Marge Tarola’s father and husband worked a combined 82 1/2 years in some of Bethlehem Steel's most dangerous areas. Dad John Stummer was a crane operator in the Saucon beam yards, while Daniel Tarola labored in the 12 and 18 inch rolling mill.
Joe Herman Jr.‘s dad toiled in the beam yard for 28 years of long, irregular shifts that often took him away from children and family events.
And State Sen. Lisa Boscola remembers with pride and gratitude her father, Richard Stofko, called “Hunky” by his fellow workers, who sweated in the plant’s BOF (basic oxygen furnace) for decades and served as a shop steward for USW Local 2599.
They, along with the families of former men and women steelworkers, viewed the names of their loved ones etched on a Steel Tribute Wall at Bethlehem’s ArtsQuest Center that sits in the shadow of five silent Bethlehem Steel blast furnaces.
All remembered the sights and sounds of the country's second largest steelmaker in its prime, and told of the sadness that enveloped when the company filed for bankruptcy and eventually was sold in 2003.
On Sunday, ArtsQuest unveiled a wall on the first floor of the center that honors the thousands of Bethlehem Steel men and women who sweltered, slaved and shouldered the burden of building America’s steel foundations.
More than 150 names are currently on the wall, as others are being invited to participate in the project with a $250 contribution. The names surround a single steelworker's portrait. Participants were invited to be photographed in front of the wall.
ArtsQuest President Jeff Parks told the gathering that “as a community and a country, you cannot know where you are going unless you know where you’ve been.” The $26 million center, he said, “celebrates the culture of our community,” and pays tribute to those “who built this country.” He thanked all of the families who contributed to the project to make it a reality.
Filmmaker Bruce J. Ward, a rigger for 22 years, who now serves on the board of the Steelworkers’ Archives, said the event was “bittersweet,” with the industrial giant’s demise impacting lives, and the new development on the site offering a future for the community. The ArtsQuest glass and steel structure, an arts, culture and entertainment hub, debuted in May.
“If you didn’t work at Steel, you can’t imagine the scope of this place,” with its 15,000 workers and its dirty, greasy, dusty, hot, dangerous environment, said Ward.
“Over 700 men died here,” where Navy ships and guns were forged and “where men and women made steel, steel that built this country."
Ward, who has been documenting the steel industry since 1990, has been involved in the production of seven films chronicling the industry. He edited the documentary, “Remembering the Last Cast at Bethlehem Steel: Proud Spirit Arising” written by Billee Nickell Smith, and premiered in 2006.
“My earliest memories were the noises of the cold saws from the beam yards,” recalled Ward of Bethlehem.
The Steelworkers’ Archives is gathering as many oral and video histories about Bethlehem’s industrial past as possible before they are lost to time, added Ward.