Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Goldfish Pond



The Lily Pond, before 2016 renovations

A 15 cent loaf of day old bread was all you needed for a delightful family outing to the Goldfish Pond. You gave each of the kids a slice, taught them to break off small pieces and toss them into the water. Suddenly a school of goldfish appeared. Then everyone, including the parents, threw in more bread and watched the feeding frenzy. Hundreds would gather along the shore, from tiny fish to big old grizzled veterans of many years in the pond.

It was one of the first feature designed by Volney Rogers with W.S.C. Cleveland in the newly acquired park, formed by damming the outlet for a nearby natural spring. Legend has it that the first five goldfish came from a police officer, Martin Moran, who gave them to Volney Rogers to be released into the pond. The pond opened in 1896.

The pond was formally called the Lily Pond, because sections are covered with lily pads. It was, and still is a home to frogs, turtles, ducks and geese. On our last visit, we delighted in observing a turtle sunning itself on a log, as well as the mallard ducks who made their home in the pond.

The pond has required periodic dredging (in 1935 and 1975), and extensive improvements in 2016.  They added a boardwalk leading to an observation deck as well as an arrival plaza with drinking fountains, benches and an information kiosk. There is a floating boardwalk and observation deck over the Frog Pond.

Feeding fish or other wildlife is now prohibited in the park. It turns out that our stale bread is not really healthy for wildlife and pollutes the pond. it also defeats the natural instincts of animals.

I wonder if Lindley Vickers knew that when he took generations of school children for nature hike around the pond and along the nearby trails? What I do know is the he helped us love the pond and the animals and plants found around it. I suspect there are ways to accomplish that without feeding the wildlife. What I do hope is that park officials major in delight rather than rules so a new generation learn to love the park.

The Lily Pond is located off of Birch Hill Drive, which connects McCollum Road on the West side, with West Drive in the park. Birch Hill Cabin is located across the road and is available for groups up to 48 to rent. I remember several gatherings there, and a walk around the Gold Fish Pond was a great chance for some fresh air, especially if you were with a date. It was only a quarter mile around, but with benches, it was a good, if not private, place for conversation in a beautiful place.

What do you remember about visiting the Goldfish Pond?

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Tennis Dreams


Tennis rackets of our youth, Bob Trube, 2018, all rights reserved

I think many of us in Youngstown grew up dreaming of being sports heroes. A pro football running back. A major league pitcher (I did have dreams of becoming the next Sam McDowell at one time).  A boxer. And not a few Youngstowners went on to become those heroes. George Shuba, Dave Dravecky, Ray Mancini, Kelly Pavlick, and Matt Cavanaugh, just to name a few, as well as legendary coaching families like the Stoops or the Pelinis. And I know a number of you could add to the list–it’s a long list!

I wasn’t big enough for football. Couldn’t hit well enough for baseball. But for a while I had dreams of tennis fame. It all started out at the tennis courts at Borts Field. In the beginning I was borrowing a racket and knocking the ball around with some friends, both guys and girls. Borts had two courts. One was concrete. The other was clay. Not groomed clay. Rough clay. Balls would take all kinds of crazy bounces that would keep you on your toes. Sometimes, that’s where you played if the court was occupied.

I had some friends who played on the Chaney tennis team, and in retrospect, I think they used me to train on! I played the most with Tom, who introduced me to the tennis coach, Mr. Wendle. He taught me how to hold a racket, and how to come over a ball on a forehand or backhand stroke to give it spin, which often kept it in the court and made it harder to hit. I played with Tom a lot, either at Rocky Ridge, or at the courts at Volney Rogers park. I always loved those because the trees provided some shade.

The tennis dreams started when I began beating Tom, and some of the other guys on the team. Not all the time, but enough that it made me think I could be good at this game. It was suggested I try out for the team. For a while, I’d read everything I could get my hands on by tennis pros. I’d religiously watch the U.S. Open and Wimbledon, and dream of being Rod Laver or John Newcombe, who seemed to be the big tennis names until Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, and John McEnroe came along. I paid attention to strategy, and when did you lob, or try a drop shot. I worked on my serves and tried for a smoking first serve, a twisting, hard to get to second serve.

All this was back in the days of wood rackets like those in the picture. Some of the pros were just starting to use aluminum alloy rackets. There was still a debate then of which was better and how the ball came off the rackets differently. In the end, the light weight composites won out and our wood rackets became antiques.

Actually, my tennis dreams got relegated to the closet long before the wood rackets. College dreams meant getting a job and working rather than playing on the tennis team. While I had those moments on the court where I surprised myself, the reality is that I was a bit flat-footed and not that quick on my feet. The stars started playing ten years before I did, and were coached by pros for much of that time. Still, I wonder. I came across a Vindicator article about Mr. Wendle and discovered his teams were undefeated in City Series play from 1965 to 1981. I was at Chaney from 1970-72. Maybe I wasn’t that bad. I’ll never know.

For a while, tennis was something I continued to play for fun. When I was dating my wife, she lived across from Ipes Field, and we would go over to their courts and play sometimes. After marriage, with busy work schedules, I played less frequently, and realized that the tennis player I remembered in my head wasn’t the guy on the court. Eventually, the rackets gathered dust in the closet. My wife said she was keeping them for a decoration.

For some reason we’re still keeping them for a decoration. Today, that is the extent of my tennis dreams. Except for the memories of the exciting rally, the impossible shot, or winning a hard fought, back and forth match. Those are the only tennis dreams I have these days.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Haber’s Furniture


Haber’s Furniture, 200 E. Federal St. Photo source: Jerry Haber via Thomas Welch

It was one of the best picnics of my childhood. Mountains of food. Games. It was some time in the mid-1960’s. After leaving his job with Raymond Concrete Pile when they moved to Baltimore (good decision by my dad as they later went belly up), my dad worked for a time as a furniture salesman at Haber’s Furniture, and the picnic was their company picnic, presided over by owners Frank and Martin Haber. It was the only time we went. My dad decided he just wasn’t cut out for a furniture salesman, and became a buyer trainee at McKelvey’s, where he worked until they closed.

The Haber brothers opened their store in 1943. For a number of years, they had a store on West Federal between Reichart Furniture and Home Savings and Loan, as well as their flagship store at 200 E. Federal Street. The building, now known as the Commerce Building was built in 1917 for the Oster Brothers Furniture Store. Oster Brothers operated stores in Birmingham, Terre Haute, Milwaukee, Columbus, and Youngstown.

Haber’s became known as a place to find quality furniture. Some of you might remember the slogan, “tell your neighbors it came from Haber’s.” They were part of a thriving Jewish business community in Youngstown that included the Strouss’s, Lustigs, the Warners, the Schwebel family, and later on the Raffel brothers of Arby’s fame.

By the 1960’s when my father worked there, they had consolidated the store to the E. Federal location. For it, as for so many other downtown retails stores, the closure of the mills spelled the beginning of the end. The store closed May 31, 1985. Mina “Min” Haber, Frank’s wife, lived into the new millenium, passing at the age of 101 in 2008. Jerold A. “Jerry” Haber, son of Frank and Mina,  and his family continue to reside in the Youngstown area.

Ohio One purchased the building in 1987 from Jerry Haber, renovating it to serve as an office complex. They redesigned the building, adding a floor to the building and creating a five story atrium. The new fifth floor served as the home of the Youngstown Club from 1989 until 2012. In 2015 George Guarnieri opened The Fifth Floor restaurant. Sadly, it only lasted a little over a year, closing September 28, 2016.

I’m glad that the old Haber’s building endures over a century after it was built. My own experience, at that summer picnic, and the fact that for a time, the company helped put food on our table, was brief, but one for which I’m grateful. But the quality furniture they sold endures, as I discovered online. They were part of downtown Youngstown in its heydey. The family was (and is) part of a vibrant Jewish community. It will always be hard to forget “tell your neighbors it came from Haber’s!”


Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Fireflies


By art farmer from evansville indiana, usa (firefly w/glow) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Thinking of summer memories of growing up in Youngstown.

The amazement as a child that there were insects that glowed in the dark.

Catching them, learning not to crush them so you didn’t get “lightning bug” smell all over your hands.

Putting them in jars, punching holes in the lid, and watching them light up all night.

Remembering a cousin whose lightning bugs “woke up dead” because he forgot to punch the holes.

Trying to catch more than 1867 lightning bugs, the most my brother said he caught, only to find he was “pulling my chain.” But I did it.

That year, I did “catch and release.” Probably caught some of those fireflies twenty times…or thirty. But counted every time a new catch.

Learning that all those flying fireflies were males in search of a female.

Not so different from teenage boys gathered around pretty girls and showing off. Except we didn’t light up. (Well maybe some did…)

A few years pass and the eyes of wonder are our kids’–and still ours as well.

Now we’re the ones digging up jars, and watching them race around the yard at night.

Or declaring it a “catch and release” night.

Now it is sitting on the porch on a summer night. Dusk comes. The first streak of light catches the eye. Then another, and another. Until the meadow is winking hundreds of points of light.

Fireflies. Lightning bugs. Whatever you call them they are a wonder. And they take me back to my old backyard.

In Youngstown.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Fried Balogna (Baloney) Sandwiches


Photo by Waxmop, Public Domain via Wikimedia

What could be more working class Youngstown than fried balogna sandwiches? It is the essence of simplicity on a budget. It packs a lot of calories (not necessarily healthy ones) in a compact package. All it takes is a skillet, a little bit of cooking oil, balogna slices, good old American processed cheese slices, white bread, and some mustard. Sure, you can get a lot fancier. You can substitute buns, different condiments, and so forth. I’ve seen recipes with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pepper slices, mayonnaise, pickles, pickle relish–even potato chips. You can add a fried egg, kind of the poor man’s sausage egg sandwich! My favorite sandwich topping is mustard, pickle relish, and dabs of sriracha sauce. But I digress…we didn’t grow up with sriracha sauce! Or you can keep it simple.

A few tips I’ve picked up. Frying the balogna on both sides twice gives a nice crunchy edge. You may want to add some seasoning (your favorite) and/or pepper to bring out the flavor. Slicing the balogna from the edge toward the center helps prevent the “pucker” you see in the picture above so that it fries more evenly. I like the bread toasted which seems a complement to the fried balogna. Good old fashioned yellow mustard seems the most authentic but I’d go with your favorite condiment–or skip it altogether and enjoy that fried taste of the balogna–so much richer than out of the package. You can melt the cheese on a slice for the last 5 seconds–more and you have a mess–or you can just put it on afterwards. Fried balogna sandwiches are the epitome of freedom and simplicity.

It’s funny how we delighted in such simple things. I loved when dad would make fried balogna sandwiches. I suspect mom did too, because it was a break from cooking. First the kitchen smelled heavenly, then the sandwich took you there. I suspect there was a time when you could feed a family of four for a buck–and we loved it.

It was not the stuff of a steady diet. But for a Saturday lunch or Sunday evening light meal–a weekend treat–it was perfect.

I suspect you have lots of memories (hopefully good ones) of fried balogna sandwiches. I’d love to hear them. How did you make them? And do you still?

Thinking about this post has had me eyeing that pack of balogna in the fridge all day…

Growing Up In Working Class Youngstown — Howard W. Jones


Statue of Howard W. Jones, photo by Robert C. Trube, all rights reserved

I was able to attend Youngstown State because of Howard W. Jones. He was the principal reason that there was a Youngstown State as the first and longest sitting president from 1935 to 1966. He retired when Youngstown University was on the verge of becoming a state university, which happened in 1967. To protect the university’s private endowment, he became the president of the Youngstown Education Foundation (now the YSU Foundation). He served in this position until 1975. In 1972, I received a scholarship from the Youngstown Education Foundation (full the first year, and partial the remaining years). That scholarship, along with part-time jobs and low tuition, allowed me to graduate in 1976 without any loan debts.

Who was this man whose leadership was so crucial to the growth of Youngstown College, later Youngstown University? Jones was born September 25, 1895 in Palmyra, Ohio. He served in the Navy during World War I and completed his Bachelor’s degree at Hiram College in 1920. He later completed a Masters degree at Western Reserve University in 1938, and was granted an honorary degree in Pedagogy in 1943 from Westminster College. He worked as an athletic trainer, coach, and school principal before returning to Hiram to serve as assistant to the president at Hiram.

He came to Youngstown in 1931 at the invitation of the YMCA. You may recall that Youngstown College got its start when the YMCA starting offering college level courses at the Youngstown Association School. In 1921, it became the Youngstown Institute of Technology, then in 1928, Youngstown College. In 1931, Jones was the associate general secretary of the YMCA and was appointed to direct Youngstown College, essentially to serve as president. He presided over construction of a new 35 room classroom building that would one day bear his name, at the corner of Wick and Lincoln Avenues, built at a cost of $350,000 and dedicated October 1, 1931. Enrollment at the time was 200. He formally was named President in 1935. He brought the Dana School of Music from Warren to become part of Youngstown College. Over the next 20 years he led the expansion of the college into a university, the growth reflected in the name change to Youngstown University in 1955. By the time he retired in 1966, the university had grown to 12,000 students with new science and engineering buildings under construction. He was succeeded by Albert Pugsley, who was YSU’s president when I enrolled in the fall of 1972.

Howard W. Jones died February 25, 1982 at the age of 86. He oversaw a transformation from a small, mostly night school to an urban state university. His work at the Youngstown Education Foundation made it possible for many of my generation to be the first to obtain college degrees. The campus I encountered in 1972, much less developed than today, was fundamentally a result of his leadership. I wish I had met him. It occurs to me that I have a good deal for which I could thank him.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Forty Years Ago

wedding-pictureForty years ago tomorrow would be June 3, 1978. At 2 pm that afternoon my wife and I exchanged rings and vows and began an amazing journey together. Some would blink and say “How is that possible?” I can’t boast to any great virtue on my part, apart from the fact that I have honored the vows I took that day. Mostly, I attribute it to the grace of God and a forgiving and patient woman.

I know it doesn’t always work out the way it has for us. It certainly doesn’t mean we are different or better people. I think it had a lot to do with where we grew up and the models both of us had in our families. My parents were married nearly sixty-nine years when my mother passed. My father was holding her hand when she breathed her last. My wife’s parents married in their forties, and he passed in his sixties, but they were together until the end. My brother, who is ten years older, and his wife are celebrating fifty years together this year. When I think of the families on my street, I can’t recall hearing of divorces. They fought, and sometimes loud enough that we could hear. They certainly weren’t perfect. But the model was that you worked it out and stayed together.

In the years since, we’ve lived in three different cities, moving as work dictated. We’ve gone through childbirth, getting up in the night for feedings and diaper changes, childhood illnesses and broken bones, teenage and college years. Family vacations and Boy Scout campouts and many trips back to the Canfield Fair. We’ve been in the “sandwich” caring for elderly parents and our own son. We’ve faced loss, bouts with cancer, the death of a close friend. We’ve shared delightful moments of walks in the woods, painting together, cultural events and quiet evenings at home. When we dated, we would sometimes talk for hours over cup after cup of coffee. We still like a good cup of coffee and conversation.

Someone once advised us that it is not love that sustains a marriage, but marriage that sustains love. That seemed baffling to me in our honeymoon days. The longer we’ve gone, the more sense it makes. Remembering the vows we made, and living into them has deepened the passionate love of youth into something deep and enduring. We’ve seen each other at our worst as well as our best, and not walked away. Instead of thinking that the grass might be greener somewhere else, we’ve devoted ourselves to watering and feeding our own lawn, and cultivating our own garden!

I had no clue in 1978 where our journey together would take us. In 2018 I still don’t nor how many years we have to travel together. What I knew then, and know now is who I want to be with on the journey. I consider myself the most blessed man alive. I love you, sweetheart! Happy anniversary!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — David Tod


Governor David Tod, Public Domain via Wikimedia

Son of one of the Western Reserve’s early judges. A farm owner in Brier Hill. A pivotal figure in “block” or Brier Hill coal mining that spurred the growth of the iron industry in the Mahoning valley and owner of major coal, iron, and rail companies. State office holder. Civil War governor. David Tod was all of these.

David Tod was born in Youngstown on February 21, 1805 to George and Sarah Tod. His father served as a state lawmaker from 1804 to 1806, and then on the Ohio Supreme Court. It appeared that David would follow his father’s footsteps–working on the family farm in Brier Hill, attending the Burton Academy in Geauga County, and studying law in Warren. He was admitted to the Ohio Bar in 1827, served as Warren’s Postmaster in 1832, and a one-term State Senator in 1838. He returned home to Brier Hill in 1840 to private practice. His father died the following year.

The year 1841 marked a turning point. Tod inherited his father’s farm and began to mine the seams of coal underneath it. The coal was slow burning and generated plenty of heat, making it a superior fuel source to the charcoal previously used in iron making. This coal propelled the growth of the iron industry in the valley and lead to growth in Tod’s wealth as it was shipped, first via canal, and later rail to Cleveland and other regional producers. The coal, called “block coal” also became known as Brier Hill coal, although it could be found in seams throughout the area, including Mineral Ridge and Girard, where Tod acquired additional land.

He had not lost the bug for political office, however. In 1844 and 1846, he made unsuccessful runs for governor. Then in 1847, he was appointed James K. Polk’s minister to Brazil, where he served until 1851. He became president of the Cleveland & Mahoning railroad, helping to expand the transport of both raw materials and finished products for the valley. He launched the Brier Hill Iron Company, later to be consolidated as Brier Hill Iron and coal, and resulting in the building of two blast furnaces, “Grace 1″ and Grace 2” in Brier Hill, both named after his daughter.

This was built around the time of the Civil War, which further stimulated the Valley’s industrial growth. These years also represented the culmination of Tod’s political ambitions, with election as governor in 1862 as a National Union candidate combining Republican and War Democrat party members. He worked hard to meet the troop quotas set by Lincoln, calling for Federal conscription. He arrested war resister Clement Vanlandingham, and defended the state from Morgan’s Raiders. He was not re-elected in 1864. Lincoln offered to appoint him secretary of the Treasury, but Tod’s health was weakening, and he declined. In 1868, he died of stroke at age 63.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to this industrial magnate and politician is this by Abraham Lincoln:

“Governor Tod has aided me more and troubled me less than any other governor.”


Growing Up In Working Class Youngstown — The Hopeful Gardener

Seedlings under lights.

Seeds saved from the best plants.

Waiting, waiting,

For soil to dry,

For the season’s final frost.

Waiting, waiting,

Until the soil can be worked,

The rich, humousy smell.

Waiting, waiting,

For peas, spinach, and lettuce,

Then sweet and spicy peppers,

Beefsteak tomatoes for sandwiches,

And Romas for sauce,

Eggplant and zucchini coming out your ears.

Waiting, waiting,

For the color of annuals.

Morning glories climbing strings,

Petunias, marigolds, salvia, and zinnias.

All the colors of the rainbow,

The pungent smell of fresh mulch.

Waiting, waiting,

For the hopes of spring planting

To become the fruit of summer.

Review: Iron Valley

iron Valley

Iron Valley, Clayton J. Ruminski. Columbus: Trillium (an imprint of The Ohio State University Press), 2017.

Summary: A history of iron-making in the Mahoning Valley during the nineteenth century from the earliest blast furnace to the advances in furnaces and other technology, leading to the transition to steel-making.

Those of us who grew up in the Mahoning Valley during the middle of the twentieth century often referred to it as the Steel Valley, a name that still lingers. Clayton J. Ruminski’s book new history of iron-making in the Mahoning Valley during the nineteenth century reminds us that in the words of the title, it was the Iron Valley before it ever became the Steel Valley.

The work begins in 1802 and the Heaton family’s early efforts, beginning with the Hopewell furnace in Struthers, to do small scale charcoal fueled, iron-making. The problem was how rapidly, even when mixing in coal from nearby deposits, the fuel source of hardwood trees was depleted. Transportation, as well as fuel, limited growth in this period. The second phase, beginning in 1840 and running up to 1856 was marked by the discover of significant “block coal” deposits at Brier Hill (it was often called Brier Hill coal) and elsewhere in the area. The heating characteristics meant that it could be used directly as a fuel, dispensing with the need for charcoal. New furnaces were opened at Brier Hill by the Tod family, and elsewhere along the Valley. Alongside these, the first rolling mills and puddling mills grew up to process the pig iron into finished products (instead of the pig iron being sent to mills outside the Valley). The Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal helped develop commerce during this period with the transport of both raw materials and finished products.

Between 1856 and 1865, the growth of railroads and the Civil War brought about a further expansion of iron manufacturing. During this figure, well known figures like David Tod, Jonathan Warner, John Stambaugh, Henry Wick, William Butler, and James Ward emerged as key leaders. Furnaces grew larger and production expanded making Youngstown into a pig iron center. This was followed by a period of expansion and depression from 1865 to 1879. Westward railroad growth led to expanded facilities to meet demand, followed by bankruptcy of many smaller merchant iron firms during the Panic of 1873. Subsequently control of the iron industry was consolidated under a few major Youngstown area families.

The decision of Valley owners to focus on iron production while other nearby cities started making steel led to both a leading role in supplying high quality pig iron for finished iron and steel makers, and continuing pressure as steel replaced iron during the period between 1879 and 1894. Mills went obsolete, more Bessemer converters were erected and the first steel mill was opened. The last period covered by the book describes the transition, finally to steel, the end of the merchant iron plants and the consolidation of manufacturing under the familiar names of Republic Steel, United States Steel, and Youngstown Sheet and Tube, and a handful of others.

This book traces the opening of various furnaces, the rise of different companies, the advance of technology, the changing picture of the use and transport of both raw and finished products and the key individuals involved in the iron industry throughout this history. It describes the different areas within the Valley from Warren through Girard, Mineral Ridge, Brier Hill, Youngstown, Struthers, Lowellville, along Crab Creek and Mosquito Creek and up in Hubbard. Lesser attention is given to developments in the neighboring Shenango Valley, which had its own history.

It is a text that combines readability and academic rigor and precision. We have both thumbnail biographies of key figures and lots of technical explanation, history of various companies, and production statistics. Woven throughout are photographs of different furnaces and mills, individuals and groups of workers, many from local archives. Maps in the text and after matter trace the locations and developments of iron furnaces and mills. The text also provides a table of iron and steel sites, their years of production, and the changing ownership during their life. This is valuable as a reference as one reads about different sites and companies operating, keeping track of which can be difficult.

Much has been written about the steel industry in Youngstown. This work helps us understand how the preceding iron industry shaped the contours of the subsequent industry in the Mahoning Valley as well creating the rail, manufacturing, and workforce infrastructure that made that industry possible. It is an indispensable work for anyone who wants to understand the local history of the Mahoning Valley, and as a vignette of the nineteenth century iron industry in a growing country.


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