Growing Up in Ellwood City: Donnie Iris
The rock star wanted to be a baseball player. Instead, his mother taught him to sing.
To listen to Donnie Iris tell it, growing up in Ellwood City in the 1950s were indeed happy days.
“It was a great place to grow up,” says Iris, born Dominic Ierace. “It was a mill town. My dad worked in the steel mill just like basically everybody else did. We had a great childhood.”
Iris remembers his family — his father and mother also were raised in Ellwood City and he has a sister, Caren — always had a dog and frequently visited Cascade Park in New Castle and Idora Park in Youngstown.
“The entire neighborhood, we would get together to play baseball or basketball or football, we always found something to do,” he says.
Iris’ uncle would take him and his cousins into Pittsburgh to watch Pirates’ double-headers at Forbes Field; they’d bring sandwiches and pop and sit in the bleachers.
Iris loved baseball but it wasn’t his only hobby. His mother had an old upright piano in their basement and taught him how to sing.
“I just wanted to go out and play baseball and stuff, but she insisted I go practice, and I’m glad she did that obviously.”
Iris’ first band, the Fabutons, was made up of himself and a few guys from New Castle.
When he went to Slippery Rock University, he put together a group called Donnie and the Donnelles.
“As a kid, everybody wanted to be a baseball player or a football player, but when I knew I was way too small for any of that stuff I decided early on, OK, well, I’ll just go to college and maybe be a teacher or something like that,” he says.
“Well when that happened, I knew it wasn’t for me, and I started practicing more and decided to leave Slippery Rock after about two and a half years and that’s when we founded the Jaggerz.”
Iris, who now lives in Coraopolis, says other than the cold winters, he wouldn’t change anything about growing up in western Pennsylvania.
“It’s got everything,” he says. “Besides being a great small town, I guess you’d call it, it’s got the sports that everybody likes, it’s got culture, it’s got the museums, anything. Everything you’d want is right here, and the people, they’re yinzers. They’re just a great, great bunch of people.
“It’s just a great place to live.”