Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Mill Creek Before the Park

MillCrMahoning pdf

Map of the Mill Creek watershed in Columbiana County from its origin with Mill Creek highlighted, from Mill Creek Watershed Action Plan (Ohio DNR)

Before there ever was a Mill Creek Metropark, there was Mill Creek. As it turns out, the portion of Mill Creek most of us are familiar with is only the northern half, running from Boardman Township north to Lake Newport, then Lanterman’s Falls and the gorge, emptying into Lake Cohasset, and then running to the south end of Lake Glacier, and from there emptying into the Mahoning River. It got its name from the grist mills built along the Creek. There are several “Mill Creeks” in Ohio.

Mill Creek originates in Columbiana County. For the first forty-plus years of Mill Creek Park, no one knew exactly where the headwaters of Mill Creek were. In 1904, Volney Rogers was finally able to try to search for the headwaters. It was a winter day. He began where Mill Creek flows into the Mahoning River and made it as far as Lanterman’s Falls, no where near Columbiana. In 1921, John H. Chase and his daughter followed the creek into Columbiana County but they were unsuccessful in identifying its source. This was complicated by small streams that flowed in, but weren’t Mill Creek. Finally John Chase and Bruce Rogers, Park Superintendent and brother of Volney, traced the headwaters to a farm owned by William Cope in Fairfield Township on a ridge about 2 1/2 miles south of Columbiana and 20.9 miles from where Mill Creek flows into the Mahoning River. The spring actually started underneath the farmhouse.

rogers and spring

Bruce Rogers pointing to Spring by foundations behind the farmhouse. (Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly, April 1934)

A ceremony was held on October 7, 1933 christening the headwaters, attended by a number of prominent local guests with remarks by Bruce Rogers, a poem, and an account of how they reached the determination that this was the origin of Mill Creek, an account later published in the Ohio Archaelogical and Historical Quarterly written by Charles B. Galbreath, who gave the keynote at the gathering. The christening involved water collected from the Bay of Fundy, the Suwanee River, the Pacific Ocean, the Indian River, Crater Lake, and snow melt from Mount Rainier.

In 1965, the farm was sold to Harry Pierson and became known as the “Headquarters Farm.” It turns out that this property lies just south of the Fairfield Township offices. Beginning in 2016, a combination of Boy and Girl Scout projects and township funded work created an observation and seating area that is Phase One of the Fairfield Township Trustees plan to develop the Headwaters Nature Trail. Phase Two, projected to be completed in 2019 involves more trail clearing, bridges, benches and trail marking.

cope homestead

(Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly, April 1934)

Mill Creek at its origin is 1175 feet above sea level and falls 345 feet enroute to the Mahoning River. According to the Mill Creek Watershed Action Plan the creek cut through a clay and loam layer deposited by glaciers down through the Mississippian age siltstone and shales, and the Pennsylvanian age sandstone and shales, creating the beautiful gorges we know today. There are ten name tributaries feeding Mill Creek and 90 unnamed ones. Ultimately, all the water in this watershed flows into the Mahoning River, which joins with the Beaver River south of New Castle, Pa. and then flows into the Ohio, the Mississippi, and the Gulf of Mexico. It is amazing to think of the journey of that water from a hard-to-find spring in Fairfield Township all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Equally amazing to me is to think that this little rivulet, joined with small tributaries over millennia cut the beautiful gorges of the park so many of us love.

Other source:

John C. Melnick, The Green Cathedral. Youngstown: Youngstown Lithography, 1976, pp. 311-318.

Do We Need a New Andrew Carnegie?


By Theodore Christopher Marceau – Library of Congress, Public Domain, via Wikimedia

Andrew Carnegie was a steel and rail baron of the nineteenth century who made a fortune, and then spent the last two decades of his life giving much of it away. All told, he gave away approximately $350 million (the equivalent of $65 billion) in today’s dollars. Some say he was atoning for the ruthless practices involved in acquiring his fortune. He was a pioneer in developing the vertically integrated industry in which rail, coal, steel, and steamship lines controlled every aspect of production.

After selling his industries to what became U.S. Steel in 1901, he turned his focus to giving away his fortune. One of his major investments was libraries. His idea was to give his resources so that the poor could help themselves, and libraries were a key component of his philanthropic strategy. His first library was built in Dumferline, Scotland in 1883. He built libraries in Great Britain, Canada, other English speaking countries and in the United States. The first in the U.S. was in nearby Braddock, Pennsylvania, opened in 1888.


Source unknown, widely attributed to Andrew Carnegie

According to Wikipedia, by 1923, 1419 grants totaling $45,865,440.10 resulted in the building of 1647 libraries. An NPR story puts the total at $60 million building 1689 libraries. Worldwide, his grants funded construction of over 3,000 libraries. In addition, he invested in educational institutions, including Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University) and Tuskegee Institute (a historically Black college). He also invested in pension funds for his workers and in the arts.

Many of the library buildings constructed with his grants are still standing, often among the distinguished architectural structures in their towns, whether still in use as libraries or not.

So what is the situation today? Libraries offer a tremendous array to Carnegie’s working man or women and their children. In addition to books, a variety of digital resources are available for lending, children’s programs, tutoring programs and a variety of adult education programs are offered in many communities that assist with job skills and job hunting. Computer resources provide online access for those who cannot afford these or have only limited access. Most libraries are providing ever-growing numbers of people with greater numbers of services, often at fairly static funding levels, making them among the most efficient organizations.

The funding picture of libraries is primarily through state funding and local property tax levies. Ohio, where I live recently raised the percentage of its state budget going to libraries from 1.68 to 1.7 percent. This money provides roughly half of library funding overall. The reality though is that while some municipalities invest heavily in their libraries, others, often in cash-strapped rural settings, live almost entirely on state funding. The good news is that there is a great return on investment in library funding. A recent study found that $1 invested in Ohio libraries returned nearly $5 in economic value and Ohio has the highest per capita library use in the country. Federal funding for the Museum and Libraries Services was recently renewed and increased by $11 million, despite Trump administration opposition.

So while there is some good news on the U.S. funding front, many small libraries are struggling, and I hear of some that have closed, leaving “library deserts” in some areas of the country. The situation is worse in the United Kingdom, where nearly 130 libraries closed this past year and many are being run by volunteer staff. Certainly, the situation is more dire yet in other parts of the world.

Could philanthropists play a bigger part? For twenty years, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation did that, but announced in 2018 that they are winding down their program after funding free internet access in U.S. libraries, and greater technology access throughout the world. While some places like Harvard have huge endowments of $36 billion. A Washington Post article reports that by contrast there are only several billion dollars nationally in library endowments. The case has been made for a National Library Endowment with a goal of $20 billion. How could it happen? The Post article notes that the top 400 wealthiest in this country are worth $2.4 trillion. In other words, less than one percent of this wealth could fully endow this fund at $20 billion, and continue to build it in succeeding years. This could mean hiring librarians in cash strapped urban systems, expanding digital access, developing school libraries, and enhanced technology for research libraries. Mackenzie Bezos has committed a portion of her Amazon fortune to The Giving Pledge, organized by Warren Buffett to encourage just this kind of philanthropy.  Wouldn’t it be a bit ironic if she gave this toward a library endowment? Stranger things have happened.

Libraries continue to provide huge benefits to their communities and serve as “springs in the desert.” Who will take up the mantle of Andrew Carnegie in this generation? One hopes the day may come where alongside Carnegie’s name, we see those of Zuckerberg, Buffett, Bezos, Brin, Ellison, Bloomberg, Winfrey, and Cuban. All it would take is for these folks to put their heads–and their money–together and decide to make it happen. The whole country would be richer for it.

Review: The Road to Middle-Earth

The Road to Middle Earth

The Road to Middle-EarthTom Shippey. New York: Houghton Mifflin, rev. ed. 2003.

Summary: A study of Tolkien’s methods in creating the narratives of Middle-Earth, including words, names, maps, poetry, and mythology.

For most of us who have read (and re-read) J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and other stories, we marvel at the world Tolkien creates, complete with fascinating names, a variety of languages with poetry and mythologies of beginnings, and the entry of evil into their world. Creatures who previously only inhabited the fairy tales of childhood come alive: dwarves, elves, trolls, wights, and orcs, as well as Tolkien’s unique creation, those lovable hobbits. One wonders, how did he do all that? We might wonder where Christopher Tolkien, his son, has gotten all the material for twelve volumes of Middle-Earth history and more.

Tom Shippey’s book helps answer that question, and is a boon to those who wish to delve (an appropriate word) into the depths underneath the stories we love. Shippey begins with what it meant for Tolkien to be a philologist. It was a time when the field of English studies was riven between “lit versus lang.” Tolkien was a philologist. He loved languages, particularly the languages from which modern English came. Shippey observes that for Tolkien, the story arose from the language and the world he created provided a place for the languages. The book traces all of this, the people and place names, the poetry and song, the map of Middle-Earth and a mythology to make sense of it all.

He analyzes the stories and what he calls “interlacement” as a series of different stories intersect in this grand story. He also unfolds Tolkien’s lifetime work of establishing the history behind The Lord of the Rings, including the account that made up The Silmarillion, finished by Christopher Tolkien. Tolkien worked for decades on various pieces of the history, developing languages, drawing on Old English and other languages to come up with words, and then going back and forth, harmonizing his account. He would devise stories and characters like Tom Bombadil and then try to fit them into his growing narrative. Names changed over times as Trotter became Strider and Aragorn. It appears that Tolkien often could be drawn down rabbit trails as he sought to elaborate the bones of the history of Middle-Earth. The story “Leaf by Niggle” is a parable of Tolkien’s creative process. It is a story of an artist so meticulous that he only paints one leaf. Oh, what a leaf Tolkien painted, even if he left much unfinished work to Christopher!

The book includes several afterwords, the most interesting of which is a comparison of the text of Lord of the Rings with Peter Jackson’s version, underscoring what can be done with text versus film, and the plot choices Jackson made, sometimes illuminating, sometimes questionable.

If all the poems and strange names in Lord of the Rings are off-putting to you, this probably isn’t the book for you. Shippey plunges deeply into all of this and Tolkien’s creative process that resulted in the story. It can be heavy wading, and is probably done best after reading Lord of the Rings several times and having the text at your side. If you love all this stuff, you will love this book and won’t mind some of the sections which get fairly technical with lots of unfamiliar words.

Tolkien probably started developing the ideas that led to The Lord of the Rings around 1914. The Lord of the Rings was published in 1954 and 1955. His other major work, The Silmarillion, was published posthumously in 1977. In an era where some fan fiction writers crank out a work every year or two, Shippey helps us understand why it took so long to produce these works and why these works are considered so great by so many. Shippey makes the case that in creating this mythology in the English language, Tolkien was “The Author of the Century.” Tolkien did not merely create a story. He created a world.

Review: Losing Earth

Losing Earth.jpg

Losing Earth: A Recent HistoryNathaniel Rich. MCD/Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2019.

Summary: An account of the lost opportunity of the 1980’s to address climate change and the birth of the polarized dialogue that exists to this day.

Did you know that much of the scientific understanding of the greenhouse effect and global warming traces back to the nineteenth century? That in the 1950’s and throughout the Sixties and Seventies, scientists were already warning of global warming and contending that warming connected with higher carbon dioxide levels was already evident? Did you know there was a time when climate change and the science behind it was not a political issue and that political leaders in both parties, and many others in most the the countries of the world, substantially agreed that this was a looming problem that needed to be addressed? That world leaders came very close to an agreement to limit and reduce carbon dioxide emissions in 1989? That was thirty years ago. In 1990 human beings emitted more than 20 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Instead of cutting that amount, by 2018, the amount was projected at 37.1 billion metric tons and growing.

Nathaniel Rich narrates the story of a lost moment through two figures: Rafe Pomerance, an environmental lobbyist and Gordon MacDonald, a climate scientist. A third figure who plays a prominent role is James Hansen, a NASA climate scientist who compiled massive amounts of data, and gave compelling testimony wherever called upon. Pomerance, came across this finding in a government study on the continued use of fossil fuels: “continued use of fossil fuels might, within two or three decades, bring about ‘significant and damaging’ changes to the global atmosphere.” That was in the Spring of 1979 and changed the course of his life. It led to his interview with Gordon MacDonald, a geophysicist, who was glad that someone beside him finally noticed.

Rich’s book traces their efforts to mobilize awareness and action, culminating in the formation of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and a climate summit in the Netherlands in 1989. Initially, action on climate change was widely supported, at least in public statements. Meanwhile, a transformation began to take place in the fossil fuel industry from studying the issue themselves and reckoning on the consequences of continued fuel use, to a movement of resistance and a challenge to the science, and exercise of increasing leverage. In the climate talks, the resistance of one US figure led to a meaningless agreement to which the US never subscribed, and an increasingly politicized discourse around climate issues. Perhaps the most stunning revelation of this book was that it was not always so.

Rich’s afterword is both hopeful and sobering. He both notes the technological advances that might be turned to action limiting global temperature rises to somewhere between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius. Yet he also wrestles with the propensity of human beings to not act to address possible dangers down the road and instead prefer their present comfort. He not only condemns in the strongest terms those who twist and deny what they know. He challenges all of us:

We do not like to think about loss, or death; Americans in particular, do not like to think about death. No matter how obsessively one follows the politics of climate change, it is difficult to contemplate soberly an existential threat to the species. Our queasiness even infects the language we use to describe it: the banalities of “global warming” and “climate change” perform the linguistic equivalent of rolling on sanitary gloves to palpate a hemorrhaging wound.

To see how close the world came to a climate agreement on carbon emissions in the 1980’s, to learn of a time when this was not a political football, suggests that it may be possible in the future. To avert the worst possibilities, it is imperative. One concludes Rich’s book wondering, will we seize or miss the opportunity that we have?


Planetary Denial


Our only home. Image credit: NASA

I’ve lived long enough to walk with friends facing terminal illnesses. One of the most character defining things is how one faces one’s death. One of the most relationship-defining moments is how the friends of the dying walk with their friends in those moments. One thing we do know is that denial never helps. Sometimes, denying a life-threatening illness averts treatment that can save life. Denying that one is dying prevents one from concluding one’s life well. Pretending a dying friend will get better prevents the conversations that allow people to say what is needed to finish well together.

I’m convinced that the planetary systems that sustain life on our planet are in a serious crisis. If you are not convinced of that, I really have no argument for you. Chances are, you’ve heard them all and don’t credit them.

I do. The rapid planet-wide rise of temperatures that corresponds to the rapidly increasing levels of carbon dioxide we have poured into our atmosphere already is having consequences. The death of coral reefs. An arctic free of ice. Coastal cities and inhabited islands that will be submerged. Droughts. Catastrophic fire seasons. Melting glaciers. Melting permafrost adding even more greenhouse gases, accelerating the process.

I’ve lived one place for thirty years. I garden. I’ve seen our growing season extend two to three weeks in that short period. We have more insects. Rains and storms are more intense. Winters are milder. Thirty years is a short time to see some of these changes on a year in, year out basis.

What I read, what I learn from politically impartial scientists who are friends, what I see around me, even what I feel, tells me I am not living in the world of my youth just fifty to sixty years ago. If there is anything to what I read, these changes are only going to intensify in the years ahead. We have yet to see all the effects of the carbon dioxide we’ve already emitted, let alone what we will emit in the years ahead.

In my childhood, we learned to live under the cloud of a nuclear holocaust. The apocalyptic consequences of a nuclear war, at least so far, have stayed the hands of those who could unleash one. In one way, instant incineration, or a quick, if painful death from radiation sickness may be easier than what we could be facing.

The scenario before us seems to be one of survival of the fittest and devil take the hindmost. Drought and famine will likely increase taking many by starvation, or others in wars for food and water. The migrations we have seen in recent years will likely increase, and the confrontations at borders become more violent. We will be in an increasingly unstable world, and even within national borders, tensions will increase. Living near the relatively abundant water supply of the Great Lakes, I wonder what tensions we will face even from other parts of our own country stressed for water. Meanwhile, food pressures or environmental degradation will mean rapid species die offs of other creatures. Imagine a dawn without bird song but simply the intensifying of unremitting heat. As oceans rise, the question occurs to me of where will all the people in our coastal cities live and work?

It won’t all happen at once, which gives us the illusion that somehow we will escape the apocalypse. No doubt, this is what assures the powerful that they can get by. And maybe they will. Those in power today will likely die a natural death, as probably will I. But if the predictions hold, every year will get a little worse. Within a generation, we will know we are in an unremitting global crisis that will take generations or millennia to reverse. In two generations, many places on our planet will be hellish, and it seems credible to me that our social order will not sustain the brutal struggle for survival that will ensue.

I think we all hope for an amazing techno-fix. This seems like our hopes for miracle cures, or even miracle diet plans! Given the complex systems, and planetary scale, and how far down the road we are, I think the best we may do is prepare for the future, and do what we can not to make it worse. From what I can see, we’re not even doing that, and we crucify anyone who seriously talks about the drastic steps needed just to keep planetary temperatures from rising “only” 3 degrees Celsius.

As a Christian, my belief that Jesus is Lord of all challenges me to bring all my thoughts about this under his Lordship. I’m wrestling with what this means when I’m pretty convinced we face an existential crisis as a species we’ve not faced. For starters, I think this means continuing to live by faith. It means that I bring this crisis, and how I live to Him. If I believe all things were created through and sustained by Christ, that means that I do not stop looking to him when things appear dire. It may be that our hope is only in the “new heavens and new earth” of which scripture speaks. That’s not up to me. What is up to me is to continue to live as a responsible steward and caretaker of God’s world. I am increasingly aware that I, and all of us will answer for how we cared for the world, for the species, and fellow human beings who died because we did not care for it well. It challenges me to do all I can and to cherish and preserve the beauty of the earth while we can.

My faith teaches me that love of God and neighbor are intricately intertwined. As Christian communities, I think we will need to wrestle more deeply with how we will care for neighbors who experience loss and need. Will we adopt a “lifeboat ethic” or a “lay-down-our lives” ethic?

It seems to me that Christian communities need to begin talking about these things. These are end of planetary life conversations, and as desperately important as any other end-of-life conversation. It may be an easy escape to hope for the return of Christ to deliver us from all these things. But Jesus says we cannot know the day or hour of this, and we cannot count on this coming before things get bad. What we can count on is that there will be a reckoning for how we lived in these bad times.

There are some who will think all this is extreme. I so hope you are right. I would love to be proved wrong. But all that I know, see, even feel in my bones tells me we face something as serious as humanity has ever faced. The planet will survive. Whether we do is another question. It may depend on whether we face the hard truths before us, and on how we live whatever life is given us.

Review: The Soul of an American President

The Soul of an American President

The Soul of an American President, Alan Sears and Craig Osten with Ryan Cole. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019.

Summary: Traces the spiritual heritage and growing religious faith of Dwight D. Eisenhower, especially through the years of his presidency and later life.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first president I remember hearing about as a child. To be honest, he seemed kind of bland, and mostly I remember reports of him golfing. Recent historians and biographers have raised the estimation of Eisenhower as they consider his Cold War policies, how he kept the U.S. out of “hot” wars, presided over a boom of economic growth, and took some of the first, perhaps somewhat tentative, steps toward recognizing the civil rights of Blacks and other minorities, since the failed efforts of Reconstruction.

What the authors of this work discovered in examining other studies of Eisenhower’s life was that little or no account was give of his religious faith, a neglect that flies in the face of an increasingly regular, yet not publicized pattern of religious practice, interactions and expressions of faith with religious figures from Billy Graham to Pope John XXIII, the testimony of his pastors, and a number of public acts and utterances. Furthermore, these patterns continued after his presidency up to the time of his death in 1969.

The authors trace Eisenhower’s religious journey. He was born of parents deeply devoted to a branch of the Brethren in Christ that moved to Kansas. Later they left this group, and Ida, his mother was especially devoted to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. While not entirely orthodox, what marked his upbringing was a strong pattern of Bible-reading and piety, as well as involvement in pacifist religious groups.

Ike broke with his parents in going to West Point and entering the military. And we hear relatively little of his religious faith during his military career, even when he lost his son “Icky,” an event that strained his marriage. Only in World War II do we find him sharing prayers and expressing “There is nothing we could do but pray, desperately.” From here on, Ike expresses more of his faith publicly, though reticently, including contributing the words of “Lead, Kindly Light” to a prayerbook for servicemen in Korea, and more about the connections between America’s religious faith and democracy.

As was the case with so many others, a key influence in his life was the ministry, and in particular, personal conversations with Billy Graham in early 1952. Graham encouraged Eisenhower’s church attendance, referring him to the ministry of Dr. Ed Elson at National Presbyterian Church. Eisenhower had previous associations with Elson as a chaplain with the military. One of the things that stands out is that Eisenhower did not join the church, including being baptized (the only President to be baptized in office) until after the beginning of his presidency. His baptism was a private affair, witnessed by an intimate circle, and he was upset when word of his joining the church leaked to the press. He did not want attention called to his attendance, but both Elson, and his pastors at the Presbyterian Church in Gettysburg, where the Eisenhowers owned a farm, reported Eisenhower attended regularly, and frequently engaged in discussions of the content of sermons, They also quietly contributed monetarily and in other ways to the ministry of their churches.

The other part of Eisenhower’s faith focused on in the book were his ideas about the importance of religious faith, whether Christian or not, to America’s response to the atheist communist threat. He saw the fundamental difference between the two countries to be spiritual and not simply economic or political, which drove things like his support for the U. S. Information Agency. He publicly encouraged religious worship, began the practice of National Prayer Breakfasts, and served during a period when America’s attendance at religious services was at a peak. The authors highlight how religious conviction informed Eisenhower’s efforts with religious leaders across racial divides to break down segregation, albeit far more gradually than civil rights leaders would wish.

The latter part of the book describes Eisenhower’s post-presidency, marked with continued involvement with his church, even as his health declined. During his final hospitalization, he invited Billy Graham to share the scriptures of how he might be sure of his salvation. At the end of the conversation, he said, “Thank you, I’m ready.” One of the last things he said to his family was, “I want to go. God take me.” He died shortly after.

Two of the authors (Sears and Osten) are associated with a conservative religious liberty organization, so I found myself reading with a certain skepticism. However, I thought that on the whole, they offered a balanced account of Eisenhower’s life, and made a case for the genuineness of Eisenhower’s Christian faith. They don’t gloss over his mother’s involvement in the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the lack of religious expression through his early career, including his marriage difficulties with Mamie (they discount the possibility of the Kay Summersby affair, although evidence exists for an emotional, but unconsummated affair between them). The fact that Eisenhower waits until after election to be baptized and join his church argues strongly for his not using religious affiliation for political ends, as well as the persistence of his religious practice for the remainder of his life. It also struck me that one may see evidence of religious principles in his policies without engaging in culture wars or litmus tests.

If I might raise any issue, it would be with what seemed an uncritical account of a “God and country” vision and the language of civil religion that seems to appropriate religious faith to national aims (e.g. fighting Communism) that does not seem to recognize a kingdom that transcends national borders. I grew up internalizing that vision and it wasn’t until I began to truly understand God’s love for the world, and the priority allegiance of the Christian to God’s kingdom purposes, that I began to recognize the danger of “God and country” language. In Eisenhower’s administration, this was not egregious. Eisenhower acknowledged God’s providence, and supported the language of “under God” in the pledge of allegiance, acknowledging that God, not the state was ultimate. Yet it is so easy to turn this to an ideology of God existing to sustain American greatness, and the manipulation of religion for political ends.

The value of this work is that it redresses a balance in documenting the religious faith of Eisenhower, that has been neglected in other accounts. The account actually suggests that there is further work to be done in studying Eisenhower’s faith. The writers establish that Eisenhower was deeply thoughtful about his faith and sought to act upon that in his presidential leadership. Others around him, like John Foster Dulles, and George Kennan, also had religiously informed visions of the world. It also seems that Eisenhower was thoughtful about how one exercises religious belief in a pluralistic society and might well be studied for this. Lastly, one wonders how the pacifism of his upbringing and his religious faith may have informed his farewell address warning of the “military-industrial complex.”  The authors have made a case that far more research in this aspect of Eisenhower’s life and leadership is well-warranted.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown – Isaly Dairy Plant


Former Isaly Dairy Plant, June 2019. Photo © Bob Trube, all rights reserved

Fifty years ago, the September 12, 1969 Vindicator announced that Isaly’s would no longer make ice cream at its Mahoning Avenue plant on the West Side. This meant a loss of twenty of the 120 jobs at the plant. At the time H. William Isaly, the president of Isaly’s at the time, explained that they were consolidating ice cream production in the Pittsburgh plant. They would continue the processing of milk, cottage cheese, fruit juices, and other staples, as well as its home delivery and distribution operations.

At the time he said, further cutdowns were “unlikely.” He was asked about a rumor that the plant would be turned into a warehouse. Ominously, he said that was always “a possibility” but not something they planned to do “at this time.”

“At this time” only lasted a year. In 1970, the iconic art deco plant was closed and remained empty until occupied by U-Haul in 1987. U-Haul still operates the site, which has not seen significant improvements other than re-facing part of the building and painting it to advertise its storage facilities.

The closure of the Isaly plant would be followed in two years by sale of the company. The company had been declining throughout the 1960’s, and the job reductions and plant closure in Youngstown were just part of a bigger problem. The decline of home deliveries and their loose corporate structure (many stores were independently owned) made them less competitive in an environment of more centralized and standardized businesses. In the 1980’s, the Isaly name began a comeback, based in Pittsburgh selling meats (“chip chopped ham”!) and sauces as well as ice cream, but not Klondikes, which are owned by Unilever.

Isaly’s got its start in Mansfield, Ohio in 1902, then acquired a plant in Marion, Ohio in 1914. In 1918, Isaly’s came to Youngstown, purchasing the Farmers’ Dairy plant at the Mahoning Avenue location. Chester Isaly moved to Youngstown to manage the plant with an initial investment of $100,000 in improvements. In the 1930’s, they redesigned the exterior with an art deco look with a central, five story tower that some say resembled a milk bottle. Charles F. Owsley was the architect and they spent $400,000 on this project. At its peak, this was one of eleven plants Isaly’s operated across Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania and had over 400 stores.

I remember going to the plant, which had an ice cream counter, to get skyscraper cones when I was a kid. Isaly’s used a special scoop to serve the cone, about four inches of ice cream atop the cone, reminiscent of a skyscraper. Compared to the Dairy Cream, which served soft serve vanilla and chocolate, this was ice cream heaven with dozens of flavors of creamy, rich ice cream.

The picture above was taken during a recent visit to Youngstown. The building could probably use some sprucing up, but stands as a monument to a once-great company, preserving the art deco architecture of the 1930’s that swept Youngstown at that time. For many of us, it preserves memories of wonderful ice cream in a distinctive cone.

Fall Book Preview 2019

20190912_1912308059462925875403666.jpgAs the calendar has turned over from August to September and students have returned to school, publishers have released a number of new titles, and a stack of those (as you can see) have landed at our door. Obviously, I won’t read this stack in the next week. I have a day job (actually two), but that doesn’t mean I can’t give you a quick preview of these. Some, you may want to read before I get to reviewing them. Others, you will want to be on the lookout for my review. So here’s the list.

a life of listening

A Life of ListeningLeighton Ford. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. Leighton Ford has spent a lifetime of speaking for God as an evangelist, but also a life of listening to God, and to emerging leaders. This is his personal account of that life.

Participating in Christ

Participating in ChristMichael J. Gorman. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019. Gorman traces the idea of “participation” across the writings of Paul and its significance for the transformation of believers through Christ’s death and resurrection.

Holy Disunity

Holy Disunity: How What Separates Us Can Save UsLayton E. Williams. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019. Williams makes the argument that it is not unity that we should seek, but engagement with those we differ with, and that this in the end will save us.


Faith for ExilesDavid Kinnaman & Mark Matlock. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019. The authors, using Barna Research, identify the factors that distinguish those who sustain lives of faith from those who do not in a time when many are leaving the church.

Becoming an Ordinary Mystic

Becoming an Ordinary MysticAlbert Haase, OFM. Downers Grove: IVP/Formatio, 2019. We often feel like our ordinary lives are often spiritual failures. Haase offers the hope that we might become ordinary mystics in the sense of learning to respond to grace as we draw close to God.

The Awakening

The AwakeningFriedrich Zuendel. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2000. This is an older book on the confrontation with evil Johann Christoph Blumhardt engaged when he gave pastoral care to a tormented woman; a story that teaches the reality of spiritual warfare.

Discover Joy in Work

Discover Joy in WorkShundrawn A. Thomas. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. A business executive shows how people can experience joy rather than frustration in their work.

Make Way for the Spirit

Make Way for the SpiritChristoph Friedrich Blumhardt. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2019. The son of Johann Christoph Blumhardt discusses his theology of the Holy Spirit, and how it differs from his father’s, shaped by encounters like that in The Awakening (above).

My Life in the Cleveland Zoo

My Life in the Cleveland ZooAdam A Smith. Huron, OH: Drinian Press, 2014. This one was sent to me via a relative of the author. The author worked in the Cleveland Zoo as a tour train driver and eventually as a keeper in the Pachyderm building and offers a memoir of the changes he saw in zoos in the 1970’s ranging from an evolving idea of what a zoo should be to changes in the gender makeup of those who worked there. We used to live in Cleveland in the 1980’s and loved this zoo.

Revolution of Values

Revolution of ValuesJonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. This book argues that the common good, particularly of the marginalized, is a casualty of the religious culture wars and how a biblical faith upholds the value of all people.

Trinity without Hierarchy

Trinity Without HierarchyMichael F. Bird & Scott Harrower, editors. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2019. In response to complementarian theologians who support their position by arguing for the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father, the contributors (both egalitarians and complementarians) argue for a Trinity with no hierarchy of relations between the persons.

Divine Impassibility

Divine ImpassibilityRobert J. Matz and A. Chadwick Thornhill, editors. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. The book explores four positions on the question of whether God has emotions and experiences suffering and whether God changes.

You Throw Like a Girl

You Throw Like a GirlDon McPherson. Brooklyn: Akashic Books, 2019. A former NFL quarterback contends that we often raise boys not to be women rather than to be men, resulting in an unhealthy emotional development, and violence against women. He frames a new way of thinking and talking about being a man that leads to greater emotional wholeness.

The Liturgy of Creation

The Liturgy of CreationMichael LeFebvre. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. Looks at the Old Testament calendar including the week of creation through the lens of liturgy.

What you take with you

What You Take With YouTherese Greenwood. Edmonton, Alberta: University of Alberta Press, 2019. A personal account of the Fort McMurray fire in Canada, its impact on a community, the questions of what to take, what to leave, will we survive, and what does it mean to re-build?

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Fearfully and WonderfullyDr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. Explores the wonders of the human body and the wonder to which our bodies point, of being creatures who image God.

into his presence

Into His Presence, Tim L. Anderson. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2019. Rather than mere sentiment or experience, the author proposes a theology of intimacy with God.

Except for one instance, the links are to the publishers, and you can learn much more about the books at their websites. I have my reading list for the fall. Perhaps you might find a few books here that you will want to pick up. If you do, I’d love to hear about it. Perhaps we can read together!

Review: A Week in the Life of a Slave

a week in the life of a slave

A Week in the Life of a Slave (A Week in the Life Series), John Byron. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019.

Summary: A creative re-telling of the story of runaway slave Onesimus that casts light on the institution of slavery in Greco-Roman society and the church’s response.

Onesimus. Philemon. These two names are associated with Paul’s shortest letter. One wonders at times why it was included. It seems to be a personal appeal for Onesimus, a runaway slave, who during his time with Paul became a follower of Jesus. He appeals for Onesimus to receive him back as a brother, and charge any debt or wrong to Paul. A beautiful appeal to reconcile a runaway slave to his master, a fellow Christian. Just a personal letter? Perhaps, but it is also addressed to the church that meets in Philemon’s home (v. 2). Is there a larger message for the church from the apostle who taught there is “neither slave nor free. . . but you are one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28).

These questions and many more John Byron explores in this newest contribution to the “A Week in the Life Series.” Through both a creative re-telling of story and the sidebars, Byron casts light on the institution of slavery in the Roman empire. We learn how people became slaves, how they were treated, their status, even when freed, and what a serious matter it was for a slave to run away. Beyond flogging, a slave could likely be sold, usually into inferior conditions with even less chance of obtaining his liberty.

Byron tells the story through the cast of characters we find in the letter, and a few others, including a prison superintendent who is a believer, who at risk to himself allows Paul to see Onesimus long enough that he can understand and believe the gospel. In doing so, he posits an Ephesian imprisonment, which makes sense with its proximity to Colossae. He includes Luke and Demas and Epaphras who shares his imprisonment. Demas hosts a church in his home and shelters Onesimus, who witnesses the mingling of slaves and free persons in worship.

Byron explores what it might have been like for churches to grapple with the question of the inclusion of believing slaves in their worship. He creates a contrast between Ephesus where all are brothers in Christ when they gather for worship, and Colossae and the church in Philemon’s home, where slaves are excluded–until Archippus (a kind of overseer or bishop of churches in the Lycus valley) challenges their practice, and their socially stratified worship. One begins to grasp how “neither slave nor free” in worship was itself an incredibly radical step.

Many who discuss the issue of slavery in the New Testament argue that an infant church couldn’t challenge this powerful institution. I appreciate that Byron doesn’t make this argument, which can ring hollow. Rather he shows what it was like for early house churches to take the first steps to press out their theological convictions about oneness in Christ into eating and worshiping together, steps that in themselves broke with established social convention.

We don’t know what Philemon did with regard to the legal offense of running away. Paul only appeals and doesn’t offer a specific course of action. But Byron picks up on the legend that the Bishop Onesimus mentioned in Ignatius’s letter to the Ephesians. If that were so, at some point Philemon granted this runaway his freedom. One wonders if the Philemon-Onesimus incident was something of a watershed moment with implications beyond their immediate relations. Was this perhaps the reason for the letter’s preservation. Did Bishop Onesimus, as Byron writes the story, have something to do with the letter’s preservation?

These are plausible speculations at best. What Byron’s book does so well for us is bring to life the Greco-Roman institution of slavery, perhaps different in treatment from American slavery, but nevertheless demeaning of the personhood of the enslaved. We grasp the risks Paul, and all who helped shelter Onesimus ran. We begin to understand the costly counter-cultural actions of a nascent church that shelters, welcomes at table, and worship, the slave, calling him “brother” and her “sister.” We only are left wondering why it took the church another eighteen centuries to follow the arc of their theology to its ultimate conclusion in practice and law.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Placemaking and the Arts


Placemaking and the Arts, Jennifer Allen Craft. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018.

Summary: Considers the “place” of the arts in placemaking, particularly in the settings of the home, the church, and the wider society.

Urbanists like Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte have pioneered a movement known as “placemaking,” the gist of which is the planning and design of urban spaces that promote the health and well-being of those who live in them. This movement has also included writers of “place” like Wendell Berry who urge loving attention to local places, their people, and their ecology.

In this work, Jennifer Allen Craft explores the role of the arts, particularly the visual arts, in placemaking, and how for the Christian in the arts, artists may both seek the flourishing of their places, and anticipate the coming of the new creation, the kingdom of God.

Her first chapter explores the “placed” character of art. Every artist works in a place. Art is an embodied practice that can only occur in a place and in various ways interacts with that place. Through all this runs a theology of creation, incarnation, and resurrection hope for the new creation. One’s art is integrally connected to one’s relationship with God, other people and creatures, and the place in which we work.

The next four chapters explore how this works out in different settings: the natural world, the home, the church, and in society. In the natural world, art enables us to understand, love and, in the words of Wendell Berry, “practice resurrection” in the creation. Art in the home is a “homemaking” practice that creates beautiful spaces that also may become hospitable places for those experiencing dis-placement. Art in the church creates a welcome “place” for community, for encountering God, and for “embodying” the spiritual in a local place, as does liturgy and the Eucharist. The arts also have an important role in the pursuit of human flourishing in society, in creating “place” for the displaced, and bringing artistic considerations to the design of places.

Her final chapter is an attempt to articulate a placed theology of the arts. This commences with six key dialectic features of art: physicality/spirituality; particularity/universality; individuality/community; given/made; beauty/usefulness; contemplation/action. It seems that part of the theological ground of this dialectic approach is the sense of already/not yet of the kingdom and the dialectic of reflection and action in spiritual practices of faith.

The author seems to primarily be writing for an academic audience at the intersection of theological studies, sociology, and art theory, an important group to engage. I found myself wondering how accessible this would be to most of the practicing artists I know, many who might be appreciative. Many are believing people but unaccustomed to reading academic prose and would struggle to read a book like this, or they would just put it down and paint.

At the same time, as an individual who participates in a local arts group and a local choral organization, this resonated deeply with me. Joining a group of plein air painters in various locations in our “place” helps me see and cherish that place more deeply–the particular light of our summer skies, the gently rolling landscape, the river valleys, the species of trees and the shades of green of each. Whether it is a local park or town square, these become intimately a part of the place where we live as we seek to render them on canvas. To study and rehearse great works of music, and then to perform them in an assembled community in our place brings these works to a particular life that enhances life. The works we and others have painted that adorn our home make it a distinctive and welcome place. Singing four-part acapella harmonies with a few friends in my church embodies community and invites worship in our local place.

What this work offers is a theological framework for thinking about both the embodied practice of making art in local places, and how faithful engagement in the arts may be a part of our kingdom callings. I hope she will think about how to articulate these ideas to a wider art and craftwork community, many whose work is indeed grounded in place, and could use the encouragement and affirmation of their work present in this book.