Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Ward Beecher Hall and Planetarium

Ward Beecher

Ward Beecher

Nothing like an astronomy class at 2 pm in the afternoon during your first quarter at Youngstown State to catch you napping. That was me. The reclining seats in the planetarium combined with the dimmed lights was the perfect recipe for an afternoon snooze. You just hoped nothing was said that would go on the test.

I had many classes in Ward Beecher during my years at Youngstown State (1972-76). I can’t say that I gave a thought to the name of the building at time. Only later did I realize that generally, college buildings bear the name of people (or their family) who gave large sums of money toward the construction of the building.

I’ve written about others whose names are on YSU buildings: Kilcawley, Beeghly, Maag, and Jones. But never Ward Beecher. Like many others I’ve written about, I discovered a family that has invested deeply in Youngstown. And I was left with an unanswered question.

Ward Beecher’s family traces back to Connecticut, where his father Leonard, and mother, Ruth Webster Beecher lived. She was the daughter of Noah Webster, of dictionary fame. Their son Walter came to Youngstown at age 19, around 1864 and became involved in a number of community enterprises including the Ohio Powder Company and the Mahoning Bank. He married Eleanor Price, whose family owned a large farm extending along South Belle Vista from Mahoning Avenue to Bears Den Road. Price Road is named after the family and their homestead is now part of the Franciscan Friary on South Belle Vista.

Ward was born September 27, 1887 and graduated from the Rayen School in 1907, going on to study metallurgy at Carnegie Institute of Technology followed by war service with the 309th Engineers in France in World War 1. He returned to Youngstown and in 1923 married Florence Simon, a granddaughter of Col. L. T. Foster, after whom Fosterville is named. He worked for a time as an auditor with Republic Rubber Company, as secretary and treasurer of the Lau Iron Works, and treasurer of Powell Pressed Steel.  From 1922 on, he occupied a number of positions at Commercial Shearing and Stamping Company, ending up as Vice President of Finance. He also followed his father’s footsteps, serving as a director of the Mahoning Bank. He attended a directors meeting the day of his death.

He took a major interest in the development of Youngstown State, contributing significant funds for the construction of the science hall and planetarium that now bears his name, which opened in 1967. One of his stipulations was that the planetarium would always be free to the public.

Like many other business leaders of his generation, he served as a leader and benefactor of a number of Youngstown organizations from the Salvation Army to Boys’ Club, as well as the Youngstown Club, the Youngstown Country Club, the Elks, and other organizations. In the late 1950’s, the Beechers sold the Price homestead, where they were living to the Franciscan Friary. Later on, they made substantial contributions for improvements.

After this time, the Beechers moved to Boardman, where they lived together until Ward’s death on October 26, 1970. He was buried, along with many other famous Youngstown residents, at Oak Hill Cemetery. Florence Beecher lived until 1991, supporting a number of Youngstown cultural institutions including the Mahoning Valley Historical Society and the Butler Institute of American Art whose Beecher Court is named in her honor.

The family and the foundations established by Ward and Florence Beecher continue to invest in Youngstown. In 2006 Eleonor Beecher Flad, the Beechers’ daugher, and the Ward Beecher and Florence Simon Beecher Foundations contributed significant funds for a state of the art star projector in the planetarium to replace the one that had been there even before I was a student. Similar contributions were responsible for the construction of the Eleanor Beecher Flad Pavilion on the west side of the DeYor Center, a performance and event space to complement the beauty of Powers Auditorium and renovations of Lanterman’s Mill in the late 1980’s. Eleanor Beecher Flad is now an emeritus trustee of the YSU Foundation, serving for many years as one of the few women trustees of the Foundation.

I mentioned a question. Beechers have played an important part in American history. Both Lyman Beecher and Henry Ward Beecher were abolitionist preachers and leaders, also coming from Connecticut. Henry Ward Beecher’s sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. From the online family trees I accessed, I could find no connection, despite the shared names. It would not surprise me that there would be a connection, and I’d love to find it.

What I do know is that Ward Beecher, and his family have left an indelible imprint on the educational, cultural, charitable, religious, and historic institutions of the city. I may have been napping as a student, but I find myself deeply grateful now for the investment in both time and financial resources this family has given Youngstown.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Youngstown Symphony Orchestra

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The Little Symphony Orchestra, Source unknown, via Youngstown Symphony on Facebook

One of the paradoxes of Youngstown is that it is a gritty, industrial, working-class town and a city where the arts have long flourished. It is evident in the spaces that have been set aside, like the Butler and Stambaugh Auditorium, and the performance home of the Youngstown Symphony, the former Warner Theatre, now part of a beautifully restored DeYor performing complex.

For the Youngstown Symphony, it all started when two brothers, Michael and Carmine Ficocelli, recruited twelve young musicians under the age of 16 from the Youngstown Schools, where they taught music. They formed The Little Symphony Orchestra in 1926, broadcasting their first concert on WKBN that year. It wasn’t until 1929 that they gave their first public performance. The Ficocellis continued to lead the orchestra until 1951. John Kruger became the third conductor that year, and shortly after changed the name to the Youngstown Philharmonic Orchestra. Under Kruger, the Philharmonic added a chorus, and a Youngstown Symphony Youth Orchestra, continuing the tradition of young musicians that were the orchestra’s roots.

It was under John Kruger that I first encountered what was then the Youngstown Philharmonic during elementary school. We rode the bus up to Stambaugh Auditorium, dressed up in nice clothes for Youth Concerts, where we heard pieces like Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, that introduced us to the different instruments in the orchestra.

In 1965 Franz Bibo succeeded John Kruger in what was a pivotal period in the orchestra’s history. It was during this time that the name was changed to the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra. Bibo pioneered the staging of locally produced operas. Most of all, it was under his leadership that the Youngstown Symphony and the Symphony Society acquired and renovated the Warner Theatre, restoring its glory as the renamed Edward W. Powers Auditorium. The Youngstown Symphony is one of the few orchestras of its size to have its own performing space. He led the orchestra until 1980. We went to several concerts as college students, most memorably a lavish production of The Nutcracker.

The next 25 years saw a succession of four directors. Peter Leonard came as Music Director in 1980. When he left three years later, Youngstown native John DeMain served as Acting Music Director until 1987. DeMain was born in Youngstown in 1944 to a steelworker father and travel agent mother. He was a piano prodigy at age 6 and sang in Youngstown Playhouse productions in his youth before going to Juilliard. His real career has been in conducting with a Grammy winning performance of Porgy and Bess, and premieres of Leonard Bernstein’s A Quiet Place and John Adams’ Nixon in China. Friends of mine in Madison, Wisconsin rave about his twenty-five year tenure there and all he has done with their orchestra. Youngstown was fortunate to acquire his services when he was in his forties and establishing an international reputation.

David Effron followed from 1987 to 1996, during a time when the Symphony Board led a campaign for a $3.5 million endowment. Isaiah Jackson succeeded him in another nine year tenure through 2006. For many rock aficionados, his tenure is remembered for a joint effort with a re-united Glass Harp on October 22, 2000 at Powers Auditorium, “Strings Attached.”

Since then, the orchestra has been led by Randall Craig Fleischer. Under Fleischer, the orchestra has continued its work with young musicians, filling the gap where music education in the schools has ended and taking Young People’s Concerts to the schools. They have inaugurated a Stain Glass Concert series of free informal concerts at various houses of worship around Youngstown, including St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital. They have performed with a variety of popular musicians including country artists Rachel Potter and Patrick Thomas this past Christmas.

In 2016, the Youngstown Symphony celebrated its 90th year. The Vindicator published a special section on September 16, 2016 highlighting its history and current programs. Under Maestro Fleischer, the Youngstown Symphony appears to be a vibrant organization, continuing to inspire young musicians. Who knows who the next John DeMain will be?

More information about the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra including their current concert schedule may be found at their website.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Christmas Tree Twinkler

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The Christmas Tree Twinkler, Photo by Bob Trube © 2019

On Christmas Day, we were visiting with my son and his wife. While we were there, he gave me the box of ornaments you see above. Mutual friends, whose son works with my son, passed along this box of ornaments, which had belonged to one of their parents, knowing of our interest in all things Youngstown (yes, we are getting a reputation!).

So I thought I would look into the history of The Christmas Tree Twinkler (or as some people call them, spinners). In the process, I found a fascinating account of the man who invented it, the Plakie Toy Company in Youngstown who manufactured it, and the Hoover family who started the company which lasted until 1992.

John Garver grew up on a farm outside Youngstown, learning to tinker as he had to repair farm implements. After college in Indiana, he returned to teach at Boardman High School. He continued to tinker. Eventually he had ten patents to his name including the patent for The Christmas Tree Twinkler (you can see his patent drawings in this Popular Mechanics article). He created the dual brake pedal used in driver training vehicles and machines that could throw tennis balls, footballs, and baseballs (he even wrote a book on baseball cybernetics).

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A Birdcage Twinkler. Photo by Bob Trube © 2019

The Twinkler was a simple idea: mount a spinner on a pin inside a hollow plastic cylinder within a decorative birdcage or star. Place it above a Christmas tree light (one of the old C7 lights that generated a bit of heat) and the heat would set the spinner in motion, hence the twinkling. The idea for the star apparently came from his wife, who was cutting star cookies and suggested putting a spinner in the middle. He patented it in 1954, took it to one of his classes, and mentioned that he was interested in marketing his invention.

It turns out that one of his students was Dean Hoover, son of Frank and Dorothy Hoover, who had a toy company called Plakie Toys based in Youngstown. In 1932, Frank Hoover returned to Youngstown after a stint of working in steel plants in Detroit. He started out manufacturing custom gearshift nobs for manual transmissions. By 1935, his business began to struggle with the rise of the automatic transmission. By then he had married and had an infant son Dean. One day, he spotted his infant son having a great time shaking some plastic squares strung on a chain, and the idea for a plastic toy company was born. The company name, Plakie, came from “play key.” During the war, they diverted to wood toys because plastic was scarce. Right after the war, his father purchased one of the first blow mold machines in the world, and the business was off and running.

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A Twinkler set. Photo by Bob Trube © 2019

So Plakie was a natural fit for manufacturing John Garver’s invention. They began selling them at Strouss, selling as many as 1,000 in a day. Eventually they were manufacturing over three million of them a year. They had a few problems. The biggest was that if the ornaments were too close to the lights, the plastic would melt (it is kind of amazing in light of this to receive a full intact set!). There were problems with the machine that cut the pins, which were sometimes dull, preventing the spinner from twirling.

The big problem was the advent of artificial trees, which could be flammable. Cooler midget lights were invented, but they did not get hot enough to make the spinners move. Still, it is estimated that there could be as many as ten million of these still out there, probably stashed away in attics. They are a collectible and I found them selling online for anything between $15 and $50.

Frank Hoover died in 1960. Dorothy took over the company at that time and shifted the focus of the company to cloth products for children–blankets, crib sheets, cloth toys, cloth covered book, dolls, and dust ruffles. The companies sales grew to $4 million a year during this time. Eventually production costs and competition led the company to close its doors in 1992.

John Garver lived until 2015. He actually kept working on a Twinkler design using anodized aluminum until his death in 2015.

I don’t remember these ornaments from my childhood. I would have been fascinated back then, and I delight in their designs even now. They are one more point of Youngstown pride–both invented and manufactured in the Mahoning Valley.

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A Star Twinkler. Photo by Bob Trube © 2019

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Your Favorites of 2019

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Blizzard of ’78, Photo courtesy of the Vindicator

It has now been a bit over five and a half years since I began writing about Youngstown. One of the most rewarding parts of this, beyond learning so much I’d never known about our home town, is all the interactions both online and in person. The ones that have been the most special are with descendants or friends of people I write about. I think people from Youngstown are just the best! I’d love to send you all a holiday gift, but there are just too many of you. But wait! I can send something else–articles I loved writing, and that you loved reading. So here are ten of your favorites, along with some pictures, counted down. Looking them over has been a way to recall our year together. I hope you enjoy revisiting these stories and snapshots one more time.

Atlas of Mahoning County Ohio from actual surveys by and Full View HathiTrust Digital Library HathiTrust Digital Library

Scanned from Titus, Simmons, and Titus Atlas of Mahoning County, Ohio, 1874

10. George Borts Farm. I used to deliver papers to the house that was the old Borts home. Little did I realize how influential this family was in the early settlement of the West Side of Youngstown. All I knew was that Borts Field was named after them.

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The Wall Garden, looking east. Photo by Bob Trube © 2019.

9. The Wall Garden. I drove, biked and walked past this amazing garden in the side of the hill above West Glacier Drive in Mill Creek Park. It was fascinating to learn about the major construction project involved in creating the Wall Garden, which is 552 feet long and 54 feet high.

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Entrance to Oak Hill Cemetery before construction of the granite gates

8. Oak Hill Cemetery. If you want a who’s who of Youngstown history, one of the best ways to get it is a tour of Oak Hill Cemetery, a scenic final resting place that is also a walk through Youngstown history.

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Esther Hamilton, Headshot from Vindicator “Around Town” Columns in the 1960’s

7. Esther Hamilton. She was one of the more colorful and interesting figures who seemed to know everything that was going on in Youngstown and reported on it in her “Around the Town” columns in The Vindicator. What I didn’t know was how involved she was in various charitable activities around the city she covered.

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The Paisley House, photo courtesy of The Paisley House

6. The Paisley House. I passed by this house for years without knowing the purpose of this beautiful old building or who lived there. I had fun learning its history, purpose, and interviewing its current director. Turns out they have an incredible and ongoing history of serving the elderly in the Mahoning Valley.

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Calvary Cemetery Northeast Entrance, © Bob Trube, 2019.

5. Calvary Cemetery. It’s curious to me that articles about cemeteries were two of the most popular of this year. This was about the Catholic cemetery on Youngstown’s West side, one I passed walking to Chaney High School from my home a few blocks away.

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Renner Mansion, © Bob Trube, 2019.

4. George J. Renner, Jr. I had known nothing about Renner, his family, or the brewing business that was the largest in Youngstown, nor that I used to run past his former residence when I would go for runs at Wick Park during college.

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Blizzard of ’78, Photo courtesy of the Vindicator

3. The Blizzard of 1978. I wasn’t in Youngstown during the Blizzard of 1978 (actually stranded for five days in a college dorm in Bowling Green). It was interesting to look at old Vindicator accounts of the storm, the meteorology of the storm, and its impact in the Youngstown area.

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Zedaker’s Anjon Acres, © Bob Trube, 2019.

2. Zedaker’s Farm and Pony Rides. Driving past Zedaker’s last summer brought back memories, led to some research and resulted in this article about the farm, the family, and the thriving business that continues to this day.

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View of Southern Park Mall” by Nyttend – Own Work, Public Domain

1. Southern Park Mall. For many of my generation, the mall was our favorite hangout. I remember those days, the history of Southern Park, as well as discuss the decline of malls, and the turnaround plans for Southern Park.

The article titles are linked to the full articles. I hope you have some time to relax and spend some time with these snapshots of Youngstown, perhaps with a smile on your face, as they bring back your own Youngstown memories. Maybe they will even encourage some storytelling around the Christmas tree!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Penalty Flag

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Photo by Hector Alejandro [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

We love that yellow flag when it is thrown against the opposing football team and groan and complain when it is thrown against one of our home team guys. But did you know that the penalty flag is a Youngstown invention and first used on one of our own venerable football fields? It is an invention more famous (or infamous) than its inventor.

Dwight “Dike” Beede was the coach of the Penguin football team from the beginning of the Youngstown football program in 1938 until 1972. Before coaching at Youngstown, he coached at Westminster College and Geneva College, both nearby schools in western Pennsylvania. In fact, his first football game in Youngstown was a decade before he became Youngstown’s coach. On September 24, 1927, Westminster College played Carnegie Tech at South High Stadium in the first college-level game played in Youngstown.

Until 1941, penalties were signaled by the blowing of horns or whistles. Often, neither the players nor the fans could hear them, and when they could, the sound was irritating. Before a game against Oklahoma City University, played on October 17, 1941, Beede shared an idea with his wife, Irma. He asked her to sew together bright red cloth from an old Halloween costume with white stripes from old sheets. Lead sinkers used in fishing were used on one end to weigh down the 16 inch by 16 inch flag. Irma Beede has been named “The Betsy Ross of football” for her contribution. The opposing coach and the officials agreed to use the flags in the game, played at The Rayen Stadium, where Youngstown’s games were played until Stambaugh Stadium was opened in 1982.

The flag caught on. One of the officials, Jack McPhee used the flags in an Ohio State-Iowa game attended by league commissioner Major John Griffith. Griffith liked the idea and mandated its use in the Western Conference, now the Big Ten. In 1948, professional football adopted the flag, changing the color to yellow in 1965.

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Dwight “Dike” Beede coached football for forty years. His last year, 1972, as a coach was my first year as a Youngstown State student. His later years were predominated by losing seasons. Things were a bit better in 1972 when he and the team finished 4-4-1, perhaps because of the talented leadership of Ron Jaworski, known as the “Polish Rifle,” who later went on to an NFL career with the Eagles, and then a broadcast career.

What most don’t realize is that Beede actually finished his 40 year career with a winning overall record of 175-146-20, and a 147-118-4 record at Youngstown. He had 17 winning seasons including an 8-2 record in 1947 and an undefeated season in 1941, not to be repeated until the Tressel years. He created the “spinner” play. In 1957 he was named Small College Coach of the Year.

Off the field, he taught forestry and held the status of Associate Professor in the Biology Department. He was a dedicated tree farmer and on the Ohio Forestry Advisory Council. He retired at the end of his 1972 season, and died just a month later, on December 10, 1972, from a drowning accident in Little Beaver Creek near his farm in Elkton. His son, Ruud, also died from drowning in 1957.

In 1982, the playing surface at Stambaugh Stadium was named Beede Field. He was part of the inaugural class named to the Youngstown State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1985. In Mosure Hall, on the fourth level of Stambaugh Stadium, visitors can see two of the original penalty flags used in that first game in October of 1941, the idea of Dwight “Dike” Beede, and the creation of Irma Beede, that changed the game of football forever.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Penguins

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Stambaugh Stadium, Youngstown State. Photo by Jack Pearce [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

The athletic teams at Youngstown State are the only collegiate team in the country whose nickname and mascots are Penguins. It’s an odd name for a team from Youngstown. Another area team’s name, The Scrappers, fits. But Penguins? Wherever did this come from?

It turns out that there are two versions of the story, both coming from the same basketball game in 1933–yes, the name goes that far back. Before then, Youngstown College, as it was then known, was called “Y College,” “YoCo,” “Wye Collegians,” or simply
“The Locals.” On the snowy evening of January 30, 1933, the YSU basketball team drove to West Liberty State Teachers College in West Virginia for a game, pulling their cars out of snow drifts on two occasions.

One version of the story has players coming up with the name in one of the cars during the trip. This had been a topic of conversation throughout that school year.

The more popular one, that I always heard, was that when the team arrived, to warm up they were stomping their feet and waving their arms, either in windmills to warm up for the game or just flapping their arms around. Whatever the case (and accounts differ here) the opposing team coach remarked that they “looked like a bunch of penguins.”

When the players returned, the student body unanimously accepted the name. It was announced formally in The Jambar in the December 15, 1933 issue before the first basketball game of the season against Slippery Rock.

There have been three live “Pete the Penguins” during the history of Youngstown. The first was brought back from Antarctica in 1939 and died in 1941, pursuing fish under the ice at Crandall Park pond. A second Pete, along with Patricia, his mate, were purchased shortly after, but died in 1942 of tuberculosis. The last Pete was acquired in 1968 and died in 1972–my freshman year, an event that seemed insignificant amid concerns about the Vietnam war and the re-election of Richard Nixon, and the pathetic football teams of that era under Dike Beede.

910 Airmen celebrate AF 60th b-day at YSU home opener

Pete and Penny Penguin, modified from a U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bob Barko Jr.

The first student mascot, later revealed to be Vic Rubenstein, was chosen in 1964. His costume was a penguin head and a tuxedo he rented himself each weekend from Rondinelli Tuxedos. Rubenstein, who was a managing editor of The Jambar, only revealed his identity after the last game of 1965. Eventually there was the costume we know today. Then, in 1986 Pete was joined by Penny, who were married in a ceremony. Most mascots are bachelors (think Brutus Buckeye) so in this respect Youngstown State is also quite unique.

In 2004 penguin statues were decorated by local artist and placed around the Youngstown community and on campus. One was decorated to look like John Young, another to commemorate Ohio presidents. A number can be seen in locations in downtown Youngstown, at Southern Park Mall, and a number around campus, including one at University Plaza, greeting visitors to the university.

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Penguin Statue at University Plaza. Photograph in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

I think most students of my era just thought it kind of odd. We would probably have laughed and mocked the idea of “fighting Penguins.” The change came in the Jim Tressel era of championship football teams where logos, and sports memorabilia and mascots became a much bigger thing. Now Pete and Penny are beloved symbols and “fighting Pete” adorns a gift we received, a set of Wendell August Forge coasters, and matching sweatshirts. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few “Penguins” around your house as well. As we say when we root for our Youngstown teams, Go Guins!

Sources:

Archives & Special Collections: History of YSU

Pete and Penny Penguin Mascots, YSU Sports

Premier Penguin, The Jambar, October 21, 2013.

Marah Morrison, The Story and Significance of Penguin StatuesThe Jambar, January 11, 2018.

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Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Southern Park Mall

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Southern Park Mall, viewed from the north. By Nyttend – Own work, Public Domain, via Wikipedia

One of the major national newspapers (with a paywall, unfortunately) ran an article yesterday on the death of shopping malls. It is undeniable that many malls have struggled with challenges. The major mall near our home when we lived in Cleveland was Randall Park Mall. It has been razed and converted to an Amazon distribution center. When we came to Columbus, City Center Mall in downtown Columbus was the showpiece of the city. Incidents with teen gangs and rising vacancies and the closure of the major local department store anchor led to closure and eventual razing of this mall as well. The area has been converted to upscale downtown apartments and a performance space, which might be a net gain for the city.

Southern Park Mall was the place we went to hang out as teens and on dates. We all flocked to it when it opened in 1970. There was room, with free parking for 6300 cars, unlike downtown stores. At that time, it occupied over 1,100,000 square feet, expanding further when Horne’s was added as a fourth anchor store, joining Penney’s, Strouss’s (with its second floor pavilion style restaurant) and Sears. Both Sears and Penney’s had exterior auto centers. In all, the mall had over 100 stores as well as movie theaters. The mall was built near the location of the historic Southern Park Race Track, hence the name. It was built by the Edward J. DeBartolo Company, whose offices were just down the street.

Some of my Southern Park memories: Standing in line to see The Poseidon Adventure, for which Youngstown native Maureen McGovern sang the theme song (“There’s Got to Be a Morning After”); going to Spencer Gifts for girl friend gifts and posters; using my Higbee’s employee discount at The Loft and at Burrows; visiting the first store I ever went to dedicated to selling books, Walden’s; and in later years, taking my mother-in-law to do her Christmas shopping, which always involved a stop at the Roy Rogers Restaurant, which she loved. Before we were married, my wife worked for a time at J.C. Penney. We still have items in our home she bought there.

Eventually Strouss became Kauffman’s, and finally Macy’s. Horne’s became Dillard’s. In 1997, the DeBartolo Corporation merged with the Simon Property Group, and they invested in $19 million in improvements, including a foodcourt and a seven-screen theater complex. In 2014, the Simon Property Group sold the mall to Washington Prime Group, a spin-off company. In July 2018, Sears closed its store, part of a national closure of stores. Dillard’s announced its closure early in 2019.

No plans have been announced yet for the former Dillard’s space. I learned that the Sears store is being torn down and the space is being converted to what is being called DeBartolo Common, which will include stores making up the new exterior wall of the mall, athletic fields, a green space, and a bandstand intended to make this a community gathering place for Boardman and the great Youngstown community. This reflects a national trend for malls that survive, according to a Forbes article that suggests that younger consumers are more interested in spending their money on experiences rather than material things. According to The Business Journal, among tenants being considered are a fitness facility and an indoor golf facility connected to a restaurant.

It is interesting to see how these things go in cycles. The advent of malls fifty years ago were the sign that the days of downtown shopping were numbered. Now, as malls struggle to address safety issues posed by everything from teen gangs to gun violence, and to compete against online sellers, some are dying and some are reinventing themselves. Southern Park Mall (as well as Eastwood Mall) has so far survived and appears to be reinventing itself. And looking on a store map, I see that Penney’s, where my wife worked, and Spencer’s, where I bought gifts and posters, both live on. I hope that is a good sign for the rest of the mall. To good Black Friday and holiday sales and better days to come!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Leon A. Beeghly

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Beeghly Center, By Greenstrat – Own work, Public Domain, via Wikimedia

I spent a lot of time at Beeghly Center as a student at Youngstown State. I had a number of classes there including an utterly forgettable health class, a number of psych classes (my major), and a memorable philosophy class with Professor Thomas Shipka. Then there was the physical conditioning class! Of course we went to many basketball teams coached by Dom Roselli as well as concerts. I first heard James Taylor live in Beeghly Center. Amazing that he is still performing!

I never thought “who was Beeghly?” Beeghly was Leon A. Beeghly. He was not a Youngstown native, born in 1884 and raised in a small northwestern Ohio town named Bloomville in Seneca County. After college at Tri-State University in Indiana he began working with the France Company of Bloomville, that operated a number of stone quarries. Eventually the company moved to Toledo. It was here that Beeghly became interested in slag, a by-product of steel production used in concrete, road bases, railroad ballast, waterway construction, and even for soil amendments in agriculture.

Beeghly first formed a slag company in Toledo, but quickly realized that the blast furnaces of Youngstown offered a far greater output of this material. He joined with two other men whose names are also well-known on the Youngstown State campus, William E. Bliss and William H. Kilcawley, in forming the Standard Slag Company of Youngstown. He served as company president. In 1918, he and his wife Mabel and four children (Charles, James, Thornton, and Lucille) moved to Youngstown.

Leon BeeghlyBeeghly continued to work with inventors to develop new processes and products including the cold forming of metal resulting in the Cold Metal Products Company where son Charles was involved before becoming president and chairman of Jones and Laughlin Steel, at that time the fourth largest steel company in the country. James and Thornton and later-born John all were involved in Standard Slag. Last-born son Thomas served as president of International Carbonic Company of Santa Ana, California.

In 1940, Leon Beeghly formed the L. A. Beeghly Fund, to which the family has continued to contribute. This fund has invested in a number of religious, charitable, scientific and literary causes, as well as ten college buildings (two at Youngstown State with the new education building) at nine college campuses. Beeghly was a director for Youngstown Sheet and Tube and headed the Youngstown Chamber of Commerce three times. He led initiatives as diverse as vocational training and mental health care.

Leon Beeghly died in 1967. He was recognized at the time not only as a successful industrialist, but as a supporter of inventors and entrepreneurs and technological development, as well as a community leader and philanthropist. His family has continued Beeghly’s philanthropic tradition, with Youngstown State being one of the most significant beneficiaries. Beeghly Physical Education Center opened December 2, 1972 (at the end of my first quarter on campus), built in part with donations from the Beeghly family. More recently, Beeghly Hall became the home of Youngstown State’s College of Education. In 2017, a $1.5 million gift was announced from Bruce and Nancy Beeghly toward a new endowment to the college as well as two graduate fellowships in Electrical and Computer Engineering and in Business Administration.

For over 100 years the Beeghly family has provided both industrial leadership and philanthropic investment in the Mahoning Valley. Their recent gifts suggest an investment in Youngstown’s future. Leon Beeghly always cared about encouraging technological development coupled with supporting the educational foundations needed for any technological advance. His grandchildren are carrying on that work, an important piece in the economic rebirth of Youngstown.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Strock Stone House

Strock Stone House

Strock Stone House, photo courtesy of the Austintown Historical Society.

It is interesting the things you learn on the way to researching something else, in this case, posts on the Austin Log Cabin and Jared Potter Kirtland. I discovered that the Strock Stone House, after the Austin Log Cabin, is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Austintown and both homes are historical sites maintained by the Austintown Historical Society. Like the Kirtland residence in Poland, the Strock Stone House (also known as the Judge William Shaw Anderson house) was probably a stop on the underground railroad. Records of such things were not kept because it was illegal (but moral) to shelter and aid fugitive slaves.

The house was built in 1831 by William McClure and occupied by William Strock and his family. Strock’s parents came to Austintown between 1813 and 1815, living in the Smiths Corners area. The home, located along the original road between Youngstown and Akron (a bit south of Mahoning Avenue, was built of huge blocks of sandstone quarried from a nearby quarry on South Turner Road). The road was originally a dirt road, later a plank road, and finally a brick road. Part of the driveway beside the house consists of the original brick.

In 1851 the Strocks sold the house and 108 acres to Francis Henry. If the house served as a stop on the underground railroad, it would have been under Francis Henry’s ownership. The house was somewhat isolated and fugitive slaves could approach without being seen by prying eyes.

In 1863, Francis Henry sold the house to David Anderson, who had met Jonathan Wick in Philadelphia. The two of them opened a general store in Jackson Township and at one time, Anderson was the wealthiest resident of Austintown, worth nearly $50,000, a tidy sum in 1870. After his wife Hannah died from an accidental fall in 1879, Anderson let the house fall into disrepair, then turned it over to his oldest son, William Shaw Anderson.

William Shaw Anderson was a prominent attorney and judge in Youngstown and lived in the house between 1890 and 1925. Between 1912 and 1918 he made improvements on the existing structure and built a frame addition (the white shingled portion) that included a sun room, dining room, and dinette downstairs, and three bedrooms and a full bath upstairs. President William McKinley was reportedly one of his guests.

In 1925, Anderson died and the house passed to his children. In 1929, they sold the house and land to the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District (MVSD), which was in the process of creating Meander Reservoir, modernizing and improving Youngstown’s water supply. At that time, the road was moved north to the present location of Mahoning Avenue.

Until 1985, the house was occupied by the Chief Engineer for MVSD. Since then the Austintown Historical Society, with help from MVSD has maintained the house, particularly the interior. The house features antiques, furnishings, period clothing, games, equipment, and utensils. One of the distinctive items on display is a slave quilt from South Carolina.

The Austintown Historical Society hosts a Holiday High Tea each November with the house decorated for the holidays. The most recent was on Sunday, November 10, 2019, and attended by 120 people. They have also hosted Spring Teas.

Anyone can visit the Strock Stone House on the first Sunday of each month from 1 to 4 pm. No appointment is needed and no admission is charged. Donations, however are welcomed and there is a place to leave donations. The house is located at 7171 Mahoning Avenue, just east of Meander Reservoir. More information about the Austintown Historical Society and events at the Strock Stone House may be found at their Facebook page.

We drove out Mahoning Avenue by Meander many times before I-76 was built, but I never noticed the house (although at that time it was still occupied by the Chief Engineer. It is one more place I’ve added to my “bucket list” of places to visit around Youngstown.

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Playing in the Street

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Saw this meme on Facebook the other day and it brought back a flood of memories of growing up on North Portland on the West Side. We played sports on the street in front of our houses, at least until it snowed. Then we sledded.

In spring and summer, it was baseball. Usually there were eight or ten of us, sometimes more. We would choose up sides, often share gloves, an old bat, and a ball usually taped up with black electrical tape because we had long worn the cover off of it. Often, you had a pitcher, two infielders, maybe one in the “outfield.” Often, there was no catcher. It was an incentive to hit the ball, otherwise you had to retrieve it. Basically the street was the field with the curbs as foul lines. The danger of baseball on the street was breaking a window or leaving a dent on a parked car. I’m sure we did both.

From late summer on, we switched over to football. Football really makes sense on streets. The curbs made natural sidelines, although you could get pretty banged up going out for a pass and tripping over a curb. Because it was the street, it was strictly “touch.” Usually we used driveways for goal lines. I was never the great athlete and was glad to get chosen rather than sit on the curb watching. Usually though, that meant my job was to rush the passer, or alternately, to block the rusher. But I was playing.

As in the meme, games were interrupted when cars drove down the street. Sometimes the drivers honked if we weren’t fast enough in getting off the street. No one even got close to getting hit by a car, despite all the worries and warnings of our mothers.

The greater hazard was usually the grouchy neighbor who would yell, “stay off my grass!” Invariably that’s where the hit ball or errant pass would go. It must be a law of physics.

The other hazard with our games was the street itself. It was one of the old brick streets. It was kind of uneven and you could turn an ankle if you weren’t careful. Ground balls could be exciting, taking weird bounces. I’m kind of glad hockey and soccer weren’t big back then. They definitely wouldn’t have worked that well on that old brick street–but I’m sure that hasn’t stopped kids from playing those games.

I can’t say we played in the streets because there was no where else to play. There was a playground at the school down the street. There were sports fields a few blocks away. I think sometimes, it was just one of those things that happened when a bunch of us were hanging around on a summer evening or after school.

These days, I mainly see kids playing on suburban cul de sacs, something we never had growing up. My son grew up just down the street from a cul de sac and that’s where the pick up games happened. Often neighbors would set up basketball hoops on opposite sides of the cul de sac, or hockey or soccer nets, and all of a sudden you had full court or rink or field games. And it was pretty rare that someone yelled, “car.”

Overall, youth sports are far more organized, better equipped, and usually played at facilities designed for the particular game. In a working class neighborhood, we didn’t have most of those things. When someone yelled “car,” we had to stop the game. But I still think we had a pretty awesome childhood.