Obituary: Stanley Rihely / World War II hero and longtime mayor of East Rochester
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Stanley Rihely, a war hero who devoted his life to keeping the peace as a civic leader and mayor of East Rochester, died Sunday at the age of 93.
He won the Bronze Star for taking out a German battery as Allied troops advanced across France. He then returned home to Beaver County to become a pillar of his community.
"He was born with an innate sense of taking care of duty, whatever that duty was," said his daughter, Diane Ramage of Chippewa. "If it was his family, his community, his church or the fire department, he was part of that era of can-do people who felt that, if they didn't do it, then perhaps no one would."
Born in Yugoslavia, he was 2 when his mother brought him to Beaver County, where his father had immigrated earlier. He didn't become a citizen until he enlisted in the Army at 17.
"He was as courageous as they come," Ms. Ramage said.
He was a sergeant in a field artillery battalion that landed in Normandy about two weeks after D-Day and participated in the breakout at St. Lo. He fought through the Battle of the Bulge, eventually reaching Magdeburg, Germany.
As the Allies struggled to cross the Roer River under heavy fire on Feb. 25, 1945, his howitzer unit was ordered to take out a German battery that was shelling American infantry. According to his Bronze Star citation, German planes were bombing and strafing all around him as "Sgt. Rihely held his men to their posts, always in imminent danger of attack by planes."
They silenced the German guns.
If not for the written citation, his family wouldn't have known what he did.
"He didn't talk about the war -- not very much at all," Ms. Ramage said.
He returned home and got a job making steel tubes for the former Babcock & Wilcox.
He met Diane Rayshich at a local dance club and they were married within a year. Together, while raising three daughters, they opened Rihely's Market, which she ran while he continued to work at the steel plant. Together they were also active in numerous community and charitable organizations.
Despite his many duties, including service on borough council and as mayor, Mr. Rihely received a citation when he retired from Babcock & Wilcox, for having missed no more than five days of work in 41 years.
Ms. Ramage couldn't recall the exact years her father held public office. But newspaper records show that he was already president of the borough council in 1972, was elected mayor 10 years later and was serving his fourth term in 1997.
He first ran for office after residents of the borough asked him to, his daughter said.
He became mayor during difficult years when loss of the steel industry depleted both the tax base and population. He struggled to maintain a police force, originally vetoing an effort to reduce it from 24-hour patrols to 16-hour patrols, but eventually conceding that contracting out to the nearby Rochester force worked best.
According to accounts from the Beaver County Times, he oversaw cleanup after a severe storm in 1988 toppled chimneys, tore off roofs and sent Dumpsters flying. He went after unsightly abandoned homes and residents with severely unkempt yards. He personally surveyed residents of one neighborhood in an attempt to get a grant to replace their septic tanks with a sewer.
He lovingly tended to a community playground and signed the borough's first "disturbing the peace" statute into law in 1997 to rid the park of unruly teens who were driving younger children and families away.
But, in peace as in war, his proudest accomplishment, informally dubbed "Rihely's lane," was intended to save lives. He worked with state legislators to get a left-turn lane installed at the Route 65 turn into East Rochester, which had been the scene of many accidents, Ms. Ramage said.
In 1991 he got a raise for his mayoral duties: from $265 to $450 a year.
In a 1989 interview, he told the Beaver County Times that the historic figure he'd most like to have dinner with was Abraham Lincoln, and that his dream job would be mayor of New York City. He considered willpower his greatest strength and the inability to say "no" his greatest weakness. His greatest dream was to see peace in the Middle East and Asia, he said.
His wife died in 1985, at the age of 60. He never remarried.
"He told me once that he never felt there was anybody who could match my mom," Ms. Ramage said. Mr. Rihely devoted his later years to his garden, raising roses and tomatoes.
In addition to Ms. Ramage, he is survived by a daughter, Janice Rihely of Pittsburgh; and five sisters, Ann Anderson of East Palestine, Ohio, Josephine Markulin and Caroline Cupani of Beaver; Katherine Thompson of Tucson, Ariz.; and Rosie Thompson of New Brighton.
Visitation will be from 11 a.m. to noon today in Huntsman Funeral Home, 502 Adams St., Rochester, where the memorial service will begin at noon. Donations may be made to the East Rochester Fire Department, Fourth Street, East Rochester, PA 15074.
First Published June 16, 2012 12:00 am