One of the more interesting books I’ve read in recent years is Angela Duckworth’s Grit. The book explores how grit is a combination of purposeful passion and perseverance. As I read the book, I thought about how much I learned about grit by growing up in Youngstown. I think about how many of those winter snowstorms we dug out of–and then went to school. We hardly ever had snow days. We watched our parents go to work, often to hard, physical, and sometimes dangerous jobs. We had parents who struggled through the Depression. And many of us had to reinvent ourselves when the big employers pulled out of the city. Some of the city’s sports heroes are football players like Frank Sinkwich or boxers like Ray “Boom-Boom” Mancini. If you were knocked down, you got up. Or you knocked the other guy down first. Grit.
We’ve faced a hard couple of years. Youngstowners don’t sugarcoat things. We buried people we love. We got sick and recovered. We saw businesses struggle. But if we are reading this, we survived (and hopefully will, to the end of this thing). That’s no small thing. As I think of the year ahead, this seems to be a time for Youngstown-strong grit–even as we have lived with grit through the pandemic.
I saw a story yesterday on WKBN’s website about the Westside Bowl and the couple who have turned it into a popular entertainment venue. It exemplifies Youngstown grit. The old Gran Lanes was our favorite spot on the West side for bowling. Then it sat vacant for years. A West side couple, Nathan and Jami Offerdahl had a dream, then spent three years between 2015 and 2018 working out a business plan. They opened with a small downstairs venue for 200, then took out half the lanes, created a larger upstairs venue, kept half the alleys, and served good pizza and booze. When COVID hit, they came up with a “pay it forward” pizza promotion that allowed them to pay the bills.
Grit is disciplined passion. It is just plain hard work from planning a business to renovating a venue. It perseveres during down times. It keeps finding a new way to do things. And grit sticks to its values. The Offerdahls created an intimate, artsy venue that bands love and refuse to tear out additional lanes to make the upstairs venue larger. (From the Gallery pictures, it really looks like a great concert venue.)
Rather than resolutions, which I don’t think Youngstowners are big on, I wonder if this is a good year to get on our Youngstown grit. That doesn’t mean being mean and nasty or hard-hearted. I think the ICU personnel caring for our sickest are among the grittiest people we will encounter. They are tired but they keep showing up, shift after shift. Grit can mean caring for an aging loved one–Youngstowners take care of family.
Maybe this is the year you decide to pursue a passion you’ve long thought about, like the Offerdahls. Surviving a pandemic can have a wonderfully focusing effect. It could be giving yourself to volunteer work that makes some part of the world a little better place. Maybe it is pursuing a business or creative venture. And think how good it will be to persevere in developing a skill or launching a new venture when you’ve had all that practice in persevering with social distancing, quarantines, masks, and the like!
Gritty people know how to celebrate. Their celebrations aren’t empty celebrations just to have fun. From weddings to wakes, we knew how to celebrate, enjoying the fruits of work, the efforts of raising kids, and the preciousness of life and family. No wonder we insist on good food and plenty of it at our gatherings!
I’ve written so much in this series about the gritty people who built Youngstown from the early settlers to the laborers, the civic and cultural leaders, and the builders of industries, and even some of the great buildings of the city. Whether we still live in the Valley or make our homes elsewhere, this is a time for grit and resilience.
I look forward to sharing more stories of Youngstown and the character and grit that shaped our city. I wish you a Happy and “Gritty” New Year!
To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!