Santoro earned the valley’s respect

To a generation of United Steelworkers of America workers, the name of Santo Santoro is synonymous with standing up for workers, for steel, for communities, for people.

To a generation of his friends and family, youth he coached in sports and countless friends, his name brings a smile, memories of friendship and thoughts of a caring man, tough, with a truly big heart.

Santoro died Saturday after giving his all to a fight with pancreatic cancer.

He became president of United Steelworkers of America Local 1190 in Steubenville, the largest of locals in the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp., in 1979, just as the bottom began to fall out on the domestic steel industry.

By 1985, he was leading union presidents through the first strike against a bankrupt steelmaker, uncharted territory. He moved on to a job as a district representative with the Steelworkers, working through another Wheeling-Pitt bankruptcy and a succession of owners at the steelmaker, in addition to representing workers at other steel facilities throughout the valley.

His co-workers have many memories of the man who was tough but fair, ranging from the negotiating table to the great outdoors where he was a deer hunter and fisherman. His poker games with friends were the stuff of talk often when his name came up in conversation. He served on numerous committees and was a Follansbee Blue Wave football coach for more than 20 years.

He could pick up the phone and get senators and governors and congressmen to answer. He never shied away from press coverage, and he never hesitated to say when he thought others were being inaccurate or unfair to the union. He considered it a matter of honor to stand up for his workers and of integrity in others when they would hear him out and do their jobs well.

He was universally remembered by co-workers and friends as first and foremost a family man, who loved his children and grandchildren and wife above all.

The endless line during his wake Tuesday is a testament to his straightforward, tough approach. People knew where they stood with Santo Santoro, and he earned the respect he received.