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Mark P. Holtzman Jr., McKeesport Area School District superintendent, presents Dennis Halaszynski Sr. with his cap, tassel and 1949 high school diploma from McKeesport Area School District. (Photo by Vickie Babyak, special to Tube City Almanac)
Diane Couch couldn't stop smiling as she held her father's hand Wednesday night.
She and five of her siblings brought 88-year-old Dennis Halaszynski to the McKeesport Area School District meeting on the premise that one of his daughters-in-law was receiving an award.
It was a special case of "better late than never" for the life-long McKeesport resident when he received his high school diploma from district Superintendent Mark Holtzman Jr. at Wednesday's meeting, during a surprise ceremony planned six weeks ago with the help of school board President Joe Lopretto.
Couch said her father always regretted not earning his high school diploma.
“It's all I wanted, all these years,” Halaszynski said.
Halaszynski left high school in 1949 at age 17 to join the Marine Corps, returned to McKeesport and worked several jobs before starting a career in law enforcement at age 26 while raising seven children with his late wife, Mary.
His 25-year career with the McKeesport Police Department ended with his retirement in 1981 as captain in the detectives division. Then he went to work for 15 years General Motors' former Fisher Body plant in West Mifflin.
Holtzman prepares to present Halaszynski with his diploma.
McKeesport Area High School Junior ROTC students stand at attention during Dennis Halaszynski's graduation walk on Wednesday night. (Photos by Vickie Babyak, special to Tube City Almanac)
"When dad got back from the Marines, he went right to work and raised seven kids with my mom," Couch said. "He never bothered to look into getting the diploma, he was busy working for the police and then his second career with Fisher Body."
Couch said her father often talked about opportunities he may have missed without his diploma. When asked by friends why he didn't attend reunions, "he would tell them he didn't graduate," she said. "It always bothered him.”
Richard Finch Jr. is a freelance writer who covers news from McKeesport Area School District and North Versailles Twp. for Tube City Almanac. He may be reached at email@example.com. Vickie Babyak is a freelance photographer. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published July 01, 2019.