Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Pat Bilon

Did you know that when E. T. wanted to phone home, he wanted to call Youngstown? At least that was the case for the actor who played E.T.

He was able to play the part because he was 2 foot 10 inches tall and weighed 45 pounds. The E.T. suit, at 40 pounds weighed almost as much as he did. E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982) was the second movie in which he appeared. The year before, in 1981, he had a part in Under the Rainbow, alongside Chevy Chase, Carrie Fisher, and Eve Arden.

Michael Patrick “Pat” Bilon was born August 29, 1947 and grew up on the West side of Youngstown. His parents were Michael and Esther Patrick Bilon and they lived on South Osborn, off of Mahoning Avenue. He graduated from Ursuline High School in 1965 and then studied speech and drama at Youngstown State, graduating in 1972.

Before his two movie roles, he worked a variety of jobs around Youngstown. He was a bouncer at Wedgewood Lanes Orange Room. He hosted a weekly Ukrainian Radio Hour music show on WKTL radio in Struthers and was the WKBN Kid in their radio and TV promotions. Then he got a job as a radio dispatcher for the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Department. He even participated in undercover operations. Captain Steve Terlecky once said of him, “I’d like to have a dozen more like him. He does a hell of a job for me.”

He was active at St. Anne’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Austintown. He taught CCD and coached the basketball team for St. Anne’s school. He was also District 5 director for the Little People of America. It was at a national convention for the organization in 1979 that he was recruited for the part of “Little Pat” in the movie Under the Rainbow. That, in turn, led to the E.T. role.

Sadly, his fame was brief. In 1983 he contracted pneumonia. An infection followed and he was admitted to St. Elizabeth’s on the afternoon of January 26, 1983. He died the next morning at 1:08 am, at age 35. He was buried in Calvary Cemetery, mere blocks from his childhood home.

Although he was small in stature and short in lifespan, he was big not only on the silver screen but also around the city. He had to be impressive to succeed as a bouncer and in undercover operations. His faith, his church, and his ethnic community were important to him. He raised money for various local organizations. He never saw his size as a disability but showed how much Little People were capable of. Doesn’t he sound like a guy who grew up in Youngstown?

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Perlee Brush

One of the first things to be done after the very beginnings of a settlement was to build a school and hire a teacher. This was the case in what was then Youngstown Township, where the first school was established by 1805 or sooner. It was a one room log cabin that might have been something like that above (I cannot find any actual renderings) built on Central Square. Most sources say that it was on the site of the Civil War Soldiers Monument.

The first teacher to be hired was Perlee Brush. We know he was teaching by the fall of 1806 because of an account statement dated October 6, 1806 by Robert Montgomery, who lived just east of the village. Brush had obtained from him cloth for a coat and pants for his teaching clothing, and a subsequent purchase on October 17 of thread, linen, and leather for shirts and shoes. This likely represented a good portion of his salary.

Perlee Brush was no mere school teacher. Like many early settlers in the Youngstown area, he was born in Connecticut, a graduate in 1793 of Yale College, and admitted to the bar after reading law in Connecticut. He was fluent in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, as well as trained in the law. When he moved to the Western Reserve, he was admitted to the Trumbull County bar, of which Youngstown was a part at this time.

The school had 20 to 30 students in summer and 40 in the winter. They paid $1.50 a term for the basic instruction in reading, spelling, writing, and arithmetic. The cost of the higher branches of grammar and geography was $2.00 a term.

Brush was succeeded in Youngstown by James Noyes after a few years. He was a “tall, slim man from Connecticut.” In 1818, Jabez Manning took on these duties followed by Phebe Wick, the first woman at this school, in 1820.

Brush, known as “Old Perlee,” not so much for his age as for his wide acquaintanceships, taught in the area for many years in both Hubbard and Poland. He also practiced law in the justice courts and higher courts in Warren.

In 1826, according to Ohio Genealogy Express, he purchased 100 acres of land in Hubbard. A fellow resident gave this description of his farm:

“A small stream, called Yankee Run, flowed through his land, on which there was an old-fashioned carding machine and fulling mill, which he operated for about a year, and then turned his attention to his farm.”

He lived by himself on the farm until, late in life and in failing health, he was cared for by a neighbor. He died in 1852 at the age of 84. By this time, schools had sprung up throughout the area. Public education would come around the middle of the century. Two years after Brush’s death, Judge William Rayen left a Bequest for a public high school, and in 1866, The Rayen School opened. But it all started with “Old Perlee” Brush, who brought his academic training to lowly one-room schoolhouses in the Youngstown area, setting many of the first generation of children in the village on the path to become Youngstown’s future leaders.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Mary Wells Lawrence

By Wells Rich Greene – From my own personal collection called Braniff Flying Colors Collection., CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

“Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz,”

“Quality is Job One”

“I Love New York.”

Many of us will readily recognize those ad campaigns for Alka-Seltzer, Ford, and New York City. What we may not know is that the woman who was responsible for some of the most successful ads in advertising history grew up in Youngstown. She was the woman behind the end of plain planes in her Braniff airlines campaign that included the “Braniff Strip” Superbowl ads. Her team recommended painting the planes in colorful pastels. She was the first woman CEO of a major advertising agency traded on the Big Board of the New York Stock Exchange. In 2020. she was awarded the Cannes Lion Lifetime Achievement, the Lion of St. Mark–the pinnacle of advertising awards. All from a beginning in Youngstown.

This is Women’s History Month, and so it seemed fitting to recognize a famous woman from Youngstown. Mary Wells Lawrence was born Mary Georgene Berg on May 25, 1928. Her father was a furniture maker. From an early age, her mother enrolled her in elocution, music, dance, and drama lessons leading to a lifelong love of theatre, a key element in her advertising work. After a year in New York at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater in New York at 17, she went on to Carnegie Institute of Technology to study merchandising. There, she met her first husband, Burt Wells, an industrial design student. They married and moved to Youngstown, Mary taking a job as a copywriter, the text part of advertising, for McKelvey’s.

A year later, she was the fashion advertising manager for Macy’s in New York. That year, she divorced Burt, who she remarried in 1954. In 1953, she joined an established firm, McCann-Erickson as copywriter and head of the copy group. In 1957, she moved to a more innovative firm, Doyle, Dane, Bernbach as a Vice President after a brief stint with Lennan and Newell. The late 50’s represented a period of prosperity and the explosion of television as a media, and her career took off with it. Then in 1964 Jack Tinker, who she had worked with at McCann-Erickson formed a new firm with Richard Rich and Stuart Greene, and recruited Mary. Their first client was Alka-Seltzer, and Mary and her team came up with the “No Matter What Shape Your Stomach’s In” campaign, which was hugely successful.

The mid-60’s represented a time of major change in her life. She and Burt were divorced for a second time in 1965. Her firm landed the Braniff account mentioned earlier and she landed Harding Lawrence, Braniff’s CEO as her second husband, marrying him in 1967. They were married until his death in 2002. Jack Tinker and Partners made a major blunder in offering her the job of president with a significant pay increase, but without the title, believing having a woman would undermine confidence in the firm. She left to start her own agency, along with Rich and Greene, forming Wells Rich Greene with her as CEO. After she married Lawrence, they had to shed the Braniff account, but there other accounts included TWA, Benson & Hedges, Proctor and Gamble, Bic (“Flick your Bic), Miles Laboratories, Purina, and Midas (“Trust the Midas Touch”). By 1969, she was the highest paid advertising executive. In 1976, the firm had billings of $187 million.

She retired in 1990, selling the firm to a French firm, BDDP. Sadly, that firm ceased operations in 1998. They lacked Mary’s genius. In 2008, she joined Joni Evans, Lesley Stahl, Liz Smith, and Peggy Noonan in forming wowowow.com, a website for women, refocused as purewow.com, aimed at younger women in 2010. In 2020, Mansion Global reported the listing of her Park Avenue mansion for $27.95 million. She is living at the time of this writing. All in all, not bad for a woman who got her start in Youngstown.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — George L. Oles

New York Tribune, January 8, 1922, p. 54.

It began as a joke. Then it turned serious, and one of the more unusual political stories unfolded in Youngstown’s colorful political history. George L. Oles grew up in Riceville, Pennsylvania and after setting up fruit, grocery, and meat markets in a number of different towns came to Youngstown in 1907. He took over the building of the former Youngstown Opera House on the southwest corner of Central Square and opened his Fulton Fruit and Meat Market. His ads appeared every Thursday in The Vindicator. He touted the superiority of the food in his market, his prices, and commented on the matters of the day. He wrote all the copy himself. A New York Times article compared his ads to Billy Sunday, a contemporary evangelist, for their “slam-bang statements.” His ads were one of the first things to which people turned. Here’s one example from June 23, 1921:

The campaign that began as a joke started in the summer of 1921 after Mayor Fred Warnock won his party’s nomination for another term in office. Some of his ads had expressed dissatisfaction with what he saw as the “machine politics” of both parties in the city and that he thought he could do as well. He first declared his intent to run on August 4, 1921 declaring that women should vote for Mayor Warnock or Mr. Doeright in the primary taking place the following Tuesday, so they can vote for him as an independent on November 8 to defeat them. He calls himself “The Next Mayor of Youngstown.”

He made his declaration the following week. This necessitated him moving into the Tod Hotel to establish residency in Youngstown in time to register as a candidate. He explains all this in this ad from August 11, 1921:

He announced he will work forgo his salary (which he was not able to do because that could be construed as a bribe) and announced his commitment to clean up vice and dirty politics and bootlegging (this was prohibition). He focused his appeal on women voters (who had just recently won the right to vote) and held meetings with women’s groups all over the city, introduced by his wife.

When November 8 came, the amazing happened. This “Potato Peddler” running as an Independent on a Reform platform won by 459 votes over the incumbent Fred Warnock. (He was the only Independent elected as Mayor in Youngstown until Jay Williams ran as an Independent for his first term in 2005. He ran as a Democrat his second term.) He left for Florida with his wife immediately to avoid office-seekers, returning shortly before he took office on January 3, 1922. On his first day of office he informed city workers he expected them to work eight hours or leave and set strict rules forbidding police from drinking and accepting favors.

Like many other reformers, he found that he was up against entrenched interests in the city. His life was threatened. City council resisted his efforts. By the end of June, he was fed up and tendered his resignation, effective at 12:00 am Saturday July 1, 1922. That evening a rally of citizens on Central Square, and later at his home asked him to reconsider. He did and asked for his resignation to be returned at 9:00 am Saturday. Council refused, arguing his resignation had already taken effect. Council president William G. Reese was sworn in as Mayor. In 1923, he lost by a landslide to the Klan endorsed candidate, Charles Scheible, during the heyday of Klan activity in the Valley.

Oles went back to his profitable market, It suffered a fire in 1934, but he rebuilt and continued to serve the Valley. In 1945, having purchased a shipment of potatoes at a favorable price, he donated $500 immediately when he received a request for assistance from the Infantile Paralysis (Polio) Drive. By the 1940’s the market was called Oles’ and in 1948, George L. Oles celebrated 50 years as a grocer with this ad:

Surveying the newspapers for ads for Oles’, I noticed the rise of chains and other grocers that may explain this somewhat cryptic ad that appeared on September 9, 1948. As far as I can determine, this was the last ad to appear in The Vindicator.

I cannot find out anything else about George L. Oles after this date. I would love to know how his story ended. He pulled off an amazing outsider victory for mayor in 1921. He had a passion for good government that seemed to reflect his passion for good business. His market and the ads he wrote each week were a Youngstown institution. It sounds like he was an amazingly generous man. Reading between the lines, I suspect that as Youngstown grew and people moved further from downtown and competitors arose including grocery chains, it became harder to sustain his business. I wish I knew the rest of the story….

Addendum: Tips from a couple readers added to this story. Oles lived on Youngstown Poland Road in Poland. His estate later became the site of Byzantine Catholic Central with his house becoming the home for the Sisters. It is likely that Oles’ health was declining around the time of this last ad. He leased out the deparments to employees. He died on July 15, 1952 and was buried at Tod Homestead Cemetery.

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. John C. Melnick

Vintage exam (and surgery) table

There was a time in my childhood when I wanted to be a doctor. I think it had to do with my admiration for my pediatrician, Dr. James Birch. When I was very young, he used to make house calls with his black leather medical bag. I loved the wood toys in his office. It turns out he was one of the many illustrious medical professionals that served the needs of Youngstown area residents over the years from Henry Manning, Timothy Woodbridge, and Charles Dutton in the middle of the nineteenth century to Carlos Booth, who in 1898 became the first doctor in the country to use an automobile to make house calls.

One of those illustrious physicians was Dr. John C. Melnick. He was a Youngstown native, son of Arseny and Rose Melnick. He graduated from The Rayen School in 1946 and Youngstown College in 1949. Before entering medical school at Western Reserve University, he completed a graduate degree in Education and a one year Research Fellowship in biochemistry. In 1955, he received his medical degree. He then did an internship and residency in Radiology in Youngstown followed by a year as a clinical fellow in Radiology at the University of Cincinnati.

Dr, John C. Melnick

He returned to his home town, where he practiced medicine and contributed to the community for the rest of his life. He was a staff radiologist for Southside and Northside hospitals, Eventually he was named Chief of the Diagnostic Imaging Department and Director of the Department of Nuclear Medicine. He discovered a rare bone disease in 1966, which was named in his honor the Melnick Needles Syndrome.

He was a past president of the Mahoning County Medical Society. The Society celebrated its centennial in 1972, and as editor of their newsletter, he contributed a number of historical articles. These were eventually published as A History of Medicine in Youngstown and Mahoning County in 1973.

The Green Catuedral

From this time forward, one of his efforts was to research and preserve both medical history and the history of Mill Creek Park. In 1976, he published his history and description of the park, The Green Cathedral, which remains in print and may be purchased at Fellows Gardens. It is my Mill Creek Park Bible! It arose from his lifelong love of the park, a love shared with his parents and children. He wrote in the Introduction to The Green Cathedral:

The author was introduced to Mill Creek Park when just a toddler, enjoying family picnics, hiking, boating and fishing with his two brothers, Arseny and Al, and his two sisters. Mary and Helen. His parents, during their courtship, picnicked, boated and swam in Lake Glacier. As a young boy he spent many a summer day with neighborhood friends, walking several miles to the park for a day of enjoyment. Food was cooked for lunches, then the hills, ravines and rocks were challenged, climbed and conquered, much as Mount Everest but not quite as high. During his college days, many hours were spent studying with nature’s beauty as a backdrop. The Lake Newport vista near daffodil meadow was a favorite spot as was Lookout Point at the top of the Rock Garden.

John C. Melnick, The Green Cathedral, (unnumbered page)

How many of us can identify with his story? In addition to his book, John Melnick supported a museum bearing his name focused on the history of the park and Fellows Riverside Gardens, located in the D.D. and Velma Davis Visitor Center. He also honored his father with contributions that helped fund the Arseny Melnick observation tower overlooking Lake Glacier, where his parents spent so many of their hours during their courtship.

Another museum honored his mother Rose. Melnick attributed his decision to go to medical school and his success in medical practice to her encouragement and support. Over the years, as he researched the Valley’s medical history, he also collected a number of medical artifacts from the day books of Dr. Henry Manning, where he recorded the patients he saw, his diagnosis, treatment, and fee, to medical and surgical instruments, and medical equipment including an iron lung used to treat polio to a portable X-ray machine. For years the “museum” was stored in crates in rented buildings, and later at Northeast Ohio Medical University in Rootstown. Melnick wanted his museum in Youngstown. In 1999, he reached an agreement to buy the old IBM building across from the Arms Museum from Youngstown State, and the Rose Melnick Medical Museum opened in this location. In 2016, the museum exchanged places with WYSU, which moved into Melnick Hall while the Melnick Medical Museum moved into Cushwa Hall, the home of the Bitonte College of Health and Human Services. The collection includes a Civil War amputation kit, clothing worn by nurses and doctors during different periods, and covers medical and nursing practice, dentistry, and pharmacy. Currently museum hours are suspended due to COVID-19. When open, admission is free.

Dr. John C. Melnick died on January 15, 2008 after an extended illness. But his contributions to medicine and his efforts to preserve the history of his two great loves, the practice of medicine and Mill Creek Park both live on in publications and museums, the latter bearing the names of his mother and father. It is to be hoped that future generations will build on the efforts of Dr. Melnick at both of these museums, perhaps the best way to recognize his contribution to Youngstown.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Man Who Built Commercial Shearing

Many remember when Commercial Shearing and Stamping (later Commercial Intertech) was a great Youngstown company. In 1975, the New York Times reported them 790th in the top 1000 companies but 16th most profitable and in the midst of building a $3.3 million foundry that would double their capacity. This was months after Charles B. Cushwa, Jr. had passed away. At that time it had 21 plants in the U.S. and abroad and employed 3,200 people.

Less is probably known about the man who built that great company. Charles Benton Cushwa, Sr. was born into a steelmaking family. Born in Williamsport, Maryland on November 15, 1878, he grew up in Pittsburgh where his father was superintendent of the Republic Iron Works. He started working there as an office boy, then bill clerk, assistant to the general superintendent and finally superintendent.

He came to Youngstown in 1901 to take the general superintendent position at Youngstown Iron & Steel Works, sold in 1918 to Sharon Steel Hoop Company. In 1920, he went to work with Brier Hill Steel Company as general superintendent and later general manager of their sheet mills in Niles and Warren. After Youngstown Sheet and Tube bought them out in 1923, he joined a group who bought out for $100,000 the Carnick brothers, the previous owners of Commercial. By 1934 he was president of the company.

Their business grew steadily during World War 2 as a supplier of fabricated steel parts for the Army and Navy–things like landing mat plates, Bailey bridges (a type of pre-fabricated truss bridge to quickly bridge rivers and capable of bearing heavy loads), as well as pontoon bridges and floats for submarine nets. They supplied critical components for underground water supplies and sewer systems, hydraulic machinery and storage tanks for liquid petroleum gas. One of their contracts in the war was for 15 inch semi-armor piercing bombs.

In 1948, civic leaders wanted to honor his 60 years in the steel industry with a big gala. Instead, he went to work at the plant, had dinner at home, and a quiet evening reading. He was a devout Catholic, supporting building campaigns for two parishes, serving as past president of the Holy Name Society, helping establish the Father Kane Camp at Lake Milton, and assisting in the founding of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, for which he was chairman of the board of advisors at the time of his death. He also donated funds for the construction of a science building at Notre Dame, beginning a family connection with that institution. He died on December 8, 1951 of a heart attack in the early afternoon after going to morning mass and working in his office.

His son, Charles B. Cushwa, Jr. (one of the candy butchers I featured last week) succeeded him and served as president until April 24, 1975 when he passed away. The family contributed a major gift to Youngstown State prior to his death helping to fund the construction of Cushwa Hall, at that time the home of the College of Applied Science and Technology. Charles B. Cushwa, Jr’s estate included a contribution which helped establish the Charles and Margaret Hall Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, a major research center on the Notre Dame campus that continues to contribute to Catholic scholarship to this day.

Leadership of Commercial Shearing passed out of the family with Charles B. Cushwa, Jr.’s death. Both of his sons, Charles III and William worked in high positions in the company. In 1988 Charles B. Cushwa III went to head up Youngstown State’s Cushwa Center for Industrial Development, named in honor of his father, helping young entrepreneurs start small businesses. In 2003, Charles passed, and in 2020, his brother William.

Commercial has also passed, except for a remnant that carries its name and manufacturing heritage. Parker Hannifin bought out Commercial in 2000. In 2016, Parker Hannifin announced the closure of its remaining Gear Pump operation, with the loss of 137 jobs. There is a remnant of the company operating today as Commercial Metal Forming, making tank heads, supplying 65 percent of the market. with 175 employees at its three facilities, the largest of which is still in Youngstown.

Charles B. Cushwa, Sr. built a company from a $100,000 investment to a multi-billion dollar company. He and his family invested in key Mahoning Valley institutions in religion, higher education, and health care. His steady leadership of both his own company and of many boards fostered flourishing enterprises in many forms. He was another of Youngstown’s great builders, but one modest enough to prefer an evening at home to being feted by the who’s who of the city.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Howard C. Aley

Photo Source: Howard C. Aley, A Heritage to Share. Youngstown: The Bicentennial Commission of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Ohio, 1975.

I never knew Howard C. Aley, but hardly a week goes by where I don’t reference his A Heritage to Share, his bicentennial history of Youngstown and Mahoning County. He traces the history of the Mahoning Valley from prehistoric times up until 1975. For most of the time from Youngstown’s beginnings, he recounts the history year by year, interspersing feature articles on events and key figures in the area’s history. Whenever I write about Youngstown history, I often start with two sources. Joseph Butler for anything up to the early 1920’s and Howard C. Aley for the whole time up until 1975. Sometimes, browsing through Aley’s book inspires an article. At other times, I ask, “what did Aley say?” While he was alive, I doubt anyone knew more about Youngstown history. Today, as I was browsing his history, I thought it would be interesting to tell his story.

Fittingly, Howard Aley was a lifelong Youngstown resident. He was born on January 12, 1911 to William and Rose Giering Aley. He experienced an illness during his youth that confined him at home. His parents gave him a typewriter to “amuse” him, and the writer was born. He graduated from South High School in 1931 and enrolled at Youngstown College, serving as an editor of The Jambar. He began a career as a teacher in 1935 that lasted until his retirement in 1974.

The series on Valley history

He taught history for seventh through eleventh graders for a year at the Rotary Home for Crippled Children. He began teaching at the Adams School in 1936. In the 1940’s he published a series of books on Valley history used in schools in a tri-county area. They won a Freedoms Foundation Award. He won a second Freedoms Foundation Award in 1960. He moved to Wilson High School in 1953, teaching there for 21 years until 1974. Former students would come up to him, asking if he remembered them, and he almost always did. They were eager to keep in touch with him because of his interest in them and because of how he instilled a love of historical knowledge.

He was a radio and TV personality in the Valley. His TV shows ran under the titles of “It Happened Here” and “Telerama” and “Footnote.” He was also active in a number of Valley organizations including the Monday Musical Club, Youngstown Hospital Association, Aut Mori Grotto and the Youngstown Charity Horse Show. He also edited “Chimes,” the monthly newsletter of Trinity United Methodist Church where he was a member. He loved the Canfield Fair and wrote a centennial history of it in 1946. He served as a president of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

His home in Boardman served as a kind of private historical archive. In some recent correspondence with a former neighbor, he mentioned that Aley had a library of several thousand volumes that spilled over into the garage. One summer, Aley found a house in Canfield with newspapers back to the turn of the century. The neighbor spent a summer working with him clipping articles for Aley’s archives. His obituary states that he could find the answer to any question about people or events in the Mahoning Valley in a matter of minutes.

My copy of A Heritage to Share

A Heritage to Share was a fitting capstone to his career as “historian of the Valley.” Completed in time for the celebrations of the national Bicentennial in 1976, it is a treasure trove. It is out of print. My son found a copy for me at a used bookstore. I never got to meet Howard C. Aley, who died in 1983, but I sometimes imagine him turning to me and saying, “do you know why…?” Thank you, Mr. Aley for all you did to tell the Valley’s story.

Source: “Howard C. Aley; Valley Historian,” Youngstown Vindicator, July 14, 1983, pp. 1-2.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — William O. Brown of the Vindicator

William O. Brown as a young man

The beginnings of The Vindicator and its history is wrapped up in two families, the Maag family and the Brown family. William O. Brown often seems to be left out of the histories I’ve seen of The Vindicator, I think, because he was never one of the publishers. But he was the key link of the passage of Vindicator ownership and leadership from the Maag to Brown families.

He was the grandson of Nathaniel E. Brown, a founder of the Brown-Bonnell Iron Works in Youngstown. Brown himself was born in Portsmouth, Ohio March 29, 1876 and moved with his family to Youngstown in 1878. The family lived in Brown’s grandfather’s home. He graduated from Rayen High School in 1897 and worked with the Ohio Steel Company. He began working at The Vindicator in 1902 and on September 9, 1903, married the daughter of the publisher, William F. Maag, Sr., Alma M. Maag. Brown’s marriage formed the link in this publishing dynasty.

William O. Brown started his work at The Vindicator in the advertising department. While working in advertising he worked tirelessly with large advertising accounts including General Motors and established the paper’s reputation with advertisers. At one point, he was called “Ohio’s Amon Carter.” Amon Carter was a famous Texas publisher. During World War I he served as a captain and ordinance officer in the National Guard.

He became business manager, treasurer and secretary upon William F. Maag, Sr.’s death in 1924. During World War II, he demonstrated his business acumen in making sure the paper always had a good supply of newsprint, which often had to be transported from Canada. In 1945 he became president of The Vindicator while continuing as business manager until his son William J. Brown took over the position in 1955.

Brown had a variety of interests. He was a champion pistol shot and treasurer of the Youngstown Rifle and Revolver Club. He also was a vociferous reader, especially of Dickens, Rider Haggard, and Conan Doyle. He was a foodie, and loved discovering small restaurants with special dishes.

William O. Brown later in life. Photo from The Vindicator, February 23, 1956.

Late in life he had serious heart problems and was confined to his home after December 1954. He died on February 23, 1956. When Brown came to The Vindicator it had a circulation of 15,000. At the time of his death, daily circulation was 100,000 and Sundays 140,000.

When William F. Maag, Jr. died in 1968, William J. Brown became publisher. He passed away in 1981.  Betty J. H. Brown Jagnow became publisher and president and her son, Mark Brown general manager. They continued to serve in these roles until The Vindicator ended publication on August 31, 2019, to be succeeded by a new Vindicator owned by the Warren Tribune Chronicle.

William O. Brown began three generations of Brown family involvement with The Vindicator. He helped build The Vindicator into a nationally known paper and his tenure spanned 54 of his family’s 117 year history with the paper. An editorial tribute appearing the day after his death said of him:

The Vindicator was his life and in more than half a century there were few days when he was not at his desk. The men and women who get out the paper were all his friends, and even in his last illness he ran the risk of setbacks to be among them.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The James Gibson Family

Gibson family plats from a map of Mahoning County, 1860, Library of Congress

When I was dating the woman who is now my wife. She lived in Brownlee Woods while I was on the West side. I-680 ended at South Avenue when we first started dating. When the rest of it opened, I was able to get to her house in under 10 minutes! Until then, I often took shortcuts to avoid all the stoplights on South Avenue. Gibson Street to Roxbury to Zedaker to Midlothian got me there. I also remember playing Gibson Heights Presbyterian Church on East Dewey in our church softball league.

These places bear the name of another early Youngstown family, Captain James Gibson, and his descendants, who lived on the land through which Gibson Street passes. Captain James Gibson was born in 1740 on County Tyrone, Ireland, and came to the United States in 1760, settling in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. The “Captain” came from his leadership of a ranger company guarding the frontier from neighboring native tribes. He fought in the Revolutionary War. In 1799 Gibson, his wife, and four sons came to Youngstown, staying by a spring that was eventually called Gibson Spring, near what is now Poland Avenue. They moved on to Warren for a couple weeks, but finding no desirable land, returned to the location, purchasing 289 1/4 acres from John Young in Great Lot 43 which ran south from the Mahoning River just east of South Avenue to the Youngstown border. They built a temporary log cabin while they worked to clear the heavily forested land to farm it. His wife Anna Belle was a charter member of First Presbyterian Church. (Source: Captain James Gibson and His Wife, Anna Belle and Their Descendants Pioneers of Youngstown, O.)

Samuel Gibson

James died in 1816 and Anna Belle in 1834. When Oak Hill Cemetery opened they were re-interred in that cemetery. Their son Robert Gibson, who had lived with them, continued to reside on the farm, eventually building his own home. Eventually two of his children, Samuel and John owned their own portions within the plat, inherited from their father. You can see their properties above on the 1860 map above. John on the southern most property and Samuel owned two connected properties. He worked on his parents farm while going to school, then taught school at the Salt Springs school, and then returned to farming.

Hon. William T. Gibson

One of Samuel’s sons, William T. Gibson also distinguished himself in Youngstown. Born in 1850, he attended Youngstown City schools, and then Western Reserve University, graduating in 1876. He went on to read law with Youngstown Judge Arrel, being admitted to the practice of law in 1878. He served as city solicitor from 1896 to 1899, then as Mahoning County prosecuting attorney. In 1903 he became Youngstown’s mayor. He was a senior partner in Gibson & Lowry, and president of the Youngstown Savings and Loan. (Source: “William T. Gibson,” 20th Century History of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Ohio, and Representative Citizens.

The family story of the Gibsons is a familiar one in Youngstown history. Early settlers become an established family and eventually pillars of the community and civic leaders. They bought and cleared the land and established prosperous farms. One (the fourth generation in the city) was even a Mayor of Youngstown. Remember that when you drive on Gibson or hear the name.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Buechner Family

Buechner Hall. Photo from Facebook Page

When my wife and I were students at Youngstown State. We had friends who lived in Buechner Hall at 620 Bryson Street. On one hand, the lobby featured beautiful wood paneling and comfortable furniture, a bit like one would find in your grandmother’s parlor. That’s as far as guests could go, especially gentlemen guests. This was, and is, a privately operated residence hall for women, and it was a place where women on an urban campus could feel secure. The residence hall had its own food and a curfew. Yet the women who lived here generally seemed to accept the restrictions and overall were happy to live there.

Photo source: August 3, 1940 Vindicator

Buechner Hall was built in 1940-1941 to provide affordable lodging for both working women and female students at Youngstown College. Construction was funded by a $2 million bequest from Lucy R. Buechner, given in memory of her mother, Elvira Buechner. A non-profit corporation, the Lucy R. Buechner Corporation was established and continues to use funds from the bequest for building operations, keeping housing costs at an affordable price.

Lucy R. Buechner was the daughter of an early physician and part of a family that invested significantly in Youngstown philanthropy. Her father, William L. Buechner, was born in Reinheim, Hesse, Darmstadt, Germany on December 3, 1830. He received his medical training at the University of Giessen, graduating in 1853. He emigrated to the United States that same year, living briefly in Pittsburgh before moving to Youngstown in 1854. In 1858, he married Elvira Heiner, daughter of Squire Heiner, an early resident of Youngstown. Two children followed, William H., who became a celebrated local surgeon in his own right, and Lucy.

He was recognized for his medical excellence by honorary degrees from Western Reserve University, and later the Rush Medical College of Chicago. He was one of the leaders in the efforts to establish the City Hospital (later North Side Hospital) in Youngstown and served on its staff until his death. He served both on the Board of Heath and the Board of Education. He was also a shrewd investor with investments in stocks of several of the major iron and steel companies of his day, and this established the family’s fortune. Tragically, he died on September 10, 1904, during a driving accident with an unmanageable horse in Mill Creek Park. When he died, at the request of the Mayor, businesses and the Common Pleas Court closed.

His son, William H. Buechner followed in his father’s footsteps in pursuing a medical career. Born in 1864, he graduated from The Rayen High School in 1882, and Western Reserve University in 1885 with his M.D. He pursued additional studies at the University of Pennsylvania in 1886. He went on to work as an assistant of a famous German surgeon, Professor Von Volkman in Halle, Germany, returning to Youngstown in 1890. He was on staff as a surgeon at the City Hospital of Youngstown, performing the first prostatectomy in the city, a delicate operation, according to Dr. John Melnick. He died on December 14, 1920 following a long battle with pneumonia in an age before antibiotics.

The family had all lived at a stately home at the corner of Champion and East Federal Street. After her brother’s death, it was said that Lucy was rarely seen, and then only on her porch in a black dress until complications from an illness ended her life on September 10, 1926. Following her death it was learned that she had given the bulk of her fortune to establish a home for “student girls” and “those who are self-supporting and are engaged in gainful occupation.”

According to a story in The Jambar, some Buechner residents believe Lucy’s ghost haunts the residence. My wife and I don’t recall any such stories. Whatever is the case, Buechner Hall continues to serve Youngstown State’s students, with the restrictions on men visiting rooms that existed when we were there. Typically, there have been wait lists for rooms. Lucy’s gift, and the investments of the Buechner family have left a lasting memorial to Elvira. One can’t help but think she was an extraordinary wife and mother!