Robert Toia, Sr., 99, of Ross Township, is going to celebrate his 100th birthday this coming October. While the WWII and Korean War veteran is looking forward to the event, it’s just icing on the cake for a life well-lived.
“God gave me a good life and I enjoyed it; I pray to him every night and every morning,” said Toia, a longtime parishioner at St. Athanasius Parish in West View. “I have good health and good kids, so what else do I need?
“Well, except a couple of knees,” he laughed. “The old parts are wearing out.”
Born on the North Side in 1922, Toia was raised in his grandmother’s home on Western Avenue, across from the entrance to what is now the West End Bridge.
“Except there was no West End Bridge back then,” he said, noting how much things had changed over the past 90-plus years. “When I was born, there was no TV; I listened to programs on the crystal set (radio), and we didn’t even have zippers on our pants!
“It’s amazing what phones do now; it’s crazy to keep up with all that new stuff,” he continued.
Toia lived with his parents and four brothers and sisters, his grandmother, his uncle, and his uncle’s two children in the large North Side home.
“I was born when things were tough; we didn’t have much money,” said Toia. “I didn’t even graduate from high school. I quit school and worked for Tracy Manufacturing and then Abbott Oldsmobile before I went into the service.
“It was the Great Depression, and I remember people standing in line, selling pencils and apples for a nickel,” he said. “But we did all right.”
Toia joined the Army Air Corps in 1942 and spent a couple of years as a supply sergeant in Saipan, part of the Northern Mariana Islands, working at B-29 Squadron Headquarters.
“I went down to enlist with three of my buddies, but I had a broken finger that was never corrected, so they got in and I didn’t,” said Toia of his first attempt to join the service. “That October, they sent me a notice to come back in.
“I was sent to Florida for basic training, and they gave everyone two pairs of fatigues, but only gave me one, so I asked how come?” he laughed. “They said, ‘We’re going to train you as a bombardier.’ But I didn’t want to do that.”
Toia went on to Greeley, CO, where he trained in engineering and operations before being sent to Oregon and then on to Saipan. When the war was over in 1945, Toia returned to Pittsburgh to serve in the Army Air Corps Reserves, and it wasn’t long before romance struck.
“My future wife lived in Mt. Troy, and my buddy’s girlfriend knew her. He and I decided to stop in and see them, and he introduced me. Anne and I were married on Feb 28, 1946, and our son, Bobby, was born 18 months later,” Toia explained. “We were married for 70 years—the Lord sure did bless me.”
Toia was called back into service in 1951 after the start of the Korean War, and spent a year in Greenfield, SC, helping to build an air base.
“My hitch was up, and Bobby was ready to start school,” Toia said. “Our outfit was going to Spain, and I didn’t want to leave my family. So I put my duffel bag in the car and came home.”
Toia sold his Oldsmobile for $1,000 and put down $800 on a home on Frankfort Avenue in West View.
“Anne had always wanted to live in West View,” said Toia, who raised four sons—Bobby, Tom, Jim and Larry—and one daughter, Michelle, with his wife. He worked at Ritchey Auto Parts on Marshall Avenue, taking the street car back and forth to his job, and retired in 1987 from its location on McKnight Road after 36 years with the company. In the early ‘90s, he came out of retirement to work for Schellhaas Funeral Home, retiring in 2014.
Unfortunately, Anne began showing signs of dementia, and the couple sold their home and moved to a Centre Avenue condo before moving in with their daughter, Michelle, and her husband, Jack.
“My wife started to get bad, and I couldn’t handle it by myself,” said Toia. “Then Anne had a stroke and we needed to move her into a care home in Perrysville.
“She was there for a year, and I’d go every day to get her breakfast and comb her hair,” said Toia of his beloved wife, who passed away in 2016.
The couple left quite a legacy; in addition to their five children, Toia has 12 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren spread over eight states, and he still remembers all of their names, though he laughs that it helps to write them down.
“We used to all get together when they’d visit me, but we haven’t done that during the pandemic,” he said. “I’m hoping that we can get everyone together at my birthday dinner in October.”