The McDonald Mills of United States Steel Corp. have been good to Edward Domitrovic.

Since he followed his father down the hill to work at McDonald 28 years ago, he's earned a college degree, raised a family of 10 children, built them a new house, bought himself a Cadillac with a CB radio and lived the American dream.

The two oldest kids are going to college now, and their fater sits on the school board and serves as assistant clerk of the Village of McDonald, running the town's water department in his spare time.

Poring over the water ledgers one night last week, Domitrovic said it looks like the department will get along all right after it loses its biggest customer. "We'll be pumping a lot less so we'll save on our electric bills. We can probably get along with only one pump and that'll help."

The school board, though, will be in financial trouble without McDonald's biggest taxpayer. "We can go to November of 1980, then we may have to lay off someone," said Domitrovic. "I don't want to do it. I don't like to see a teacher laid off."

To hear Ed Domitrovic, you'd think keeping McDonald's water system solvent and its teachers working were the biggest problems he faces in the year ahead. The last thing he wants to talk about is what he will do when the McDonald Mills close down, taking away the village's only industry and the only job -- except for the Army -- that he ever has had.

Ask him how a steelworker with 10 kids can get by when he loses what is perhaps the best-paying job in American industry, and the answer hangs on his lips like molten steel on the edge of the open-hearth ladle. Finally, as slowly as a fresh steel billet entering the rolling mill, he responds:

"I've got 28 years in. I won't be as bad off as those fellows with only 15 or 20 years. Should the Lord be willing, I'll be able to retire with a pension."

But a pension -- even a United Steel Workers' pension with the $300 a month in extra benefits the union contract guarantees for workers from plants that are shut down -- will pay no more than $800 to $1,000 a month. f

Can a steelworker get by on that? A man who's spent his life in plants where the lowest-paid laborer earns $8 an hour and skilled veterans like Ed Domitrovic earn several dollars an hour more.

"I'll have to take another look at the numbers," answers the man who prides himself on making the village's 4,000 water bills balance out to the last penny and who can quote his home electric bills down to the kilowatt hour. "It'll be hard. It'll be hard."

Ed Domitrovic is one of nearly 5,000 steelworkers in the Youngstown area who were told last week they are losing their jobs.

On Tuesday U.S. Steel Chairman David Roderick stunned the steel industry by revealing that the nation's biggest producer would shut down 16 plants across the nation and lay off 13,000 workers. On the list were U.S. Steel's Ohio Works in Youngstown, the McDonald rolling mill six miles away, Ed Domitrovic, and 3,500 of his co-workers. Their jobs will be gone by June 30, the company said.

A day later, Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. announced that its Brier Hill mill in Youngstown will be closed after Christmas, putting another 1,400 steelworkers out of work.

The J&L shutdown had been expected for two years, ever since the parent Lykes Corp. closed down the Campbell works of Youngstown Sheet & Tube, laid off 4,100 workers and announced its intent to close Brier Hill eventually; only the date was news. Lykes was merged with Jones & Laughlin's parent, LTV Corp., last year.

U.S. Steel's decision to pull out ot Youngstown also had been expected for a long time -- so long that many workers refused to believe it was finally happening. They insisted the announcement was only a ruse to soften up the union for upcoming contract talks, or a threat, like U.S. Steel's 1971 plant-closing announcement.

Jack Kaminski shares those suspicions, but at a raucus union meeting Thursday night, he gave the U.S. Steel workers the straight scoop: 'You're no different from us," he said "The impact just hasn't set in yet, and it's not going to set in until the day you clean out your locker.

Kaminski cleaned out his own locker at the Campbell works almost two years ago, but remains president of what's left of the plant's union -- a 4,000 member local with fewer than 100 persons still working.

Conventional wisdom has it that Kaminski's men from Campbell haven't fared too badly. The local Youngstown Vindicator said so a couple of weeks ago, and the latest issue of Fortune magazine carries a piece headlined "Youngstown Bounces Back."

Since Youngstown Sheet & Tube closed two years ago, the city's unemployment rate has gond down from nearly 8 percent to 6.3 percent, and the city's work force has rebounded, said Wes Johnstone, who heads the Youngstown Area Chamber of Commerce. As of this summer, more people were working in the Mahoning Valley than before the plant closed.

Hard statistics on what has happened to Sheet & Tube's workers are hard to come by. John Spagnola, the chief job hunter for the Youngstown office of the Ohio Bureau of Employment Services, said the estimates are that about one-fourth of them found jobs in the Youngstown area comparable to their old ones. Another quarter found work, but nothing as good as steelworker's wages, and are considered underemployed. A third quarter moved away to find work and the last quarter still are looking.

Spagnola said the area's 6.3 percent jobless rate will nearly double unless conditions change rapidly in the next few weeks. Currently there are 8.450 persons on the Mahoning County unemployment rolls. But that doesn't count 1,400 workers at General Motors' nearby Lordstown assembly plant who were laid off 10 days ago. The total will swell to 14,850 with them and the 5,000 steelworkers.

"We still have a very serious labor surplus," said Spagnola. "This additional surplus is really going to glut this area."

Spagnola pointed out that the unemployment statistics don't include any laid-off steelworkers who have used up all the jobless benefits due them, failed to find a job and dropped out of the labor pool. "We don't know how many of them there are," he said. "We know there have to be some of them."

Kaminski contends the plight of the workers laid off two years ago is worsening now because unemployment benefits are running out and inflation is cutting into the incomes of those who retired or took lower-paying jobs. He warned the latest layoff victims not to be trapped by the benefits that soften the blow of unemployment.

One of those benefits is a federal program called Trade Readjustment Assistance (TRA); it guarantees $250 a week for up to a year and a half to workers who lose their jobs because of competition from imported goods. Another is called "the rule of 70 and 80," and it means that a worker whose age and time of service total between 70 and 80 years can retire on a pension.

"I've had people on the rule of 70 and 80 come in and literally cry to get back in the labor pool because inflation is eating them up," he said. "The situation is getting worse as the TRA runs out and people still don't have jobs."

Beside TRA -- which provides job training as well as a weekly paycheck -- and early retirement, steelworkers also are eligible for their union's supplemental unemployment benefits, known as SUB. The SUB adds enough money -- paid by the employer -- to state jobless benefits to give workers up to 90 percent of their regular takehome pay. Workers can't get SUB, TRA and pension payments simultaneously, but the steel workers are wise in the ways of benefits, and many are able to collect from several different programs.

The Jones & Laughlin workers who will be laid off after Christmas will officially be put on "temporary" furlough for six months. During that time, they can collect Ohio unemployment benefits of $189 a week (for a man with a family) plus SUB.

Then, after a token recall, the plant will close officially, and the men will be eligible for$250 a week of TRA for at least a year, plus another six months if they participate in a job retraining program.

The Youngstown Sheet & Tube workers laid off two years ago have collected $18 million in TRA benefits, and another $9 million is available for the Brier Hill workers who will lose their jobs after Christmas.

So far, however, the victims of U.S. Steel's plant closings are not eligible for TRA. The U.S. Department of Labor administers the progam and has refused three times to certify that U.S. Steel's Youngstown plant is threatened by imports of steel.

The import issue is at the heart of the Youngstown steel story.When U.S. Steel's Roderick announced the massive plant closings, he blamed it on three factors: imports of lower-priced steel, federal environmental regulations and tax laws which discourage investment in new facilities.

To Bob Vasquez, president of the 3,100-member union local at the Ohio Works, the Labor Department's ruling makes Roderick a liar. "Don't try to tell us about imports, the government says that doesn't apply here," Vasquez said. "Three times they told us there's no proof that imports are hurting this plant. We don't want to hear it."

Whether they believe imports are the problem or not, Youngstown's steelworkers say they will try to get TRA benefits. As union official Hank Weinstock put it, "We never proved there was import competition at Campbell; we proved there were 4,000 steelworkers out of work, and they couldn't ignore us."

Vasquez also disputes U.S. Steel's claim that Environmental Protection Agency regulations are forcing the closing of the Youngstown plant. "We asked them what new EPA rules go into effect in 1980, and they admitted there weren't any."

Even the Chamber of Commerce's Johnstone disputes U.S. Steel's contention that the Youngstown mills were not competitive because they were landlocked, cut off from cheap water transportation. "Republic Steel in Warren is landlocked, too, and they're going like gangbusters," he noted.

Nor is the union supporting U.S. Steel's demand for an increased investment tax credit that would give the company a faster write-off, though it is clear in Youngstown that failure to invest in new facilities is what's killing the steel mills.

Like the Campbell works that closed two years ago, U.S. Steel's Ohio Works and J&L's Brier Hill facility make steel with the oldest and most costly method in use -- the open hearth furnace. An open hearth furnace takes six to eight hours to cook a "heat" of steel; in its modern replacement, called a basic oxygen furnace, the same amount ot steel can be made in 45 minutes.

The open hearths at Brier Hill are so old that the Ohio State Historical Society wants to preserve one of them for a steel industry museum it is planning. The McDonald Mills are essentially the same facility that Ed Domitrovic's father helped build in 1916.

Museum project director Julius Simchick also has his eye on a 60-year-old steam engine that runs the rolling mills at the Ohio Works; so far as he knows, the monster steam engine, with its three-story-high flywheel, is the last of its kind in the country.

Like many a steelworker's son, Simchick put himself through college with what's known in Youngstown as "a Sheet & Tube scholarship" -- he worked in the mills in the summertime. As a historian recording the decline and fall of Youngstown's steel industry, he said "the lessons, if there are any, should have been learned 10 or 15 years ago." But by that time, the city's three steel mills were so antiquated and out of date that their demise was only a matter of time.

There are other lessons in Youngstown.

"If there's one thing we learned from the Campbell Works, it's that nobody outside of this town is going to do a damn thing about what happens in Youngstown," union representative Weinstock said at a union rally last week. "The only people who care about what happens to you are in this room."

Weinstock said Youngstown also should have learned that. "You can't compete with a horse and buggy in the Indianapolis 500," he added. "You can't make steel in plants like these and compete with plants that are 10 to 15 years old.

Union members and clergymen tried to get federal loan guarantees to buy the Youngstown Sheet & Tube plant and keep it open, but the government refused to help. That lesson also has been learned; there will be no such effort this time.

"We've all learned the lesson that you can't base the economy of an entire valley on the operations of one industry," said Tom Leskovac, mayor of the Village of McDonald.

To the Rev. Charles Rawlings, a flannel-shirted Episcopal priest who worked on the effort to save Sheet & Tube and became the spiritual leader of Youngstown's steelworkers, there is another lesson:

"What we are experiencing in cities like Youngstown and Pittsburgh and Gary is nothing short of economic genocide, a job extermination program," he said.

"It is going to begin to set a pattern. It is making you vulnerable, and it is making our children -- our daughters and sons in whom we have so much hope -- even more vulnerable. We are struggling not just for our own asses. We are struggling for our daughters and sons, to make the world different."

For Youngstown, the world will be different. Youngstown never again will be a city of steel mills. Most likely the rusting beams, the worn-out gears and the abandoned ladles will go where other abandoned steel mills have gone -- back into the furnaces to make more steel, historian Simchick says. To a religious man like Ed Domitrovic, there is a lesson in that as well: Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Steel to steel.