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 — Finding Love

Wedding Picture

My wife and I on our wedding day. The minister was Rev. Robert Mulholland. That tux is a real fashion statement, isn’t it! Gotta love the 70’s.

This week, my wife and I celebrated our anniversary. It made me stop and reflect on how friends in Youngstown found love, or love found them, or not. The truth is that while some, like us, have been blessed with marriages that have endured (and I don’t think of myself as particularly deserving but rather gifted with a very patient wife!), it didn’t work out that way for everyone. Some have witnessed the end of marriages in divorce, and perhaps have married again. Some of my classmates have already fulfilled the “til death do we part” portion of their vows and have outlived a spouse, a special form of heartache. Some never married, sometimes because there was something else that was truly a life passion.

I know of people who married their high school sweethearts. It just wasn’t that way with me. The girl I took to my senior prom was one I dated throughout my senior year. We broke up a month after the prom. I did end up marrying a Youngstown girl though. Lots of people went away to college and met people from other cities. I didn’t, which made a lot of things simpler, everything from our idea of what makes good pizza, to a more basic outlook, which we have come to call, “thinking like a Youngstowner.” We also didn’t have to figure out which set of relatives to visit on holidays–we just visited them all!

O.K., so here is the story of how we met. Friday, September 22, 1972 was a very significant day in my life. At noon that day, I went to a meeting of the collegiate ministry that I have worked with throughout my adult life. At 1 pm, I met my future wife. I’m very glad for both of these, but I still think it is a good thing that we don’t know such things ahead of time.

It was the second day of our freshman year at Youngstown State. If you remember Youngstown State back then, it was mostly under construction and there were relatively few places to eat on campus. They only became a state university in 1967. There was a Red Barn restaurant on Lincoln Avenue where I went to eat that day. After getting my food, I spotted the one person I knew in that restaurant, a girl I had met that summer, eating with another girl. That girl is now my wife! It wasn’t love at first sight, but rather the lack of dining options that brought us together. I ate there regularly and so did the two of them. As I got to talking with this girl, I discovered that not only was she attractive, but also interesting, and that we shared common convictions about the important things of life, including our faith. Of course, we guys are slow. About the time she gave up on me being interested in her, I asked her out. That was the way it was done then. These days, she might have asked me! The rest as they say, was history. We dated through college, and waited to get established in jobs to get married.

In the early years, we would go out on September 22 and get a burger to celebrate meeting. Over the years, anniversaries have tended to become the bigger deal. But perhaps this year we need to go get a burger on September 22 to remember that significant day in our lives. Too bad we can’t get one at a Red Barn anymore!

What was your experience of finding love (or not)? How and where did you meet your spouse or significant other?