Obituary: Donald Gruda / One of the area’s best adult soccer players in 1950s and ’60s

Nov. 11, 1935 - Aug. 16, 2014

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Don­ald Gruda hit his teen years in Hei­del­berg want­ing to do one thing — play soc­cer — and he main­tained his de­vo­tion to play­ing the sport through age 40.

The tall, curly-haired, blond cen­ter-for­ward be­came one of the best adult soc­cer play­ers in the area in the 1950s and ’60s. Mr. Gruda helped lead teams from Hei­del­berg, Beadling and Har­mar­ville to suc­cess in an era when the sport was big in many sub­urbs con­tain­ing large com­mu­ni­ties of Euro­pean im­mi­grants. He re­ceived a Post-Ga­zette Dap­per Dan Award in 1963 rec­og­niz­ing him as the area’s best soc­cer player.

Mr. Gruda, of Car­ne­gie, died Satur­day of con­ges­tive heart fail­ure at Fam­ily Hos­pice and Pal­li­a­tive Care in Mt. Leb­a­non. He was 78 and had been in fail­ing health since suf­fer­ing a stroke 2 1/​2 years ago in Flor­ida, where he and his wife, Mary Lou­ise, be­gan spend­ing their win­ters af­ter his 1998 re­tire­ment as a truck driver.

Mr. Gruda spent 43 years as a driver, de­liv­er­ing blocks used for the foun­da­tions of new homes, but his pas­sions in life were al­ways soc­cer and play­ing coun­try mu­sic on the gui­tar. He quit high school to spend more time play­ing soc­cer, which he did year-round. He and many other young, blue-col­lar men would work their day jobs, then head to win­ter­time prac­tices to take ad­van­tage of what­ever day­light re­mained.

A long­time friend, Mi­chael Zim­bicki of Car­ne­gie, said Mr. Gruda was a skilled mid­fielder known for his abil­ity to set up front-line play­ers for goals. They and team­mates, play­ing for teams spon­sored by bars and clubs, of­ten trav­eled to Mid­west­ern cit­ies such as Cleve­land, Detroit and Chi­cago for big am­a­teur matches.

“In the olden days you didn’t have any­thing else to do in the win­ter­time, so you played soc­cer,” Mr. Zim­bicki said. “The fields weren’t too good — it was sloppy and bad — but we played be­cause we loved the game.”

Mrs. Gruda re­mem­bered her hus­band’s un­usual com­mute to work: jog­ging back and forth along the rail­road tracks be­tween Car­ne­gie and Brid­geville to build up the ex­ten­sive aero­bic stamina de­manded by soc­cer.

Mr. Gruda was low-key and hum­ble, but he had no short­age of in­ten­sity about the sport. He was a key mem­ber of the 1955 Hei­del­berg team that won the na­tional Ama­teur Cup over a squad from Chi­cago, in ad­di­tion to play­ing for nu­mer­ous Key­stone League and West Penn Chal­lenge Cup cham­pi­ons.

He was good enough that he was one of the play­ers a squad from Har­mar­ville was will­ing to pay in the 1960s to lure him away from other teams, when such com­pen­sa­tion was un­com­mon.

Mrs. Gruda said her hus­band also com­peted in the tri­als for the U.S. Olym­pic team in 1964. He had a large col­lec­tion of tro­phies and plaques, in­clud­ing a 1958 Pitts­burgh Bi­cen­ten­nial Sports Award for soc­cer, but his wife said he never paid at­ten­tion to them. He just wanted to play.

“He was on the field ev­ery day, from 13 on,” Mrs. Gruda said, un­til fam­ily pri­or­i­ties took over, in­clud­ing a lot of week­end camping trips with their chil­dren. But un­til his stroke, he al­ways re­mained able to show his chil­dren and grand­chil­dren how to han­dle a soc­cer ball, in­clud­ing kick­ing it over and off his head and back onto his feet with­out it touch­ing the ground.

In ad­di­tion to his wife, Mr. Gruda is sur­vived by a son, Don­ald M. Gruda of Yard­ley, Bucks County; a daugh­ter, Carol A. McNav­ish of Hous­ton, Texas; a brother, Wal­ter Gruda of Car­ne­gie; and four sis­ters, Alice Annesi, Lar­raine Fleck, San­dra Lamb and Deb­bie DiNardis, all of the Car­ne­gie area; and six grand­chil­dren.

Mass of Chris­tian burial is at 10 a.m. to­day at Eliz­a­beth Ann Seton Church, 330 Third Ave., Car­ne­gie.

Me­mo­rial con­tri­bu­tions may be made to Fam­ily Hos­pice and Pal­li­a­tive Care, 50 Mof­fett St., Pitts­burgh, PA 15243; or to St. Eliz­a­beth Ann Seton Food Bank, 330 Third Ave., Car­ne­gie, PA 15106.

Ar­range­ments are by Sza­fran­ski-Eber­lein Funeral Home Inc., Car­ne­gie.

Gary Rot­stein: grot­stein@post-ga­ or 412-263-1255.

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