Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Things I’ve Wondered About

As I’ve written about my hometown over the years, there are things I’ve wondered about. After eight years of writing about Youngstown, the city still holds mysteries for me. Here are a few:

  1. We had a Schenley Theater and street on the West Side. I’ve never figured out if there was a Schenley after whom they were named.
  2. How did the crack occur in Council Rock?
  3. Renner Brewery was once a big deal. I’ve seen the Renner Mansion. But I wonder what Renner Beer tasted like.
  4. How did Dike Beede hang onto his coaching job at Youngstown through so many mediocre seasons? It can’t be because he invented the penalty flag.
  5. I know Butler’s bequest established the Butler and its policy of free admissions. I’d love to know how they have managed to do all that, make expansions and acquire so much great art. Wouldn’t it be great if all museums were able to do the same?
  6. I know Italian food from Youngstown is just the best. I cannot say why. It just is.
  7. Why is it called the Spring Common Bridge and when did Mr. Peanut take up residence? I don’t remember that as a kid.
  8. I wonder what ever happened to the little Baptist church up the street from my grandparents on Cohasset. It was a spiritually significant place for me.
  9. Where does the name DeYor come from? It was just Powers Auditorium when I lived in Youngstown. It looks like the combination of two names–but maybe not.
  10. We had to learn Ohio history in school. Why didn’t we learn Youngstown history?

I could come up with a longer list but I thought I’d leave room for you. What are some of the things about Youngstown you wonder about?

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Captain Daniel B. Stambaugh

Captain Daniel B. Stambaugh

A question arose from my article last week on Henry H. Stambaugh, who donated the money that built Stambaugh Auditorium. Was Henry the “Stambaugh” in Stambaugh-Thompson’s, the Youngstown-based hardware chain of stores? As it turns out, he was not. Rather, it was his uncle, Captain Daniel Beaver Stambaugh. Daniel was the younger brother of John Stambaugh, Henry’s father.

Daniel was born April 6, 1838 to John and Sarah Beaver Stambaugh (hence that middle name!). He grew up on the Brier Hill farm of his family and became involved in the coal and iron interests of his father, brother John, and nephew Henry. He eventually had investments in iron mines in Idaho and Colorado.

In 1861, President Lincoln called for 75,000 men to volunteer for the Union effort in the Civil War. Stambaugh signed up in Company B, 19th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He served four months and reenlisted in June 1862 as a second lieutenant of Company A, 105th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He fought at Chickamauga, where he was seriously wounded, hospitalized forty days before rejoining his command in the battles for Atlanta and the “March to the Sea.” He rose from second to first lieutenant and then was appointed Captain in August 1863. He was honorably discharged June 5, 1865.

He married Margaret Osborne on November 15, 1867 and had three children, one of whom, Phillip, predeceased him. It was around this time that he entered the hardware business, eventually forming a company, Fowler & Stambaugh. John Thompson had joined the firm as a bookkeeper around 1880. When Fowler died, Thompson became general manager while Daniel Stambaugh served as president, and the company became Stambaugh-Thompson. Thompson’s son Philip started out as a clerk, and by 1906 took his father’s place as general manager, succeeding to the presidency upon the death of Daniel Stambaugh.

Daniel Thompson was in good health until he suffered a fall while walking on West Federal Street a little over a week before his death at age 76. He had broken no bones but was advised to rest up from the shock to his body. The day before he died, he spoke to callers, expecting to be out again in a day or too. Thursday morning, he went into cardiac arrest from which he was not able to be resuscitated, dying at 9:45 am on January 14, 1915. He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

The Vindicator concluded his obituary noting that he “was a brave soldier, a courteous gentleman, and possessed those personal attractive traits which made him a congenial companion and a staunch and true friend. His sudden death brings deep sorrow to the community.”

Indirectly, there was a tie between Stambaugh-Thompson’s and Stambaugh Auditorium, beside the name. Henry Stambaugh was on the board of directors of Stambaugh-Thompson’s and held stock in the company. And after Henry’s death, Philip Thompson was one of the trustees of the bequest that built Stambaugh Auditorium.

What shouldn’t be lost is that Daniel B. Stambaugh, along with the Thompson’s built Youngstown’s leading hardware store as well as maintaining connections to the coal and iron business. He was one of the builders of Youngstown, establishing a business that lasted over one hundred years.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Henry H. Stambaugh

Henry H. Stambaugh

Most of us at from Youngstown have been to Stambaugh Auditorium at some point in our lives — children’s concerts, graduations, weddings, speakers, Youngstown Symphony concerts, Monday Musical performances, and popular concerts. One that I missed at which I would have loved to been present was Bruce Springsteen’s performance, when he sang “Youngstown.” His song about the death of Youngstown’s steel industry was sung in the house built by the wealth of one of Youngstown’s steel magnates.

Henry Hamilton. Stambaugh, was born in Brier Hill Nov. 24, 1858 to John and Caroline Stambaugh. His father was born there as well on March 8, 1827. It seems that someone so involved in the Valley’s steel history was born in the heart of it. John Stambaugh worked closely with David Tod in the early development of Tod’s coal and iron industries in Brier Hill.

Henry H. Stambaugh was educated in the Youngstown schools and then went on to college at Cornell University, graduating in 1881. He returned to follow his father in working in the coal and iron industry. He served as secretary, treasurer, and president of the Brier Hill Iron and Coal Company, founded the Brier Hill Steel Company and later served as a director of Youngstown Sheet and Tube. He also was on the boards of many of the city’s banks and active in civic and philanthropic affairs in the city. In addition to his residence at 1051 Belmont Avenue, he owned farms in Canfield and Liberty Township.

His death came as a shock to all of Youngstown. He died suddenly on January 4, 1919 from unexplained causes in New Orleans, where he had stopped for a visit on the way back from California to Youngstown. He was laid to rest in simple services at St. John’s Episcopal church with burial at Oak Hill Cemetery.

Wisely, Stambaugh had written his will two months earlier and several of his bequests left a lasting impact on Youngstown. His farm in Canfield was given to establish a Boy Scout Camp, Camp Stambaugh. His farm in Liberty Township was donated to Youngstown to create a park and recreation area and is now the Henry Stambaugh Golf Course. He gave sizable gifts to the Community Chest and Youngstown Foundations, enabling each to expand their work.

Perhaps the most remembered part of his will was the funds set aside for construction of a public auditorium for the people of Youngstown. He named as trustees of this fund John Stambaugh, Asael E. Adams, Rollin S. Steese, William B. Hall and Phillip J. Thompson (president of Stambaugh-Thompson). They met on August 3, 1920, forming the Henry H. Stambaugh Auditorium Association. They elected John Stambaugh president of the association. A site was chosen for construction and the auditorium was opened in December 6, 1926. The construction of this magnificent building, which has undergone recent restoration efforts, cost $1.5 million (about $25 million today). His mother was even remembered in the naming of the street north of the auditorium “Caroline.”

Henry H. Stambaugh not only helped build the steel industry but one of the most iconic structures of the city that has served as a center of cultural events for nearly 100 years. Thank you, Mr. Stambaugh.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Howard Johnson’s

Howard Johnson’s counter at 6123 Market St. From Howard Johnson’s Scoop Anniversary Issue 1955 p. 13

Remember the distinctive orange roofs of Howard Johnson’s restaurants? Clam strips? The Ho-Jo’s 3-D cheeseburger? Twenty-eight flavors of ice cream? This week, the last Howard Johnson’s restaurant in the country, in Lake George, New York in the Adirondack region, closed its doors. Looking for a business opportunity. The 7500 square foot property is listed for the astronomical price of $10 (not a typo)!

The restaurant on Market Street in Youngstown opened in 1951 and was owned by Harry G. Barmeier. I remember times in high school and college meeting up with friends at the Market Street restaurant. At one time, they also had restaurants that I know of on Belmont Avenue, with an attached hotel, and in Austintown, as well as on Route 422 in the Niles area. Some of these were eventually purchased by other restaurants. I don’t know when Howard Johnson’s ceased in Youngstown, but I would guess during the 1980’s when a number of businesses closed in the wake of mill closures and competition.

My favorite memories of Howard Johnson’s were on trips I took with my grandparents on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. At one time, Howard Johnson’s had the rights to operate restaurants at the rest stops on the Turnpike (I believe that was also the case on the Ohio Turnpike at one time). I remember climbing into their padded booths, opening what looked like a gigantic menu with a gazillion choices. Many times, I would order the cheeseburger plate with a pile of fries and coleslaw. According to a 1964 menu, that would have cost $.85. I found Sometimes I would try the clam strips, which we would never have at home, dipping them in clam sauce. A side of these cost $.75. My grandfather loved to get the clam chowder, a bowl costing $.45. Then you could finish off the dinner choosing one of the twenty-eight flavors of ice cream, a serving costing just a quarter.

The chain’s heyday was the 1950’s and 1960’s when they eventually operated over one thousand restaurants, including the Ground Round brand. They were one of the first to pioneer the idea of a standard menu you could count on coast to coast. Then other national chains arose, from fast food places like McDonalds to sit down family restaurants like Denney’s, Friendly’s, Applebee’s, and others. Howard Johnson’s failed to update its menus.

The Howard Johnson’s name is still alive as part of the Wyndham Hotel chain. About 300 motor lodges, inns and hotels still bear the Howard Johnson name. The news of the closing of the last HoJo’s restaurant brought back those rich childhood memories. What were your memories of Howard Johnson’s?

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — SP4 Robert Thomas Callan

Image source: The Wall of Faces, “Rob in Vietnam,” photographer unknown.

Memorial Day is America’s day to remember those who died in service to their country. Last year, I began what I hope will become a tradition, of remembering one of the many who paid “the last full measure” from the Mahoning Valley. In my post from last year, one of the comments remembered Robert Thomas Callan. I thought I would see what I could find and tell a bit of his story.

Robert was born on February 12, 1950, the son of Thomas and Anne Christoff Callan. He and his family were members of St. Dominic’s Church. His sister Nancy described him as “a quality person, so kind and generous and courteous and polite.” Elsewhere, his three sisters wrote: “In life, Bobby taught us to laugh, to ride a bike, to play football and how to open Christmas gifts before Christmas without anyone knowing we already saw our gifts.”  He was a Cardinal Mooney graduate. After high school he worked at the Republic Rubber Division of Aeroquip for a year before he was drafted by the Selective Service.

He began his tour of duty in Vietnam on April 14, 1970.  He held the rank of Specialist Four and was an Aircraft Maintenance Crewman attached to the 101st Airborne Division, 101st Aviation Battalion, C Company. He hoped to begin a carpentry apprenticeship after completing his tour of duty.

After returning from a leave to Hawaii on December 10, his helicopter crew was on a mission on December 16, 1970 when it came under hostile fire in Thua Thien Province in what was then South Vietnam. He was posted as a door gunner at the time, a vulnerable position. He died of wounds in the subsequent crash of the helicopter, his body being recovered and returned to Youngstown for burial. He lies at rest in Calvary Cemetery.

He was honored in death, being awarded the Purple Heart, Air Medal, National Defense, Vietnam Service, and Vietnam Campaign Medals. His name appears on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Panel W6, Line 124. Robert Thomas Callan served with honor and died in that service. He is one of many from the Mahoning Valley who has done so. He, and they are worth honor this Memorial Day.

Who do you remember for their faithful service to country this Memorial Day?

We remember.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Youngstown One Hundred Years Ago: A Snapshot

I have a pretty good memory of fifty years ago in Youngstown. I was enjoying my last weeks as a senior at Chaney High School. We’d had our prom and had just a few more weeks of class, finals, and then commencement.

I doubt any of us remember 100 years ago. This was around the time many of our parents were born. I thought it would be fun to take a look at The Vindicator from 100 years ago to get a glimpse of life back then. The closest to today I could get was the issue for Tuesday, May 23, 1922.

It was interesting that the paper led with a good news story even though City Council had voted to fire 25 police. Perhaps they had better sense and paying attention to civic-minded generosity to the Community Chest, the United Way of the day, was in the long run of greater value than squabbles at city hall.

Now for that police story. I wrote some time back about George Oles, the grocer who ran, as a joke at first, for mayor, and won. He was a reformer and saw a city that was deficit spending. The story describes acrimonious debate with Oles refuting false accusations before the measure to cut the police finally passed by a 9-6 vote (City Council was larger back then). Oles won this battle, at least temporarily, but lost the war. Just a month and a half later, July 1, 1922, he resigned after only six months in office. Political controversy has a long history in the city.

Several of the stories were national stories. Governor General Wood, the top government officer when the Philippines were basically a U.S. colony, took shelter behind an island and was in communication 36 hours later. He lived until 1927. To the question of a man kidnapping his wife, the answer is yes. As you might assume, it was an unhappy marriage, she had separated and sued for divorce, and he, a captain of industry, seized her against her will. She got free and had him arrested! The other kidnapping story probably caught the attention of locals who bought bread from the Ward Baking Company. The owner refused to pay the ransom for his son, so the son took matters into his own hands and shot his kidnapper! That raises as many questions as it answers!

Down the page is a story about a report on good authority that the Ku Klux Klan had a branch in Youngstown. Sadly, by the end of 1923, most of the political leadership including the mayor, and the school board in Youngstown would be Klan-endorsed. Sadly, they enjoyed support from many churches. Two notable exceptions were First Presbyterian Church and The Vindicator. William Jenkins, a YSU history professor wrote a history of Klan involvement in the Ohio that I reviewed elsewhere on this blog. By 1924, their influence waned.

A page 3 story indicates at this time efforts were being made to move Mill Creek Park to control by the city rather than The Park Commission but council refused to act, fearing loss of revenues going to the park commission. Over the years, funding and leadership of the park periodically has been an issue, apparently.

Some commercial highlights from elsewhere in the paper:

  • Fordyce’s was having a blue ribbon sale with the following priced at a dollar: boys knickers, men’s dress shirts, a pair of long silk gloves and two pairs of short silk gloves, girls tub frocks, panty dresses, girls rain capes, and much more!
  • Meat was on sale at George Oles’ Fulton Market with fancy sugar bacon at 21 cents a pound, cured hams for 18 cents a pound, and chopped steak for 10 cents a pound.
  • The Glering Bottling Co. advertised Orange Crush at 5 cents a bottle. Elsewhere they had ads for Coca-Cola for 5 cents and Budweiser for 15 cents. Amazing that all those brands have lasted 100 years!
  • You could buy men’s dress oxfords for $3.98 at McFadden’s.
  • Stambaugh-Thompson’s was advertising “The Greatest Tire Sale Youngstown Has Ever Seen” with tires as low as $12.55 with warranties of up to 8,000 miles! They also advertised clothes line posts for $1.45, a reminder of how everyone used to dry their clothes, even in my childhood.
  • McKelvey’s advertised lingerie of silk and fine muslin and announced that “Miss Hoban (Corseting Expert) Is Here All This Week Demonstrating the Binner Corset” while Strouss-Hirshberg advertised Women’s Dainty Silk Dresses at sale prices of $39.50 and $24.75.

The big entertainment news was that the Scotti Grand Opera was at the Park Theatre performing Carmen as a matinee and L’Oracolo and La Boheme in the evening. That’s a lot of opera for one day! And “Adam and Eva” was at the Hippodrome Theatre. I’m curious as to whether the Park was the same place that later became a burlesque theatre.

Then, as now, this was the time of the year to recognize the accomplishments of local high school students. This picture accompanied the headline “Nineteen Students in Honor Group at Rayen This Year.” Look at how dressed up all of them are, including jackets and ties for all the men! All the students names are included in the article.

Syndicated comics of the day included “Bringing Up Father,” “Pa’s Son-In-Law,” “Polly and Her Pals,” “Toots and Casper” and this moral tale titled “Cicero and Sapp.”

As I said, this is but a snapshot of Youngstown 100 years ago, and a selective one at that. One of the richest sources of historical information about the city is the Vindicator archive in the Google News Archive, which contains scans of The Vindicator from 1893 to 1984. Then, as now, advertising paid the bills and occupies a lot of space, but the fashions and prices, and sometimes the technology, are so different. The issues then and now seem not so different–cities then as now struggle with budgets and how to maintain and develop a livable place. Only the particulars and the personalities are different. If you have the time, I think you’ll find reading these old papers a fascinating way to learn about our hometown.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Paul C Bunn

Paul C. Bunn

To many of us, the name of Paul C. Bunn is attached to an elementary school in Brownlee Woods, either the original one opened in 1960, or the new one opened in 2008. For older readers, you will remember Paul C. Bunn as the superintendent of the Youngstown City Schools from 1944 until 1956, when he retired. He was a remarkable community leader who left his mark on the district. Under his leadership, my high school building, Chaney High School, was built, replacing the old Chaney, which became West Jr. High.

Bunn was born February 9, 1885 in Salineville, Ohio. He attended the College of Wooster and then earned his Masters degree from Columbia University. After just two years of teaching in Salineville, he became superintendent of Bettsville schools. Later he moved to Ashtabula Harbor as a teacher and then for four years as principal of the high school. He went on to twenty-one years as a high school principal in Lorain followed by nine years as superintendent. For many these days, they would be thinking of retirement at this point. Instead, Bunn accepted the job as superintendent of Youngstown City Schools.

He was a progressive educator for his day. He proposed adding a 13th and 14th grade for those not going on to college. He reinstated kindergarten, which had been suspended in the 1930’s. You’ve heard the phrase “permanent record”? He led the adoption of a permanent record plan which tracked students education throughout their time in Youngstown schools. From the suggestions of school students, he compiled a Bill of Duties, printed in color, framed and hung in every classroom. Howard C. Aley observed, “Mr Bunn contended that every child should be taught the fundamental virtues of obedience, respect for authority, and reverence for God, home, and country.”

He renovated the old Wood Street School into what became the Choffin Vocational Center, and launched a practical nurses training program. He led the construction of the Williamson, Elm, Kirkmere, North, and Chaney buildings and additions and renovations to many other schools to welcome the baby boomers who were filling the classrooms. He created adult education programs and used the new technology of TV to start weekly programs on WKBN and WFMJ. He streamlined the process by which veterans could obtain a high school diploma by passing a general education test. Guidance and psychological testing programs were set up.

He was a member, and often leader of, a variety of educational associations. In Youngstown, he was on the Boy Scout executive council, the YMCA, the Youngstown Club, the Youngstown Safety Council, a trustee of the library and a 32nd degree Mason. He taught Sunday School and served as an elder at First Presbyterian Church. After his retirement as superintendent of schools he went on to serve as director of the Mahoning County Council for Retarded Children, a position he was serving in at the time of his death.

He died on April 8, 1957 after suffering from a stroke on March 22 from which he never regained consciousness. The Vindicator editorial on April 9 1957 stated that “the children’s welfare was the first consideration.” He was described as “a leader, never a driver” and that he “was an example of the saying that if you want something done, go to the busiest man in town.”

It is fitting that the Paul C. Bunn Elementary School has Three Universal Expectations: Respect, Responsibility, and Safety. I think Bunn would be nodding his head in agreement and would have graciously but firmly expected students, teachers, and administrators to all live up to those ideals. He more than did, and the education many of us received in Youngstown’s schools are a legacy of his leadership.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Sparkle Markets

Grocery shopping is one of those necessities of life. When I was young, I would accompany my dad every Friday night to shop at the A & P on Mahoning Avenue on the Westside. Eventually that store closed, but a Sparkle Markets store opened that was actually closer opened at the corner of Mahoning and N. Belle Vista, across from Calvary Cemetery.

By today’s standards, the store was small. In later years, especially when my dad was hospitalized on several occasions I shopped there for my mom. I could always find whatever she needed and the meat counter people were always friendly and helpful (and, of course, knew what chip-chopped ham was). Sometime after my folks sold their home, the store closed. Recently I wondered what was happening with Sparkle Markets with all the competition from Giant Eagle and the like and found they were alive and well around the Mahoning Valley, eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and into West Virginia with 18 stores. In 2015 they even acquired the Brookfield Giant Eagle, which is now a Sparkle store. The closest stores to Youngstown are in Cornersburg and on South Avenue.

The beginning of Sparkle Markets was in 1955 when four independent local grocers came together with the goal of being able to better compete with the national chains while providing the “neighborhood-friendly” service I experienced at our own store. They eventually joined with a similar group of Akron area grocers with the same aims and out of this came Sparkle Markets. Their goal was to be “big enough to serve you; small enough to care.”

This neighborhood grocer philosophy is captured in the chain’s iconic “Sparky,” the clean-cut, cheerful grocer, ready to serve, running a clean and sparkling store. In fact, the store owners make up the board of directors of Sparkle, with Vince Furrie, Jr., store owner of the Village Plaza Sparkle in Columbiana serving as President. In 2018, Sparkle Markets received the 2018 Retailer of the Year by the Cleveland Food Dealers Association.

I’ve written too many stories of Youngstown businesses of the past. It’s encouraged to see this Youngstown-based chain of stores making it in such a challenging environment 67 years after their beginnings. You can go to their website for specials, coupons, food tips and recipes. In an environment where so many retail establishments are controlled by remote main offices, it is refreshing to see a situation where local store owners still serve local communities.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Butler Institute of American Art’s Indian Scout Statue

Indian Scout bronze statue with Minerva Sculpture in background, both works of J. Massey Rhind. Photo © Robert C. Trube, 2019, all rights reserved.

Generations of visitors to the Butler Institute of American Art have passed the bronze statue of the Indian Scout in full headdress. The statue is the work of J. Massey Rhind, a personal friend of Joseph G. Butler, Jr, the philanthropist whose donation of art and money established the museum and continues to make entry free to the public to this day.

Rhind was a famous Scottish-American sculptor whose works may be found throughout the United States and Canada. These include one of the three bronze doors of Trinity Church in New York City, the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial in Washington D. C., the John Wanamaker statue at City Hall in Philadelphia, statues of several generals at Gettysburg, and many more. Locally, The statue of William B. McKinley, a friend of Butler’s may be seen at the McKinley Memorial in Niles. In addition, busts of Marcus Hanna, Philander Knox, Elihu Root, William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, John Hay, William Rufus Day, Cornelius Bliss, and David Tod ring the president and all are works of Rhind.

Butler first became acquainted with the work of Rhind in 1907 when he executed a statue of Andrew Carnegie for the Main Library of Youngstown. Although the library was named after its founder, Reuben McMillan, it, like many American libraries was made possible through a gift from steel magnate Andrew Carnegie.

When the Butler was built in 1919, J. Massey Rhind executed not one, but three statues outside the Butler to represent this museum of American art. Of course, the most prominent is that of the Indian Scout who has faithfully kept watch in every season and represents the Butler’s major collection of Native American art. The two other statues are in niches on either side of the portico where the main entrance is located. On the left is a statue of Apollo, the Greek god of music, poetry and dance. To the right (and partially visible above) is the statue of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, science, and the arts.

I discovered my own debt to Rhind. I’ve written previously of my love of Robert Vonnoh’s painting In Flanders Field. Rhind assisted Butler in the acquisition of the painting in 1919, the year the museum opened. When acquired, the artist had not yet given it a name. Rhind suggest the name from John McCrae’s poem, In Flanders Field, and the artist approved and so it is known to us to this day.

The statue not only represents the art within, but the extraordinary friendship between J. Massey Rhind and Joseph G. Butler, Jr. I wonder if it also serves as a reminder of the native peoples who traveled through and sometimes made the Mahoning Valley their dwelling before we arrived, gathering at Council Rock or at the Salt Springs near the Mahoning River (whose name means “at the licks’).

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Hubert H. Humphrey at Chaney High School

Hubert Humphrey with Chaney High School students in background. Youngstown Vindicator, April 27, 1972 via Google News Archive

[This post recalls a personal experience of the visit of a presidential candidate fifty years ago this week. It is meant to remember a Youngstown event at which I was present, not to invite a political discussion. Please refrain from political comments and debates.]

I cannot identify myself in this picture, but I was in this crowd. It was Thursday, April 27, 1972. Hubert H. Humphrey was in the thick of a primary campaign for the presidency running against Edmund Muskie, who withdrew from the campaign that day, and a field of other Democrats that included George McGovern, Alabama governor George Wallace, Washington Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, and Representative Shirley Chisolm, from New York. They were running for the nomination to oppose Richard Nixon, running for his second term. Humphrey had lost to Nixon in 1968, after the disastrous Democrat National Convention in Chicago.

In a few months, I would be old enough to register for the draft and vote in my first election. It was the spring of my senior year, and so the chance to get out of class, out of the building, and to hear someone I might be voting for was a draw. It was for roughly 1400 of us out of a crowd of 2000 who watched as Humphrey landed by helicopter and then mounted a truck bed that served as his speaker platform.

Principal John Maluso, who passed just this year (2022), welcomed him. Then a classmate, John Jovich, chairman of the Chaney Political Speakers Bureau, introduced him. After fifty years, I do not remember what Humphrey said and so am relying on the Vindicator account said.

He began by a promise designed to win our hearts, to create a cabinet level department of youth affairs. His argument was that “if they are old enough to vote and to serve in the armed forces they are mature enough to hold positions of responsibility.” Remember this was just two years after Kent State and all the demonstrations against the war in Vietnam.

He argued for releasing funds for a number of government projects that would create jobs and finance education. He argued that if we rebuilt Europe in World War II, we ought to rebuild America’s cities, as he helped to do in Minneapolis. Like almost every candidate ever, he argued for tax reform. Perhaps more controversial for the time, he favored amnesty for “draft dodgers” who fled to Canada, in exchange for some form of Peace Corps-like service to the country. While he opposed legalization of marijuana, he favored decriminalizing its use (yes, people argued this in 1972). He contended that President Nixon had not gone far enough in withdrawing from Vietnam.

Humphrey was just coming off a primary victory in Pennsylvania and would go on to win the primary election in Ohio, and actually won more votes in the primaries than Senator McGovern, but McGovern carried the key state of California in a closely contested election to win the nomination. As it turned out, he wouldn’t be running for a second time against Richard Nixon, who won the general election in 1972 only to resign office in 1974.

Still, I am glad I got to see him. He rose from mayor of Minneapolis to the U.S. Senate in 1948, running on a civil rights platform when this was extremely unpopular. He actually was the first to propose legislation to create the Peace Corps in 1957, later accomplished by President Kennedy, and he led the effort to pass the Civil Rights Act in 1964 before becoming Lyndon Johnson’s Vice President. His close association with Johnson’s unpopularity over Vietnam hurt his own political chances. Having failed in his first presidential bid, he returned to the Senate in 1971 where he held his seat until his death in 1978.

He was respected by political leaders of both parties and honored in death by former presidents Nixon and Ford, as well as President Carter. He was described as “a happy warrior” who fought for what he believed, but not with vitriol but with a smile. Bill Moyers wrote this of him, based on an interview with him in 1976:

He was called “The Happy Warrior” because he loved politics and because of his natural ebullience and resiliency. I asked him: “Some people say you’re too happy and that this is not a happy world.” He replied: “Well, maybe I can make it a little more happy…I realize and sense the realities of the world in which we live. I’m not at all happy about what I see in the nuclear arms race…and the machinations of the Soviets or the Chinese…the misery that’s in our cities. I’m aware of all that. But I do not believe that people will respond to do better if they are constantly approached by a negative attitude. People have to believe that they can do better. They’ve got to know that there’s somebody that’s with them that wants to help and work with them, and somebody that hasn’t tossed in the towel. I don’t believe in defeat, Bill.”

This is the man I saw on a truck bed in back of my high school four years earlier. He is rarely mentioned today and yet he defines for me the ideal of public service in public office. I’m glad I was there.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!