Get to know: Lou Scatena ’67, sharing lessons learned from his father

Lou Scatena
Lou Scatena

“I would sit in the truck and watched as my dad would crawl into an abandoned mine and search for veins of coal or pillars of coal that might be mined. That was my childhood.”

Lou Scatena ’67 writes lovingly of that childhood in Anthracite Boot Camp, a memoir of growing up in coal-mining country in Pennsylvania in the 1940s and 50s, and the lessons he learned from his father that still guide his life today.

“I wrote this book for my father,” Scatena said from his office at Carollo Engineers, Inc. in Phoenix, Ariz., where, at age 78, he is an assistant vice president. “To me, he was Superman.”

Born in 1918, Peter Scatena was one of 10 children born to Italian immigrants living in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania. The family lived in poverty surrounded by colorful relatives, who primarily made their meager wages in the coal mines. Clothes were second or third hand, scavenged or sewn from flour sacks. Food was grown or found in the wild; meat was robins, sparrows or woodchucks.

Cover of Anthracite Boot CampPeter Scatena, whose father encouraged him to become a mechanic, became a miner almost accidentally. A surface vein of coal near the family home produced more than the family could use, so after a full day of working on automobiles, Peter would return home and excavate that vein by hand. Before long, he was making enough money to quit his job at the auto shop and devote himself full time to mining. He drove around the area looking for abandoned mines — often called dog holes — or surface seams, excavated the coal and moved on to the next one.

“He worked like a dynamo,” Scatena said of his father. “Once he went underground, the miners who worked for him said they had never worked that hard in their lives. But it was because he led them and did the work with them.”

Scatena, fascinated by the machinery, joined his father onsite from about the time he was 9 and worked for him until, at 17, he joined the Marine Corps. Anthracite Boot Camp details hilarious and dangerous escapades at several mines during those eight years. While Scatena was at Marine boot camp, his father died in a mine collapse.

By then, Scatena had learned a lifetime of lessons from his father. These are detailed in the book’s final chapter.

“They are the four to five traits I feel I learned working with him that I still carry with me today,” he said. “I am focused, I work hard, collaborate, have a sense of honor and lead by example.”

After serving in the Marine Corps, Scatena returned home and studied at the University of Scranton for two years before transferring to University of Detroit, where its Engineering program was legendary.

“One of the fondest appreciations I have for my many experiences at University of Detroit was my involvement in the Engineering Co-Op program,” he said. “I don’t believe our industry fully appreciates the extensive benefit a college student receives from such training experience.”

After earning a degree in Civil Engineering, Scatena began a 55-year career as a structural engineer. He says he still works eight days a week and wrote the book on the weekends. He and Frances, his wife of 54 years, have three children and five grandchildren.

Now that the book has been published, Scatena has turned his focus on promoting it and, perhaps, recording an audiobook version of it.

“I think this is a good story,” he said. “And there are lessons about life in it that could benefit current society.”

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