Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Our Parents Worked

Steelmaking in Youngstown

With Labor Day coming up, it occurred to me that perhaps it was a fitting time to remember how hard our parents worked. Many were trying to get a foothold on the economic ladder, to buy a house, and to see us kids have opportunities they would never have. Pretty soon, at least for my generation, they all will be gone. Last week marked eight years since my father passed. My father and mother both would have been 100 this year. It seems especially fitting this Labor Day to honor them.

They worked since they were children, collecting scrap metal during the Depression to contribute to family income. Many Youngstown men in my neighborhood worked in the mills, some within walking distance. It was hard, grimy, and dangerous. A lapse of attention could cost a finger, a foot, or even a life. Others worked in railyards, or in factories making rail cars, office furniture, or automobiles. Often, they retired as soon as they could, before the strength of their bodies was totally broken down.

Our mothers worked. During the war, many filled the factory jobs vacated by the men gone to war. My mother was a telephone operator. My wife’s mom was an aircraft inspector. Some returned to home making when husbands came back from the war. That did not mean they did not work. Diapers were not disposable. Washers had wringers that could wring an arm as easily as your clothes. Washing, ironing, cleaning, cooking–every day. There were few takeout options or labor saving conveniences. To supplement groceries and stretch budgets, especially during strikes there was gardening, and canning and cooking from scratch.

Men came home and worked on cars and remodeled or added onto homes and pitched in to help relatives and buddies who were doing the same. And they taught us how to do a job well and finish it.

Some worked at the same place for many years. But even before Black Monday, people had to re-tool and find new work. I watched my father go through that, trying a succession of jobs before landing a decent job as a department store buyer and department manager. He always worked hard while treating his people with decency and fairness. He paid all his bills, provided for us, and left no debts. That’s the way he wanted it.

Many of us do enjoy better lives than our parents. They sent us to college or trade school. We may even have inherited from them, adding to our resources. More than that, they likely imparted their work ethic to us, whether we learned the lessons or not.

Our parents worked. Youngstown worked. We enjoyed a richness of life in our neighborhoods and the city that we love to remember. Perhaps as we celebrate this weekend, it’s a good time to remember our parents, how they worked and made Youngstown a good place–and how that hard work shaped our lives. Thank you mom and dad!

18 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Our Parents Worked

  1. Thankyou for all your writings about Youngstown. I enjoy them so much. this is still a wonderful town in many ways and I am so glad I grew up here being exposed to all the rich ethnic experiences, people, churches and food.

  2. Bob
    Great post. My parents worked so hard as well. Came back to YTown for Labor Day weekend. Plan to visit my parents at Resurection Cemetary. Miss them very much.
    Happy Labor Day
    Michelle Humans White

  3. Thank you Bob. My parents worked hard too and instilled in me the need to make a contribution to our society. They were always giving back, paying it forward. I miss them very much. Thank you

    Sent from my iPhone

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  4. My mom would have turned 100 this April. She worked at the Ravenna Arsenal and then ran a crane in the mill during the war. My dad came back from the war and returned to the mills. He died young at 42 leaving my mom with 2 young kids. Grandma watched us while she went to college and became a teacher so she could give us a good life. Thanks for the great stories, Bob!

  5. Like many in our generation, I grew up in a home where both parents worked. My father worked for the City of Richmond, Virginia, and my mother worked for the Richmond Public Schools as a secretary. They found a way to live generously yet also frugally. Coupons and S & H Green Stamps were standard means of savings. There is much to be said for this “Greatest Generation.”

  6. One of the unique circumstances that I identify in the family of a mill worker is shift work. When your dad worked night shift your friends couldn’t play at your house. I enjoy your articles reading them in Conneticut
    Thanks

  7. So very true. Sadly, I think great generations like that have faded away. It’s a don’t work, disposable, I’m owed world that seems to have fogged most young today.

  8. Pingback: Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Your Favorites of 2020 | Bob on Books

  9. Yes my parents worked hard for me and others. How I appreciate their work ethic! I was blessed. Thank you so very much to my parents and others who created a wonderful Youngstown!

  10. My grandfather, Raymond Gerry, worked 51 years at the Ohio Leather Company in Girard. His wife, Agnes, worked there for 35 years. It was hard, smelly labor taking cowhides from the Chicago Stockyards and turning them into leather for some of the finest shoes made. I worked there for a summer when I was 17 and gained much appreciation for their toil. Not a highly paid job but steady work that allowed them to build a nice house on Churchill Road. Grandpa was born in 1901 and passed in 1979. Grandma was born in 1905 and lived to be almost 97 years old. Mom and dad worked hard, too. Dad got a job in the payroll department at Republic Steel after the war. Mom was a telephone operator until she got a job in the mid 1950’s at Packard Electric. Mom was up early every day to head out to work at 6am. Dad got up with her and played soitaire while she got ready for work. He then got us kids up, fed and off to school before he left to go to his office. Their efforts allowed us to have a modest house in the suburbs (Liberty) along with other good neighbors. Dad suffered through several years of illness but still managed to make it to work until he passed away from a heart attack at age 55, He was never able to enjoy his golden years but he and mom were both fine examples of the American work ethic. They passed these traits onto me and I worked a total of 51 years before finally retiring 5 years ago. I am proud to say that all three of my children are hard workers and great parents to their children, too.

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