George "Doc" Bulazo, a coal miner whose World War II service allowed him to get an education and serve as superintendent of the South Park and Ringgold school districts, died Monday. He was 89.
The South Park resident was driven to find ways to educate students with mental disabilities, even as he struggled to raise his own neurologically challenged son and namesake, George III.
"My father's most compelling thought at the end was, 'Did I do enough for my son?' " said his daughter, Roxanne Watts of Piedmont, Va.
He was one of 11 children of an immigrant coal miner in Masontown, Fayette County. A high school football player, he also worked at the mine. After graduation in 1942, he gladly obeyed his father's order to serve his country and enlist, said his nephew, Jerry Kruth of Squirrel Hill.
The Army Air Corps made him an aircraft mechanic. He was part of Douglas MacArthur's force in the Pacific, traveling up the coast of New Guinea repairing shot-up bombers and fighters. When MacArthur returned to the Philippines, Sgt. Bulazo was among the first Americans to set foot on Clark Field, an American base bombed the same day as Pearl Harbor and seized by the Japanese. He helped to turn it into an American base again. He was also one of the first mechanics at Atsugi Air Base near Tokyo when MacArthur arrived to receive the Japanese surrender. He readied it to receive occupation forces.
He attended Waynesburg College on the G.I. Bill and a football scholarship. There, he fell in love with Monna Kobasa, a student teacher. They married in 1949.
He chose to teach "because he grew up so poor and he saw education as a way out for him and for others," Ms. Watts said.
After an early job in Dunbar, he went to West Newton as coach and math teacher, becoming principal and head football coach.
"He loved the sports and the coaching," she said. Once he promised the team all the pizza they could eat if they won.
"They won, and my mother and I and the neighbors made 100 pizzas for the team. They came over and we set up tables in the basement," Ms. Watts said.
He became principal in Troy, a rural community near New York. He decided to pursue a master's degree and doctorate in education from the University of Pittsburgh.
Along the way he realized he would face great challenges from George III. He was thrilled to have a son after two daughters, but by the time the child was 5 years old, it was clear something was wrong. Although his disabilities were poorly understood then, George III was mentally disabled, mildly autistic and had obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Special education was virtually unknown then. Mr. Bulazo enrolled his son in private schools, so that he eventually earned a high school diploma. George III was never able to hold a job, but until his mother's death early this year lived in a nearby apartment.
Because of George III, Ms. Watts said, her father did everything he could for students with mental disabilities, which at the time included starting vocational programs.
He became assistant superintendent of Mercer County schools, and a consultant with the state department of education on long-range planning.
He next became superintendent in South Park and would continue to live there when he became superintendent of the Ringgold School District in 1974. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of his tenure was building a new high school that merged two older ones, against opposition. He argued that it needed to be done, in part to ensure that the district was racially integrated.
In a 1981 interview with The Pittsburgh Press, Mr. Bulazo said that the goal that year for all high school students and staff would be "understanding others," to help them work through the factionalism of the merger.
He retired in 1982, helping his wife care for their son. In 2000, their daughter Lydianne died suddenly of a blood clot. His strong Orthodox faith and his family carried him through, Ms. Watts said.
"He was so tested, so tested" in his life, Ms. Watts said. "But he was in church every Sunday. ... His family was his team, and they supported each other."
After Mrs. Bulazo's death earlier this year, Mr. Bulazo reluctantly placed his son in a home in Russellton to ensure he would be cared for. Two months ago he was diagnosed with cancer. But he had the joy of seeing his first great-grandchild, she said.
In addition to Ms. Watts and George Bulazo III, Mr. Bulazo is survived by three brothers, John of San Francisco, Andrew of Boardman, Ohio, and Stephen of Cabot; a sister, Roberta Tabacek of Pittsburgh; three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Visitation is today at 9 a.m. in Nativity of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church, Monongahela, where the funeral will take place at 10 a.m. Interment is at Deer Creek Cemetery, Cheswick.
Gifts may be made to Nativity of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church, 506 High St., Monongahela, PA 15063.
Ann Rodgers: email@example.com.