Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Marjorie Mariner

kitchencornermarinertv21 (1)

TV Guide Ad for “Kitchen Corner”

She was Youngstown’s Julia Child or Martha Stewart. She was one of the pioneering women in local television, with her daily show running from 1953 to 1967 on WFMJ, channel 21. She also had a weekly recipe column in the Youngstown Vindicator. I recall listening to her on the radio on WFMJ – 1390 and that people could call in for cooking advice.

Marjorie, or Marge, Mariner was born in Youngstown in 1903. A 1957 article from The Radio TV Mirror gives us the fullest portrait of her life. She said her only ambition “was to get married.” She grew up with a mother who spoke, sharing poetry and who sometimes lifted her up to look over the podium and speak them. She also baked her first cake when she was seven years old. She went to Ohio State to study home economics and nutrition, and returned to Youngstown, teaching school for five years.

Youngstown Vindicator Google News Archive Search (5)

Vindicator recipe from 6-6-57 via Google New Archive

Before going off to college, she had dated Minola Mariner and then met up again after college, marrying her first love. He was a civil engineer working in construction. The couple had two children, a son Joseph, and a daughter Janis. A brief note in the October 19, 1953 issue of Broadcasting + Telecasting indicates that the Simon, Williams, and Roberts Advertising Agency had signed Marjorie Mariner for a client, Century Foods, to do a program for WFMJ. At the beginning, it started as a five minute daily show. Eventually the show, named Kitchen Corner expanded to 45 minutes. The Radio TV Mirror article describes the format of the program:

On Kitchen Corner, seen each weekday from 1:15 to 1:45 P.M., she encourages a love for cooking and an awareness of better food habits for better health. “And sharing of recipes,” says Marjorie, “is just like visiting over the back fence.” Each day, her “visit” is different.
Monday, it’s seasonal cooking ideas; Tuesday’s the day for club ideas; Thursday, for special diets. On Wednesday and Friday, she invites a guest homemaker to prepare her favorite recipe.

One of the distinctive features of her show was the local “homemakers of the day” that she featured. The February 25, 1966 issue of the New Castle News includes an article about two New Castle women who were going to be on the show. Sandra Zona was the Arts and Crafts guest and Nellie Powers was going to share her brownie recipe. A 2017 Metro Monthly article by Elizabeth Glasgow, a great niece of Mariner’s, describes her aunts, cousins, and her five year old self gathered around a table with ham sandwiches and punch on one of the shows. Another blogger, Diane Laney Fitzpatrick, describes one of the shows:

On Kitchen Corner With Marjorie Mariner (which we knew simply as the Marge Mariner show), Marge would stand there behind the counter with all of her ingredients already measured out. This alone fascinated me. Not only did she have everything pre-measured out, she had it in these tiny sparkling, clear glass bowls and clear glass measuring cups. Even 1/4 teaspoon allspice or 1/2 teaspoon salt were measured into tiny little glass bowls, like Barbie-sized bowls.

So it would take Marge less than 10 minutes to throw the whole kit and kaboodle into a large mixing bowl (again, clean clear glass, no raw hamburger residue or dried-on cookie batter from the last thing she made), mix that up, pop it in the oven, and be done with it. She hardly broke a sweat.

Billboard Google Books

Billboard ad 11-25-57 via Google Books

She was featured in an ad for local TV personalities in the November 25, 1957 issue of Billboard magazine where it was noted that a sixty second commercial usually received another sixty second personal endorsement from Mariner. At that time, she had already won three TV Guide awards as one of the top national cooking shows.

The Radio TV Mirror article from 1957 says that at that time, the family owned a remodeled farmhouse with 10 acres and three dogs.  Her TV program ended in 1967. I believe she continued to do radio shows after that time. Her husband, Minola passed away in 1987 and she died in 1995. Both are buried in the Coitsville Presbyterian-Jackson Cemetery.

In Youngstown, you often learned to cook well from a mother or grandmother. Marjorie didn’t replace them, but rather featured them while sharing her own down-to-earth love of cooking. As one woman put it,”She’s not too smart and we can understand her and how she loves to cook — just like us.”

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — George Borts Farm

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

I spent countless hours growing up swimming at Borts Pool and playing baseball, football, basketball, and tennis at Borts Field. In the winter, I ice skated on the tennis courts which were flooded in cold weather. For several years I delivered papers on part of North Maryland and North Belle Vista Avenues between Oakwood and Mahoning Ave. One of the homes on my route was a gray, two story frame building, obviously older than the rest, that sat right next to Sparkle’s parking lot and grocery store. My father told me that it was the old Borts residence, but I didn’t give it much thought.

That is, until recently when I came across the image that appears above. With some changes, that was the house! Little did I realize that I walked by a piece of Youngstown history every day.

As it turns out, the Borts (or Bortz as it is sometimes spelled) family was one of the early families to settle in the area. In 1805, Philip Borts, Sr. moved from Pennsylvania and purchased a farm in Ellsworth township. His oldest son, Philip, Jr., who was born in 1802, married Mary Nickum. George, born in 1827, and his brother Philip were the two surviving sons of the marriage, and moved with the family to the West side of Youngstown in 1833, purchasing about 270 acres. George married Elizabeth Christey on October 18, 1847. They purchased a farm in Berlin township the next year but moved back to the Youngstown house in 1852 when Philip, Jr. died (he only outlived Philip, Sr. by two years).

George may have been bitten by the “gold bug.” He moved to California for three years in the 1850’s to engage in mining but then returned to Youngstown in 1861. He was one of the first to set up a draying, or hauling business, which he carried on for three years, before turning to farming. Whether because of family roots in the area or business success or a combination of the two, George Borts is among those listed by the Mahoning Valley Historical Society as initial subscribers to the founding of the historical society in 1875, along with names like Arms, McKelvey, Strouss, Pollock, and Wick. Borts died in May of 1905, and like many of Youngstown’s early prominent citizens, is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.  Elizabeth lived until 1920.

They had six children, five boys and one girl. Charles Albry worked as superintendent in a rolling mill. According to Miss Caldie Borts, their son William remained single and worked in the theater business. Their daughter Mary married John S. Pollock and died in an auto accident in 1928. Edward died young at age 16. I could find little about the other two sons, George and California. Most of the children are also buried at Oak Hill Cemetery.

According to Google street view, the old Borts home is gone and the lot is vacant. Borts Pool was demolished in 2014 and converted to green space. A 2015 Jambar article reports renovations engaged in by the Youngstown Steel Valley Rugby Club to convert the field to rugby play. A Disney grant has provided money for a walking trail and exercise equipment at Borts Field.

There was actually relatively little that I could find on the Borts family. They clearly were an influential family in the second half of the nineteenth century. With the efforts to rehabilitate Borts Field, the name lives on. I would love it if others can pass along what they know of this family!

[Most of the information on the Borts Family is from Find a Grave sites for Philip Borts (Bortz), Sr., Philip Borts (Bortz), Jr., George Borts, and links from this page to each of the children’s sites.]

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — P. Ross Berry

68-41-1 P Ross Berry sepia

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

It seems fitting during Black History month to talk about one of the most distinguished Black residents of Youngstown, Plympton Ross Berry (usually know as P. Ross Berry, having dropped his full first name for the initial). It has been said that at one time, he was involved in building most of the buildings in downtown Youngstown. Berry was born in June 1834 (some accounts list 1835) as a free person of color in Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania. His family moved to New Castle where he was trained as a bricklayer, becoming a master bricklayer and stonemason by age 16.

One of the first projects on which he worked, in 1851, was the Lawrence County (PA) courthouse, which is still standing. A letter to the New Castle News documents his role in contributing to the architectural design of the Greek Revival facade. He married in 1858 and he, his wife, and four children came by canal boat to Youngstown in 1861.

The project that brought him to Youngstown was a contract for the brick work at the Rayen School. In short succession he received contracts for work on the second St. Columba’s Church, the Homer Hamilton foundry and machine shop on South Phelps, the new jail on Hazel Street, the First Presyterian Church, the William Hitchcock and Governor Tod homes, the first Tod House on Central Square, the Grand Opera House in what was known as the “Diamond Block,” where the Huntington Bank is now located, and the 1876 Mahoning County Courthouse at Wick and Wood. According to the research of Joseph Napier, Sr., Berry built 65 structures in the area, as well as the brickwork on many Youngstown streets.

His stature in the community was such that a number of white bricklayers worked under his direction, something very uncommon in the day. As black soldiers migrated to the Mahoning Valley after the Civil War, he also trained many of them to work as bricklayers and was responsible for founding the Brick Masons Union, Local 8. Berry own his own brick foundry and made a reddish-orange colored brick, and example of which you can see in the Rayen Building. Because of his success and prominence, he was involved in a number of philanthropic causes and helped with the founding of the St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church.

Berry is described by Howard C. Aley as a handsome man, six foot six inches in height. His wife, Mary Long, eventually bore him eight children, four boys and four girls. Several sons worked in the business and his offspring were successful doctors, attorneys, musicians, and leaders in the community.

Berry worked until age 82 and died on May 12, 1917. He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. The P. Ross Berry Middle School was completed in 2006, named in his honor. The school was closed as a middle school in 2012 and now serves as the site of the Mahoning County High School.

P. Ross Berry’s story was one I had not heard until recently and is one that deserves to be much more widely known. He is one of the outstanding citizens, builders, architects, and philanthropists Youngstown has produced.

Sources:

Howard C. Aley, A Heritage to Share

All Things Youngstown

New Castle News

Mahoning Valley History

Joseph Napier, Sr, The P. Ross Berry Story (video)

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Warner Brothers

Warner Brothers

The Warner Brothers: Harry, Sam, Albert, and Jack in 1919.

One of Youngstown’s claims to fame is as an early home of the Warner brothers, who established one of the most famous film and entertainment companies in Hollywood. It all began in the Youngstown area.

The Warner family emigrated from Krasnosieic, Poland to escape Cossack persecution of Jews. They changed their name from Wonsal or Wonskolaser upon arrival in the U.S. in 1888, living first in Baltimore. Only the oldest of the four brothers, Harry, was born in Poland, in 1881. Albert and Sam were born in Baltimore, after which the family moved to London, Ontario in the early 1890’s, where Jack was born in 1896. The family moved to Youngstown in 1896, living in Smoky Hollow. Harry opened a shoe repair shop in downtown Youngstown

It was a rough neighborhood, perhaps shaping the driving and competitive nature of Jack Warner, who said of his growing up years, “There was a murder or two almost every Saturday night in our neighborhood, and knives and brass knuckles were standard equipment for the young hotheads on the prowl” (Source: Wikipedia). Jack was briefly in a street gang based at Westlake Crossing.

Sam was the first of the brothers to get into film, working as a projectionist at Idora Park. He then purchased a film projector for $1000, Jack contributing $150. Sam and Albert bought a copy of The Great Train Robbery and showed it at various locations around the area. By 1905, Harry joined them, setting up in nearby New Castle,PA, where they eventually opened two movie houses, the Bijou and the Cascade. Meanwhile, Jack was pursuing a career in vaudeville in the Youngstown area. The other three brothers set up a film distribution company in Pittsburgh, The Duquesne Amusement Company. In 1909, Jack joined the enterprise to set up a second distribution exchange in Norfolk, Virginia. Threatened by the exorbitant fees charged by the Edison Trust (eventually ended in 1915), they sold the business in 1910 for $52,000 and decided to launch their own film production company. Harry and Albert set up offices in New York while Sam went to Los Angeles and Jack to San Francisco.

Their first major film followed their purchase of the rights to My Four Years in Germany on war-time atrocities in Germany. Profits from the film allowed them to set up a studio in Hollywood and they formally incorporated as Warner Brothers Pictures in 1923. During this period of silent film their biggest star was a dog, Rin Tin Tin, hero of a series of movies. In 1925, Sam urged the licensing of Western Electric’s Vitaphone technology, to provide synchronized sound. Sadly, just before the release in 1927 of The Jazz Singer, the first major “talkie,” Sam died of pneumonia.

The profits fueled the success and growth of the Warner Brothers over the next three decades releasing scores of blockbuster films with actors and actresses like James Cagney, Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis and Joan Blondell. Ronald Reagan got his start as an actor with Warner Brothers. As World War 2 approached they released films critical of the rising Nazi threat.

The company also continued to acquire and build theatres and perhaps made their most significant mark on Youngstown with the construction of the Warner Theatre in 1931. The theatre was built in memory of the deceased brother Sam, in a lavish art deco style. After it closed in 1968, it was renovated and re-opened as Powers Auditorium, the home of the Youngstown Symphony. It is now part of the DeYor Performing Arts Center.

Sadly, in later life, the three brothers had a falling out over control of the studios. They agreed to sell the company in 1956, only for Jack to put together a syndicate that secured a controlling interest, appointing himself president. Harry and Jack were estranged and Jack did not attend Harry’s funeral when he died in 1958. Albert, likewise, never spoke to his brother again, dying in 1967. Jack outlived them all, passing in 1978. By this time, the company had expanded into television and the recording industry. In more recent years, they’ve continued to expand into various entertainment media while maintaining a strong position in the film position, including producing the Harry Potter films.

The Warner name and empire traces back to these four brothers who got their start in entertainment and film in Youngstown and gave our city a fabulous performance space that enriches Youngstown cultural life to this day.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Dr. Leslie S. Domonkos

Leslie Domonkos

Leslie Domonkos, Source unknown

I grew up disliking history. Up through high school, history had largely been presented to me as a series of events, dates to be memorized, and important people. All this, I had to remember for tests, and promptly forget afterward.

Today, I love history as the story of how different factors and forces contribute to events and how these help us understand how we got here, historically, at least. As you might tell from my posts about Youngstown, I love local history–how places get their names, who was such and such, and how they were important in Youngstown history and how the cultural institutions of the city developed?

I think I owe this love of history to Dr. Leslie Domonkos, now an emeritus professor of history at Youngstown State, and the professor who taught the Western Civilization course I took during my first quarter at Youngstown State, 46 years ago. What I remember about his class, is that I never took so many notes in my life–and it was a good thing. His exams were tough. They weren’t fill in the blanks, or a computer-read form. They were essay-based exams of three or four questions that we would answer in handwritten “Blue Books.” You needed to study your notes, do the readings, and take his exam prep suggestions seriously. His lectures were riveting as he opened up the events of European history and the cultural, social, economic, religious and political forces that led to them. He made us think about these forces, and argue which were most important. It was hard, and I loved it, and he awakened a love of history I never knew I had. Looking back, I sometimes wonder why I didn’t major in history. I also think of how much work it was for him to read all those hand-written Blue Book exams and grade them!

Both Dr. Domonkos and his wife Eva were born in Budapest, Hungary, he in 1938 and she in 1941. Her tribute in The Vindicator notes that she came to the U.S. as a World War II refugee in 1951. I do not know if this is true of Dr. Domonkos but he became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1959. For both of them, their arrival in this country was a gift. She worked for many years as a labor and delivery nurse, and later as a childbirth educator at St. Elizabeth’s, returning to Hungary to introduce modern childbirth techniques to that country.

Dr. Domonkos gift to this country was his scholarship and inspired teaching. He graduated from Youngstown University in 1959 with a Bachelors degree in history and completed Masters and Ph.D. degrees in medieval history at Notre Dame. He received a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the University of Vienna during 1963-1964.  He returned to teach as an instructor at Youngstown in 1964, then as an assistant professor in 1965, associate professor in 1969 and full professor in 1975. Twice he served as acting department chair. In 1971, he received an Outstanding Educator in America award. Over the years six Distinguished Professor Awards followed. He published numerous articles in medieval and Hungarian history in addition to co-editing three books. He was admitted to the Corporate Body of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 2003. He retired from Youngstown State in 2002, receiving emeritus status.

In 2013 he was awarded the YSU Heritage Award, the university’s most prestigious award, recognizing faculty and administrative staff who have made a major contribution to the university during their career. At the date this was written, he is continuing to enjoy his retirement.

It is staggering to think of how many students lives were touched by Dr. Domonkos during his four decade career at Youngstown State. Some went on to academic careers in history. No doubt some were just glad to pass his course! But I can’t help but believe there were many of us who gained a much bigger vision of the world beyond the Mahoning valley through his teaching. For me, he inspired a lifelong love of history, manifested in a house full of history books, and a curiosity to know the story behind the facts. I know my life is richer for it. Thank you, Dr. Domonkos!

 

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Reuben McMillan

14766568765_4750b275e1_o

Reuben McMillan

When I was a young boy, my father took me to the Main Library each Saturday to take books out of the library–the Reuben McMillan Library. I didn’t give it a thought as a kid, but as I explore our shared history, I keep coming across the names of people who helped make the city of Youngstown what it was and still is. Reuben McMillan is one of these people.

McMillan was born October 7, 1820 in Canfield. He went to various schools until age thirteen and then took up the trade of harness making. Working during the day, he studied Latin, algebra and geometry and other advanced subjects in the evenings. By 1837 (at seventeen!) he started teaching in rural schools and used his earnings to continue to advance his own education from 1839 to 1843 at a private academy. By 1849, he was serving as superintendent of the Hanoverton schools in Columbiana County, then Lisbon and New Lisbon schools until he retired in 1853 due to health issues which dogged him throughout his life. Regaining his health, he became superintendent in Salem in 1855, then Youngstown in 1861.

He served as superintendent in Youngstown for six years until failing health necessitated his resignation in 1867. Were it not for this, he could have been superintendent of the Cleveland system. That was not to be, to Youngstown’s benefit. By 1872, restored health permitted him to return to his superintendent’s position in which he served until 1886. In Joseph G. Butler, Jr’s History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, he describes why Reuben McMillan was so highly esteemed:

“It was not mere length of service, however, that endeared Youngstown school pupils and Youngstown men and women of mature years to Reuben McMillan. Blessed with great ability, he was also one of the kindliest of men, tender, considerate, devoted to his work and caring little for personal gain. The poorer children of the schools were the object of his
special solicitude. His beauty of countenance of itself stamped him as one of nature’s noblemen. He was a tutor by example as well as precept, living the God fearing life that he encouraged in the youth of Youngstown. In religion he was a Presbyterian, and for some years was an elder in the old First Church here.”

While libraries had been part of Youngstown schools since the 1840’s, McMillan, joined by two teachers and two physicians, formed the Youngstown Library Association on October 27, 1880. The library began with 168 volumes and the two teachers, Miss Pearson and Miss Hitchcock were the first librarians, working out of a building on West Federal Street. The library went through a reorganization and on March 5, 1898 was named the Reuben McMillan Free Library Association, which is still the official name of The Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County. This was a special honor since McMillan was still alive at this time, passing on June 23 of that year.

20181019_1855394339725742220883879.jpg

Richard A. Brown home, an early location of the Youngstown Public Library

The other special honor bestowed on McMillan came later. From its original home on West Federal, the library moved to the Richard A. Brown home in 1891 (now the site of the Mahoning County Courthouse). In 1907, a $50,000 gift from Andrew Carnegie made possible construction of a library at the corner of Wick and Rayen Avenue. When the library opened on December 3, 1910, with a capacity of 225,000 volumes, it was named the Reuben McMillan Free Library. Usually, the library is named after the major donor and there are many Carnegie libraries around the country. This was a case of a leader whose contribution was more important than money — an idea — a free library open to all residents of the city.

A large portrait of Reuben McMillan was hung in the library with this tribute from John H. Clarke, another advocate for the library, who helped pass legislation to allow tax levies to support public libraries:

“A man who sought neither wealth nor honor save as these were to be found in the faithful doing of his duty. He spent a long life for meager salary in training the youth of the city to live the highest intellectual life. When his name was chosen for the library it was because his generation chose to honor and revere that type of manhood which finds its best expression in that high stern-featured beauty of steady devotedness to duty.”

Reuben McMillan never enriched himself as an educator, but left a rich legacy to Youngstown in establishing a library to enrich the lives of children and adults from every walk of life in the city–a mission it continues to carry out to this day.

Growing Up In Working Class Youngstown — William Holmes McGuffey

492px-William_Holmes_McGuffey

William Holmes McGuffey, PD-US via Wikimedia

McGuffey is one of those familiar names of Youngstown. McGuffey Road runs from Wick Avenue through the East side and Coitsville Township. On the south side of the road in Coitsville Township is the William Holmes McGuffey Wildlife Preserve, at the location of William Holmes McGuffey’s boyhood home. There used to be a McGuffey Plaza, and later Mall. On the West side, William Holmes McGuffey Elementary was recently opened at 310 S. Schenley.

Cover_of_McGuffey's_First_Eclectic_Reader

McGuffey’s Eclectic First Reader, PD-US via Wikipedia

McGuffey is most famous for his McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers. Generations of children learned how to read and were taught the basics of good character through his readers. Between 1836 and 1960 130 million copies were sold. Some home schoolers still use them!

McGuffey’s connection was that he spent part of his boyhood at the Coitsville homesite. He was born September 23, 1800 in Claysville, Pennsylvania, in Washington County, about 45 mile southwest of Pittsburgh. The family lived briefly in Tuscarawas County, Ohio before moving to Coitsville. As a child, he was educated by Rev. William Wick, who knew his family from when Wick lived in Washington County. Wick taught him Latin as well as using “Webster’s Speller” and Lindley Murray’s English Grammar. It would be interesting to see how much his childhood education influenced his Readers.

He later attended the Greersburg Academy in Darlington, Pennsylvania, and, from 1820 to 1826, Washington College. While a student he was a traveling instructor, teaching for a time in Poland, Ohio. After completing his studies in 1826, he went to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio where he became a professor. It was during this time that he wrote and published his Readers. His home in Oxford, which I’ve seen, is a historic landmark and still in use. In 1836, he became the president of Cincinnati College (now the University of Cincinnati), president of Ohio University in 1839, and then president of the Woodward Free Grammar School in Cincinnati in 1843. In 1845, he moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, where he taught as a professor of philosophy. He died, and was buried there in 1872.

William_McGuffey_House,_front_and_eastern_side

William Holmes McGuffey home in Oxford, Ohio, Nyttend – Own work, Public Domain via Wikipedia

There is an active local William Holmes McGuffey Historical Society in the Mahoning Valley. This group led efforts to set apart the land and place a historic marker in 1966 at the site of his boyhood home. Dr. John R. White, YSU anthropology professor, led a group of students in efforts to identify the original site of McGuffey’s childhood home.

McGuffey was a giant in American educational history, contributing to a highly literate frontier population. He left his mark on three Ohio universities before taking a professorship at one of the country’s prestigious universities. Unlike many in Youngstown history, his impact didn’t come from what he did in Youngstown, but rather how he used the education that began in Youngstown to impact generations of American children.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — James L. Wick, Jr.

James L Wick Jr grave

Headstone for James L. Wick, Jr. family plot, Oak Hill Cemetery, Photo by Linda Bunch, all rights reserved, via Find A Grave

Rocky Ridge was a favorite area growing up, whether it was playing on the playground as a child, sledding down the hill below the play area in the winter, playing baseball on one of the diamonds, touch football, or tennis on the tennis courts. As a teen, I was at the skating rink every weekend during the winter and I have memories of going to open air concerts. The one that stands out featured jazz great Lionel Hampton–something I didn’t appreciate at the time!

 

Formally, the name of this place is the James L. Wick, Jr. Recreation Area.  We never called it that, and I have to say I was oblivious to who this gentleman was. In researching him, I found out that I walked by his home on 384 S. Belle Vista (I believe on the corner of S. Belle Vista and Chaney Circle) every day when I went to and from Chaney. The home itself has some history to it, being the original home of Samuel Price, a prominent West Side resident (think Price Road, which is practically across the street from this home). Wick and his wife Clare purchased the home in 1919.

Wick was born into the Wick family, Youngstown royalty of sorts. His father, James Lippincott Wick was a business partner of Freeman Arms (James, Sr. married Julia Arms) and was also associated with G. M. McKelvey’s. James L. Wick, Jr. was born January 28, 1883. He graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, financed by an uncle. He went to work as a general master mechanic at Youngstown Sheet and Tube, then in 1918 took a position as secretary and assistant general manager of Falcon Bronze Company, a bronze foundry. By 1926 he was president, but only separated by a door from the plant where he helped pour a melt and sometimes operated a crane. Wick and Louis M. Nesselbush patented a cooling plate for inwalls and mantles in 1938. He sold the firm to American Brake Shoe Company in 1953.

He played an important role in three Youngstown institutions. He was the chairman of the board of trustees of Youngstown College, later University from 1921 to 1955, overseeing its growth from a night school of the YMCA to a nationally accredited university. Jones Hall, the main building of the university was built under his tenure.

Any of us who write about Youngstown history are indebted to the Mahoning Valley Historical Society. He was one of the incorporators of the Society in 1909 and served two terms as president. His most significant contribution was to help provide a permanent home for the Society and its growing archives. As its president, he persuaded Mrs. Wilford P. Arms to leave her home at 648 Wick Avenue to the society in 1961, and then sold lifetime memberships of $1,000 or more to endow the facility. He remained active with the Society until his death and had a passion for passing along the history of the Valley to its youth, and it was reported he was a lively storyteller.

His other major passion was Mill Creek Park. He knew Volney Rogers, served on the Mill Creek Park board for 21 years until he retired in 1958, could identify trees and shrubs throughout the park, and fought to preserve the park when it was threatened by developers. After his retirement, Rocky Ridge was renamed in his honor, one he could easily visit just a short drive down S. Belle Vista from his home.

He seems kind of a renaissance man. He was a gifted amateur painter, naturalist, inventor, and historian. He was a member of engineering societies, the Youngstown Country Club, a trustee of the Butler, and member of the board of First Presbyterian Church.

I wish I had met him. He passed away on March 16, 1972, my senior year at Chaney. In the words of songwriter Joni Mitchell, “don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til its gone.” I never knew this man, who contributed so much to Youngstown, and did so much that we might know its history, lived along my way to school. I’m glad I know a bit of him now. And perhaps by telling his story, and the story of our city, I can do my small bit to honor his legacy.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — N. H. Chaney

N H Chaney

From Ohio Wesleyan in Education, 1910.

All the members of my family are Chaney High School graduates. Both my mother and father graduated from Chaney in 1938, attending the “old” Chaney High School that later became West Jr. High School (which I also attended). My siblings and I graduated from the “new” Chaney on South Hazelwood Avenue. You might say we are a Cowboy family.

I don’t know about my parents, but I never learned the history of the man after whom our high school was named. It turns out that N. H. Chaney was both a local and statewide education leader, presiding over one of the greatest periods of growth of the Youngstown School system, serving as Superintendent from 1902 to 1920.

Novetus Holland Chaney was born in Highland County in southwest Ohio on March 4, 1856. He received Bachelors and Masters degrees from Wilmington College, and completed a Ph.D. at Ohio Wesleyan University in Philosophy and Ethics in 1893. His school leadership career began with four years as a principal in Clarksville, a short stint as superintendent at Blanchester, twelve years as superintendent at Washington Court House and four years in Chillicothe, before coming to Youngstown in 1902.

The Youngstown schools went through a great period of growth in programs, enrollments, and buildings. According to Howard C. Aley, in A Heritage to Share,  “manual training, hygiene, special classes for handicapped children, medical inspection, the school nursing system, kindergartens, domestic arts and science and humane and safety first programs were introduced into the schools” (p. 229).

Enrollments and teachers tripled under his tenure, resulted in cramped facilities requiring new construction. High school enrollment quadrupled and South High School was opened and 20 classrooms added to Washington School, where I attended for elementary school. At his retirement, 20,411 students were enrolled. He initiated construction of Grant Elementary as well as plans for junior high schools, an innovation to relieve crowding in the high schools on the north, south, east, and west sides of town.

He also was a state leader in education serving as President of the Central Ohio Teachers Association and the Ohio State Teachers Association. In 1908, he was appointed a State Board School Examiner, the body that granted teaching certificates in that era. He served a five year term ending in 1913, not untroubled when his own credentials were questioned, and settled when he mailed his own certificate to Columbus.

After retirement in 1920, he went on to run for Clerk of Courts in 1922 and 1924. The one possible taint on an otherwise sterling career may have occurred during this time. According to William D. Jenkins in Steel Valley Klan, “East High was downsized and a high school built on the west side named after N. H Chaney, a former superintendent of schools in Youngstown, and a successful candidate for Clerk of Courts on the Klan ticket in 1924.”

The years of 1923-25 were a dark time in Youngstown history. A Klan Konclave drew over 100,000 to the city in 1923 and in that year a number of Klan endorsed candidates were elected, including four Klan candidates to the school board. There was a strong reaction in this period to the number of southern and eastern Europeans moving into the Valley as well as African Americans. The pressure on office holders to accept an endorsement that represented a significant block of votes was great then as now. From what I can learn, some candidates refused such endorsements. I find no evidence apart from the Jenkins quote that Chaney was a Klan member, or received a Klan endorsement. In the November 5, 1924 Vindicator, giving election results, where other candidates are identified as Klan endorsed, there is only this reference to Chaney:

N H Chaney election results

N. H. Chaney died the next year, in 1925, with a number of the schools he had planned under construction. As mentioned above, the one under construction on the west side, originally West High School, was re-named in honor of Chaney. If William Rayen was the pioneer in Youngstown education history, N. H. Chaney was the education leader who developed a school system to serve Youngstown’s rapidly growing population. And that is how my high school alma mater got its name.

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown –Dr. John R. White

John White

Dr. John R. White

I first encounter Dr. John R. White in an Introduction to Anthropology class at Youngstown State, probably in 1975. He was a large presence, physically, as well as in terms of charisma. When I knew him, he had a big bushy beard and hair, not unlike the picture here. He was one of the most riveting lecturers at Youngstown and one of the reasons I minored in Anthropology, despite the fact that I think I earned no better than a “B” in any of his classes while earning “A’s” in most of the others.

As I’ve mentioned in some posts, I arrived at college fresh out of the Jesus movement as a committed believer (still am, but hopefully more thoughtful and mature about that). Perhaps having studied various cultures and seen religion at its worst as well as best, he didn’t share my commitments. We talked, we disagreed (usually after class) but he always said what he thought, allowing me to do likewise. I learned a great deal along the way, that has shaped me to this day. His course on Native Americans, who he studied extensively, opened my eyes both to the beauty in their culture, and the horrendous ways we violated treaties and stole land from those who were here before us. He helped open my eyes to ways we had not lived up to our proclaimed ideals of “liberty and justice for all.” And I discovered that we can learn from people very different from us, even those with whom we have disagreements.

And then I graduated. And I have to say I did not follow Dr. White’s career until I began writing about Youngstown. I discovered that he had a large presence in the city, even when he had the opportunity to leave for more prestigious academic opportunities. He published over one hundred academic articles and books. He won Distinguished Professor awards in 1979, 1981, 1985, and 2005, and numerous other awards. He served as the department chair of Anthropology and Sociology from 1995 until 2005, when he became an emeritus professor.

His name comes up in connection with a number of the historic sites around Youngstown, including the Hopewell Furnace along Yellow Creek, the Mill Creek Furnace in Mill Creek Park, and the Mercer Furnace. He organized a group of students to try to identify the original site of the William Holmes McGuffey home in Coitsville. He was involved in excavations at Lanterman’s Mill, the Austin Log House, and Hubbard House. He even led the excavation and restoration of the Old Stone Bridge at Youngstown State in 2005.

He was a stage presence in productions both at Youngstown State and the Youngstown Playhouse.His credits included Guys and Dolls, Three Penny Opera, The Grapes of Wrath, and Lysistrata. Perhaps one of his most remembered roles was as John Brown in a production at Harpers Ferry, where the real John Brown attempted to seize the U.S. Arsenal. My suspicion is that if it had been Dr. White, he might have succeeded!

He came up when I was writing about the Fresh Air Camp, which he served as co-director for four years. The kids loved “Big John” and he had a lifelong impact on many of them. He wrote a book for children, Hands On Archaeologystill in print, and loved sharing his love for a good “dig” with children of all ages.

I was saddened to learn that I’d missed my chance to see my old professor. John R. White passed away on August 22, 2009, at the age of 72 from complications of Parkinson’s disease. He had been involved in the ongoing dig at the Mercer blast furnace, and had planned to dig there on the Saturday he passed away.

If I were to see him, I would thank him for opening my eyes to how other cultures are just different, and embody unique qualities of beauty. I would thank him for teaching me how I could learn from someone with whom I differed and for modelling the passionate pursuit of what he cared about. And I would thank him for staying in Youngstown when so many of us left. While my writing may help us remember the rich heritage of our home town, he helped us literally discover it, particularly the iron-making history at our city’s roots.

Thank you, Dr. White.

Sources: John White Obituary

YSU Professor Loved YSU Until His Death,” The Vindicator, August 25, 2009