BY JACK SMILES
Bernie Stiroh has been retired 14 years, but he’s never been bored. Stiroh, with the help of his wife Nancy and friend Mike Lizonitz, launched duryeapa.com in 2007 as a repository for all things Duryea history. Through newspaper stories and Facebook, they called for items of Duryea history. Within three weeks they had 300 pictures. By the end of the year, 1,000. Today there are more than 60,000 photographs and images of yearbook pages, street directories, military rosters, naturalization records, school board minutes, newspaper articles, funeral and cemetery records from 1900-1960 and too much more to list.
Now the website has hit a wall. Stiroh and his wife are pushing 80. Lizonitz, the site’s webmaster, is 80 and living in South Carolina, where he is busy with grandchildren. Sources are drying up anyway.
“We haven’t posted anything on the website in months,” Stiroh said.
What items he does get he is putting in a folder he calls, “Duryea Great Pictures and Reference Guide,” which he is going to donate to local libraries, historical societies and the state archives. He’s most interested in coal mines, trains, street scenes, saloons and sports.
Even without website growth, he is as busy as ever, taking phone calls and reading emails from people looking for historical information about, or ancestors from Duryea. He said a historical society from Minnesota contacted him after a local resident out there dropped off vintage Duryea photos. They were mostly portraits. Most had no names, but one group was identified as the Dehaba family.
“I tracked him down. And sent him 70 pictures,” Stiroh said.
Things like that happen from time to time. He’s heard from people from all over the country.
Stiroh has also dug deep into his own roots in Germany and Eastern Europe, back to the 1600s. He found a living cousin in Poland who he keeps in touch with. He had so much fun doing it he said he will do free genealogical research for past and present Duryea families. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His latest venture into the past is colorizing vintage Duryea related photographs. He told Duryea community columnist Jackie Borthwick-Galvin he is offering the colorizing service for free to the public.
“The criteria,” he wrote in an email to Borthwick-Galvin, “are as follows: the photos must be from 1960 or earlier and focus on stores, saloons, farms, fire companies, police officers, the Lackawanna River and bridges, street scenes, schools, coal mines, miners, sporting events, churches, church picnics, carnivals, parades, etc. Family photos also may be submitted if nearby Duryea streets or houses are in the background.”
He is especially interested in photos of Marcy Park and Duryea Rec, a bowling venue once owned by Gene Guarilia’s father. Before Guarilia owned it, it was Ostrowski’s, where Duryea High School played basketball in the 1920s and 30s.
Black and white photos should be scanned and saved as jpeg files and then emailed to email@example.com. They will be colorized and returned to the sender.
Stiroh said the results of the colorization app he uses is “terrific, though not necessarily accurate.” For example, the stripes on the football jerseys in the photo shown below were blue. Even so, the colorization brings out details not apparent in black and white. For example, the older colorized photo below shows the streets were dirt. That knowledge, plus some Pittston Gazette newspaper articles, helped Stiroh nail down the pavement timeline in Duryea.
Though Stiroh hasn’t lived full time in Duryea since he graduated high school in 1962, it’s fair to call him a one-man Duryea historical society who has, albeit with help from his wife and Lizonitz, put together a history of the borough as thorough as that of any other Greater Pittston municipality — and better than most.
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org