By Timothy Cox
Beaver County Times
BEAVER FALLS, March 7, 2022 — For older generations in the city, the name Linwood Alford has been a constant for several years.
As a Google subject, his name quickly arises as the childhood friend of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Willie Namath.
Boating buddies Linwood Alford (Left) and Joe Namath. The Beaver Falls natives have known each other since childhood. Alford is best known outside Beaver County for his friendship with Namath, but county residents tout his service to his community.
Now, The Times provides Alford a chance to recite his own story – including his early years, in connection with the world-renowned professional athlete.
Service to the community
As a career, for many years, Alford has focused his energies in support of those who may have difficulties helping themselves. A self-described “union man” and proud Democrat, Alford initially worked in the construction industry before serving on boards while committing his life to the continuous improvement of Beaver Countians, in all phases, regardless of ethnicity, creed or culture.
Linwood Alford as member of board of directors for the Larry Bruno Foundation Pictured are, first row, l-r, Ron Main, Artie DeSisto; second row, Linwood Alford, Pete Pietrandrea, Ed DeRose, Bob Ricci; and third row, Jim Carbone, Judge Richard Mancini and Steve Higgins.
In recent years, Alford has served as vice president of Lincoln Park (Midland Innovation Technology) Charter School; vice president of Beaver County Democratic Board; director of Civil Rights Labor Council; Job Training Board and (I-DAC) aka Individual Diversity Awareness Council; and as an official with the Beaver-Lawrence Central Labor Council.
He’s also a member of the Aliquippa Council of Men and Fathers.
In addition to Namath, Linwood has several local notables of which he considers close friends and associates including Senior Beaver County Judge Richard Mancini, Ambridge attorney Steve Kocherzat, area broadcast notable Chris Shovlin, Beaver Valley NAACP President Mtume Imani and another lifelong friend, Victor Freddie Mannerino.
“I’ve known him for many years – but respected him, even before I knew him,” Mancini said.
If it pleases the court
“I’ve always called Linwood a gem for our local community. Regardless of creed, color or religion – he’s just been a good person. Of course, many people know him as Joe Namath’s original friend, but there’s so much more to him than that. It goes back to his upbringing. Real Beaver Falls residents know,” added Mancini, 68, himself a Beaver Falls native.
In his spare time, Alford works as a tip staffer at the Beaver County Courthouse, under the auspices of Mancini. He describes his courtroom role as similar to a bailiff, adding that he often introduces the judge to courtroom attendees.
“He’s a natural in this position,” Mancini said. “Linwood is a people person and it takes someone with personality in order to be effective in this role.”
‘Sixth Street Brothers’
Linwood was born Jan. 5, 1944 – the youngest of eight siblings to Clifford and Mary Lee Coleman Alford.
Having recently turned 78, Alford admits he’s humbled and blessed to have maintained a sharp memory, enough to still recall significant past episodes of his life.
Having joined Tabernacle Baptist Church at age 13, Alford said he remains forever thankful that his parents provided him with a spiritual foundation that has kept him in safe, protective environments “especially during his 14-month” U.S. Army stint in Vietnam.
Prior to that, Alford fondly recalls growing up on Sixth Street in the lower end of Beaver Falls, just across the street from his first boyhood friend “Joey” Namath. Another neighborhood homey was Victor Freddie Mannerino, two years younger – but served as Linwood’s and Joey’s “little brother” sidekick. Another boyhood pal was David King, who moved to California before the boys became teenagers.
‘Sixth Street Brothers,’ circa 2005, left to right, Joe Namath, Victor Freddie Mannerino and Linwood Alford.
To this day, Namath, Alford and Mannerino have remained buddies –“Sixth Street Brothers.”
In a special call from his home in West Palm Beach, Florida, Namath confirmed the many boyhood stories that have been recited in books, movies and documentaries over the years, concerning his and Linwood’s boyhood relationship.
Hall of Fame friendship
Namath said it’s true that his development as a star athlete commenced while competing with the many Black children in his neighborhood.
“One of my most memorable victories in life was the time I beat Benny Singleton in a foot race,” said Namath during a chuckle.
“And, I’m serious,” he added, noting that Singleton was considered the top athlete in their small circle. Years later in high school, Namath and Singleton would join forces with the likes of Linwood, Anthony Pugh, Karlin “Butch” Ryan and Keith Guilford Sr. as a formidable basketball squad.
But it was the unbeaten football team led by legendary head coach Larry Bruno, with Namath as the quarterback, which earned Beaver Falls the title as 1960 WPIAL champions. That team consisted of Namath, his favorite tight end receiver, Tommy Krezminski; split end Tony Golmont; and running backs; Larry “Bo” Hayden, Butch Ryan and fullback Bert Kerstetter.
Namath also vividly recalls the love and guidance demonstrated upon visiting the Alford homestead.
“Linwood’s mother was a treasure. She was a disciplinarian and she helped take care of us all. Linwood had older siblings like I did, so we related on that level too,” he said. The former New York Jets’ QB also recalls many instances when he invited Linwood to pal around with him during their days as young bachelors. Namath said that even at his height as a Super Bowl III champion he maintained a steady friendship with Alford.
Linwood, however, recalls a period in his life when he purposely strayed away from Joe, thinking that perhaps his old friend would better enjoy mingling with his newfound big city cats from New York City, Hollywood jetsetters and movie star types.
“On the contrary,” Alford said. “Joe actually got upset with me, because he was unable to catch up with me.
“He told me that we were friends forever, regardless of his changing lifestyle. He said we were friends for life – and it’s always been that way,” he said.
Linwood Alford and Joe Namath visit Los
Mannerino, now 76, from the Beaver Falls class of 1963, says he also has quality thoughts surrounding his childhood with Linwood and Joey.
Victor Freddie Mannerino and Linwood Alford circa summer 1951 and then summer 2010.
“Linwood was a good guy, even as a kid,” he said. “Joey was the oldest of the three of us – so, we often did what Joe wanted to do. We’d get into BB gun battles, go swimming down at the (Beaver) River – way before Joe got into sports. Linwood was more into basketball and was our announcer when we’d play football in the backyard.
“Linwood was never bossy, I never saw him hit anyone. Joe was a good guy, too,” Mannerino added. Joe graduated in ’61 and Linwood in ’62, he said.
In high school, Mannerino took lots of photos, played clarinet and piano and eventually did lots of public speaking while working at Westinghouse (Eaton Corp.) in Vanport Township. He worked as a senior mechanical designer 43 years, before retiring in 2007. He and his wife of 58 years, Barbara, live in White Township. They have three adult children. Mannerino is currently the official photographer for the Larry Bruno Foundation.
Post high school
After high school graduation, Alford said he entertained a partial basketball scholarship to Youngstown State University, but was drafted instead. In the Army, he was in charge of transportation logistics and cooking details – of which he continues to have a love for culinary arts.
After returning from the war, he opened three businesses including Lin’s Fresh Fish Inn; Sweet Benny’s Que and the Downtown Recreation Center aka ‘The Center,” which featured weekend record hops, deejays, dancing and a weekday pool room. All three businesses were located on Beaver Falls’ main street of Seventh Avenue. For the times, the ventures were highly unique for a young Black man to have the nerve and savvy to attempt to succeed against difficult odds.
“I was a young man just coming back from Vietnam. I’ve always been a go-getter and these were ventures between my brother David Alford, and I,” he said.
“My ability to cook helped make the restaurants happen. I always wanted to work for myself – and a lot of people knew me from working as a men’s clothing salesman at Taylor’s Clothing Store. Mr. Art Taylor, the owner, noticed my interest in fine clothing and hired me right out of high school,” Alford recalls, noting that he still has an interest in wearing stylish clothing.
Linwood Alford always has been a natty dresser.
At age 19, Alford was married for his first and only time, Feb. 15, 1963. From that union, he welcomed sons Lynwood and Dejon and daughters Larita and Selena. Another son, Darren, is his youngest child – and joins several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Helping Blacks in Beaver County
Beaver Valley NAACP President Mtume Imani has nothing but positive words for her colleague Alford.
“He has been very instrumental in helping the Blacks in Beaver County; especially with our Black causes,” Imani said “Specifically, his work with the unions and standing with our community causes, has helped so many people.
“He’s participated in rallies and has represented us well in promoting unity in our community. And his work in the Beaver-Lawrence County Labor Union has been above superb,” she said.
Imani, 81, is a California native, but relocated to Beaver County to support her elderly aunt and uncle, the late Mr. and Mrs. William (Rosa) Alford, a distinguished couple of Tuskegee (Airmen) University acclaim.
Attorney Kocherzat of Ambridge gives Alford kudos for his commitment toward labor and civil rights.
“He’s always had a calling toward ensuring that people are not disenfranchised when it comes to voting rights,” said Kocherzat, a 42-year legal counselor targeting estate administration.
The attorney credits both Alford and former NAACP president Willie Sallis for their collaborative success in organizing annual Beaver-Lawrence Central Labor Council banquets which have featured such keynote speakers as the Rev. William Barber III (Moral Mondays), the late Congressman John Conyers (Mich.), and former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner.
“Linwood is a fine man” added Kocherzat.
Broadcast notable Shovlin, first met Alford while he served as general manager for WBVP-AM and KISS-106-FM, two Beaver Falls radio stations.
“Linwood is a treasure – he’s inspirational and one of the leaders of my organization,” said Shovlin, the CEO of the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center. Shovlin is a proud native of Midland and credits Linwood as one of the school’s board of trustees.
At his long-time church home in Beaver Falls, Linwood also serves on Tabernacle Baptist Church’s board of trustees.
“We value Linwood’s expertise as a long-time union man, his knowledge of Beaver County history and his over-arching commitment as a man of God,” said Ronnie Cox, Tabernacle Baptist’s music minister.
Jessica Namath, 36, said the man she calls “Uncle Linwood” has been a part of her life since the day she was born.
“It’s always a special time when I see him and my father get together,” said Joe Namath’s eldest daughter. She said visits to Beaver Falls will always have a special place in her heart.
When asked about his thoughts on race relations and Black American achievements since his high school days, Linwood said:
“Really, when I think about it, we’ve come a long way. But we’ve yet to crack the ceiling,” he said. “To me, race relations took a back seat when President (Barack) Obama became president. That’s when we were able to see so just how many people had issues with a Black president.
“Beaver County in general, it’s been a struggle,” Alford said. “Beaver Falls has always been able to get along, but there was always an undercurrent of racism there and it still exists. We’re at a point right now, where we all need each other.”
Timothy Cox is a 1975 graduate of Beaver Falls High School, a Point Park University Journalism School graduate; and a member of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.