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!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown – Hills Department Store

“Hills is where the toys are!” You probably remember that jingle if you grew up in Youngstown. While most stores expanded their toy selection at Christmas, Hills had a great toy department year round, and an attractive layaway program for parents who couldn’t afford all those toys in the month or so before Christmas.

For many years, Hills was the discount department store in the Valley. The first store, founded by Herbert H. Goldberger in 1957, was in Youngstown. By 1964, there were seven stores in the area. They focused their merchandising on clothing, footwear, bedding, furniture, jewelry, seasonal, beauty products, electronics, toys, and housewares.

In 1964, Goldberger sold the company to Shoe Company of America (SCOA) of Columbus. Goldberger stayed on as president until 1981 when his son, Stephen A. Goldberger succeeded him. When Herbert Goldberger turned the chain over to his son, it had expanded to 99 stores. It would grow to 125 stores by the mid-1980’s. A series of business decisions from this time onward led to the eventual demise of the Hills name, and its successor in turn.

In 1985, Stephen Goldberger led management in a leveraged buyout of SCOA, subsequently selling off everything but the Hills stores. This left the company with $642 million in debt to which it added when it acquired 33 Gold Circle Stores and opened 8 more in 1989. This came right at the time of an economic downturn and led to Stephen Goldberger’s departure in 1990 and a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in 1991.

Thomas Lee, who helped engineer the buyout of SCOA remained as board chair of Hills and brought in Michael Bozic in 1991. Bozic was a Sears veteran and led a turnaround that focused on remodeling stores, focusing and enhancing key merchandise lines, including its own American Spirit clothing line as well as its toy sales which accounted for 10 percent of sales, while leaving other merchandise departments like sporting goods, appliances, automotive products, and lawn and garden supplies to competitors. They also closed unprofitable stores, focusing on the places they were strongest: Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Ohio towns like Cleveland, Akron, and Youngstown.

They emerged from bankruptcy in 1993 to a banner year with $1.76 billion of sales. In 1994 they actually returned to opening new stores. Almost immediately, they became embroiled in a stockholder dispute, and in 1995, Bozic and most of the senior executive team resigned, leaving the company in turmoil as they tried to change numerous systems. In 1998, Ames Department Stores acquired Hills, with nearly all of the stores renamed as Ames stores by 1999. This created the fourth largest discount chain after Walmart, K-Mart, and Target. By 2002, however, Ames was out of business, leaving a number of empty stores that were once thriving Hills operations.

Hills hosted special sales and events throughout the year. It was a great place to buy those Easter Lilies for mom. But many remember two other events. One was the fireworks displays on the fourth of July in their parking lot and the arrival of Santa on Thanksgiving Day. Of course, it was also a good place to find reasonably priced school clothes, fashionable but inexpensive adult clothing, and household goods. As teens, Hills had some of the best prices on music and electronics. And of course there was that toy department.

Born in Youngstown, Hills just seemed to fit with its original market. Sadly the combination of bigger competitors like Walmart and Target, and some questionable business decisions spelled the end to the store whose motto was “Save every way, save every day at Hills.” But they sure gave us some great memories!

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Ukrainian Easter Eggs (Pysanky)

Lubap Creator:Luba PetrushaCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Weird mental associations: I scrambled up some eggs for dinner tonight and this brought to mind the intricately designed Ukrainian Easter eggs I remember classmates bringing into school when I was young. Growing up on the Westside, there were a number of Ukrainian families that preserved the art of making pysanky, the Ukrainian word for these intricately decorated eggs. After seeing these, our efforts to dye eggs looked pretty lame!

The name (plural of pysanka) means “to write” or “inscribe” and refers to the method used to create the intricate patterns. A tool called a kistka is used to apply beeswax (the inscribing) to areas you want to keep from dying. After each dying, new areas are inscribed, a process that leads to the intricate mosaic of the finished egg, which is often varnished to protect the colors and placed on a decorative stand.

The custom of painting pysanky has been traced back to pre-Christian eras. It was believed they could ward off evil. Later the eggs, symbolizing new life, were seen as symbols of Easter, when Jesus rose to new life. Some likened the egg to the tomb from which Christ arose.

The different color dyes, usually with deeper colors than typical Easter egg dyes symbolized different meanings:

  • White: innocence, purity, birth
  • Orange: endurance, strength, the sun
  • Yellow: light, purity, youth
  • Green: new growth, hope, spring
  • Blue: good health, air, the sky
  • Red: love, passion, happiness
  • Black: darkness, eternity

I’ve never done this and so the description that follows is based on online articles and videos. If you want to do this, you might contact a local Ukrainian church to see if there are workshops being offered or even someone willing to walk you through the process. I suspect there are lots of tips they can offer beyond this basic outline (there are whole books on doing this). You will need eggs, preferably the best quality possible, an egg blower (many available online), a kistka to apply melted beeswax to the egg, beeswax, and dye packets. You may want to use a finish of wood varnish. Aside from the eggs, most of these are available at a local hobby and craft store or online. The process:

  • Drill two holes in the egg and blow the contents out (you may need to use a paper clip to break up the yolk) and then rinse out the interior of the egg with a bulb syringe (often part of an egg blowing kit). Use beeswax to seal the holes. Some skip this step, but sometimes the inside contents expand and break the egg and you have a smelly mess on your hands.
  • Use a pencil to draw the pattern and designs. Then use the kistka with melted beeswax to draw your basic design. You might practice on paper first. The areas drawn on will remain white in the final design.
  • Begin with a light (yellow) die, or your lightest colors.
  • After dying, use the kistka to fill in the areas you want to remain yellow, and then die your next color.
  • Repeat this process with each dye color in your design. Dye from light colors to dark.
  • When you are finished, use a blow dryer or other heat source to carefully melt the beeswax without burning the dye. When you’ve cleaned off all the beeswax, you may finish with a wood varnish to protect the dyes.
  • Display the finished egg on a stand to show off your artwork.

Here’s a quick video demonstrating the process:

You might also enjoy this story, “Masury woman dedicates life hobby to Ukrainian egg art,” about Masury resident Carol Novosel, whose work will be on display and for sale at the 35th Annual Ukrainian Egg Festival will be held on Sunday, April 10, 2022 from 1-4 p.m. at St. John’s Church in Sharon. 

Pysanky were part of Easter celebrations for many Youngstown families, and many others who were attracted by the beauty of these eggs. And in this time, they represent the rich culture so many are fighting to preserve in Ukraine. Slava Ukraini!

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Dr. Henry Manning

Dr. Henry Manning

I recently re-ran an old article about Dr. Timothy Woodbridge, the first doctor born in Youngstown. The doctor who trained him was Dr. Henry Manning, the second doctor to practice in Youngstown, Charles Dutton being the first. Manning not only cared for the medical needs of the people in Youngstown but was a businessman and leader, a civic leader, and even served for a time in the state legislature. Part of his land become one of Youngstown’s most venerated cemeteries.

Henry Manning was born on January 15, 1787 in Lebanon, Connecticut. He settled in Youngstown briefly in 1811, only to be called into his country’s service as a surgeon for the Ohio Militia in the War of 1812. he was the first doctor in the area to perform cataract surgeries. He started a pharmacy in 1815 with Caleb Wick. He also trained many other students in addition to Timothy Woodbridge. His eldest son, John, born in 1824, followed him in medical practice. As an early settler, he saw Rayen’s tavern by Spring Common, leaving us this description:

“A two story white house, shingled on the sides, instead of weatherboarding. There was a log house attached to it on the north, and a kitchen at the back build of round logs.

“Between the log and the frame part was a wide hall, open at both ends, and wooden benches on the sides for loungers.” (Aley, 1975)

Manning left a record of his practice that may be viewed at the Melnick Medical Museum, as well as digitally through Maag Library. It comes in the form of his “daybook” in which he kept a record of each patient that he saw, what service he rendered, and the charge. Here is one page:

Screenshot Henry Manning’s Day book for August 1834, accessed from Digital.Maag Repository

Most of the charges on this page range between $.25 and $1.75, and some of these were for house visits!

Manning had extensive land holdings as well as sheep and cattle. In 1853, he sold land to the Mahoning Valley Cemetery Association, of which he was Chairman, that became Oak Hill Cemetery. When Manning’s time to be laid to rest came, he was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

He served in the state legislature twice, in 1819-1820 and 1843-1844 and as a state senator in 1825-1826. He also served as an associate justice of the Court of Common Pleas from 1836 to 1843.

Add to his occupations of doctor, pharmacist, legislator and judge the role of business leader. He was the president of two banks, the Mahoning County Bank in 1854 and the First National Bank when it was formed in 1863. He also served as the first president of the Youngstown Board of Education and was a township trustee. The standards for teachers were markedly different in his day. He wrote, “if a man could read tolerably well, was a good writer, and could cypher as far as the rule of three, knew how to use the birch scientifically, and had firmness enough to exercise this skill, he would pass muster.”

During his years in Youngstown, this renaissance man had his finger in just about every aspect of Youngstown’s early life. He died on January 11, 1869. Joseph G. Butler, Jr. put the coda on his life with this description: “In his profession, he was an excellent physician and a most skillful surgeon.” It seems, at least from this distance, that this could be said of every aspect of his life.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown–My Hall of Fame

John Young Memorial, photo by Jack Pierce. (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr

One of the things I’ve enjoyed as I’ve written about Youngstown is to learn about the people who contributed to making Youngstown a great, good place to grow up. I thought I would share my personal “Hall of Fame” of people I’ve written about. I’ve limited it to ten, which was tough because there are so many others who could be on this list. The links embedded in each name take you to the article I wrote about that person. See what you think of this list!

1. John Young. He gave Youngstown its name, purchased the township from the Connecticut Land Company in 1797, surveyed the township, layed out the initial plats that formed what is now downtown Youngstown, living there for a short while as one of the early settlers.

Judge William Rayen

2. Judge William Rayen. An early settler, he established a tavern and mercantile by Spring Common, held a number of civic offices including a judgeship. He was prosperous and owned extensive lands and from his estate bequeathed the money to establish Youngstown’s first public high school, The Rayen School.

P. Ross Berry, Courtesy of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society

3. P. Ross Berry. Speaking of The Rayen School, this was one of the many building projects in or near downtown Youngstown in which Berry, a Black bricklayer and architect was involved. He owned his own brick foundry, manufacturing a distinctive red-orange brick which you may observe in the still standing Rayen building on Wick Avenue.

Governor David Tod, Public Domain via Wikimedia

4. David Tod. He inherited his father’s farm in Brier Hill, discovered the block coal beneath it the fueled the iron industry in which he made his fortune, leading the transformation of Youngstown into an iron and steel center. If that wasn’t enough, he was Ohio’s governor and Lincoln’s confidant during the Civil War.

Unknown. Source: The Youngstown Telegram. Public Domain-US, via Wikipedia

5. Joseph G. Butler, Jr. If you have visited the Butler, not paying any admission, you have benefited from Butler’s bequest, the fruit of his labor. He was a steel magnate, civic leader, political insider and friend of William McKinley, author of a history of Youngstown, and consummate art collector.

Volney Rogers, Public Domain-US via Wikipedia

6. Volney Rogers. Without him, there would be no Mill Creek Park with its lakes, bridges, pavilions, and trails. Mill Creek would have been one more industrial river. The city broke his heart when they won a fight against him to run storm sewer lines into the park, resulting in problems to this day.

William F. Maag, Sr at the time he was elected to the Ohio Assembly. Photo via New York Public Library Digital Collections

7. Wiiliam F. Maag, Sr. He and his family owned The Vindicator for much of its history after getting his start with German language papers. Under his son, the paper grew even further while he also developed radio and television outlets.

James Anson Campbell. Public Domain

8. James Anson Campbell. Along with George Dennick Wick, he formed Youngstown Sheet and Tube in 1901. He rebuilt East Youngstown after the 1916 riots, built some of the best worker housing in the country, and he was remembered when East Youngstown was renamed after him and became Campbell.

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

9. Esther Hamilton. She wrote “Around Town,” a community news column for nearly 70 years, 52 of those years as a daily column. She emceed The Vindicator spelling bee and organized an annual Christmas fund-raiser, the Esther Hamilton Alias Santa Claus Show, recruiting community leaders to work as “candy butchers” to raise money from other well-heeled attendees. Truly one of a kind!

Boots Bell at a record hop. Photo courtesy of Leslie Bell Redman

10. “Boots” Bell. “Yes, indeedy, doody-daddy. Have yourself a happy!” Many of us still can hear that rich, buoyant baritone voice in our minds. He was a Purple Heart veteran of the Korean War, introduced The Beatles at their Pittsburgh concert, invited us all to join him on his “Booter scooter” during his afternoon broadcasts on WHOT and spun the tunes at record hops all over the Valley.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with my list. And you’d be right. There are so many others who could be on it. What they all had in common were there contributions to making Youngstown the city it was when we were growing up. For some, like Butler or Rogers, there influence continues to be felt to this day. I’d love to hear who you’d add to the list. Chances are, I thought of them and probably have written about them.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Sue Thomas

Imagine a little girl growing up in Boardman, Ohio who suddenly loses her hearing at eighteen months. All of her hearing. What kind of life do you think she could have hoped for? This was the story of Sue Thomas, which you can listen to her tell in the YouTube video above. At the time, her parents were encouraged to place her in an institution. Her parents refused that advice and worked with the Youngstown Hearing and Speech Center (which closed in 2017), where she learned to read lips and speak.

This amazing young child was the youngest Ohio State Champion free-style skater at age seven. She had a coach who skated with her in practice, beating time to the music until she learned her routine. Then he motioned her when the music started and performed–a championship performance! She also learned to play piano, feeling the vibrations, studying classical piano.

School was hard but she hung in there. She was considered a “slow learner” until a typing teacher recognized her potential. She attended Springfield College in Massachusetts with a double major in political science and international affairs. She subsequently went on to do graduate work in counseling at Case Western Reserve University and Columbia Bible College and Seminary.

She looked for months for work until the FBI came calling. She started out as a fingerprint examiner and then worked in undercover surveillance. She said, “I followed the bad guys around and I read their lips and I told the good guys what the bad guys were saying.” She was involved in solving a number of high profile crimes.

In 1990, She wrote an account of her life, Silent Night, that later served as the basis of a TV series inspired by her life Sue Thomas, F.B. Eye, that ran for 56 episodes from 2002-2005 on the Pax Network, one of two most highly rated programs. Production ended because the Pax Network decided to discontinue original programming. She was asked who she would like to play her, and she asked for a tall blonde, and Deanne Bray was chosen. The real Sue had cameo appearances in two episodes.

As is evident in the video, Sue is a very religious woman with a strong faith in God. Despite being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2001 and cancer in 2020 (now in remission), her website says that at 71 she continues to travel around the US speaking about her faith, with her service dog Sir “Rodney” the Great and her full time associate. Her website states, “Her audiences range from 1 to 45,000  and her keynotes are geared towards education, civic, corporate, sports, and non-profits along with medical in the areas of deafness, multiple schlerosis and diabetes.” In recent days, her ministry has been working to provide supplies to Ukrainian refugees in Poland.

When not traveling, she lives in a small log cabin in Vermont. She has written a sequel to her 1990 biography, Staying in the Race, and is working on a third book.

I’m struck that Sue’s faith certainly has animated her life but also that her parents, speech and hearing therapists, skating coaches, piano teachers and that typing teacher played a large role in her life from her earliest days growing up in the Youngstown area. Sue would no doubt attribute all this to God’s plan and goodness. I won’t argue with that. Listening to her, though, I also hear a woman with the grit and resilience of someone who grew up in the Mahoning Valley.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Betty Allen

She performed in opera performances as a mezzo-soprano on stages around the world to standing ovations. She was part of the first generation of Black opera singers, along with Marian Anderson to achieve wide success, breaking down racial barriers with her voice. She collaborated with the foremost American composers of her generation: Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Ned Rorem, and Virgil Thomson, among others. And it all began in the Mahoning Valley on the streets of Campbell.

She was born on March 17, 1927 to James and Dora Catherine Mitchell Allen. Her father, a graduate of Tuskegee Institute, had trained to be a math teacher but because of prejudice, could not find work. He came north and found work at Sheet & Tube. Her mother added to the family income by taking in laundry. She grew up in a Greek and Sicilian neighborhood and it was her she had her first exposure to opera. In 1999, she told The New York Times, “On Saturday, walking down the street, you could hear the Met broadcasts coming from the windows of everybody’s house. No one told them that opera and the arts were not for them, not for poor people, just for rich snobs.”

All seemed to be going well until her mother died of lung cancer when she was twelve. The loss resulted in her father sinking into depression, drinking heavily. Betty tried to keep up the house while becoming spelling bee champion at Gordon Ave. School for two years. One day, fed up with it all, she went to Judge Ford Agey and asked to have a real home like other children. The best that could be done at the time was a series of foster homes, some abusive.

At age 16, she moved into the YWCA, supporting herself by cleaning houses while finishing high school at The Rayen School in the top half of her class, excelling in Latin and German. A teacher, Dorothy Seeger, befriended her and helped her get a scholarship to attend Wilberforce College. One of her classmates was Leontyne Price. Her German teacher, Theodor Heimann, a former opera tenor, encouraged her to sing. She went from there on scholarship to Hartford School of Music in Connecticut.

In 1950, while studying at Tanglewood, she came to the attention of Leonard Bernstein who chose her to be the mezzo-soprano soloist in his Symphony No. 1, the “Jeremiah” Symphony. She debuted in her first opera the following year, Virgil Thomson’s Four Saints in Three Acts. In 1952, she won the Marian Anderson Award, a singing competition in Philadelphia. A series of opera roles followed throughout the 1950’s: Tin Pan Alley, Prince Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus, Queenie in Showboat with the New York City Opera among others. She made her recital hall debut in 1958 at Town Hall in New York City, performing a program that included Brahms and Faure.

She appeared with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s. She performed on opera stages in New York, Boston, Santa Fe, San Francisco, Washington, Canada, Buenos Aires and Mexico City as well as concert performances in France, Italy, and North Africa. Two of her standout performances were as Jocasta in Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex with the Santa Fe Opera in 1964 and as Monisha in Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha with the Houston Grand Opera in 1975.

By the 1980’s she stopped singing, except for a handful of concerts, because of lung problems, which she attributed to growing up near the mills in Campbell. She devoted herself to vocal instruction as executive director of the Harlem School of the Arts, as well as serving on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music, and adjudicated many vocal competitions. She died on June 22, 2009 in Valhalla, New York of complications of kidney disease at age 82.

Learning about Betty Allen’s story, I’m struck by both her personal drive, reflected in going to a Youngstown judge seeking a better home, supporting herself from age 16, and the influences of others from those Campbell neighbors who thought opera was for everyone to a high school teacher at The Rayen School who became a friend and mentor to a college professor who persuaded Betty to sing. Obviously, she used all her opportunities to hone her talents while benefiting from a once in a lifetime opportunity to perform works of Leonard Bernstein. Hers is yet another amazing Mahoning Valley story.

To give you an idea of the beauty and richness of her voice, I found this recording of her singing several classic spirituals.

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