Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Vietnam

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3rd Marines patrolling near Quang Tri River, Russell Jewett, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There was a cloud that hung over many of our lives growing up in the Youngstown of the 1960’s and 1970’s. No, it is not the clouds from the mills. It was the ongoing war in Vietnam (which was actually good for industry). Many of our young men would go there, some would die, and others would return, some wounded, and some bearing mental wounds they carry to this day.

While our involvement began in the Eisenhower era, and John Kennedy sent a growing number of “advisors,” it was during the presidency of Lyndon Johnson that I became aware of the war. I was in about fifth grade when I first started reading daily news stories in The Vindicator of “body counts” and plans to send more troops there. We were told with more troops and bombing, we were winning the war. We would see nightly news coverage of embedded journalists and footage of battle action in our living rooms.

For many, the turning point seemed to be the Tet offensive of 1968, a major reversal despite a half million troops and extensive bombing. We began to wonder if this was a different kind of war and if we were being told the truth. It helped bring Richard Nixon to office in 1968, on promises to get us out of the war with our dignity intact. Around this time, I was a paper boy. One of my customers was a returning veteran. He offered to tell me the real story of the war. I regret I never took him up on it.

In 1970, I was a high school sophomore at Chaney. Richard Nixon decided to extend bombing campaigns into Cambodia where enemy troops took refuge. To many college students facing the draft, this was a betrayal of the promise to end the war and demonstrations and riots broke out on many campuses. At nearby Kent State, May 4 was the terrible day when four students died and thirteen others were wounded by the Ohio National Guard troops. All of us at school the next day walked around stunned. Stunned shifted to scared when we heard some adults say, “they should have killed more.”

It made me wonder how they looked at me, with my longish hair. It told me how deeply we were divided, and I think this gave everyone pause as campuses suspended classes early. Somehow, we walked back from the abyss as a nation. In 1972, I registered for the draft, hoping I wouldn’t be called and that I would get a high lottery number. Mine was 12, but I dodged a bullet in more ways than one. Nixon was winding the war down and bringing troops home. The last men drafted were those a year older than I was.

The most difficult thing perhaps was that we lumped our soldiers in with our politicians who lied to us about the war, not explaining the kind of conflict we were in honestly. I know there are lots of arguments about whether we could have achieved victory in Vietnam. I don’t want to re-fight that war. Rather, I want to acknowledge that the men and women who served deserve all the honor as heroes they have only belatedly received. Many were just like me–hoping it wouldn’t come down to them–but doing what their country asked of them as their fathers did in World War II.

Vietnam was a lesson for us as a nation of how important it was that our leaders tell us the truth, particularly when making the case for sending our young men and women into harm’s way. While deceiving the nation cost Lyndon Johnson another presidential term, it cost thousands of young men their lives. It has marked our life as a nation ever since. It is always the case that when our leaders lie, it will be our people, and especially our working classes that will bear the brunt. To paraphrase an old protest song, “when will we ever learn?”

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Senior Proms

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Ken Stokes, CC BY-SA 3.0, Via Wikimedia 

It is prom season. These days, it seems a much bigger deal than it once was involving stretch limos and coordination of dresses and men’s wear, and sometimes elaborate after-proms.

 

Did you go to your senior prom? I did. I dated a girl (a sophomore) throughout my senior year at Chaney so we had both kind of expected to go. We went with another couple who did the driving. Those were the days where you bought a corsage that you pinned on the girl’s dress–always a bit of a scary experience! I think the wrist corsage is a great idea.

I don’t have any pictures from that night. Dad’s camera did not work for some reason when we came by to take pictures. Perhaps that was just as well. Crushed velvet was in fashion for tux jackets back then, and I had one in blue (which did match my girlfriend’s dress). I’m kind of glad there is no evidence!

We went out for dinner at Palazzo’s. I actually don’t remember much about the dinner except that the food was good, and I paid. Then we arrived at the prom. I think we made some kind of entrance as a couple. I have to confess that my memories are pretty vague here. There was some kind of seating of the prom court, lots of dancing, punch that really was just punch.

Eventually we made our way to the after-prom, which was at Wedgewood Lanes, if I remember. We snacked, talked to friends, bowled and partied until nearly sunrise. I think that was one of the really cool things–this was the night without curfew. I remember being so tired–a bit loopy by the end–and getting ready to bowl the ball only to drop it behind me. Watch out friends! You can tell that late nights were not my thing.

We dropped off dates, went home and finally caught a bit of sleep after a quick report of “fine” when our parents asked us how the prom was. Then it was time to get the tux back to the rental store. I have a hunch that with flowers, dinner, the prom itself, after prom and tux rental, I spent maybe $150, probably less. Wikipedia says that the average price of a prom in 2013 was $1139.

The truth was, by the time of the prom, the relationship between my girlfriend and I was strained. I suspect we were holding out so that we could have someone to go to the prom with–you could probably go without a date but I don’t know anyone who did. A month later, the relationship was history–probably a relief to both of us actually.

It’s funny how often it seems to work like this–although I also know friends who married, and are still happily married to, their high school sweethearts. I can’t say that my senior prom was that special of an experience. But it was part of the celebrations that marked this rite of passage from high school to young adulthood for many of us. It was a kind of entry into adulthood. The girls we saw everyday in jeans and t-shirts or sweaters suddenly appeared as beautiful women. And scruffy boys cleaned up and for a night looked like a young approximation of James Bond (that’s probably an exaggeration in my case!). It was a bit of a “Camelot” type of experience, before our entry into the world of work, or the preparations for a career in college and graduate school. We danced with the sense that all our life was before us.

This year marks 45 years since that prom and graduation. How does that happen? We’ve watched our son go through the same prom rituals (and this time the camera worked and we still have the pictures). Now we pass by homes where others are taking pictures, or we see the pictures on Facebook. And we think, there was a time…once we were young…what a couple we made!

 

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Family

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State Library of Queensland, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Family. Not family values, but family, was important in the working class Youngstown I grew up in. They weren’t perfect, by any means. Then, as now, families could be abusive or even violent. Now we talk about it more, which is a good thing, particularly if it means protecting women and children.

In most cases though, barring divorce (which was much more rare) or death, you could count on both a mom and dad being around. From what I remember, this was true in almost every house on our street. Families were usually larger than today. The Pill was just coming into use, and some still obeyed religious teachings that banned the use of contraceptives. Families of three children were common (including mine) and, if memory serves, a couple families on our street had five kids.

But family didn’t stop with mom, dad, and kids. Often grandparents, aunts and uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins lived in the city, sometimes in the same part of town. Sometimes, an elderly grandparent would even live with the family. People didn’t want to die in a hospital or nursing home. They wanted to die at home, with their people.

My wife’s father had two brothers who lived within blocks. They built each other’s garages, went fishing together, and my wife grew up regularly seeing her cousins. One even shares the same birth day. Holidays were often a movable feast, going from one household to another, sometimes in the same day, sometimes over several.

Families looked out for each other. They helped each other get jobs, and helped out when someone was out of work. They started businesses–tool and die shops, groceries, restaurants, real estate development– you name it. Some of those names have become well known around Youngstown–Butler, Wick, Stambaugh, Cafaro, DeBartolo or Rulli Brothers. Some were more local–like Cherol’s Market on the West Side.

Extended families were important. If the worst happened and a parent died, or divorce happened, there were often aunts, uncles, or grandparents who helped fill the void of both love and mentoring that often was the difference of a kid succeeding despite bad circumstances. Networks of families, particularly in ethnic communities made for cohesive neighborhoods, good friends, and not a few marriages.

There was a dark side to this in Youngstown. Some extended families and family alliances pursued businesses outside the law and used force and the threat of force to bend others to their will, including public officials. No one wanted a “Youngstown tuneup.” A way of doing business that compromised public figures and siphoned public funds into private coffers drained resources from the city and undermined the rule of law.

On balance, though, families were good for Youngstown. They brought cohesion to neighborhoods, stability to kids growing up, and functioned as a kind of “safety net” when neither government nor employers offered much. Today we are much more scattered, and many families, particularly children left Youngstown in search of jobs. I can’t help but wonder if one of the things that might renew Youngstown and other cities like it would be to figure out ways to make it possible for families to stay together. Ultimately it takes jobs, but I wonder if it might also be a good idea to provide incentives for families to create their own businesses and stay together. Maybe that’s a pipe dream.

Families take a number of different forms today. Whatever form they take, at their best, they form character, provide mutual support and care, and a sense of identity (Callan, p. 2). Strong families helped make Youngstown a great place to live. I can’t help but think this is still true.

What did family mean for you growing up in Youngstown?

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Recipes of Youngstown Volume 3

Recipes LargeIt just could be that I am about the last person from Youngstown to find out about the latest addition to the Recipes of Youngstown series. I posted a picture last week of my “Youngstown library” which includes the first two volumes in the series, only to get a raft of comments about the latest addition to the collection. Volume Three is now available and may be picked up at the Arms Family Museum (if you can get to it with the Wick Avenue construction) or the Tyler History Center during regular hours (Tuesday-Sunday from Noon to 4:00 p.m.). You may also purchase copies for yourself and friends online at the Mahoning Valley Historical Society website. I just ordered mine.

As I’ve come to expect, the people behind Recipes of Youngstown Volume 3 came up with another great cause to support and some great ways to support it. On May 13 from 12-4 pm at the Tyler Mahoning Valley History Center, there will be a formal launch of the cookbook and a tasting event that will feature at least 30 recipes from Volume 3. Proceeds from the tasting and from cookbook sales both at the event and elsewhere will help establish a scholarship fund for veterans attending Youngstown State. Appropriately, the event is being billed “From Mess Hall to Mom’s Kitchen.”

Similar to other events this group has hosted, it will include the opportunity for tasting all these delicious recipes. You may purchase six tasting coupons for $5. There will also be a basket raffle and prizes, and a Best Cobbler Contest. Of course you will be able to purchase copies of Recipes of Youngstown Volume 3 (and probably the other volumes as well).

Here’s a list off of the Recipes of Youngstown Facebook page of the dishes lined up so far:

Johnny Marzetti
Shrimp Cocktail for a Crowd
Potato Pasties
Chex Mix
Homemade Italian Sausage
City Chicken w/ Mashed Potatoes
Baked Beans w/Kielbasa
Creamed Chip Beef on Toast
BBQ Smoked Pulled Pork Sliders w/Coleslaw
Ham & Bean Soup w/ Corn Bread
Sloppy Joes
Banana Bread
California Onion Potatoes W/Green Beans
Bolony Salad Sliders
Bean n Greens
Potato Pancakes
Chicken over Rice/Orzo
BBQ chicken
Summer Corn & Tomato Salad
Zucchini Pancakes
Daffodil Dip
Ham Rolls
Betty’s Potato Salad
Walnut Apple Cake
Tequila Lime Chicken
Mexican Rice
Mini Cupcakes
Potato Leek Soup w/French Baguette
Apple &/or Cherry Pie Wine
Zlevanka (Croatian Cheesecake)
Croatian Sliders (Mini Burgers)
Coconut Wine
Dago Red
Italian Beef Stew
Wine

This list makes my mouth water just to read it.

I have to admit that I am so amazed at what a group of Facebook friends who loved talking about and sharing Youngstown recipes has accomplished over the last four years, publishing three cookbooks, hosting a number of fun events, and funding three worthwhile projects in the Youngstown community. It seems to me that these folks bring together some of the best of what Youngstown is about:

  • Good food shared together.
  • Love for all things Youngstown.
  • A “go getter” spirit that sees a need and acts rather than waits for others.

If you are in or around Youngstown on May 13, why not stop by. And if not, you can always order a cookbook (or several for other Youngstown friends) and bring a taste of Youngstown to wherever you live!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown –Before Starbucks and Craft Beer Pubs

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The Open Hearth Bar on Steel Street, Photo by Tony Tomsic, Special Collections, Cleveland State University Library

Much is made these days of the idea of “third places” which are places between work and home that function as social gathering places. Starbucks and other coffee shops particularly serve that function for a certain kind of crowd. Free wi-fi, custom-made coffee and other hot and cold drinks, tables, couches, and an ambience that encourages conversation, or for those who are into it, work, and sometimes a bit of both. For the adult crowd, it seems that one of the trendy places where this happens is at craft beer pubs, perhaps with locally brewed beer, or exotic lists of craft brews from all over the world. It does seem that all this comes at a premium–expensive coffee, or beers that cost what a six pack would at the grocery.

I was thinking today of what would have been the equivalent growing up in working class Youngstown. My wife, ever the realist reminded me that for many people with families, there was only work and home, and you didn’t drop money at coffee shops or bars. A treat might be a dinner out together as a family at the Boulevard Tavern or other places like it.

I do think the neighborhood bar served this function to a certain degree. In some parts of town, they were places mill workers would stop at on the way home. Others had the neighborhood regulars, and others who would drop by less frequently. For the younger crowd, places like McDonalds might be a great place to catch a burger and a Coke after school and hang out with friends. In the summer, Handel’s certainly was this kind of place for people who gathered from all over town, and sat in (or on) their cars and enjoyed good ice cream.

For those of us who worked downtown (this was in the late 60’s, early 70’s) you might take a break at the Plaza Donuts in the Arcade, or pop over to the Ringside after work. For those of us who were students at Youngstown State, the Kilcawley Pub on campus was convenient–little did we know that Ed O’Neill would turn out to be famous! Nearby, there were places like the Golden Dawn or the Royal Oaks (which I hear is still quite good!).

I think the big difference between then and now was so many of these were locally owned (some of the new places are as well) and had their own unique flavor that reflected their clientele. They were also good value for the dollar. You didn’t have lots of fancy coffee drinks, you had coffee. No fancy craft beers–heck, I remember when Coors was a big deal!

Where did you go to meet up with friends before the days of Starbucks and brew pubs?

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Easter Memories

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Sunrise over the Blue Ridge Mountains (c) 2014, Robert C Trube

Easter memories from childhood…

–Cleaning the house from top to bottom on Saturday.

–Helping dad wash the car–for me it was usually scrubbing the white wall tires and hubcaps.

–Taking Easter food to church on Holy Saturday to be blessed (my wife’s family).

–Getting haircuts at Jerry the Barber’s.

–The Saturday night bath before Easter–scrub behind the ears real good!

–The Easter bunny couldn’t hold a candle to Santa Claus.

–Coloring eggs and writing your name or “Happy Easter” in wax that would appear magically when you dyed them.

–Easter egg hunts.

–Peeps!

–Finding an Easter basket waiting for you on Easter morning–fake grass, yellow cellophane, funky colored basket but chocolate bunnies, eggs, jelly beans and more–all good!

–Only being allowed one piece of candy before breakfast and church–not so good.

–Sunrise services. Sometimes outdoors. Chilly sometimes but loved the play on the idea of sunrise and the Son’s rising! Favorite time was gathering with a youth group in Mill Creek Park.

–Getting dressed for church in your Easter best. Still remember my blue blazer with a “coat of arms” on the pocket. Cool!

–When you got older, looking at all the girls who always seemed to dress up much better than us boys.

–Easter services. Along with Christmas, the most joyful music of the year. The black drape on the cross replaced with white. Saying, almost shouting together, “He is risen! He is risen, indeed!”

–Easter dinner. Ham, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole. Family gatherings. Going for a walk afterward around the block to work off a full stomach. More Easter candy.

–Going out to Daffodil Hill on Lake Newport. The air so fresh and everything looks and smells new as the trees are budding out, the grass greening up.

–Putting the basketball away and getting out my baseball glove. Batter up!

–With the coming of spring, realizing only a couple more months until school is out.

On so many levels Easter was about coming back to life. Of course, there was the event of Christ rising from the dead that all Christians celebrated–Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox (not always on the same date). But there was also the marvelous sense of the world coming alive again after what seemed like endless winter. All of this is what I still love about Easter.

What are your Easter memories?

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Bridges

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Spring Common Bridge, by Jack Pearce, Own Work CC BY-SA 2.0 

A city grows up along a river. You have to build bridges to get from one side to another. Bridges to walk over. And after the automobile, bridges to drive over. As the steel mills start up more bridges are needed for railroads as they cross rivers, railroad overpasses over roads, road overpasses over railroad right of ways. Then freeways are built. Yet more overpasses over surface streets, and occasionally new overpasses where surface streets run above freeways. Sometimes footbridges are built as well, particularly where children need to cross busy roads or railroads.

Youngstown was, and is, a city of bridges. Even without the many scenic bridges in Mill Creek Park (the subject of previous, and maybe future posts) the city has a rich heritage of bridges. When I was young, my early bridge memories were driving down Mahoning Avenue to downtown, and until the mid-1960’s, to church. We would cross the Mahoning Avenue bridge by Mill Creek Park, just west of the Isaly dairy plant, go under a huge concrete railroad bridge as we approached town, and then over the Spring Common Bridge to reach West Federal Street. If we went ahead and veered slightly left, we’d go up Fifth Avenue, over another set of railroad tracks.

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Spring Common Underpass, by Jack Pearce — Own Work, CC BY-SA 2.0

Later on, when I went to Youngstown State, dad would sometimes cut over on N. West Avenue and cross the single lane bridge over the river there, which avoided going through downtown. Then we’d taken Rayen Avenue over to the university. Every time we crossed that bridge, I’d say a prayer, both that we wouldn’t meet a car coming the other way, and that the bridge wouldn’t fall into the river while we were on it. I understand that this bridge was finally closed in 1997.

My grandparents used to live on the South Side, and sometimes I’d go into town with them. We drove over the Market Street Bridge, which must have been one of the longest bridges in the city. You could look up and down the river and see the various factories and mills along the river. Downtown and Central Square were straight ahead. If you kept going you ascended a bridge on what had become Wick Avenue, with the First Presbyterian Church at the top of the hill. Coming back from downtown to the south side, you knew you had made it over the bridge when you went past the GE light bulb plant on the right with the big lit sign.

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Market Street Bridge, by Daysleeper — Own Work, CC BY-SA 3.0

There was also a steel footbridge over the old Erie Lackawanna tracks connecting Wood Street and the downtown. It was exciting to watch the trains pass underneath. That bridge, along with the railroad tracks are now gone. The closest thing to it are stairs descending from Wood Street to North Phelps Street next to where Rust Belt Brewery is located.

Some of the most dramatic bridges crossed over the river and passed through the mills. There were bridges like this going through both the Ohio Works and the Campbell Works if I remember. My wife talks about riding the bus to school at Sts. Cyril and Methodius, watching molten steel pour from the big ladles, and also watching wastes in all sorts of putrid colors pouring into the river below them as they drove over. You almost wondered as a small child if you were driving into Hell and wondered if you would come out the other side, or not.

Later on, the freeways came, and with these the “Blue Bridge” on the Madison Avenue Freeway running north of downtown by St. Elizabeth’s and past Youngstown State. It was called the “Blue Bridge” because of the blue paint job, which at times was more faded blue and rust.

Some of the bridges are no more. Some have been rebuilt, more than once in the history of Youngstown in some cases. Some remain but are no longer used. No doubt someday these will be destroyed. But as long as a river runs through Youngstown, as long as trains pass through the city. As long as freeways pass over or under surface streets, there will be bridges–some functional, some pleasing to the eye, some a tribute to Youngstown’s industrial past.

Growing Up In Working Class Youngstown — Italian Food

spaghetti-with-meat-sauceIt is surprising to me how many Youngstown people I run across in my travels and there is one question we always ask each other sooner or later: “Have you found any good Italian food where you live?”

I was reminded of this because I ate recently at one of the Italian restaurant chains. Actually, the food was decent, pretty good red sauce, cheeses, and pasta. But it was nothing like what we could find at dozens of places around Youngstown when I was growing up.

Where was the best Italian food in Youngstown? My best guess is that most people would answer, “my mama’s kitchen.” And if not that, it was probably a grandmother, or an aunt who knew how to make that good red sauce, moist and flavorful meatballs over pasta cooked just the right length of time. I remember a time in college when we were hanging out at a friend’s house whose mom was making us home made spaghetti. The smell of that sauce simmering just about drove me nuts! But the wait was worth it.

As my wife and I were comparing notes about good places in Youngstown to get Italian, she reminded me that most of the time, we didn’t eat out that much growing up, so it just made sense that the best place to get good Italian was at home. And even if not, you didn’t say that to mom! Chances are, someone’s mom in the neighborhood made good Italian, and you could probably wrangle a dinner invite!

Of course, there were many good places to go for Italian. In fact, any self-respecting cook in a neighborhood bar probably made better Italian food than you can find in many big cities in this country. In downtown Youngstown, there was the Ringside and the Italian Restaurant. On the North side, there was Avalon Gardens and you could get good spaghetti at the 20th Century.  Over in Smoky Hollow there was the MVR.

On the South side my wife and I used to go to Palazzo’s when we were dating (I also took my senior prom date there in high school!). Of course there were many other great places like the Elmton, that served pizza, but also a full menu of good Italian. There was also Antones, that opened up several other restaurants in the area eventually. And there was the favorite hangout of many in the Uptown area, the Pizza Oven.

Recently we had a speaker at Ohio State who ate at the Royal Oaks while researching an article on Youngstown. I was glad to hear the Royal Oaks was still going strong. He loved it! He even mentions it in his article on “A World Without Work.”

On the West side, we used to go to Michaelangelo’s, Marino’s and Lucianno’s. Then there was the strip between Niles and Warren that had a number of good places — Alberini’s, Cafe 422, Abruzzi’s, just to name a few. We have friends up north of the city, and we often run over to Muscarelli’s in Sharpsville, PA for some good Italian.

I suspect you are reading this and saying, “but what about…?” From reading Classic Restaurants of Youngstown I’m aware that there were a ton of other great places, many that lived and died before I ever got to them. Perhaps you know of some of these places. I’d love for you to tell the story of your favorite Italian place, or even that Italian grandmama who made the best red sauce ever. Just leave a comment here (or even a recipe!) and it will also become part of the story of good Italian food in Youngstown!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — “Rocky Ridge”

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Sled Hill in the James L.Wick, Jr. Recreation Area, Courtesy of Mill Creek MetroParks. Used by permission.

“Rocky Ridge” was what we called the James L. Wick, Jr. Recreation Area in Mill Creek Park. The name comes from the rocky escarpment that runs along the southern border of the Recreation Area that descends to Bears Den Road and the Bears Den area below. Development of the Recreation Area began in 1949 and was completed in 1956. I have memories from every season. It was a 15 to 20 minute walk from my house, or a five minute drive, up the hill on Mahoning, a left turn down South Belle Vista past McCollum Road where the road ran through the area (it has now been closed off at the parking lots).

When we were young and it had snowed, we used to haul our sleds up to Rocky Ridge and ride down the hill by the playground area. If you had waxed the runners and the snow was packed, you could make it to the second hill. By the time I was in junior high, in 1968, the ice rink was opened. Many Friday and Saturday nights, my buddy Jim and I would walk up in the cold winter air, pay our money, lace up our skates on the benches in the indoor shelter, leaving our shoes underneath, and go out on the ice and try to meet girls. Occasionally we even succeeded!

Spring brought breezy weather in March, and it was time to pull out the kites. Again, we’d stand at the top of the highest hill by the playground, facing east. I remember one time when I had a ball of string, maybe 1000 feet long, and had my kite out nearly the whole length, and high up in the air, when the string broke. It was gone! I wonder where it ended up? Later spring brought class picnics when we were in elementary school, with games and time to climb the old “monkey bars” and swing on the swings and slide down the big sliding board. This was before the day when play areas had wood chips that made for soft landings. At that time, the surface was asphalt, and I recall more than one scraped knee!

As spring transitioned to summer, it was time for baseball! In high school, I played on a church league fast pitch softball team and we often played games on one of the baseball diamonds. I was never much of a baseball player and I think my career ended when I broke my thumb playing first base (as a right hander with my left hand being my glove hand). I didn’t usually play that position and was reaching to catch a ball thrown to put a runner out when the runner collided with me–spikes on the leg and a broken thumb. I actually finished the game and didn’t find out until later than night that the thumb was broken!

About then, I switched over to tennis, and often played tennis on the courts. It was cool because, at least then, you could play at night as well. I had several buddies on the tennis team at Chaney and thought about joining the team, because I could beat them at least half the time. I never got into golf, but lots of my friends caddied or played at the par 3 golf course that opened up some time in the 1960’s (I believe).

Another summer memory was concerts out on the lawn. I remember hearing Lionel Hampton as kid. I don’t think I realized what a jazz great he was then, though my parents were pretty excited to hear him. Sitting out on lawn chairs and hearing live music as the air cooled down on a summer evening was fun.

I kept playing tennis into the early fall, and then there were pickup touch football games with friends, or when we got to college, Ultimate Frisbee games on whatever field we could find that didn’t have another game going. Eventually, the cold and rainy weather of November drove us inside until the snows and cold came and the ice rink opened once again.

The James L. Wick, Jr. Recreation Area is still a year-round recreation area. Sadly, the ice rink closed some years ago. Now there is a “Sled Hill” with a Warming House and snack shop, as well as opportunities for cross country skiing. The play area is much more child-safe than in our day, with three different play areas. There is a permanent concert pavilion, the Judge Morley Performing Arts Pavilion, sand volleyball courts, and batting cages.

I have to admit, the name “The James L. Wick, Jr. Recreation Area” was always a mouthful for me. We always just called it “Rocky Ridge” (I’ve also heard Rock Ridge, occasionally). Now the name Rocky Ridge is used to describe the neighborhoods north of there between South Schenley and South Belle Vista Avenues up to Mahoning Avenue. There is even a Rocky Ridge Neighbors group. I’m glad they have kept the name alive!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Cathedral of St. Columba

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The Cathedral of St. Columba, by Nyttend — Own Work, Public Domain

I’m writing this post on St. Patrick’s Day and so it seems appropriate to write about one of the iconic places of Youngstown that bears the name of another Irish saint, the Cathedral of St. Columba. Columba was born in Ireland, educated in one of the monastic schools in that country, and with a band of twelve led a mission that spread Christianity to present day Scotland. He founded the famous abbey of Iona where he died in 597 AD.

St. Columba’s church and parish was founded in 1847 and the first church building completed in 1850. A larger church was completed in 1868, and a larger one yet in 1897, with copper covered spires completed in 1927. In 1943, the Diocese of Youngstown was established, and St. Columba was chosen as the cathedral for the new diocese.

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The Cathedral of St. Columba before the fire of 1954.

One of the big events in Youngstown in 1954 was the fire as a result of a lightning strike that left this cathedral in ruins. I heard about the fire growing up, and it must have been a heart-breaking event for the Catholic community of Youngstown. It occurred on September 2, 1954, less than a month after I was born. I suspect the fire was visible from many parts of the city, given its location at the corner of Wood and Elm Street on the hill overlooking downtown Youngstown.

A new cathedral was designed by the architectural firm Diehl & Diehl, based in Detroit with construction beginning in 1956 by The Charles Shutrump and Sons Company. The present structure was completed on November 9, 1958 and dedicated by Bishop Emmet M Welsh. The building is an example of modern church architecture with a “Romanesque” style. The soaring vertical lines, and particularly the campanile, or bell tower (132 feet above street level) immediately catch the eye and draw it upward toward the heavens.

There is so much that is distinctive about this structure beginning with the eleven foot Joseph M. LeLauro statue of St Columba on the southwest corner of the entrance. The other thing one immediately notices when entering the cathedral are the stain glass windows, portraying the Apostles, who are the foundation of the church. There is an architectural and liturgical guide to the cathedral printed at the time of the dedication of the building that wonderfully describes the cathedral. It may be accessed at: https://issuu.com/edelcolle/docs/st.columba_booklet.

The picture of the cathedral at the top of this post is roughly the view I saw out the third floor back windows in the Customer Service area at McKelvey’s. Whenever I finished dealing  with a particularly nasty customer, I could step back to the windows and be reminded to “look up” to get perspective and calm my heart.

In researching this post, I discovered that one of my high school classmates, Monsignor Peter M. Polando, is the Rector of the parish. I remember him as a person of character during our years together at Chaney High School, so it does not surprise me at all to see him in this role. Well done Monsignor Polando!

The Cathedral of Saint Columba looks out over the city of Youngstown and is visible from many points across the Valley. That seems fitting for a diocese cathedral whose patron saint had a deep care for spreading the Christian message widely through the lands beyond Christian Ireland. The church serves as a center for many diocesan and cultural events. May it continue to be a light in the Valley!