Home of Champions

Donora was founded in 1901. Shortly after, the Castner School building would be built at Tenth Street and McKean Avenue to serve as the town's first high school. Donora would start to field sporting teams around 1904. As the town grew and student enrollment increased, the high school would move to the newly constructed First Street School in 1913 between Allen and Castner Avenues. The Castner School would become an elementary school. Eventually, the final high school building located on Waddell Avenue was built in 1930. The First Street School would become Donora Junior High. Donora High School's final graduating class occurred in 1969. After Donora merged with Monongahela to form the Ringgold School District, the Donora High School became Ringgold High School - Donora Campus and would graduate its final class in 1979. The high school building was remodeled into the Donora Elementary Center or DEC. The school is now closed, but the building still exists as the only remaining school building in Donora.
The black and orange DONORA sign to the right currently stands in the front porch garden of the Donora Public Library. Originally painted with red and white paint, this cast iron sign hung on the roof of the Pennsylvania Railroad Station that existed along the railroad tracks at the intersection of Eighth Street and Meldon Avenue. With the station now long gone, this sign is one of the oldest visible artifacts from the town's founding in 1901. It was one of the first things that greeted all immigrants arriving to Donora to live a better life or one of the final things that wished soldiers well as they went off to serve in the great world wars.
The dragon is the official mascot of Donora. Orange and black are the official colors. The dragon in the photo to the left is the earliest known Dragon image that we are aware of and was used on early letterman's jackets in the late 1920s-1930. Before schools and sporting teams were identified by mascots, their nicknames were their colors. Originally known as the Orange and Black, in the late 1920s the Donora sports teams adopted a fire-breathing dragon, reflective of what the Blast Furnaces and Open Hearth looked like in the night's sky at the steel mill, as their official mascot and were forever known as the Donora Dragons. Regardless of if you played sports or not, if you went to school in Donora, you were a Dragon through-and-through. To be a Donora Dragon is something our sons and daughters hold very close to their hearts and carry that pride with them wherever they go. If you are a Donora High School graduate while reading this, you know exactly what we're talking about.
In sports, Donora was trying to find its footing prior to 1930, but with the arrival of Coach Jimmy Russell in 1931 at the recommendation of his legendary Notre Dame mentor, football coach Knute Rockne, the Dragons started to figure out how to win with players like George "Jake" Kovalcik (see the photo to the left). After graduating from Donora High School, Jake Kovalcik would go to Coach Russell's alma mater and play football at Notre Dame. While studying to be a Physical Education teacher at Notre Dame, part of his course work required him to coach sports at nearby South Bend High School. The guy that would serve as Jake's mentor at South Bend High was athletic director and basketball coach John Wooden when he was just getting started. Wooden would eventually go on to college and to Westwood, California where he would coach basketball at UCLA, winning ten NCAA Championships and being known as the "Wizard of Westwood." The Donora connections to two coaching legends like Rockne and Wooden would propel them to success starting in the 1940s.
The trophy to the right was awarded to the "Outstanding Player" in the 1931 Donora vs. Monessen football game. While it looks like it was copied from the Heisman Trophy, the Heisman wouldn't be awarded until 1935. It's the earliest Donora trophy in our collection.
Donora is obviously very proud of our sports heroes. The success that they and their teams had, gave us the moniker "Home of Champions." In the photo to the left are the three game-balls used to win back-to-back WPIAL football titles in 1944 and 1945 and a WPIAL basketball title in 1945. Winning a football title and basketball title in the same year (1944-45) was a first in the WPIAL. Winning three championships in two years created a huge sense of pride in Donora and the claim of being the "Home of Champions."
As you probably already know, we have an entire web page devoted to one of our earliest sports heroes - baseball great Stan "The Man" Musial - class of 1938. There are countless other sports heroes, but to name just a few more there are also:
Dan L. Towler - class of 1946 - born in Donora in 1928, Danial Lee Towler was a four-sport athlete that helped propel the Donora powerhouse teams of the 1940s to legendary status, along with other notables such as: Coach Jimmy Russell, and players: Arnold "Pope" Galiffa, Roscoe "The Rambler" Ross, and Lou "Bimbo" Cecconi. Towler was an all-state fullback who led Donora to Western Pennsylvania titles in 1944 and 1945. The 1944 team outscored their opponents 324 to 42 with 4 shutouts. The 1945 team outscored their opponents 297 to 13 with 8 shutouts. Those undefeated teams were also considered among the top teams in the country and are still considered to be the best to ever play in Pennsylvania. Towler scored 24 touchdowns his senior year. After numerous college offers, Towler enrolled at Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania due to his early interest in the ministry and would continue to excel in football and track. In his junior year, he led the nation in scoring and became Little All-American. He also played linebacker on defense. In track, Towler ran a 9.9 second 100-yard dash and threw the shot put. Aside from sports, Towler also excelled in the classroom and graduated cum laude. After college, Towler was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in 1950. Towler moved to Los Angeles, and while starting his football career, he continued his education at the University of Southern California (USC) and pursued a master's degree in theology. Nicknamed "Deacon Dan" because he would lead the Rams in their pregame prayer, Towler, along with Paul "Tank" Younger and Dick Hoerner, would form the famed "Bull Elephant" backfield that featured three runners that weighed 225-pounds-plus. Combined with quarterbacks Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin and receivers Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch and Tom Fears, they were an electrifying running and passing team. That year, the Rams lost to the Cleveland Browns in the World Championship - the precursor to today's Super Bowls. The next year, the Rams won the 1951 World Championship after Towler scored the game winning touchdown. In 1952, Towler led the NFL in touchdowns (10), yards (894) and was the Pro Bowl MVP. In 1953, Towler actually appeared in the movie "Crazylegs" about the life and career of teammate Elroy Hirsch. In 1954, Towler again led the NFL in touchdowns (11). Towler was All-Pro from 1951 to 1953. Regardless of how successful Towler was in football, he always considered himself to be a full-time student and part-time football player. After six seasons, 3,493 yards for a 5.2 average and scoring 43 touchdowns, Towler abruptly ended his football career in 1955 to become a Methodist minister. Towler would continue his education (earning a PhD in education) and involvement in the Los Angeles community. Deacon Dan would go on to serve 26 years and was a six-term president of the Los Angeles County Board of Education. He also headed the Dan Towler Foundation, which helped needy students. At the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Deacon Dan is recognized on the Scroll of Achievement with two other players who made contributions beyond the playing field. Deacon Dan Towler died in 2001. Watch footage of Dan Towler for the Rams - YouTube - Top 5 Los Angeles Running Backs at the :47 to 1:21 minute mark. In 2019, a grassroots movement was started to get Dan Towler in the Pro Football Hall of Fame - Dan Towler for HOF. Watch footage of Dan Towler playing for the Rams - YouTube - 1951 NFL Championship - Los Angeles vs. Cleveland and YouTube - 1952 Regular Season - Los Angeles vs. Cleveland and YouTube - 1955 NFL Championship - Los Angeles vs. Cleveland.
Arnold A. Galiffa - class of 1945 - born in Donora in 1927 and nicknamed "Pope", Arnold Anthony Galiffa was a four-sport star earning twelve varsity letters in football, basketball, baseball and track, and was a captain and All-State selection in football and basketball in 1944-45 on teams that dominated their competition (as noted in the biography of teammate Deacon Dan Towler above) becoming the first school to win WPIAL football and basketball titles in the same year. After numerous major college scholarship offers, including Notre Dame, Pope chose the United States Military Academy at West Point where he earned eleven letters in football (3), baseball (4) and basketball (4) - an unusual feat even in those days. But football ended up being his best sport. In 1949, while leading Army to a 9-0 record, Pope was the team MVP, a first-team All-American quarterback on five different teams and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting behind winner Leon Hart and another notable: Doak Walker. Pope appeared on the cover of Life Magazine on May 2, 1949. He graduated in 1950 with various school records in football (longest pass completion - 83 yards) and was recognized as the best athlete of his class winning the Army Athletic Association Award. He led the Black Knights to a 31-2 record, with 3 undefeated seasons, during his four years. Pope was drafted by the New York Giants in 1950 but had to honor his commitment to the Army serving with distinction as an officer in the Korean War. During the war, Galiffa was awarded a Bronze Star for valor in combat as a result of throwing a hand grenade some 75 yards into an enemy machine gun nest saving his platoon during battle. Galiffa's outfit saw some fierce fighting in Korea as more than half of his platoon were either wounded or killed in action. Galiffa would leave Korea after a serious case of frostbite. From Korea, Galiffa served in Tokyo as an aide to Generals Ridgeway and Clark. Galiffa resigned from the Army in 1953 to enter civilian life and was immediately contacted by his former West Point coach and then current NFL coach for the New York Giants - Vince Lombardi where Galiffa would play quarterback in 1953. Pope then played for the San Francisco 49ers in 1954, in the CFL for the British Columbia Lions in 1955, and finally for the Toronto Argonauts in 1956. Injuries plagued Pope all four of his years in pro football. Also in 1955, Pope returned to Donora to put his West Point education to work in the local United States Steel (USS) mill as an industrial engineer. He worked as the supervisor of safety and eventually oversaw the demolition of the plant in the early 1960s. In 1964, Galiffa moved to Chicago to work in the law department for USS. In 1975, Galiffa was named USS Public Affairs representative of the Central Midwest region. During his time with USS, Arnold was active in numerous civic and charitable activities in Donora and Chicago. After a brief illness Arnold "Pope" Galiffa died in 1978 at the young age of 51 and is buried in Donora. The street that now runs in the industrial park where the United States Steel mill once stood is named in his honor - Galiffa Drive. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983, the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame in 2004, and the WPIAL Hall of Fame in 2014. Watch footage of Arnold Galiffa at West Point - YouTube - Arnold Anthony Galiffa.
George Kenneth "Ken" Griffey - class of 1969 - born in Donora in 1950, not only was Kenny the senior dance king, but he was also a four-sport star whose 1967 and 1968 football teams went undefeated his junior and senior year going 16-0-1. Teaming with the likes of Malcom Lomax, Kenny was an outstanding wide receiver on those teams with over 1,000 receiving yards as a junior and scoring 152 points over those two "return-to-glory" years catching passes from "Pope" Galiffa's nephew -- Bernie Galiffa (1968), who broke Joe Namath's WPIAL passing records and had success at West Virginia University, and Ken's brother Fred (1970), including the final TD for Donora High School at Legion Field. Not only did Kenny co-captain the football team, but the basketball team as well. The basketball team won three straight section titles when Kenny played, and his team went 22-1 his senior year. He set school records by scoring 40 points and 27 rebounds in different games. The 1968-69 Donora teams would be the last to play as Donora Dragons when Donora would merge with Monongahela to form a new school district called Ringgold. While Ken had college scholarship offers for football and basketball, he also happened to be a pretty good baseball player too. Kenny's father Buddy was also a multi- sports star for Donora and played baseball with Stan Musial, so Kenny came from a good baseball lineage. After a tryout with the Cincinnati Reds, Ken was drafted in 1969 in the 29th round and signed to a minor league contract. It was also in 1969 that Kenny had started a family and had a son named George Kenneth Griffey II, now known as Ken Griffey Jr. (who shares the same birth date as Stan Musial - November 21.) At the end of the 1973 season, Kenny was called up to play on the famous Cincinnati "Big Red Machine" teams that dominated National League play in the 1970s and won the World Series in 1975 and 1976. In 1976, Kenny batted .336, but finished second for the batting title. In 1981, Griffey was traded to the New York Yankees, then in 1986 to the Atlanta Braves, then in 1988 back to Cincinnati, and then in 1991 to the Seattle Mariners - finishing his career after 19 seasons. While in Seattle, he teamed with his son Ken Griffey Jr. to become the first father and son duo to play in the same game, same outfield and hit back-to-back homers. Ken finished his career with a .296 batting average with 2,193 hits, 859 RBIs and 152 home runs. He was a three time All-Star and once an All-Star Game MVP. Kenny was inducted into the Cincinnati Red Hall of Fame in 2004. After years of coaching and managing with the Cincinnati Reds minor league affiliates, Ken is now retired from baseball. A prostate cancer survivor, Kenny raises awareness and money for that cause, as well as youth sports in Donora where a field is named in his honor along with his lifelong friend Joe Perrotta.
Click on the ESPN: The Man and The Kid link for the July 2016 story on Ken Jr., Stan Musial, Ken Sr. and Joe Perrotta. Watch footage of Ken Griffey Sr. - YouTube - Ken Griffey Sr. playing outfield in 1985 or YouTube - 1980 MLB All-Star Game MVP award presentation to Ken Griffey or a tribute from his sons Ken Jr. and Craig - YouTube - Ken Griffey Sr. - Father of the Year or a YouTube - 2020 MLB Network - Junior: Father and Son. Click on the YouTube - Ken Sr. signs with Seattle to play with Ken Jr. link to see when Ken Sr. signed to play with Ken Jr. in Seattle. Click on the YouTube - Ken Jr. interview about where he was born link to hear Ken Jr.'s indirect mention of Donora.
Donora natives Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr. were featured in the pregame festivities of the 2022 edition of the MLB Field of Dreams game. YouTube - 2022 MLB Network - Field of Dreams pregame - short version and YouTube - 2022 MLB Network - Field of Dreams pregame - long version.
But in Donora, we always felt that we were much more than just sports. Sure, sports played a big part in our entertainment and was a relief from the hard-scrabble steel mill life, but from the very beginnings, Donora has always been proud of the school system that also educated our youth. There are other people in other professions that also contributed to our "Home of Champions" title that received their foundation in our schools. A few of the other Dragons who went on to distinguished careers in their own right are:
Reggie B. Walton - class of 1967 - even though Reggie took football and track seriously in high school, he didn't neglect his academics. Reggie did well enough in football to receive a scholarship to West Virginia State College where he played for three years as a running back, but an injury inhibited him playing his senior year. Always a good student, Reggie received his BA degree in 1971. He went on to American University, Washington College of Law and received his Juris Doctorate in 1974. Mr. Walton started his law profession as a staff attorney in the Defender Association of Philadelphia from 1974 to 1976. Walton would leave Philadelphia for Washington D.C. to join the United States Attorney's Office and held various positions from 1976 to 1981. In 1981. President Ronald Reagan, and again in 1991 by President George H. W. Bush, appointed Walton as an Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia from 1981 to 1989 and 1991 to 2001. Between 1989 and 1991, Judge Walton served as President Bush's Associate Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the Executive Office of the President and a President of Bush's Senior White House Advisor for Crime. In 2001, Judge Walton assumed the position as a United States District Judge for the District of Columbia after being nominated to the position by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the United States Senate. In 2012, Judge Walton presided over the case in which Major League Baseball player Roger "The Rocket" Clemons was acquitted of allegedly obstructing and lying to Congress in denying he used performance enhancing drugs during his playing career. In 2013, Judge Walton was appointed to his current position by U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts to head the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. In 2016, Judge Walton reached senior status and stands next to his portrait that will hang in the courthouse. Judge Walton taught on various levels as a faculty member at the National Judicial College in Reno, NV, and at Harvard University Law School in Boston, MA. Judge Walton has been active in working with the youth of the Washington D.C. area and throughout the nation. He has served as a Big Brother and frequently speaks at schools throughout the Washington Metropolitan area concerning drugs, crime and personal responsibility. Watch footage of Judge Walton - YouTube - Pathways to the Bench. 
Manuel L. Ibanez - class of 1953 - knowing since the age of 10 that he always wanted to be a teacher, upon graduation from Donora High School, Manuel continued his education at Wilmington College, Ohio and earned a BS degree in 1957. Manuel then went on to the Pennsylvania State University and earned his MS degree in 1959, and his PHD degree in 1961 in bacteriology and biochemistry. After teaching biology and biochemistry at universities such as Bucknell, UCLA, LSU and University of New Orleans, Dr. Ibanez became President at Texas A&M University in 1989 and served in that capacity until 1998 when he retired. Through the United Nations, Dr. Ibanez taught the use of radioisotopes in agriculture throughout Central and South America. He also participated in a National Science Foundation expedition on the Amazon River discovering a new type of beetle that was named in his honor. In 1994, Dr. Ibanez was appointed by President Bill Clinton as a regent at the Smithsonian Institute (in the photo, Dr. Ibanez holds an antique phonograph). Dr. Ibanez is also a member of the Texas-Israel Exchange Board, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Joint Council on Food and Agricultural Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Ibanez still teaches at the local community college where he lives in Corpus Christi, Texas. 
William C. Jones - class of 1960 - always an excellent student and band member, Bill was also a track member in high school and lettered three years winning the high and low hurdles and finishing second in the long jump his senior year at the Mon Valley Track and Field meet. After graduation, Bill was appointed to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado to further his education. While at Air Force, Bill continued in track and lettered four years and was the team captain his senior year. After graduating from Air Force, Bill was commissioned to Second Lieutenant in 1964 and received his BS degree in military science with anticipation of making a career in the military. Lt. Jones immediately started to train as a fighter pilot shortly after the beginning of the Vietnam War. From 1964 to 1967, Lt. Jones continued his fighter pilot training around the country and rose to the rank of First Lieutenant. Also in 1967, Lt. Jones was assigned to the 333rd Tactical Fighter Squadron at Takhli, Thailand, where he flew 189 combat missions, 123 of those over North Vietnam, for over 562 combat hours. After his tour of duty in Vietnam, Lt. Jones returned stateside to resume his military career at various Air Force bases around the country, mostly in Virginia, and rising through the ranks of Captain in 1971, Major in 1976, Lieutenant Colonel in 1982, Colonel in 1992, and then finally to Brigadier General in 1998. He also advanced as a fighter pilot to F-16 Fighting Falcons with over 6,000 flying hours. General Jones retired in 2001 as the Assistant Adjutant General for Air at the Headquarters of the Virginia Air National Guard, based at Richmond International Airport in Sandston, Virginia with numerous major awards and decorations including the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star and Vietnam Service Medal. After retirement, Jones was a corporate pilot for a while, as well as a high school track coach. He now participates in a community band in Virginia where he has made a home with his family. General Jones returned to Donora in 2011 to serve as the Grand Marshal of the Monongahela Valley Veteran's Day parade.
Dorval Carter - class of 1952 - Born in 1935, in high school Dorval was the Senior Class President and heavily involved in his academics, as well as band and chorus. Dorval was also a gifted piano and saxophone player, and before graduating high school, Dorval pursued his passion and studied music at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. He and a few friends had also started a small band and would play at polkas and weddings all over Western Pennsylvania. After high school, Dorval would leave Pennsylvania to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C., to continue to pursue music, initially enrolling as a music major. Recognizing early on that life as a musician would be difficult, he switched his major to chemistry, but music never left his heart. During his sophomore year, Dorval met his future wife Vivian, winning her over with his deftness on the piano. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa in chemistry in 1956 from Howard, Dorval was sent to Fort Sam Houston as part of the Army Medical Service Corps. Upon completing his military service, he returned to Howard and received his medical degree in 1962. Dr. Carter and his wife moved to Chicago, Vivian's hometown, where he started his residency at Cook County Hospital. His practice and his reputation as being a skilled and caring physician grew over the next half century and would be dedicated to improving the quality of care for the women of the city. He worked at several local hospitals, including Cabrini Hospital, where he served as the chairman of the obstetrics and gynecology department from 1976 until the hospital closed about 20 years later. He then joined St. Anthony Hospital, on the West Side, in a similar capacity and served generations of patients. He also taught at Northwestern University's College of Medicine. In 1990, Dr. Carter was appointed by Mayor Richard M. Daley to serve as the commissioner and officer of the Illinois Medical District. Dr. Carter served as a role model for many residents and was a trusted colleague, said doctors and nurses who worked with him. As a tribute to the doctor's work, St. Anthony's maternity center was renamed the Dr. Dorval and Vivian Carter Family Birthing Center. He also became the first recipient of the lifetime achievement award at St. Anthony's. Dr. Dorval Carter died in 2007.
Florence E. Dunyak (Gwyer - Gantt) - class of 1957 - Florence Elizabeth Dunyak was born in Donora in 1940. Florence, or Flo, was very active in high school and was a good student, where she participated in the Girls Athletic League, Student Council, National Honor Society and was even a class officer. After graduating in 1957, Flo attended Business Training College in Pittsburgh and graduated cum laude in 1958. Soon after, Flo took her first job with the Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation, Southside Works, Pittsburgh and worked there until 1963 when she married Jack Gwyer of Monessen and they moved to Washington D.C. where he was working in the government. In September 1963, Florence accepted a position with the National Security Council (NSC) at the White House as one of the secretaries to the National Security Advisor that reported to the President of the United States - John F. Kennedy. Just a few short months later in November, President Kennedy was assassinated, and Lyndon B. Johnson became President. By 1968, Florence began working in the White House Situation Room for the NSC in the West Wing. In 1969, Florence moved to the Front Office of the NSC in the West Wing, when Richard M. Nixon was elected President. Florence was one of the secretaries to the National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, when in July 1971, they travelled on an around the world trip as he prepared for his secret trip to China that would set up the February 1972 trip with President Nixon and himself on the historic visit to Communist China, the first by a President in more than two decades, where Florence personally met and sat in on meetings with Premier Chou En-Lai. Florence also travelled with National Security Advisor General Brent Scowcroft on a secret mission to Beijing, China, to get a first-hand report for President George H. W. Bush on the Tiananmen Square incident. She also travelled with General Scowcroft to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, during the Gulf War on a special Presidential mission. After the passing of her first husband in 1978, Florence married Army Colonel Bob Gantt in 1980. Florence worked in the NSC for 30 years under seven Presidents: Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bush, and eleven National Security Advisors that included Kissinger, Scowcroft and General Colin L. Powell. Florence travelled many times on Air Force One with multiple Presidents and Security Advisors, as well as on Marine One, the Presidential helicopter. She travelled to 58 countries and 25 states and two U.S. territories and worked at the various Presidential retreats that included San Clemente and Santa Barbara, California; Kennebunkport, Maine; and Camp David, Maryland. Florence personally met many Heads of State, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Princes and a King - to name a few: Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union, Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain, King Fahd and HRH Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia, and Premier Deng Xiaoping of the People's Republic of China. With President Bush, she had an audience with Pope John Paul II and also met Mother Theresa. After 30 years of service, and with the title of "Special Assistant to the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs", Florence retired from the U.S. Government in 1993 and was presented with a medal for "Special Award for Exceptional Service" by President Bush. Florence worked for two more years in private industry with General Scowcroft and then officially retired in 1995. Today, Florence is a grandmother to 14 grandchildren and is very active in her church. A TribLive article titled "Donora always welcome destination for Gantt" featured Florence Dunyak Gannt.
To learn more about these and other Donora Dragons and their success stories in sports or in other professions, please stop by the Smog Museum.
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