Pittsburgh-area high school’s Hall of Fame inducts Carnegie hero

Hall of Fame
The sisters of Carnegie Hero Raymond J. Grundler: From left, Cyrilla Grosjean, Grace Jesteadt, and Helen Bruggeman pose next to a photo of their brother, who was recently inducted into the Pittsburgh-based North Catholic High School’s Hall of Fame.

Last Fall, a nephew’s years-long effort to get his uncle, Carnegie Medal awardee Raymond J. Grundler, inducted into the hall of fame of their alma mater paid off.

Along with four others, Grundler’s name and photograph was added to North Catholic High School’s Hall of Fame on Sept. 16, 2018, at an induction ceremony held at the school’s new location in Cranberry, Pa., just 20 miles north of Pittsburgh, where industrialist-philanthropist Andrew Carnegie established the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission.

Hall of Fame
Raymond J. Grundler

Born in 1939, Grundler spent his childhood in Pittsburgh, attending North Catholic High School — then located in the Troy Hill section of Pittsburgh’s North Side neighborhood — until he graduated in 1957 and enlisted in the U.S. Army. After a short stint of service, Grundler went to work as a gas service man for Equitable Gas Company — one the region’s largest natural gas producers.

On Nov. 17, 1971, three men were working in a gas-line manhole in an underground vault at the corner of Lowrie and Gardner Steet, just outside the halls of North Catholic High School, when one of them, 30-year-old John J. Ladasky, Jr., was overcome by escaping gas and collapsed.

The two other men in the manhole, Donald R. DeVine, 56, head regulator man, and Monroe J. Coleman, a 35-year-old laborer, acted quickly and rushed Ladasky to a ladder and thrust him up toward ground level.

Grundler entered the manhole via the ladder, grasped Ladasky, and pushed him up the ladder toward others, who were able to remove him and allowed Grundler to escape.

DeVine and Coleman, still at the base of the ladder, had by then collapsed. Two others, William Henry Letzkus, a 38-year-old regulator helper, and 52-year-old truck driver Albert R. Zeleny then entered the manhole in an attempt to remove DeVine and Coleman to safety, but they too collapsed.

Grundler re-entered the manhole in an attempt to give aid to the four men who were suffocating, but was almost immediately overcome.

Firefighters arrived and removed the five men; none could be revived. Ladasky, however, recovered after hospital treatment.

Grundler’s nephew, Jim Grosjean, first wrote to the North Catholic Hall of Fame committee in March 2016, requesting his uncle be considered for induction.

Hall of Fame
Etched glass Hall of Fame award and Raymond J. Grundler’s Carnegie Medal.

Two years later in February, he made a second attempt, this time detailing the award and Carnegie Medal posthumously awarded to his uncle. This got the committee’s attention for which Grosjean hoped. In July, he received a letter from Amber Nicotra Morrison, director of alumni and development for North Catholic, informing him that his uncle would be a 2018 inductee into the Hall of Fame.

Grosjean accepted the Hall of Fame award on behalf of his uncle and their family  in front of an audience of more than 100 people including three of Grundler’s sisters, Cyrilla Grosjean, Grace Jesteadt, and Helen Bruggeman.

At the ceremony, Jim Grosjean presented information about the last hours of Grundler’s life, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission investigation that followed, and a history of the Carnegie Medal because “not many people, including Pittsburghers, know about the award,” he said. Grosjean then unveiled Grundler’s Carnegie Medal, which “brought a hearty applause from the audience,” he said.

— Jo Braun, office manager and 1984 North Catholic High School graduate

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