Obituary: John A. Maczuzak / Football, basketball star at Pitt who became steel industry exec

April 4, 1941 - Dec. 27, 2013

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John A. Maczuzak, a University of Pittsburgh lineman and industrialist who joined many of his 1963 teammates in rising from humble beginnings to executive suites, died Friday after complications from surgery. The Freedom, Beaver County, man was 72.

At 6 feet, 5 inches and 240 pounds, Mr. Maczuzak played both the offensive and defensive lines on that year's storied football squad, called the "No Bowl" team for going 9-1 but not playing a postseason game. His full story was something bigger: One of 12 children raised in a tiny Washington County coal town, he would go on to a four-decade career in the steel industry, ending as president of National Steel Corp.

"Even though he was quiet and humble, he was successful at everything he did," said Al Grigaliunas, the team's captain that year and a longtime friend. "I would call him a gentle giant."

Mr. Maczuzak was raised by strict Ukrainian parents on a small street filled with fellow immigrant families in Ellsworth, where most everyone worked the Bethlehem coal mines. He was class president of the town's high school from the ninth through 12th grades, and a football and basketball star who had 27 scholarship offers awaiting his 1959 graduation. A math and science student, he chose Pitt partially because of the reputation of its engineering programs.

He was redshirted in football his first year but immediately began playing basketball for the Panthers, and lettered his last two years. He then began starting as a tackle on the football team -- on both offense and defense in those days -- anchoring the left side of the offensive line protecting quarterback Fred Mazurek and All-American halfback Paul Martha.

In 1963, the team had but one loss at Navy, helmed by that year's Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach, and ended the year ranked fourth by the Associated Press. When a late season showdown against Penn State was postponed by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the team was lost in the mix for premiere bowl games and decided not to take a bid.

Another player on the team, 1964 captain Raymond Popp Jr., died Dec. 21 in New York.

Years after college, Mr. Maczuzak would say that learning to juggle two sports, studies and summer jobs would serve him well in the steel industry. Like many of his teammates who also were raised in local, immigrant families -- and went onto careers in industry, law and medicine -- he took the focus he learned then into the next phase of life.

Center Charles Ahlborn, the son of a Rostraver steelworker, had been friends with Mr. Maczuzak since high school. He became a dentist after graduation. "At the time when we grew up, in humble surroundings, we had to work for everything we got. That was the tenor of our team," he said.

Mr. Maczuzak earned an electrical engineering degree at Pitt. Though he played one year in the National Football League for Kansas City and was asked to come back for another by coach Hank Stram, he decided to concentrate on his career.

In 1965, a year after getting married to fellow Ellsworth High graduate Janet Hamilton, he began work for U.S. Steel in various engineering and operations roles.

After starting at the National Works in McKeesport, he would go the Edgar Thomson Works in Braddock, be named general manager of the Fairless Works in Bucks County, and by 1992 became vice president of operations at the Lorain, Ohio, plant jointly run by USX and Japan's Kobe Steel. Four years later he moved to Indiana-based National Steel, where he retired as president in 2003 after it was acquired by U.S. Steel.

"He was a man of great integrity," said former U.S. Steel chairman Thomas Usher. "He was liked both on the shop floor and the executive suites, and was someone who always had a nice touch with people."

After 38 years of moving for work, Mr. Maczuzak returned to Western Pennsylvania after his 2003 retirement. He was preceded in death by his wife in 2006.

He is survived by a daughter, Amy of Highland Park; two sons, John David of North Huntingdon and Vern of New York City; companion Rose Marie Wintermantel of Ross; a granddaughter; three brothers; and four sisters.

Family and friends will be received from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. today at Thompson-Marodi Funeral Home, 809 Main St., in Bentleyville. A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Pigeon Creek Presbyterian Church, 45 Church Road, Eighty Four.

Tim McNulty: tmcnulty@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.


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