First waitress remembers Westmoreland diner’s heyday
Jenny Baloh sat at a refurbished booth in the restored 1938 Serro Diner last week, moving her hand gently across the new seat cushion as she recalled her first day of work in the diner nearly 75 years ago.
“I was the first waitress at the diner,” said Baloh, 95. “My brothers (Louis and Joseph) bought the dining car when I was a teenager. I told them I didn’t know a thing about waitressing. They said, ‘You’ll learn.'”
The Herminie woman is the last surviving member of the Serro family of five brothers and five sisters, who, at one time or another, worked at their brothers’ diner on Lincoln Highway in North Huntingdon.
She said her brothers purchased the Jerry O’Mahony dining car and placed it along the highway to take advantage of traffic from the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
“My brother said travelers coming off the turnpike would need a place to eat, so he opened a diner there,” said Baloh.
Baloh’s niece, Shirley Bailley, surprised her aunt last week with a visit to the storage facility where the diner is being restored for the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor. The 20-month project is expected to be completed by July 15. The diner will be showcased in the soon-to-be-constructed addition at the Lincoln Highway Experience Museum, located along Route 30 East, across from the Kingston Bridge.
“It was a pleasure to see the twinkle in Jenny’s eyes when she set foot in Serro’s Diner again,” said Olga Herbert, director of the heritage corridor organization. “She obviously had fond memories of her time working there.”
The women walked behind the counter and down memory lane, describing the bustle when they worked at the diner, Baloh in 1938 and Bailley from 1950-54.
“If you were related to the Serros, then at some time in your life, you worked at the diner,” said Bailley.
Baloh said she worked for her brothers for about one year to help them get the business started. There was always something to do at the diner, she said.
“I used to clean these booths and even washed the windows with my brother when we didn’t have customers,” she said. “They paid me $8 a week. They thought they were paying me a lot because I was their sister.”
She said she would come home with a nickel or a dime tip and thought that was a lot of money.
“It was interesting Jenny had such clear memories about the tips she received 75 years ago,” Herbert said. “A dime tip back then really made an impression on her.”
Baloh remembered the diner’s first customer. It was her future husband, Adolph Baloh.
“He came early that day so he could be the first customer,” she said. “That first dollar he spent hung in here for as long as I can remember.”
The Serro family owned the diner until 1958, when they purchased another building and sold the original diner to John and Lillian Rolka. The Rolkas moved the diner to Route 119 North in Hempfield. They sold it to the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania in 1992, and the diner and its contents were donated to the heritage corridor group in 2003.
When the restoration project is complete, the diner will be moved to its permanent location in Unity, where visitors can order a piece of homemade pie and coffee at the counter or in one of the booths.
Baloh said the diner looks just like it did when she worked there, a tribute to research done for the project. She said she wishes she still had one of the maroon-trimmed aprons she wore.
Baloh said she hopes to visit the diner after it is moved.
“It would be an honor if Jenny could serve the first piece of pie when the restored diner is relocated to our Lincoln Highway Experience site,” Herbert said.