Local 12 (Pittsburgh, Pa.) retiree Jeff Matthews was recently announced as the winner of the Belonging and Excellence for All (BE4ALL) fall challenge, which asked members to answer the question: “How did you become a SMART member?” Read Brother Matthews’ story below:

“When I was in high school, I knew I was not cut out for college, nor could I afford to go. Trade school for junior and senior years was an option. Of all the class options available, I thought about auto mechanics or auto body repair. Both would be fun for a hobby, [but] not a career, unless I had my own business. There was a heating and air conditioning class I felt was interesting and could lead to a career.

“In my senior year, my instructor was impressed with my aptitude and progress. He suggested for another student and myself to take both the steamfitter and sheet metal apprentice tests.

“I must admit: At age 17, I was not really interested in spending a Saturday of my time and paying a fee to take a test for a sheet metal union I knew nothing about. (At that time, I was unaware of union versus nonunion.)

“Something told me I needed to go through with this. The test was in a University of Pittsburgh lecture hall and filled to capacity. It was a timed test. At the conclusion, I was surprised that there were many participants that did not finish all the questions.

Matthews won a commemorative golden hardhat and a $100 gift card for his story.

“Several weeks later, I received my acceptance letter, which pleased my trade school instructor greatly. During orientation, they asked how many sons, daughters or friends of sheet metal workers there were. I was in the minority of people that didn’t know and/or were not related to a union member. (So goes the myth that you need to be related to or know someone to be accepted into the union.)

“I graduated high school in May and started working for Local 12 on July 1st. Apprentice school started in the fall, and one of the layout books we were using was the same one I used in trade school, so I was familiar with the beginning.

“I worked with great journeyworkers who took time to show me procedures and answer my questions. When I showed interest in following the blueprints and not just the task at hand, they would show me and challenge me to figure out the next step. This, along with my apprentice school training, prepared me to become a foreman once I became a journeyman.

“I have had a very successful career as a sheet metal worker. I was able to provide for my family, take yearly vacations and send my daughter to college (with the help of a union scholarship).

“Without my teacher’s recommendation, this all could not have happened. I’m sure I could have made a living in heating and air conditioning, but it would not been as fulfilling as it has been as a union sheet metal journeyman.

“I am enjoying my retirement thanks to the union pension I paid into throughout my career.”

SMART Local 12 (southwestern Pennsylvania) retiree George MacGregor says that the decision he made to join the union – a decision more than 50 years old – has changed his life for the better, with his union pension providing him “dignity and grace” in his golden years. Read more in his BE4ALL member story:   

“My story started back in 1969. I was working a minimum wage job and was married to my wife at the time. Her father was a union sheet metal worker, a foreman for a union company – and he asked me if I would like to work like him, in the union. So, I decided to go and see if I could work for the union.

“I got in as a permit worker, and I worked on permit for about six months before getting laid off. At that point, I decided to take the test to get in. Out of about 200 applicants, I scored 19th place. Several weeks later, I got a call and was asked if I would like an apprenticeship – so with no hesitation, I said yes.

“The main reasons I became a sheet metal worker were: 1. I wanted to get a better job. 2. I liked working with my hands. 3. I had a future in the union. 4. And there was also the fact that there was a pension in the future. My life was changed for the better, and now I have earned a pension and also earned a decent amount with my social security, so I can stay retired with dignity and grace. I want to thank the SMART International and Local 12 for my pension.”

SM Local 25 (northern New Jersey) President/ Business Manager Joe Demark presented Frank Creegan with a plaque in honor of his 59 years of service, including as a trustee for the local’s Welfare, Annuity & Vacation Funds. Congratulations, brother!

Frank Creegan

Left-Right: Former business manager and William’s son, Ken Greiner; Local 12 member William A. Greiner, aged 93; Business Rep. Geoff Foringer; former Business Rep. Dave Zychowski; Business Rep. Kevin Malley; former Business Manager and William’s son, Bob Greiner; William’s son and Local 12 member Bill Greiner; and William’s grandson and Local 12 member Ben Greiner

Longtime Local 12 (western Pa.) member and former Business Representative William Greiner passed away on March 11, 2023, at the age of 103. Greiner not only led a fulfilling life as a sheet metal worker, a unionist and an engaged retiree; he helped forge a deep personal and familial legacy within SMART.

“The Greiner family has a long, rich history embedded in the fabric of Local 12,” said Local 12 Business Rep. Geoff Foringer. “William had three sons, a son-in-law and two grandsons in the trade — two sons, Bob and Ken, were business representatives and went on to be business managers of Local 12.”

Greiner served in the United States Navy as a sub chaser during World War II before entering the sheet metal trade; he would live the rest of his life — 77 years — as a proud member of Local 12, including 18 years as a business rep. He ended up collecting a pension for longer than his years of service, Foringer added, and he was the definition of an active retiree: In addition to Local 12 activities, Greiner was an enthusiastic participant in Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) events, as well as an avid gardener.

“Bill loved to dance and was always the life of the party,” Greiner’s Legacy.com obituary reads. “Bill cherished his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.”

In 2015, the SMART Members’ Journal published an article on the legacy of the Greiner family, noting at the time that, collectively, the family had contributed more than 480 years of service to the local. As we honor and remember William Greiner, it is clear that at least several generations — both in the Greiner family and beyond — benefited greatly from the more than seven decades he served as a SMART member.

“He lived a full and active life,” Foringer concluded.

Friday, Nov. 13, 1942: Spotlights speared across the velvet darkness in the waters North of Guadalcanal as an outgunned group of American warships crossed paths with two Japanese battleships and their escorts. As quickly as the lights flicked on, the amber glow of gunfire shredded the intense black veil that had provided temporary sanctuary.  

Autumn, 2022: This is the climatic setting of the story Kyle von Bergen and his friend Dylan hear from a great-grandfather Kyle had never met until he moved in with the 15-year-old and his mother. It’s also the dramatic conclusion of a story that will affect Kyle in ways he wouldn’t have imagined when he heard the old man was coming to stay. Kyle had enough on his hands: adjusting to high school and dealing with a bully who harbored a long-time grudge against the young man. Would this story tip the scales or give Kyle the strength to carry on? 

That’s the set-up of The Burning Sea of Iron Bottom Bay – Local 73 (Chicago and Cook County, Ill.) retiree Rich Rostron’s recently published young adult novel. The book tells the story of Kyle, a teenager struggling to acclimate to high school, life in a small apartment with his recently divorced mother, and a new relationship with his great-grandfather – a WWII veteran whose thrilling wartime tales unexpectedly draw Kyle in.

“This is a tale of courage and heroism from a bygone time,” said Rostron. “But it’s also a timeless story of learning to deal with hard times and overwhelming challenges. It’s a story of the kind of strength we need now as much as ever.” 

Rostron worries that young Americans today have lost track of the sacrifices made by veterans throughout our country’s history. “That’s one of the reasons I wrote this book, and wrote it for young adults and teens,” he said. “But I also recall that I was about that age when I was introduced to the wonders between the covers of books in the library. It was the start of a life-long passion that I’d like to share with others.”

In addition to serving his community as a sheet metal worker since starting his apprenticeship around 1980, Rostron has spent time as a freelancer with The Chicago Tribune and numerous other publications, was sports editor with The Woodstock Independent and served as the advisor to The Tartan, the student newspaper at McHenry County College. And he isn’t slowing down now.

“This is the first in a series of books I plan to write about American history,” Rostron explained. “I recently completed a research trip to New England for several books I want to write about the American Revolution.” 

Find The Burning Sea of Iron Bottom Bay at Barnes and Noble, Kindle and other outlets.

On August 31, 2021, the Local Union Officer and International Staff Retiree’s Club met in historic St. Charles, Missouri, with 56 attendees gathering for a cocktail reception, luncheon, meeting and a trip to Missouri wine country. As part of the meeting, union woodworker Jim Langsdorf crafted a tinner’s hammer made of solid hickory (pictured) in memory of past Regional Director Mike Krasovec.

Please join the Local Union Officer and International Staff Retiree’s Club for its 2022 meeting at the Isleta Casino and Hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico on August 30. Contact Tom Wilkens (618-407-5570/618-473-9384) or Larry Tucker (636-577-4312) for more information.

Local 19 retiree Keith Gilmer

Thanks to the strong support of his SMART pension, retired SM Local 19 (Southeastern Pa.) member Keith Gilmer has been able to spend plenty of time pursuing one of his passions: the outdoors.

“As a member, I was able to retire at the age of 55, and enjoy a few more years of good health than a lot of friends I know,” he explained. “I have been fortunate enough to make several hunting trips, and on my most recent one, I traveled to Newfoundland on a moose hunt.” Gilmer joined Mountaintop Outfitters — including the owner of the company, Art — for a successful trip: “I harvested a nice bull with a 40-and-a-half-inch spread … Previously I harvested, along with other bulls, a woodland caribou that is currently in the Boone and Crockett world record books.”

Because he was able to retire at 55 years old, Gilmer has the opportunity to devote a great number of years to exploring the natural world. It’s not something he takes for granted. “Thanks to groups like the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, along with our local unions, we get to enjoy parts of our ‘golden years’ outdoors,” he added. “Thank you for your past support, as well as the days and years to come.”

GREAT FALLS, Mont. – A Montana resident believed to be the world’s oldest man celebrated his 114th birthday Tuesday at a retirement home in Great Falls, the Great Falls Tribune reports.

Walter Breuning was born on Sept. 21, 1896, in Melrose, Minnesota, and moved to Montana in 1918, where he worked as a clerk for the Great Northern Railway for 50 years.

His wife, Agnes, a railroad telegraph operator from Butte, died in 1957. The couple had no children.

Breuning inherited the distinction of being the world’s oldest man in July 2009 when Briton Henry Allingham died at age 113. Allingham had joked that the secret to long life was “Cigarettes, whisky and wild, wild women — and a good sense of humor,” according to Guinness World Records.

The Guinness organization and the Gerontology Research Group each have verified Breuning as the world’s oldest man and the fourth-oldest person. Three women were born earlier in the same year as Breuning.

Robert Young, senior consultant for gerontology for Guinness World Records, presented Breuning with a copy of the book’s 2011 edition that lists him as the record holder.

“Walter wasn’t in last year’s edition,” Young joked. “He was too young.”

The Great Falls Tribune reported that Breuning gave a speech before about 100 people at an invitation-only birthday party at the Rainbow Retirement Community, with a guest list that included Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and representatives from Guinness World Records.

Breuning was helped up to a lectern from his motorized cart, appearing somewhat frail but speaking with a strong voice.

He recalled “the dark ages,” when his family moved to South Dakota in 1901 and lived for 11 years without electricity, water or plumbing.

“Carry the water in. Heat it on the stove. That’s what you took your bath with. Wake up in the dark. Go to bed in the dark. That’s not very pleasant,” he said.

He said men and women may be able to enjoy life, but they can’t be content without a belief or faith. His parting message to the crowd was one of tolerance.

“With all the hatred in this world, in this good world, let us be kind to one another,” Breuning said.

Breuning has celebrity status at the retirement home, with visitors waiting in line to see him, Ray Milversted, 92, told the Tribune.

Tina Bundtrock, executive director of the Rainbow, said the home has adopted a policy of scheduling visits with Breuning by appointment, so he’s not taxed by people dropping in to see him.

Before his birthday party, Breuning declined to name a favorite among the 114 years he has seen.

“Every year is the same,” Breuning told the Great Falls newspaper.

But he criticized one modern invention — the computer.

“When the computer came out, that was one of the worst things,” Breuning said. “They laid off all the clerks on the railroad.”

But, he added, “Every change is good.”

(This item appeared Sept. 22, 2010, in the Tribune.)

PRESCOTT, Ariz. – John Stevenson can relate to the thousands of people who flock to the Peavine Trail each year to take in the imposing views of Granite Dells, the Daily Courier reports.

In a completely different era, Stevenson also spent plenty of time walking and riding through the scenic corridor. Only, for him, the trips were not recreational, and they occurred either alongside a train or on one.

Even though the Peavine route was a regular one for Stevenson in his years as a railroad brakeman on the route, he said the views were not lost on the crew.

“It was beautiful – especially when you got into the Granite Dells area,” said Stevenson, 73, now a retired railroad worker living in Clarkdale. “We had to get out sometimes and walk it. I remember walking alongside the train, looking at the views.”

(Stevenson is an Alumni Association member and retiree of Local 113, Winslow, Ariz.)

Some of those memories likely will be front and center this week when Stevenson and a group of several dozen of his former Peavine coworkers meet for a reunion at a restaurant in Prescott.

“It’s an annual get-together of all of the guys who worked on that railroad,” Stevenson said noting that the Peavine stretched from Phoenix to Williams. He expects about 40 former employees to gather for the event, including a number who still live in the Prescott area.

Stevenson, who retired in 1998 after working for the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad for 44 years, began his career in 1954, when Prescott was still the major base for the line.

For a time in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Stevenson was one of the 50 to 60 people who lived in Prescott and worked on the railroad.

He vividly remembers the day in 1960 when railroad officials announced that the company would build a new route that would bypass Prescott.

“We were pretty despondent,” Stevenson said of hearing the news. “We thought, ‘Prescott’s going to dry up.’ The town just went ballistic.”

Stevenson also recalled the event in one of several historic essays he wrote about his days working on the Peavine. “I felt bad that Prescott would probably become a ghost town, Whiskey Row would dry up, and Buckey O’Neill would ride off into the sunset,” he wrote.

By 1962, the new bypass route through the Drake area was complete, and the Prescott route became a “spur line,” which Stevenson said got less and less use. Ultimately in the 1980s, he said, “God intervened,” and a major storm washed out sections of the Prescott spur, leading the railroad to abandon the line.

Even so, Stevenson maintains that there is value in remembering the Peavine route’s heyday.

“When I was young, I used to love listening to the stories” from the older railroad workers, Stevenson said, noting that some of his early coworkers began their careers when Arizona was a still a territory.

“The Prescott portion of the Peavine was an important part of Yavapai County history,” Stevenson said, adding “there are very few people left” with personal experience working the route.

The Peavine reunion will take place at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the China Buffet Restaurant at 201 Walker Road.

(This item appeared Aug. 9, 2010, in the Daily Courier. Additional information added by UTU editors.)

UTU retiree John Hageman was recently re-elected to his fourth four-year term as city councilman in Fitzgerald, Ga.

This is not surprising, since the 84-year-old Hageman’s forefathers helped found the town back in 1895.

Fitzgerald is a town of about 9,500 residents in south central Georgia. Hageman started railroading in 1950 as a trainman on the Atlantic Coast Line, now part of CSX.

He retired in 1988 after 38 years of service. He is a lifetime member of Local 1790, Fitzgerald.

“I am an energetic person, always have been,” he said. “After I retired in 1988, a job came open on the city council, and I have always said I would try anything once.

“I am a direct descendent of those who founded Fitzgerald in 1895, so I ran for the office. I was up against some big odds; I ended up running against and defeating the son of my lawyer.

“Fitzgerald is actually a Yankee town in south Georgia,” Hageman explained. “A Union Army drummer boy, P.H. Fitzgerald from Indianapolis, got out after the war and wanted to create a place in the south where aging Union Army veterans could enjoy the warmer winters and have a good place to live out their years.

“My great grandfather was a Union Army veteran out of Indiana, and he was one of the original 2,500 who helped found this town.

“I just enjoy working and doing something for somebody,” he said. “If they come to me with a problem, I try to help them out.

“Mayor Gerald Thompson has been in office 42 years here, and we were both just re-elected to four more years.

“My campaign slogan was ‘Four more at 84.’ It has been very rewarding; I have no regrets whatsoever.”