Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Sharonline

Sign erected in 2015 at intersection of McGuffey and Jacobs Roads

I was asked a question yesterday about The Sharonline neighborhood on Youngstown’s East side. Until a few years ago, I was unaware of this neighborhood. I first learned of it when I wrote a post on sides of town and the different neighborhoods on each side of town. But I still didn’t know much about it, which is how I end up writing many of these articles.

So where is The Sharonline? The Sharonline Page demarcates the area as bounded on the north by Hubbard, on the south by McKelvey Lake, on the west by Lansdowne Boulevard and on the east by State Route 616. The Youngstown Neighborhood Development map below sets the west boundary further east following Early, McGuffey, and Jacobs Road.

Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation “East Side Planning District

So why is this neighborhood called “The Sharonline”? In the early twentieth century, there were street car connections between many cities.  The Youngstown-Sharon Railway and Light Co. operated a street car or trolley line between Youngstown and Sharon that ran along Jacobs Road. It was known as the Sharonline, and so was the neighborhood that was growing up around this street car line. Youngstown, Campbell, and Sharon were rapidly growing steel towns and The Sharonline was well-located between these industrial centers.

The earliest residents were Irish immigrants. Soon, though, the Italian community became and remained dominant for many years. Later the neighborhood became predominantly Black and Latino. City planners thought that this more rural area of Youngstown would develop with a growing population. Instead, the population moved to the suburbs, with decline accelerating after the closure of the steel mills.

There was a lot of pride among the residents of the neighborhood, even though it was materially poor for many years. The McGuffey Centre was, and to a certain extent, still is the community center. The Centre opened in 1939 and moved into its new building in 1960. In its heyday, it offered an array of recreation programs for youth while also serving parents and seniors (with COVID, the center has lacked the staff for youth programming, focusing more on the adult and senior population).

But gatherings were hardly limited to the McGuffey Centre. It was not uncommon for someone with a large basement to host “five cent socials,” where everyone chipped in a nickel for pop, hot dogs, and burgers. When television came on the scene, the first in the neighborhood would have everyone in the neighborhood in their living room. And like many Youngstown neighborhoods, the discipline of children was a neighborhood, Two former residents recalled in a Vindicator story:

When an adult saw you doing something wrong, they got after you right there and it was guaranteed that your parents knew whatever you had done before you made it home. It was one large, extended family.

Since 1989, even though residents had moved away, they come together with current residents for a tri-annual Sharonline reunion. The most recent was this past August.

Beyond the McGuffey Centre, local congregations, the East Side Library, and the schools host and offer a number of community programs.

Around 4,000 people currently live in The Sharonline neighborhood. The Northeast Homeowners and Concerned Citizens Association (NHCCA) functions both as an information hub through their Facebook page and community organization working with homeowners to improve the neighborhood.

Because of its shrinking population and problems with people coming into the area and dumping garbage, the city has worked with community to “decommission” abandoned areas by razing homes and allowing the reversion to nature of these areas. The NHCCA has created two pocket parks and four other corner landscaped lots along McGuffey Road. Taking advantage of what was once farmland, Master Gardeners train community members in growing their own food.

It strikes me that the area has the potential to be a second recreation area, beside Mill Creek MetroPark after the city’s acquisition of McKelvey Lake. With the nearby McGuffey Wildlife Preserve, Bailey Park and other rural land, it seems that the area has natural assets that could draw people into the area. So much seems to hinge on continuing to cultivate the community pride that has characterized The Sharonline to address neighborhood renewal, reducing crime, and creating successful local businesses.

There are many people who thought The Sharonline neighborhood a great place to grow up. It appears there is a good network of people who are working to make it a good place. I have enjoyed learning about The Sharonline neighborhood and hope I hear more good things about it!

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — It All Began at the Red Barn

Red Barn” by Salem Ohio Public Library is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.*

It all began at the Red Barn. It was Friday, September 22, 1972, the second day of my freshman year at Youngstown State University. At that time, the food options around Youngstown State were still somewhat limited. So I ended up at the Red Barn Restaurant on Lincoln Avenue. At that time both Cushwa Hall and the parking garage to the west of it were under construction across the street. Much of the campus was under construction at that time, enjoying the infusion of state funds in the five years after becoming a state university in 1967.

I ordered my food and when I looked for a place to sit, I saw a girl I’d met that summer. She was sitting with a tall and slender girl with long brown hair. Her name was Marilyn. She was also a freshman and had known the friend she was with since their early teens. They both grew up in the Brownlee Woods area. Marilyn was a Mooney grad who was majoring in English and minoring in journalism. Little did I realize at the time that I had met my future wife that day.

I can’t say it was love at first sight. But Red Barn was kind of the default restaurant for me at the time and she was often there. And I started to notice that she was an interesting person to whom I found myself attracted. We were both in Honors English, though in different sections. We spent a lot of time discussing books and our other classes and life at Youngstown State. She even let me borrow a couple of books that she would be reading at a different time. Finally, a few weeks later, I asked her out, and as they say, the rest was history. If she were telling the story, she would probably add that by the time I asked her out, she’d concluded I was not interested (although she was!). We guys can be slow sometimes!

We dated all through college, graduating together in June of 1976. We took some time after college to get established in our jobs and were married in June of 1978. The years since have taken us to Toledo, Cleveland, and for over 30 years, the Columbus area.

We have always loved eating out together. We would linger over “bottomless” cups of coffee while we were dating. Every year, in the early years, we would go out on the “anniversary” of when we met. As the years passed, our wedding anniversary tended to get more attention. But this year, we are planning to go out, not for a burger, but we probably will get some beef in the form of a good steak!

The Red Barn where we met is no more. It is an attractively landscaped green space. The restaurant chain succumbed to competition in the late 1980’s. It is hard to believe that fifty years later, we are still sharing meals and life together. But it has been quite wonderful–so many events, places, and people have been part of our lives since–leaving us with many memories. But it all began at a Red Barn Restaurant where two freshmen shared a lunch together.

*The picture of the Red Barn is not the one on Lincoln Avenue, but one very like it on State Street in nearby Salem, Ohio. A postscript: Several readers noted that the building pictured is still in use, currently as a pizza shop, formerly a dry cleaners.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown–Why Local History?

An early sketch of the Brier Hill district and the town of Youngstown

I was in a conversation this week with someone who asked me why we should honor people in the Youngstown area who have done great things. It is a good question. Part of my response was to say that “For me, it is about more than honoring them or their memory. It is about the values they stood for that you hope to perpetuate.” That answer is part of why I write so much about Youngstown people, cultural institutions, businesses, and events that have shaped Youngstown.

We’re not a bunch of people who happened to land in a particular place that is just like other places in the U.S. Youngstown is a storied place and those who call it home are part of a 225 year old story. I happen to think part of how we make sense of our lives, what matters in them, what values shape them, is to understand the story of which we are a part and within which we live.

Yet one of the most common responses I receive to many of the articles I’ve posted in this series is, “why have I never heard about this before. I never knew that!” The reason, of course is that, with few exceptions, most of us were not taught our local history in school. I happen to think that is a great lack.

Sadly, the only local history many of us know about Youngstown are the stories of the mob, bombings, the closing of the mills, and political corruption. I would be a liar if I were to say that these aren’t part of the Youngstown story. But they are only a part. I haven’t focused much on these things because so much has been written. It also happens that in the plot of the Youngstown story, such things are only a small part of our rich story.

Yet so much that we continue to treasure in Youngstown we owe to people who put their time, skill, energy, and money into our community life. We owe our schools to people like Judge Rayen and N. H. Chaney and Paul C. Bunn. and Howard Jones. The efforts of Reuben McMillan contributed to the excellent library system of today. We have one of the most amazing museums of American art that we can visit for free because of the vision and bequest of Joseph G. Butler. Mill Creek could have become another industrial zone were it not for the vision and labors of Volney Rogers and the park leadership from then until now that stewarded this singularly beautiful place. Leaders like Charles P. Henderson showed that politics needn’t be corrupt. The Warners built an amazing theatre that the Powers family and later, the DeBartolo and York families preserved as a wonderful space for the performing arts. The Covelli Centre recognizes the efforts and investment of a contemporary restaurant entrepreneur. I could go on and on.

Local history helps us know how our city developed in the shape it did. It answers questions like “How did Brier Hill get its name and why is it so important?” What connection did the famous educator William Holmes McGuffey have with the east side of Youngstown? How did East Youngstown become Campbell? How did Salt Springs Road get its name? Why is the Wick family so important to our history? What importance did the Gibson, Zedaker, Foster, and Brownlee families have in the development of the South Side?

Local history matters because it is a story we get to help write. Among those I listed above are people from the early beginnings of Youngstown, a number from a century ago, and some who are our contemporaries. How do we write that story? The people in that history did it through hard work, integrity of character, a willingness to go out on limbs and take risks, and a stick-to-itivness. Many of them persisted twenty, thirty, forty, or even fifty years in pursuing the common good of the city. I suspect that if anything is done that lasts another one hundred years or more, it will be because of people who embrace those same values and pursue a similar course.

And this is why our local history matters. First it made us, and then we get to make it.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Labor Day Memories

Cartoonist: Clifford Berryman. “Uncle Sam and a schoolboy celebrating Labor Day by bowing and paying homage to the common working man.” Washington Post, September 4, 1899, The U.S. National Archives, Public Domain
Labor Day Memories

A day honoring the hard work of Youngstown's workers

Tributes to work ethic while workers rest

Sleeping in (unless you delivered the paper)

The last fling of summer

The closing day of the Canfield Fair

The final harness races and competitions

Lots of winners ribbons

One more elephant ear

One more afternoon to hang out with friends

The last family picnics

The final time for those burgers and dogs on the grill

Tossing washers or horse shoes

Crystal blue skies heralding the crisp nights of fall

Sunsets before 8 o'clock

School clothes laid out for tomorrow

The first day of school*

So early to bed

It's all of us to work tomorrow!

*When I was growing up, our first day of school was always the day after Labor Day.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — William (Bill) Whitehouse

William “Bill” Whitehouse. Ⓒ Anthony F. Belfast. Used with permission.

One of the great assets that made Mill Creek Park such a treasure throughout much of its history was a succession of great naturalists, who knew about anything that lived in the park and loved sharing that knowledge with the public, especially school children, enhancing everyone’s love of the park. It began in 1929 when Ernest Vickers became the first naturalist. His son Lindley joined him in 1930, as assistant naturalist, and became naturalist in 1947 when Ernest retired at age 76. Many of us remember going on field trips and being led on nature walks with Mr. Vickers, who also had a regular column in the Vindicator of his nature observations in the park. The Vickers also established the nature museum at the Old Mill that many of you may remember visiting when you were young, before the Mill was renovated.

In 1952, Lindley Vickers observed a young man who was a regular at the museum from boyhood and offered him a job as attendant. That young man was Bill Whitehouse. At the time, he had been working up at Idora Park for $.75 an hour and the park was offering $1.00 an hour. That led to a thirty-three year career at the park and a volunteer association with Mill Creek for many years after that. In 1954, he became assistant naturalist, and soon began leading some of the nature walks. College followed at Youngstown College (later University) where he completed in 1966 a major in mathematics and a minor in biology, including a forestry class from Dike Beede! All this while continuing his full-time duties at the park, part of the time as naturalist, part of the time on a park work crew.

Nature hikes. Ⓒ Anthony F. Belfast. Used with permission.

Between 1954 and 1966, due to lack of public interest, there were no public nature hikes, only school programs. Then in September of 1966, they proposed the idea of Sunday afternoon nature walk was proposed, accepted and publicized. Over 200 turned up to the first and they became quite popular, and an ongoing part of the park programs. In this YouTube video, from a walk he led in 2016, he tells the story of these nature walks.

Bill Whitehouse presenting a nature program with a school group. Ⓒ Anthony F. Belfast. Used with permission.

When Lindley Vickers finally retired in 1970, Bill Whitehouse took over as the park’s third naturalist. One of his first projects was the opening of the Ford Nature Center. In 1968, the children of the late Judge John W. Ford donated the stone mansion the Fords has occupied to the Park. Working with assistant naturalist Tony Belfast, they created the exhibits that would go into the Nature Center. He was constantly on the go presenting nature programs at schools and with many community groups, as well as leading the nature walks and field trips from schools. Following in the footsteps of Lindley Vickers, he also wrote a regular column, Mill Creek Park Bulletin, that was also distributed to the YSU Biology Department and the public and parochial schools. He also consulted with Youngstown State’s teacher training course in “Elementary Science Field Experiences.”

“Mill Creek Park Bulletin” by William
Whitehouse, Youngstown Vindicator, August 27, 1972

For many of us, The Green Cathedral by Dr. John Melnick is our Mill Creek Park Bible. Bill Whitehouse played an important role as a consultant in the writing of the book, which was published in 1976, during the time that Whitehouse was naturalist. He also became a mentor to Ray Novotny, who first met Whitehouse at age 12. Novotny told Whitehouse that he wanted his job. Seventeen years later, he succeeded him as naturalist, after Whitehouse’s retirement in 1985. In 1988, Novotny interviewed Bill Whitehouse on Mill Creek Park History as part of Youngstown State University’s Oral History Program, an interview that is the source for much of the material in this article. The men remain close friends until this day.

Following retirement, Bill Whitehouse continued to serve as a volunteer naturalist, helping with nature education programs until as recent as 2016. He was part of a line of four generations of naturalists extending from 1929 through 2016. Bill Whitehouse alone, worked for and volunteered with the park between 1952 and 2016, 64 years or nearly half of the park’s history. He and the others represented the “soul of Mill Creek Park”–its connection with the vision of Volney Rogers. It is to be hoped that the new generation of nature educators at the MetroParks will be keepers of that vision and that ways will be found to remember the legacy of Bill Whitehouse and the other great naturalists who taught us to love Mill Creek Park.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Grand Opera House

The Grand Opera House. Photographer Unknown. CC BY 3.0

Those of us who grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s remember grand old theatres like the Palace and the Paramount and the Warner, which is now the centerpiece of the DeYor Center. Before all these and before Stambaugh Auditorium, there was the Grand Opera House, located at 19 Central Square.

It had a regular seating capacity of 1400 with a main floor and two balconies. For special occasions it could accommodate 2000 people. Here is a seating diagram showing the main floor seating and the dress circle (the lower of the balconies):

The auditorium had a stage of 30 by 40 feet. It was served by two “commodious and neatly furnished dressing rooms” (Aley, p. 95). It had a huge gaslit chandelier that was only lit on special occasions. Allegorical figures representing music, drama, poetry, comedy, tragedy, and painting adorned the ceiling in paint. This photograph gives an interior view of the building:

The building was built in 1872, one of the many works of P. Ross Berry. The structure had an iron front that was 110 feet in length and 78 feet deep.

From 1872 until 1907, befitting its name, it was the site of many live performances. In 1879, Giles Bates Harber, once a local boy, would receive a hero’s welcome after leading an Arctic rescue. During William McKinley’s term as governor, he spoke at the theatre. In 1892, it was the center of 400th anniversary celebrations of Columbus first expedition to America. It served as the site of The Rayen School commencements. The theatre was remodeled in 1897. Then in 1907, Sam Warner began showing motion pictures there, the beginnings of the Warner dynasty. The theatre was closed in 1918 and demolished in 1920.

The Grand Opera House was a reflection of Youngstown’s growth as a cultural and industrial center. It sounds like a grand place indeed–one I wish I had seen.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Ella Kerber (Resch) Perrin

Washington Evening Star, March16, 1930. Screen capture from Library of Congress

Edith Hamilton was not the only amazing newspaper woman that wrote for the Youngstown Vindicator. And like Esther Hamilton, Ella Kerber came from nearby New Castle, descended from German immigrants who arrived during the Civil War. She joined the staff of the Youngstown Vindicator in 1918. In 1922, she was acclaimed at the Ohio Newspaper Woman’s Association Convention in Columbus as the only woman court reporter in the state. She was known for her ability to scoop other reporters and was on a first name basis with politicians and other national figures across the country.

In 1926, she was honored by the Youngstown Police Department for raising the money to provide every policeman with a $5000 paid up life insurance, raised through amateur shows. I wonder if this is where Esther Hamilton came up with her idea for her Christmas fund-raisers. She lead efforts to establish the Youngstown Little Theater which eventually became the Youngstown Playhouse.

However, there was one event for which she was probably the most famous. She was the first newspaper woman to go to jail to protect the confidentiality of a source. In 1930, Irene Schroeder was on trial for the murder of a highway patrolman in New Castle. Kerber had provided “The Story of Irene Schroeder” to newspapers across the country, which was being published serially during the trial. She refused to testify as to the source of the story, and spent 52 hours in a New Castle jail cited with contempt of court. Because of some quirks in the law, she was unable to obtain bail. One newspaper account said, “She appeared to be unconcerned as she was escorted to a cell in the county jail.”

Also like Esther Hamilton, she had a long career, stretching from 1918 into the 1970’s. Along the way, she was a city council candidate for Youngstown’s Fifth Ward and active in Republican party affairs. In later years for papers in Warren, Boardman, and Austintown as well as doing stints in radio in Charleston and Huntington, West Virginia.

I wonder what it was like around the newsroom of the Vindicator when both Esther and Ella were there. I don’t how long Kerber was around after the Telegram merged with the Vindicator in 1936 and Hamilton joined the paper. My hunch is that the paper wasn’t big enough for both of them, though I do not know the reason Ella Kerber moved on. What I do know is that she was a pathbreaker, showing that women could do all men could do as reporters, covering courts, scooping stories, and even going to jail to protect sources. She’s one I’d love to know a lot more 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 — Chaney High School

Main entrance to Chaney High School. Photograph ©2019 by Robert C Trube, all rights reserved.

I’ve written about many of the people and personal experiences connected with Chaney High School, but realized after my story last week on East High School that I have never really written an article on the history of Chaney. It is a story that runs through my family. Both of my parents, my brother, sister, and I are all Chaney graduates. This year in particular seems an appropriate one to write that history as my graduating class of 1972 will hold its fifty year reunion.

The early 1920’s were a boom period in Youngstown’s history, with rapid growth outward from the downtown in all directions. At that time, only The Rayen School and South High School served the whole city. The Board of Education reached the decision to build new high schools on the East and West sides of town, that would be named East and West High Schools, respectively. While West High School on N. Hazelwood Avenue was under construction (along with what was then Cleveland Elementary, later to be West Elementary), N. H. Chaney, the former superintendent of schools in Youngstown from 1902 to 1920, died in 1925. He had planned and oversaw the growth of Youngstown schools, and the decision was made to name the new high school in his honor. Chaney High School was born and opened in 1926.

C. W. Ricksecker was the first principal of the school, serving in this position the entire time Chaney was on N. Hazelwood. He was the principal of the Chaney my parents attended. They spoke of his discipline and high standards. In high school, my mother won a statewide chemistry award. One of the people he recruited was Chester McPhee, who taught physical education and coached football and basketball at the old Chaney throughout its history. He was the coach of Frank Sinkwich, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1942 and went on to a brief career in the NFL. George “Shotgun” Shuba, whose handshake with Jackie Robinson was recently commemorated with a statue in Wean Park in downtown Youngstown was also a Chaney graduate. Many others, including my father, went on from their education at Chaney to military service in World War 2, as reflected in this 1943 yearbook paying tribute to those who had already given their lives in service to the country. The yearbooks in this era were called the Rig Veda. Only later would they reflect the Cowboy theme and become The Lariat.

The late 1940’s and 1950’s were another time of growth, during which Youngstown reached its peak population of 170,000 people. Home construction continued on the West side, particularly in the Kirkmere area out to the western and southwestern city limits. Under the leadership of superintendent of schools Paul C. Bunn, plans were made for new schools to accommodate this growth, including a new Chaney High School, located at 731 S. Hazelwood, more central to the whole West side area it would serve. A school levy was passed and the school was built at a cost of $1.4 million and dedicated on February 20, 1955.

C. W. Ricksecker, principal throughout Chaney’s life up to that point was entrusted by Board chair Warren P. Williamson (of WKBN fame) with the “guardianship” of the building. Ricksecker expressed his appreciation for this new facility as he stated, “We are grateful for this palace of learning, for through its modern equipment we may the better teach and inspire youth in a time of increasing difficulty in educational work.” Over 1000 people attended the dedication including the daughter of N. H. Chaney and numerous city leaders.

My first visit to Chaney was in the fall of 1961 during the Sabin vaccine distribution to fight polio. My brother was in his senior year while I was in second grade at the ancient Washington Elementary and I was so impressed with how new and modern it was and thought, “one day this will be my high school.” During those years, Chaney continued its tradition of competitiveness in sports under Lou “Red” Angelo and, during my time at Chaney, Ed Matey, who coached for many years and eventually served as athletic director for Chaney and eventually, the Youngstown Schools. Matey led Chaney football teams to eight City Series championships, coaching future NFL players like Matt Cavanaugh and Jerry Olsavsky. In all, Chaney won more championships in football in the old City Series than any other Youngstown high school. After Ed Matey retired from coaching, Chaney football teams won fourteen more City Series championships before the end of the City Series in 2006.

My memory of Chaney was of several inspiring teachers. I hesitate to name more than one because others will tell me who I left out. One of my favorites was a math and computer science teacher, Mr. Erickson (I write more about him and other inspiring teachers here). He was friends with Harvey, the invisible (to us) rabbit who would visit and with whom Mr. Erickson would speak. He always made math interesting, and offered some of the first computer programming classes when programs were still written on IBM punch cards and run on mainframes that would fill a room and had less computing power than my cell phone. Our principal was Mr. John Maluso, who just recently passed away in his 90’s. Over the years, Chaney graduated not only great athletes but a number of people who excelled in a variety of fields. One of the most notable was Thomas Bopp, the astronomer who co-discovered the Hale-Bopp Comet.

Library and Media Center, Photograph ©2019 by Robert C Trube, all rights reserved.
Chaney Gymnasium entrance, Photograph ©2019 by Robert C Trube, all rights reserved.

Over the years, Chaney would receive some updates in terms of a new gymnasium and a modern library and media center while four other Youngstown high schools closed. Then in 2011, I heard the news that the “last” class of Chaney Cowboys would be graduating. Chaney would be converted to a school for STEM and arts education with East High School serving as the city’s only traditional high school. That meant the end of sports teams. Then in 2018, the school board reversed course, and converted Chaney back to a traditional high school and restored a number of athletic programs. COVID has disrupted some of the rebuilding process but I look forward to more great Chaney sports teams in the future. And in four more years, in 2026, Chaney will celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of its founding. One hopes that the students in coming years will continue Chaney’s tradition of both scholarship, athleticism, and service to community and country that has marked the school throughout its history.

A final note, this is a personal perspective on Chaney’s history, and a limited one at that. I know there is much that I’ve left out. I hope my fellow Cowboys will help tell that story.

Once a Cowboy, always a Cowboy.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — East High School

East High School by Daysleeper47, Public Domain via Wikipedia.

I went to Chaney High School. At that time, there were six public high schools in Youngstown (Chaney, The Rayen School, North, South, Wilson, and East). East was our cross town rival in the City Series. Apart from that, I did not know much about East.

It turns out that the two schools, which are now the two remaining public high schools in Youngstown, have parallel histories. In the early 1920’s, Youngstown was experiencing explosive growth and the existing schools were becoming overcrowded. In 1921, plans were announced to build new schools on the East and West sides. Both opened in 1925, the West side school being renamed Chaney High School after the recently deceased former superintendent of the Youngstown School District.

When it opened, East was designed to accommodate 1600 to 1800 students. It was a three story brick building of colonial design with a frontage of 284 feet and depth of 165. The interior was trimmed in oak with maple floors in the classrooms and terrazzo hallways. It had 21 classrooms, 10 shops, 12 special rooms, 2 study halls, 2 gyms, an auditorium, lunchroom, kitchen, and two locker rooms (Aley, p. 263).

The old East High School

John W. Smith was the first principal and served in this position until his retirement in 1947. Throughout his tenure, sports teams were known as the Sunrisers. In 1950, they changed the mascot to the Golden Bears, which they remained until the 1998 closing of the school. East underwent renovations in 1955, the same year the new Chaney High School was dedicated. The renovations involved additions to all three floors. Further renovations were completed in 1981 when restrooms were renovated and new doors and windows were installed in the old section of the building. A fence was built around the school grounds in 1987 and the parking lot expanded.

After the mill closures, North High School was closed in 1980 and South High School in 1993. Some of the students from each school were assigned to East. In 1997, when the school district was in debt, a state commission took over operation of the schools and decided to close East as a high school, transferring the students to The Rayen School. In the next years, East became a middle school. It was closed after winter quarter of 2006.

But that was not the end of the history of East High School. In 2007 a new East High School opened at its current location on 474 Bennington. With its opening, The Rayen School and Wilson High School closed and their students assigned to East. When the school opened in 2007, students decided that the Panther would be their mascot, in silver and blue. Ten years later, though, they once again decided to become the blue and gold Golden Panthers.

Once again, Chaney and East were on parallel paths and sports rivalries. Then in 2011, Chaney became a STEM school without sports programs. For a time, East was the only traditional public high school in Youngstown. In 2017, the decision was announced that Chaney would once again become a traditional high school and in 2018, the Cowboys once again fielded sports teams. The Golden Bears and the Cowboys were rivals once more.

Debra Campbell is the current principal of East High School. East High School emphasizes the Three R’s: ”Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships.” It must be working. In 2022, East High School won the Gene Bottoms Pacesetter Award for School Improvement, measured by attendance, on-time graduation rates, and graduation requirements. From 2021 to 2022, attendance jumped from 71.1% to 88.4% and graduation rates from 2017 to 2021 jumped from 68.6% to 84.7%. That seems impressive during a pandemic.

East High School is coming up on 100 years since its founding. It looks like the school is on a good trajectory. And even though they are a sports rival of my alma mater, I wish them well. After all, how else can we have a rivalry!

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Soap Box Derby

Brackets from 1972 Youngstown-Mahoning County Soap Box Derby, Youngstown Vindicator, Saturday July 23, 1972 (via Google News Archive)

I lived just off the hill on Mahoning Avenue on Portland Avenue. For several years, the local Soap Box Derby ran down that hill. We had front row seats, watching drivers around our own age accelerate only by the force of gravity in home built unpowered racers. They would be moving pretty fast by the time they got to us (they can reach speeds up to at least 30 mph).

In later years, the race was moved to East Midlothian Boulevard, starting just east of South Avenue. In 1972, the race was held on July 23, and the July 22 Vindicator had a special section devoted to the race. The local Jaycees and the Poland Knights of Columbus organizations mobilized the volunteers who organized the race and prepared the course, including fencing and protective hay bales under the direction of Bob Brown, race director. Boardman Supply spread gravel in the runoff area to help with braking. Youngstown Building Materials built a reviewing stand at the finish line.

The Jaycees also organized a series of clinics where young drivers received tips on body construction, brakes, steering, bulkheads, floor boards, and the tools they’d need and how to use them. Rules emphasized both safety and equal opportunities. Materials could cost no more than $40! The car and its occupant could not weigh more than 250 pounds made of wood or metal worked by the contestant. There were requirements for the cockpit, steering, and brakes (a current example of these rules may be seen in the current national rule book). By the way, the term “soap box” arose because the racers were originally made from wooden soap crates.

Race day began with a parade featuring a baton and drum corps, the Buckeye Elks Band, Grotto clowns and a Borden Burger float. Mayor Jack Hunter was one of the honorary judges. Races would be run in heats with two racers in each heat. According to the bracket above, the overall winner would have to win six heats.

There were a number of instances where racing was a family affair. There were two instances of three brothers racing and four pairs of brothers. The Vindicator section featured boys from Youngstown, Austintown, and Boardman, including a five year veteran, Ken Erhardt. One thing I noticed was that only boys are mentioned. The first girl to compete at a national level was Becky Philips Mahoney. It was in 1971, just a year before this race. In 1975, a girl won the overall national competition in Akron.

That was the goal all the racers were shooting for, to represent their community at the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron. The top nine winners in Akron received a total of over $30,000 in scholarships from Chevrolet. Chevrolet was also a local sponsor and all the local dealerships had ads in the section. In 1972, the local winner, who first won the Class A competition against other 13 to 15 year olds was Alan Rovder, who won his heat in 29.07 seconds against the Class B winner (11 and 12 year olds) Ken Repasky. Rovder spent 250 hours building his car.

This year’s national Soap Box Derby is July 23, 2022 in Akron, covered in this story by a Cleveland TV station. It is not clear to me whether the Soap Box Derby is still being run in the Mahoning Valley. The most recent Vindicator story online was from 2009. However WKBN covered the story of an Austintown girl who won the Super Stock Division in the Portage County Soap Box Derby in 2021. I suspect the community organization support and corporate sponsorship necessary is probably lacking. Perhaps this is one more example of it “taking a village.” I suspect the experience of mentoring and the work of building a racer has shaped the future of more than a few who have competed.

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