Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Why I Still Love Youngstown

Suspension Bridge

One of the things I’ve discovered in writing about Youngstown over the years is that it may be forty years or more, but many people formerly from Youngstown still love the city as they remember it. That’s not true for all, of course, but I’ve reflected on why so many still have a special place in their hearts for Youngstown. I feel that way even though I moved away for work after college in 1976, and have lived longer in my current home than I lived in Youngstown.

Maybe it is just how people feel about their home town, no matter what. Could be, but I find people from Youngstown seem to light up when they have a chance to talk about what was special about home. We make pilgrimages to remind ourselves of what we loved–the Canfield Fair, the original Handel’s, Mill Creek Park, the Butler, or even New York City to ride the old Idora carousel.

If I had to come up with one reason for this love, I think it is simply because, for so many of us, the Youngstown of our memories was a good place to grow up–not perfect, but pretty good. It was a city of families–often extended families living within blocks of each other. It was a city that worked hard, and sometimes partied hard–particularly at weddings and wakes. It was a city that was both gritty and beautiful–with both mills and Mill Creek, blast furnaces and the Butler, both neighborhood garages and grand family-owned department stores. In many parts of town, most of the necessities of life were within walking distance.

Of course there was the food, and the endless quest of Youngstowners to find anything so good elsewhere, whether pizza or pizzelles, halushki or Handel’s. The Recipes of Youngstown cookbooks are a treasure trove for those who lost grandma’s recipe for one or another great Youngstown recipe. Sometimes the best food in the city could be found in her kitchen and her recipe box a family treasure.

The more I’ve delved into the people and history of Youngstown, the more I’ve been impressed by so many who loved the city and gave back and made it the rich place I enjoyed as a child–Volney Rogers, Joseph Butler, Anson Campbell, P. Ross Berry, William Rayen, Reuben MacMillan, the Warner Brothers, the McKelvey and Strouss families, and so many more. I didn’t know most of these stories until recent years, but those stories wove the fabric of my life and that of so many others in the city. They made it a good place industrially, commercially, educationally, culturally, and architecturally. Knowing these stories has deepened my love for such a historically and culturally rich place.

We love it for all our memories–family gatherings, first communions, first dates, first jobs. Some of us married there, and whether those lasted or our spouses survived, we remember. Many of us have buried our parents there. Even if we haven’t visited for some time, we remember our favorite places, whether the beauty of places like Crandall Park, skating on Lake Glacier in winter, the grand old houses around Wick Park and Stambaugh Auditorium.

I could go on, but all the posts I’ve written over the years are really an extended love letter for the city. And I would love to hear about the things you loved, and still love about Youngstown.

33 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Why I Still Love Youngstown

  1. Youngstown was a wonderful place to grow up
    Tom and I left Ytown for Atlanta in 1982. We were married in 1973 and our 2 children were baptized in our First Presbyterian Church which I love and miss so much. The people of Youngstown I have always admired for their giving hearts. Quite remarkable group of people who couldn’t do enough for their city and for each other. Even though we are Atlantans now my heart is in Youngstown and the treasures it’s people gave to each other and the world.

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  2. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the excellent job you have done with this blog. It’s the only thing on Facebook that I look forward to reading. Wishing you all the best. -Cyril Hudak

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  3. Absolutely love your stories. My husband and I left Ytown in 1969. We used to go back 4 or 5 times a year to see parents. Now only brothers ,cousins and some really good friends still in the area. You can take the girl out of Youngstown but you can’t take the Youngstown out of the girl. Not everyone is aware of how deep our ethnic roots grow. Thanks for your reminders.

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  4. Bob as I’ve told you before your stories are so very appreciated by me. Keep up the good work. I graduated in 1982 at the low point in Ytown history and half my graduating class moved away. The half that stayed did well and some extremely well. Same to say about the other half but what they say they miss the most was extended families and food. Can’t get good pizza west of the Mississippi. Water is too acidic. I have a friend who lives in California and found a great pizza place by word of mouth. H decided to visit and to his surprise the man was from Youngstown and imports his water😄

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  5. Several branches of my family arrived in Mahoning, Columbiana & Trumbull counties before 1810. In doing research since 1973, I have learned a lot about the area and it’s history and have a true appreciation for it. Always love to learn new things. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Bob, curiosity for the good old days, in our impressionable time of our lives. I remember scrounging the fair grounds for lost coins the day after the fair. Living a street away from the Saturday night destruction derbies or watching the Longest Day or Lawrence of Arabia at the Southside Drive In.
    Meeting my first love at the new mall or kissing her in the rain after a picnic in Mill Creek Park. The Park breathing in all the plant life on a 20 mile Boy Scout hike. Golfing with friends at the park golf course.
    Zipping along the water of area reservoirs with my parents old wooden boat. Neighbor congregating for the annual cookout in the Lake Forest addition of Boardman. Enjoying a bowling league in Struthers after a day of studies at YSU. Gaining a lifelong love of good food and skills for cooking. The smells of veal parm Friday nights at Courtney’s, the Oven, the Boulevard Tavern. As a kid celebrating birthdays at the 20th Century or the Golden Drumstick. Eating part of my giant Gorants Easter Bunny after walking downtown to First Presbyterian sunrise service, then feasting with my confirmation class Easter breakfast at Perkins.
    These were the times of my life and by the time I left YSU for Miami University another book of memories began to be written and then moving forward to stark harsh realties in the mills of Cleveland.
    I’ve lived 40 years in Tulsa a city I love and know well. My wife and I were young all my babies born in St Francis ( the pink hospital) Traveling back to Youngstown allows me to get in thought about pitching at Pemberton Park under the lights or cooking short order at a girl friend’s father’s golf course in Campbell or swimming with friends at Wildwood Lake and finally still remembering riding bike all over Canfield and Boardman free with wind, never doubting that my hometown wasn’t the greatest place to be from.
    My hometown is older and worn as I in my 66th year is the same. But My memories- many more than I have written are clear and young and make up part of who I am.

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  7. Love your posts and this one hits the nail on the head
    Left Youngstown in 1973
    It pains me when i go back and visit to see places deteriorated or gone
    I think the one word that really defines Youngstown is “family” (“food” comes in as a close second) – as most Youngstowners were – and still are – family oriented or centered
    I learned love and kindness and respect for everyone while growing up in Youngstown
    We were a very diverse community and opportunity was there for everyone – the Italians, the Czechs, the Polish, the Hungarians, the Afro-Americans, the Syrians, the Lebanese, the Irish, etc (we were a mini-United Nations) – when Youngstown was making money, all of these various ethnicities were making money
    As I lived outside of Youngstown when the steel mills first closed, I was not aware of the decline – but when I went back to visit, I was shocked and saddened at the changes – but Youngstown is still trodding on – and there is family there who love it so much, they refuse to leave – and it is because of both family and the feel of community – again a defining term for the area
    My brother was a prime example of the city’s stereotype: He was a talker (and a lot of Youngstoners are talkers) – he would start talking to someone and sometimes for an hour or two – after he was finished, I would ask him “who was that” and he would reply – “oh – I don’t know” – or, many many times he would see someone in need, and he would stop and take his time to help them – he was also “Dad” to a lot of kids in the neighborhood, even taking some into hus home if they needed somewhere to stay for whatever reason – and that sums up a lot of Youngstowners
    And, yes, Mill Creek Park (and a lot of the smaller parks too) and Butler Art are cherished memories (and I still visit them when in the area)
    I would tell my husband of Youngstown’s beauty and glory while I was growing up – he somewhat disbelieved me until he saw Mill Creek Park and Butler Art – he was amazed -and saddened too at the decline in the living parts of the city (deteriorated or demolished homes)
    Again thank you for your posts – I always look forward to them

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  8. My memories are many even after moving away in 1962 to Florida with my parents and brother and sister. My earliest memories are of my grandfather in Campbell on 3rd Street. I loved him so much. My father was a Ohio State Patrol trooper so we moved a lot. Eventually we ended up on the west side of Youngstown. The joy of playing with friends virtually every day is as vivid today as it was then. I remember 10 cents pizza by the slice and rushing to the store to get baseball cards on the way home from school at St. Brendan’s. Every summer we looked forward to going to Cleveland to the Indians game with the Youngstown Fire Department on the Erie RR train. I discovered the joy of reading at the Westside Library. I am still a Youngstown kid at heart. I always look forward to reading your blog. Thanks, Bob.

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  9. Waking up in the morning with the cool summer breeze blowing my bedroom curtains while carrying the sulfer smell of textile mills . Exploring the wooded areas while walking the rail road tracks checking for loose rail road spikes. Public pools that were 10 cent’s to enter and hopping to see ” that girl ” there or finding a summer love. Riding bikes all over the area till late past dark and knowing most every road and where it led too . That’s just summer and only a few favorite memories.

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  10. Thank you for taking me back to happy years in my life, both youngstown & Hubbard Ohio. I graduated from Hubbard High School 1951 and Youngstown University, went on to med. school and have good nostalgic memories, like living only a block from Handel’s on Market street!, and still mindvisits back to do it all over again. I wonder if Lake Mackachee is still out off of Bears den rd.

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  11. I moved to Calif in ’63 when my fiance, also from YO, got an aerospace job. We came home often and even moved back from ’71-’74. I never stopped missing Youngstown for so many reasons…a huge family, birthdays, holidays, etc. I always felt that Younstowners are special with a huge capacity for hospitality and helpfulness, faith and fairness, appreciation for nature, and cooking skills beyond most cities. (I was shocked at the first wedding where 3 h’orderves and cake were served.) I’ve been back for 5 years now..much has changed but the Youngstown spirit has not.

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  12. Bob, you have done a fantastic job researching and sharing your stories. Whether we’ve moved or still live here Ytown was and is a great place to grow up. Yes it has changed dramatically and will continue to morph into a new identity. The day will come when the area who and is parochialism enjoying hands to become one major metropolitan area, then we will thrive all pulling together for a common goal. Until then it’ll be three steps forward two steps back. Anyhow Bob keep up the good work and looking forward to the day when you decide to put all this into a book which I believe will be very successful thank you again, Robert Pilolli

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  13. I love so many things about Youngstown. I have lived in Cleveland for over thirty years now, and I return home to Youngstown to visit friends, enjoy the local music scene, attend all the great local events and, of course, eat amazing Youngstown food. You can always strike up a conversation with a stranger. I feel that Youngstowners have a sense of style and have better social graces than people in Cleveland.


  14. Thank you Bob fir putting this into words so beautifully. Like so many, I haven’t lived there for years. But I love being FROM there. The people, the family values, the sense of community are things that are hard to find elsewhere. Things that make other people from our area recognizable even across a room or on the other side of the world. Last year I was in France when from across a crowded restaurant I heard a woman speak. Later I saw her on the street and stopped her. I asked her where she was from and she said that she had been born in France but grew up in Youngstown. What a special gift our rich, diverse culture has given to us! And thank you again for reminding us all.

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