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Lou DeVincentis was born July 26, 1939 in McKeesport, Pa., which is a suburb of Pittsburgh. His parents were Alfred DeVincentis and Josephine Park DeVincentis. His grandparents came over from Italy and settled in western Pennsylvania. The following is his oral history, as recorded and transcribed by Oldham County History Center Director Nancy Theiss. Photos submitted by DeVincentis. Portrait by Marian Klein Kohler.
We basically lived in the same neighborhood and my grandmother cooking, her Italian dinner on Sunday, that was really a treat. You have to realize that Italians like to start out with a salad, then a pasta dish and some type of a roast and potatoes and then dessert. I looked forward to her homemade spaghetti sauce. The ingredients are fresh and of course, every recipe is different and made different and I have the recipe from them that I use today and was handed down... “We had probably six or eight at the table- my grandmother had a hard time learning the English language and I would talk with her and she would start out in English and end up speaking Italian. My grandparents came through Ellis Island. My wife and I took a trip to New York, year before last, and went to Ellis Island. To me it meant a lot, because not only did my father’s parents come through Ellis Island but my mother’s parents as well. We found out at the time to get your name on the registry at Ellis Island when you came over from the old country, you had to pay a fee of $100 and very few immigrants had the $100 at the time. My mother’s parents came from Hungary. My mother was first generation. They lived in McKeesport but on the other end of town. “My mother’s parents were another learning experience for learning traditions and methods that had been handed down from their part of Europe. They made homemade leleischke and a dessert she made that had lattice work on top with peaches and cherries. My mother was one of seven girls and they all settled down in that area. On my father’s side of the family we had a reunion the first Saturday of August, until two years ago. On my mother’s side, everyone just got together, catch is as catch can. “I grew up under the old world values from both sets of my grandparents. For instance, the older people that lived in our neighborhood, you always addressed them as Misses or Mister or Sir. There was always respect for older people. When people fell on hard times the neighbors chipped in and took care of each other. Because next week, it may be you that needs help. They did not rely on government programs- they took care of each other. You see it today in some extent but not like then. “McKeesport was a steel town – it had three steel mills. My father worked in the Firth Sterling Steel and Carbide Corp and my grandfather, on my mother’s side, worked in the U. S. Steel Plant at National Tube. Where my father worked they made special alloy steel for carbide tip tools, hypodermic needles, sewing machine needles, it was all special alloy steel. And of course National Tube made more products back on the second World War. “One of the ingot mills that my father worked near would take a steel ingot and run it through a blast furnace and run it through rollers it would come out longer and thinner and then at the very end, it would come out right across the floor and they would roll it into tables and package it for shipment or storage. One day, when I was visiting my father at the mill, as the cable came across the floor, it hit a small bump and ran right through a fella’s ankle who was trying to grab it with a pair of tongs. “I have been very fortunate, we didn’t have a lot of luxuries, we had enough to eat and a roof overhead and in that respect, we learned the value of things- you appreciated what you had, you didn’t splurge on much of anything. When I was kid if you had 15 cents, a dime for movie and a nickel for a candy bar, you were in good shape for the weekend. Those were good memories and good time. “We lived in town and had a small backyard and the biggest thing the yard was used for was to hang clothes out to dry. We had four movie theatres. I started out at grade school at St. Mary’s German Catholic School and then we moved into Elizabeth township and I went to Elizabeth-Forward High School. I was in drama club, played some sports and tried to keep up with my studies. The high schools at that time, had a lot of dances. Different organizations like the girl’s athletic associations and the volunteer fire departments had sock hops. I lived out in the country at that time, about 5 miles from the high school. My father got a good deal on a piece of property so that is why we moved out in the country. We moved in before the start of my freshman year in high school. “My favorite baseball team is the Pirates. When I was a kid I spent a lot of time at Forbes Field, it was like Wrigley Field. It was a close field, friendly. One of my heroes was Ralph Kiner in the late 40s, early 50s. He was an outfielder and big homerun hitter. I took streetcar to the games, most of the times I went with the kids in the neighborhood. It cost $1.10 to get in the field and on Sundays, we made sure to go to the double headers. I saw Ted Williams from the Red Sox, Stan Musiel from St. Louis, players like that. “College was out of the question at that time and the steel mills were closing down [when I graduated from high school] and jobs were hard to find. I finally got a job with a Five and Ten called H. L. Green and they transferred me to here [Louisville]. I met my wife, Lorena Dean Shanks [Dee], through my work, she worked for me. We had two stores, one at Algonquin Shopping Center and one down on Fourth Street. Our first dates included going to Fontaine Ferry Park [near Shawnee Park]. We had a park back home called Kennywood. It’s still in existence today. It was similar to Fontaine Ferry and it brought back good memories. I liked the roller coasters. We had three different roller coasters at Kennywood and again, what made the amusement parks attractive to me is the fact that near Pittsburgh, Kennywood would have a day for individual school districts and they had ethnic days for people of different ethnic backgrounds. “Dee and I got married Oct. 30, 1959. We got married after work one night. The first house we bought was in the Rangeland area and we lived there a few years until I went on to the police department. I always wanted to either play ball or be a police officer. A curve ball, low and away, taught me that I was never going to be a ball player so I went to Plan B. I was very fortunate that worked out. I applied to the Jefferson County Police Department in Feb. of 1964 and was hired in April 1, 1965. At that time we had six weeks training, mostly taught by the FBI. I was on the police force for 26 years. “I wouldn’t give that up for anything. I worked in a lot of different areas in the police department – all of them were interesting. I hadn’t been on six months and Dupont blew up, out on Belle’s Lane. I was taking a car out for repair and they told me to go to Dupont and I was going in, a lot of people were coming out, and I thought ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’ and they had already had an explosion and some people had been killed. We stayed there all day long and of course the Army came in. “We had the tornadoes- in 74, we corridored off a certain area that had been devastated so we could prevent looting so rescue people could do their job. We stayed on those 12-hour shifts for something like 40 days. And there was open housing demonstrations and we worked with the Louisville police and of course there was busing. I remember, in busing, the first night I went over to Preston Highway, Preston and Dixie Highway looked like war zones. They had dumpsters in the middle of the streets on fire and some groups were trying to get in the school yards to burn school buses and we were trying to prevent that, and we did. And it was a shame because we were in the same situation as they were and knew what they were going through but we had a job to do.” [In recalling dangerous incidents] “We had an incident, with my friend [and officer], Bill Howard, a youngster who had become intoxicated and had a rifle and wanted to kill his father. He had run his sister out of the house and he was just irate, screaming and hollering. And just by his violent reaction to things, we were not sure what he would do and after 20 minutes or so, we talked him out of it. When we went into the house we went in on opposite sides so it would be difficult to shoot both of us.” [For Derby] “I loved to work with the Derby parade. One time I got to pick up Fess Parker, who was Davy Crockett on television, and took him to different parties. He was a fine, fine fellow. 1968 was the worst Derby I can remember working. It poured down rain, all day long. People were getting intoxicated and going down into the restrooms and the restrooms were filling up with water and we were pulling them out so they wouldn’t drown. People were just not at their nicest that day. “Our kids started out in local schools, we had four – Deb was the oldest, she was born in 1960, Denise was born in 61, Mark was born in 63 and David in 65. They all went to local schools when we lived in Fern Creek and then there was busing. And there was double sessions at that time and it was a nightmare for a while. Denise followed my career. When she expressed an interest I wanted to make sure it was her decision. There were times that she said she thought I didn’t want her to be in it but I told her it had to be her decision, not mine. She started with the Jefferson County Police Department and we were in the department together for seven years until I retired. As father and daughter, we were not in the same units at all. When she was on patrol, I was in the detective bureau, basically the homicide unit and then left homicide and went into internal affairs and she went into homicide. She retired in 2007 as a lieutenant. “My wife was working for Winn-Dixie when I was with the police force. I took off a year and a half after retirement and went to Europe. We went for three weeks. Then I went to Bigg’s and ran their bad checks for a few years and I came up to the courthouse in Oldham County – we had moved there in 1992, and went to the courthouse to get my license renewed. Pete Dunlap, who worked in the sheriff’s department at the time, was someone I had worked with in Jefferson County. Sheriff Sparrow offered me a job, Steve Sparrow, in 2000 and I have been here ever since. “Right now I am assigned to family court with Judge Feeley. I work three days a week. One thing, enlightening to me, after I attended additional schooling, was how much more the sheriff’s department has in criminal law and civil law. My duty is to maintain the security of the courtroom. I am inside the court as long as the judge is on the bench and there are hearings going on. “It is hard to realize how difficult things can get for certain people, in family court, until you hear their stories. In family court, emotions run high and you have to maintain order. In some cases, the feelings run so high, that they want to get even by just about any means and the sad part is that they use the kids against each other. The first things or main problem is denying visitation and making it difficult to make a visitation schedule and a lot of them associate child support with visitation. They are totally different but they may not see it that way. Physical fits, screaming, pushing, shoving, happens usually, out in the hall, before or after court. I have not yet, had to arrest anyone. “The holidays become a problem in a lot of cases, it’s down to counting hours, which child, for how many hours. That is sad. “I think we have seen innovations in the court such as the institute of family court. We have seen some new programs – but today we are dealing with more of a violent society that we did a few years ago. In my childhood, we went by old world values and today things have been loosened considerably. I don’t think there is the respect for other people – I have no idea why. A lot of the circumstances are outside influences – the pressure from peers for kids are much more severe. One of the big problems is drugs – it is everywhere. Children have a tendency to want to be accepted by their peers because their parents always love them and the peers have more awake time, in most cases with each other than with their parents. “My wife and I worked different shifts so our kids didn’t come home to an empty house. “I am 70 years old and have basically done the things I set out to do originally. I would like to maintain what I do and just enjoy life. I like to go to ballgames and some of the jamborees, like the Lincoln Jamborees, which is a country music jamboree down in Hodgenville. We have three grandchildren. All of our children are here except for one who lives in Chattanooga. My daughter who was a police officer, teaches intervention courses for police officers. “The things that parents can do for their children the most, is to stay in contact with them – know what they are doing, where they are going. I hope that my biggest accomplishment has been being the role model for my children. “We have a lifestyle in Oldham County that I consider second to none. We have a bedroom community with the best schools, organized activities and for a smaller community, we don’t lack for anything.” E-mail us about this story at firstname.lastname@example.org.