Heinz worker was proud of his Slovak heritage
By Jerry Vondas
Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW Newspaper
Saturday, April 13, 2002
It's only a small clubhouse on Jane Street in the city's South Side, but for
hundreds of immigrants from Eastern Europe, the John Kollar Slovak Society
had been a beacon to guide them as they made their way in Pittsburgh.
Today, the descendants of the founders of the John Kollar Slovak Society,
like John Milanak, who died on Tuesday, April 9, 2002, are instilling Slovak
pride in new generations.
"The society acquaints men and women who have Slovak backgrounds with their
rich heritage," said his wife, Susan Milanak. "They provide literature. And
an interested person can also learn to speak the language.
"John was also proud of his American heritage and the opportunity to serve
his country. During World War II, John was wounded in the days following the
Battle of the Bulge and received the Purple Heart."
Mr. Milanak, who was 78, died from cardiac vascular problems. He was a
resident of Lincoln Place, and a 41-year employee of the H.J. Heinz Co.
Born and raised on the South Side, Mr. Milanak was one of five children in
the family of Andrew and Anna Rose Gronsky Milanak, who emigrated from the
Andrew Milanak was employed at the South Side Works of the J&L Steel Corp.
Like many of the young men who grew up during the Great Depression, John
Milanak, like his older brother, Andy, dropped out of school to help the
family after their father's death.
In 1942, Mr. Milanak, after working at a variety of jobs, began his lengthy
career with Heinz as a checker in the inspection department, where it was his
job, said Mrs. Milanak, to inspect the cans for dents or the bottled
condiments to see if the labels were properly placed.
A year later, Mr. Milanak was inducted into the Army Air Corps. When it
became apparent during the Battle of the Bulge that more infantrymen would be
needed to stem the German tide, he was taken out of the Army Air Corps and
placed in an infantry outfit that was sent to bolster the American troops in
Following his discharge in 1945, Mr. Milanak returned to the Heinz Company.
In 1947, he arranged to meet Susan Cerda, a West Homestead resident who was
working in Heinz's condiment department. "When the time clock in our
department broke down," Mrs. Milanak said, "we were asked to use the time
clock in John's department. He asked one of my girlfriends to wait with him
at the time clock when I went to punch out.
"I was pleased. I liked him. John was a good dresser, polite, respectful and
handsome. I found out later that he had been watching me as I waited for the
streetcar after work, and had been looking for a way to meet me. We were
married on June 12, 1948."
The Milanaks eventually made their home in Lincoln Place, where they raised
their three sons. Mr. Milanak was promoted to the position of superintendent
of the Heinz Company store, where employees could buy products that weren't
packaged correctly at a discount.
His sons, Richard, Thomas and Alan, recalled the numerous times that their
father, who was an ardent sports fan, would take them to Pirates games. "If
Dad could get extra tickets, our friends were also welcomed to join us,"
Richard Milanak said.
Mr. Milanak is survived by his wife, Susan Cerda Milanak; sons, Thomas of
Ross Township, Alan of South Park and Richard of Willow Street, Lancaster
County; and grandchildren, Kimberly, Timothy, Emily, Katelyn and Luke. He was
also the brother of Joseph Milanak of Bellevue, Anna Tatka of Carrick, and
the late Mary Kedzuf and Andrew Milanak. A grandson, Mark Milanak, is also
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. today in St. Therese
Church, Munhall. Memorial donations may be made to St. Paul's Monastery, 148
Monastery Way, Pittsburgh, PA 15203. Arrangements by George Irvin Green
Funeral Home Inc., 3511 Main St., Munhall.
Jerry Vondas can be reached at jvondas@...
or (412) 320-7823.