On Wednesday the Johnstown community will pay its respects to a true champion, a man of character and compassion who was also among our region’s greatest sports icons.
Pete Duranko – known as “Diesel” because of his hard-nosed play on the football field – was a star at Johns-town Catholic High School, at Notre Dame and with the NFL’s Denver Broncos.
He was always a great ambassador for Johnstown, and a funny, loving person to his friends and family.
In 2000, Duranko learned he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
The affliction slowed down a man whom many gridiron opponents could not.
But instead of stepping to the background, Duranko rose up and became an advocate for those with ALS.
Steve Smear, who followed Duranko through Johnstown Catholic/Bishop McCort and its football program, said it best: “There is only one Pete Duranko.”
Duranko was 67.
He leaves behind his wife of 43 years, Janet, and many other family members and friends.
We offer them our condolences.
Duranko will be memorialized at 10 a.m. Wednesday at St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church in Cambria City. He then will be laid to rest at Grandview Cemetery.
Many words will be offered in his honor by former classmates, teammates and colleagues – from those he loved and those he inspired.
Let us add our voices to those bidding this fine man fare well.
Pete, thanks for the thrills on the football field, and for your amazing dedication to your community and others suffering from ALS.
You were a true hero.
* * *
Readers have been offering their thoughts about Pete Duranko on his obituary and stories about his passing published on our website.
On the day before this warrior is laid to rest, we offer a sampling of those tributes here:
“He truly was one of the best guys on the planet. He was always a great inspiration to my children.”
– Kathy Wondergem
“Pete fought a valiant fight against ALS and showed his strength and character to the entire community.”
– Kathy Mandroc
“He was a warm giant of a man with a wonderful loving family, and a beautiful gift of gab, which we all loved. He touched so many hearts.”
– David and Carolyn Audi
“I was a coach with the Broncos during Pete’s pro career. He was much admired and loved by everyone in the organization. He never failed to give his all on the football field. Rest in peace.”
– Joe Collier
“Pete fought a long battle and was loved by so many.”
– Barbara Maddox
“He was a sports legend that made us all proud.”
– Kate Pejack
“He donated the side Altar of the Blessed Mother at his home Parish, St. Mary's Byzantine Catholic Church in Cambria City. His ethnic pride and great love for his faith are so much more important, and what I will always remember him for.”
– Lou Pocchiari
“He had a heart of gold. My kids loved to go to the Christmas parties and see Pete dressed as Santa. I have many great memories of those days and so do my children.”
– Gene Ferre
“He always seemed to be able to get the gusto out of life. He certainly set a positive example for all of us.”
– Tom Kiniry
“It is the world’s loss. His short time on this earth will be remembered by many. God has other plans for him.”
– Stephen J. Herman
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