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It's a small world after all

By Ben Montgomery
Published June 22, 2007


Sometimes fate strikes us odd. We bump into someone from Boston who knows our great aunt Lou in Jackson Hole, Wyo. We take our seat on an airplane beside someone who graduated from high school with our brother. We find ourselves living among people with connections to the places to which we're connected. This is one of those stories.

Meet Art Schmidt.

Art is a good-natured man who grew up in McKeesport, Pa., a steel town at the confluence of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers outside of Pittsburgh. In the 1950s, about 55, 000 people lived in McKeesport. The steel mills went quiet in the 1970s, the economy dried up and McKeesport now has 20, 000 people.

Art went to McKeesport High School, one of 800 seniors in 1948. He joined the Air Force, worked in air traffic control, retired in 1984 and came to live in Amherst, Ohio. He was a snowbird at Rice Creek RV Park in Riverview until he moved full time in 1995 to nearby Hacienda Heights, a close-knit mobile home park on U.S. 301, which is where this story begins.

JULY, 2005: Art Schmidt, now 77, is flipping through the monthly Hacienda Heights neighborhood newsletter when he stumbles across a picture of Ed and Charlotte Bednarovsky.

And then, beneath the photo, he sees this: McKeesport, Pa.

"Holy mackerel, " he thinks.

He picks up the phone, and a short time later he is eating cookies with Ed Bednarovsky, McKeesport High School Class of '51.

Art, meet Ed Bednarovsky.

Ed's brother had been trying to talk Ed and his wife, Charlotte, into moving to Florida. They finally found a place with decent rent and landed at Hacienda Heights.

When Art calls, Ed chalks it up to coincidence.

Then things got weird.

APRIL, 2006: Charlotte is chatting with a neighbor, who just happens to mention that his wife is from Pennsylvania - a little town called McKeesport.

So Charlotte mentions to the man that her husband is from McKeesport, and isn't that weird, and guess what? There's another man from McKeesport in the park, Art Schmidt, and maybe they should get together sometime. So they do, and Ed and Art meet Ryna Ball, McKeesport High School Class of '63.

Art, Ed, meet Ryna Ball.

Ryna, it turns out, left McKeesport for St. Petersburg with a girlfriend after high school. She married, and her husband worked in Mulberry, in Polk County. So they wound up a few miles north of here in Seffner until they found Hacienda Heights last March. What are the odds, they all wonder. Three people from the same high school independently moving to a trailer park 1, 034 miles away?

That's not the end.

THANKSGIVING, 2006: Art again is flipping through the neighborhood newsletter. Again, he sees something familiar.

Again, he picks up the phone.

"You don't know me, " Art says, "but ..."

On May 7, Art, Ed and Ryna gather in the living room of Lorna Stone, the newest resident of Hacienda Heights, born at 225 1/2 Erie St., McKeesport, Pa., Class of 1969.

Art, Ed, Ryna, meet Lorna Stone.

"It's uncanny, " says Art, shaking his head. "There's no rationale for it."

"It's a small world, " says Ed.

They talk about roller skating at Olympia Park, about eating Klondike bars, about the sawdust floors at Balsamo's grocery store, about the smells of Stalling Bakery, about dancing at the Palisades and shopping at G.C. Murphy Co.

They drink coffee and eat dessert and laugh about old times.

They talk about how strange it is that they all walked the same hallways 1, 000 miles away, and how they ended up here, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the same living room for a photograph.

Art's 1948 McKeesport High School yearbook sits on the coffee table. Inside is a quote for the graduates:

Good old days, so full of fun

Oh, that they had just begun.

 

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or 813 661-2443.