crew helps maintain throughout the city.
“Liberty does their cleanup there every year,” Sule said. “Then we do our work usually the day after or a couple of days after, and then we spray again later in the summer.”
The Steelworkers Archives provides sustenance for the hearty (and ever hungry) football players when they finish their yearly cleanup work.
Archives President Frank Behum, who logged more than 30 years as a steelworker in the Bethlehem Plant, brought a truckload of pizzas and soda to reward the players for a job well done.
Sitting on the wall that surrounds the memorial, Behum said, “Every time I come down here I’m amazed. I can’t walk three feet without seeing the name of someone I know.
“This is a memorial for those who worked at the Steel,” Behum continued.”I’m a history guy, so this is an important part of who we are.”