WEIRTON - Hundreds of former Weirton Steel employees gathered at the Serbian Picnic Grounds to meet with old co-workers and friends, reflect on the steel mill's past and elect new leaders.
Rich Young, the group's outgoing president, noted the group was begun by Weirton Steel management in 1945 for employees who had at least 25 years of service, attesting to the company's long history, and now includes retirees from the 1960s to the present.
Members have come from as far as California and Florida to attend the annual picnic, which has been a key event from the beginning.
SPECIAL RECOGNITION — Rich Young, far right, outgoing president of the Weirton Steel 25 Year Club; announced the group has received the Weirton Area Chamber of Commerce’s Outstanding Community Service Award for their efforts in lighting the city for Christmas during the group’s annual picnic Saturday at the Serbian Picnic Grounds. On hand for the announcement were, from left: Mark Apesos, past president; Carolyn Norcia, secretary; Ron Baker, the group’s newly elected president; and Brenda Ice, vice president. -- Warren Scott
While leaders of Weirton Steel in the firm's heyday supplied thousands of dollars for the picnic, tougher economic times have led the club to hold fundraisers and seek donations.
Sponsoring this year's picnic were: First Choice America Community Federal Credit Union, ArcelorMittal, Weirton Steel's current owner; United Steelworkers Local 2911, Women of Steel, Hancock County Savings Bank and Strip Steel Federal Credit Union.
The club also has been involved for many years in helping the Weirton Area Chamber of Commerce to light the city for Christmas. Last year, the group found and restored a light display featuring Santa Claus and his sleigh and reindeer that Weirton Steel had put up for many years.
The club replaced lights for the 24 foot by 8 foot display with light-emitting diodes, which are more energy-efficient than conventional lights. It was displayed last Christmas on Three Springs Drive between the Holiday Inn and First Choice America Community Federal Credit Union.
The group also elected officers, with some returning to their previous roles and some taking on new ones. They are: Ron Baker, president; Brenda Ice, vice president; Carolyn Norcia, secretary; and Young, treasurer.
After the club business was completed, members sat down to eat and socialize with former co-workers and old friends. Many stopped to view videos about the history of Weirton Steel, the city and its role as a backdrop in the recent science fiction movie, "Super 8."
The videos were brought by Dennis Jones, president of the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center.
Jones said the museum will be presenting a program at noon Saturday on the role of women who entered the workplace, including Weirton Steel, during World War II and became known as Rosie the Riveter, Wendy the Welder and other nicknames.
Jones noted the women played an important role in keeping the nation's economy going and supporting the war effort, as many of the industries where they worked supplied materials, vehicles and weapons to the military.
Thais Blatnik, a former state legislator who worked at Weirton Steel during the war; and other women who served in such capacities have been recruited by co-chairman Pam Makriocosta to share their experiences, he said.
Jones added Anne Montague, executive director of Thanks Plain and Simple Inc. of Charleston, will discuss efforts to preserve these women's recollections and will interview local "Rosies" during her visit.
Mark Apesos, a past president of the club, was well aware of the influx of women at Weirton Steel during the war as he also helped temporarily to fill the void left when many steelworkers entered the military.
He was nearly 17 when he began working 8-hour afternoon shifts at the mill, after attending school in the morning and early afternoon.
"They had to follow child labor laws and couldn't force you to work doubles but they could ask you to work them on weekends," Apesos said, adding he was happy to take the extra hours then.
"I was taking home a better paycheck than my dad's because of the extra turns," he said.
But Apesos gave up his job to enlist when he turned 18.
He would return after the war and worked there for 40 years and looks back fondly on his time at Weirton Steel.
"They were good years. They treated me right," Apesos said, adding many felt the pay and benefits offered by the company then were fair.
"People were happy to come to Weirton Steel," he said.
(Scott can be contacted at email@example.com.)