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 — 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–Michael J. McGovern, “The Puddler Poet”

Michael J. McGovern, Public Domain.

On March 17, we are all Irish (or at least most of us) even if we are not. In that spirit, I thought I would write about one of Youngstown’s most illustrious Irish residents, Michael J. McGovern, also known as “The Puddler Poet.” Puddlers had a special function in the mills, They stirred pig iron that was heated in the presence of oxidizing elements in a furnace, converting it into wrought iron. He worked in the old “Siberia Mill” of the Cartwright-McCurdy company. When not working, he wrote poems about work in the mills and other subjects. Many of them were hard-edge social critique of the times, for example “A Rythm Upon Our Trusts”:

This country is o’erran by trusts
And each within its sphere adjusts
Production and the price of that
Which it controls, not caring what

The people it plucks may say
For trusts possess the right of way
On all our great commercial trails
To crush the slow industrial snails
The trusts economy is seen
In big combines which seal the doom
Of those who live half way between.

Michael McGovern was born in Ireland in October of 1847 in the townland of Castlefield, near Williamstown, County Galway, to John Govern and Bridget Flynn. McGovern was educated in one of the secret “Hedge Schools” learning the basics including Latin. He sailed to England in 1866, finding work in Sheffield City, Yorkshire, as a steel mill laborer. He married Anne Murphy in 1872, around the same time he began secret efforts with the Irish Republican Brotherhood. By 1880, he had to flee England, with Anne following soon after.

He found work as a puddler at Catasauqua Steel and Iron Company in Fullerton, Pennsylvania around 1882. He brought his family to Youngtown around 1890, living there for the rest of his life. It was here that he began writing poetry, another way to express his advocacy for labor beside his membership in the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers. Here is another of his poems, “The Puddler’s View of Present Systems”:

The plutocrats, the goldbugs, and the tariff lords who rule us all;
The press and the politicians that will tell us lies to fool us all;
The ministers and bishops who e'er preach on Christ and pray for all;
The warriors who kill the foes that would invade and slay us all;
The hoboes and the millionaires who never work at all, at all;
Would one and all be starving did the workingman not toil for all.

In 1899 The Vindicator published a book of his poems, Labor Lyrics and Other Poems. He contributed poetry regularly to The Vindicator and The Youngstown Telegram. He was also an accomplished landscape artist, even though he had no formal training.

He never forgot Ireland, returning in 1904 for a three month visit, and a number of poems celebrated his Irish heritage, including “Welcome A.O.H. Men” (A.O.H. stands for the Ancient Order of Hibernians):

Welcome men of Irish blood,
With open arms we meet you
In the name of Irish Nationhood
And faith we hospitably greet you.
We welcome you with all the love
And friendship men shroud owe each other,
And hope each grasp we give may prove
The honest pressure of a Brother.

For Ireland’s triumphs and her woes:
For virtues that enhance her glory;
For wrongs inflicted by her foes
That go to make the blackest story.
For love of Freedom, –always her’s;
Which love, may yet its crown accord her
Ceud Mile failte –Visitors –
True members of her 'Ancient Order'

Michael and Anne celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary in 1930. McGovern wrote poetry up to the time of his death on April 2, 1933 of a heart attack at age 85. His funeral service was held at the old St. Columba Cathedral and he is buried in Calvary Cemetery. Anne followed him in death in 1935.

I’ll close with one more Michael McGovern poem, “St. Patrick’s Day”:

Again arrives that holy day,
As Earth its yearly circuits makes;
That much revered St Patrick’s Day
That day of days which e'er awakes
Within each heart of Irish race.
A Christian thought- a loving thrill:
When kindled memories kindly trace
Some verdant vale; some shamrocked hill,
From which the thinker had to roam
Upon this rugged earth's highway
That day of days for Irishmen
With blessed traditions comes again
All hail! St Patrick’s Day.

Michael McGovern is the likeliest candidate for Youngstown’s greatest poet. Fittingly, much of his poetry celebrated the workingman and his labor.

[If you are interested, Jim Fahy, an Irish journalist has been researching his life and has compiled a 138 page online biography of McGovern.]

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!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Elizabeth Hartman

Elizabeth Hartman, From a publicity still, 1966. Photographer unknown. Public Domain.

The recent passing of renowned actor Sidney Poitier on January 6 of this year reminded many of us from Youngstown of Elizabeth Hartman who played opposite him in A Patch of Blue. In 1966, she received a Best Actress Nomination in the Academy Awards for her role, the youngest actress to do so. I remember how proud all of us were. We’d point to her on the screen or in a news story and say, “She’s from Youngstown!” And she was a slender, freckled redhead with all-American good looks that turned all our heads.

She was born Mary Elizabeth Hartman on December 23, 1943 to Claire (Mullaly) and Bill C. Hartman, a local building contractor. Even while in Boardman High School, she already was gaining notice for her acting, playing Laura in The Glass Menagerie as well as having roles in productions of A Clearing in the Woods and Our Town at the Youngstown Playhouse. She won a statewide award for her role in The Glass Menagerie.

After graduation in 1961, she attended Carnegie Mellon University, known for its theatre program. During summers, she acted with the Kenley Players and at the Cleveland Playhouse, where she had roles in The Mad Woman of Chaillot and Bus Stop. During her time in Pittsburgh, she met her husband Gill Dennis, a future director and screenwriter. They married in 1968.

In 1964, she moved to New York, auditioning for plays, and winning the leading role in Everybody Out, the Castle is Sinking. The play was not a success, but she received recognition and screen tests with MGM and Warner Brothers. That fall, she was offered the role in A Patch of Blue. Sadly, her father died at this time. In addition to her Academy nomination in 1966, she won a Golden Globe award as well as an achievement award from the National Association of Theater Owners.

She played in several major films between 1966 and 1973: The Group, You’re A Big Boy Now, The Beguiled, and the blockbuster Walking Tall in 1973, portraying Pauline Mullins, the wife of Sheriff Bufford Pusser. In 1975, she starred in the Tom Rickman play, Balaam, and played various TV roles over the next years. She began in a touring role of Morning’s at Seven in 1981, but left due to declining mental health. Her last on-screen performance was in a horror spoof, Full Moon High, playing Miss Montgomery. She also did acclaimed voiceovers for Don Bluth’s The Secret of NIMH in 1982. It was her last role.

Elizabeth Hartman had always struggled with depression. In 1978, she spent a year at the Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut. She separated from her husband in 1979 and they divorced in 1984. She moved back to Pittsburgh, continuing to receive treatment for her depression from the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, while working at a local museum. On the morning of June 10, 1987, she called her psychiatrist saying she was very despondent. Later that day, she fell from her fifth floor apartment window to her death. No note was found. She lies at rest back in Youngstown, at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.

She was a brilliant actor, who could “become” a variety of roles. Her brother-in-law, Robert H. Shoop, Jr said of her, ″She had an unbelievable talent. She was able to portray so many people on the stage and yet, she wasn’t like any of them.″ In her New York Times obituary, Elizabeth Hartman is quoted from a 1969 interview, saying, ”That initial success beat me down. It spiraled me into a position where I didn’t belong. I was not ready for that. I suddenly found myself failing.” She rose meteorically, and then the roles slowed down as fickle Hollywood turned to others.

Given her early, meteoric rise, one wonders whether she ever had a chance to figure out who she was beyond her roles. Her struggle throughout her life suggests a physiological condition that the talk therapies of the day could not greatly help. The most effective anti-depressant medications only came online after her death.

One can never answer the questions of “what if?” All we can do is remember Elizabeth Hartman’s artistic excellence and honor her memory. We also can take pride in the local institutions, from high school theatre programs to the Youngstown Playhouse and the Kenley Players, that gave her the opportunity to develop her craft. Seeing those images of her with Sidney Poitier once again reminded me, “she was from Youngstown” but also that we lost her too soon.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown – Rev. James W. Van Kirk

Rev. James W. Van Kirk, Image from screen capture of The Youngstown Vindicator, June 14, 1946 via Google News Archive

He traveled around the world four times in the cause of world peace. He designed the World Peace Flag that was adopted by the League of Nations in 1920. He wrote a Declaration of Interdependence that he read both to President Woodrow Wilson and to the League of Nations on July 4, 1920, the day his flag was raised at the Peace Palace in Geneva, Switzerland. He did all this while serving as a minister in Youngstown, Ohio.

He was born February 27, 1858 in Feed Springs, Ohio and grew up in southeast Ohio. Watching his uncle march off to the Civil War had a profound impact on his life. He fell from a rail fence, and despite seven operations, his right leg had to be amputated. He wore a wooden leg the rest of his life, and in the words of his obituary article, “stamped his way around the world four times on a wooden leg.”

He started working as a plasterer in Canton. Wanting more education, at age 27 he enrolled at Mt. Union College, attended a business college in Canton, and then Boston College and finally Harvard. He returned to Ohio to serve a church in Twinsburg for $500 a year, before coming to Youngstown as the pastor of Grace Methodist Church. He helped erect a new building for the church, helping with much of the lathing and plastering and achieving the goal of dedicating a debt-free church, due in part to his efforts.

He then requested a leave to travel around the world the first time to speak on world peace, talking to school and civic groups wherever he landed. He called himself “Moving Van.” It was during his second trip in 1909 that he drafted his Declaration of Interdependence. He contended that in a world that had shrunk to a neighborhood, we must foster brotherhood to survive. For a third trip, in 1911, he designed a World Peace Flag. The flag has a blue background, the seven colors of the spectrum arranged in a rectangle at the left, with white lines merging into a white bar on a brown circle representing the earth. The stars scattered on the blue field represent members of a World Federation, an effort preceding that of the League of Nations

World Peace Flag

It was this flag that was raised at the Peace Palace of the League of Nations on July 4, 1920 as Van Kirk read his Declaration of Interdependence. The League, a vision of Woodrow Wilson, was formed that year as an intergovernmental organization similar to the United Nations, with the intent of preserving peace between nations after the “war to end all wars.” It must have been the moment of a lifetime for this minister from Youngstown to see the realization of the dream that had already driven him around the world three times.

Sadly, the dream did not last. He was on his last tour in the late 1930’s and barely escaped China when the Japanese invaded. He left behind six trunks of flags and buttons which fell into the hands of the Japanese. They were not interested in world peace at that time. His flag was flown for the last time in 1938 on Central Square. That same year, he published a memoir titled A Life: Stranger Than Fiction. He was honored by a citywide gathering at Trinity Methodist Church.

The following years would not be years of world peace but rather world war. In 1942 on his 84th birthday, he ate milk and crackers for his meal in sympathy with the hungry and starving around the world. He lived to see the end of the war and a new flag, that of the United Nations, in 1945. He died on June 14, 1946 at 5:20 am at South Side Hospital.

It is common these days to hear the phrase “think globally and act locally.” That was James W. Van Kirk–except that he also acted globally. What also strikes me was that for him to act globally as he did, he must have enjoyed local support. One does not do these things alone. It’s obvious that many in the Youngstown community were behind him.

I don’t know if he was at all conscious of Rev. Van Kirk, but in the wake of the Vietnam War in 1975, Jack Cessna, a runner, organized the The Peace Race of Youngstown bringing runners from around the world for a day of “friendship, competition, and understanding.” While Youngstown has not always been a peaceful place, it’s interesting that the efforts of a pastor with a wooden leg and a runner have promoted long term and wide-reaching efforts to promote world peace. I wonder what it would mean to focus on those aspects of our history more?

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. Fordyce

George Lincoln Fordyce, Photo from The Youngstown Vindicator, June 25, 1931 via Google News Archive

Most of us remember big downtown stores like McKelvey’s and Strouss-Hirshberg’s. There were a number of other stores along Federal Street in the first part of the twentieth century that are now fading memories. Among these were stores in several locations along West Federal Street operated by George Lincoln Fordyce.

Fordyce was born in Scipio, New York, in Cayuga County on September 29, 1860 to John and Louisa Horton. His first job was trapping rabbits. By age 10, he was working at a general store in Scipio. Eventually he moved to Auburn, working at another store and the Cayuga County National Bank.

He moved to Youngstown in 1883 and opened a women’s wear store in the Arms Building at West Federal and Phelps, a building he eventually owned, which became known as the George L. Fordyce Block. He continued to expand his dry goods business, selling women and men’s clothing, linens and fabric by the yard for those making their own clothing. This was about the same as G. M. McKelvey’s got started.

In 1907 he acquired the Osborne store at West Federal and Hazel Streets, moving the stock to his location under the name The Fordyce-Osborne Company. After a huge inventory reduction sale in early 1912 liquidating much of the remaining Osborne inventory, the store operated as the George L. Fordyce Company until his death.

Ad from The Mahoning Dispatch, January 12, 1912 via the Library of Congress

Having reached the ranks of business leaders in downtown Youngstown, he exercised leadership in a number of other Youngstown civic affairs. He served as a director of Dollar Savings and Trust, First National Bank, and Ohio Leather Company. In 1912 and 1913, he was president of the YMCA, the first president of the local Boy Scouts Council and president of the Youngstown Hospital Association for twenty-three years. In this last role, he oversaw the development of both the Northside and Southside hospitals. He also was a member of the building committee for the Reuben McMillan Library.

Fordyce’s continued to be a favorite place to shop because of events like that recounted by Howard Aley in A Heritage to Share: The Bicentennial History of Mahoning County and Youngstown, Ohio, from 1921:

“Santa Claus Came to Fordyce’s”

 Evidence that the characters in the Santa Claus scene have undergone change over the years is found in the fact that on December 12th, a number of Santa’s surrogates arrived via the Erie Railroad to prepare the way for the later arrival of the jolly old gentleman himself. Chris Claus, brother of Santa, and “Toofy”, his companion, whose job it was to look after Santa Claus’s mail during the rush hours, came in via railroad because ‘they ran out of snow about 200 miles north of here and were compelled to forsake the reindeer and dog teams.’ Some 200 children met the pair at the railroad station and escorted them to the George L. Fordyce Store where Santa maintained local headquarters until Christmas. There were so many adults in the crowd, pushing and shoving to get their children’s letters into the hands of Santa Claus that the reception committee was lost in the crowd and the ropes that were intended to hold back the crowd proved utterly ineffective. In regard to the effect of the Santa Claus traditon upon children, Superintendent of Schools O. L. Reid said it should be encouraged. ‘Whatever tends to develop or prolong imagination is well worth while’, he told members of the Sunday School Institute at Central Christian Church” (p. 241).

In researching Fordyce, I discovered he was as well known for his love of birds as for his business leadership. When he was fourteen, his doctor told him that a key to maintaining his health was fresh air, and ornithology gave him a pursuit that allowed him plenty of opportunity for fresh air. He was walking the trails of Mill Creek Park long before Lindley Vickers. He was an expert on identifying every species of local birds and led the annual bird censuses for Mahoning County and was a member of the American Ornithologist Union. In 1944, his portrait was hung in Deane Collection of Ornithologists in the Library of Congress, a mark of his status among fellow ornithologists.

He was also a devoted but not competitive golfer. However, in 1929, his daughter Louise was among the top six golfers in the country.

His health declined in his later years, which may have been a factor in the sale of his stock by C. A. Lockhart, the “Father of the Bargain Sale” in 1929. Shortly after, the store closed at its West Federal and Phelps location to re-open at 15 West Federal, where it was operating at the time of his death. Here is an ad from the store on the day after his death, noting that they would close early on the Saturday before the Fourth of July for the funeral service of their founder:

He died 12:05 am on June 25, 1931 at his home at 40 Lincoln Avenue. Dr. William Hudnut of First Presbyterian Church conducted his funeral service and he was buried among many other Youngstown leaders at Oak Hill Cemetery.

I’ve not been able to find any information about how long the business lasted after his passing, but my sense is that it was not long. Some of the institutions, like the YMCA and the library continue to be a vital part of Youngstown. Others, including the business he led for 48 years are memories. He fostered not only commerce but beauty in his love of nature and, particularly, bird-watching. He was among the early Youngstown leaders who recognized that healthy business and civic institutions and natural beauty made Youngstown a great place.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Judge George Tod

Judge George Tod, by Unknown author – (1909) Twentieth Century History of Sandusky County, Ohio and Representative Citizens, Chicago: Richmond-Arnold Pub. Co., p. 177, Public Domain, via Wikimedia.

Last week, I wrote about Tod Homestead Cemetery. The cemetery was the result of a bequest of George Tod, a Youngstown industrialist and son of David Tod, who served as a governor of Ohio. The George Tod I’m writing about this week was David’s father and George’s grandfather. He was one of Youngstown’s earliest settlers and gave Brier Hill its name. As a judge on the Supreme Court of Ohio, he escaped impeachment by a single vote, fought in the War of 1812 with the rank of Lt. Colonel, returning to Youngstown as a Common Pleas Judge. He lived out his days on Brier Hill Farm, from which part of the land was eventually allocated for the cemetery.

George Tod was born Dec. 11, 1773, in Suffield, Connecticut to David and Rachel Kent Tod. He graduated from Yale in 1795 and studied law at the Litchfield Law School, the first law school in the United States. He was admitted to the bar in 1797 and married Sarah “Sallie” Isaacs. In 1800, he visited the newly surveyed Western Reserve and brought his family to Youngstown in 1801, settling northwest of the Youngstown settlement, establishing a farm that he called Brier Hill farm for the Briers on its hillsides. David Tod was born there in 1805.

George Tod had already been admitted to the bar and appointed a prosecuting attorney for Trumbull County, of which Youngstown was a part at that time. While serving in this office, he was elected clerk of Youngstown township in 1802. In 1804 he was elected to the Senate of the newly formed state of Ohio, representing Trumbull County until 1806. On May 13, 1806 Governor Edward Tiffin appointed him to the Supreme Court of the State of Ohio. He was then elected to a seven year term in 1807.

His near impeachment came when he and Justice Huntington ruled that a section of a state law defining the duties of justices of the peace and constables in criminal and civil cases to be unconstitutional. Some of the legislature was so angered that they brought impeachment charges against Tod on Dec. 24, 1808. Huntington escaped charges because he had by then been elected governor. Todd argued:

“That if this article of impeachment can be sustained, the tenure of the judicial office, will hereafter depend on the will of the house of representatives and the senate, to be declared on impeachment, ungoverned by any established principles, and resting in their sovereign will, governed by their arbitrary discretion.”

In other words, he was fighting for the power of the constitution over the legislature, and for the principal of judicial review at the state level.

The legislature got its revenge by passing the Sweeping Measures reducing the term of justices to four years. Tod stepped down, getting himself elected to the Senate from Trumbull County. Among other things, he helped lead efforts to repeal the Sweeping Measures. Although by this time he was fighting in the War of 1812, the General Assembly repealed this law in 1812.

He was a genuine war hero. He had been elected Captain of the Second Regiment of the Fourth Division of Trumbull County in 1804. These regiments were incorporated into the Army at the onset of the War of 1812, part of the 19th Regiment of Infantry, commanded by Col. John Miller. He was commissioned as a Major in 1812 and promoted to Lt. Colonel in 1814, recognizing his service. He was commended for his courage during the siege of Ft. Meigs, near Toledo from April 19 to May 9, 1813 and in the Battle of Sackett’s Harbor on May 19 of the same year. Subsequently he was awarded the command of Ft. Malden after the British evacuated it.

After the war, he returned to Youngstown, serving as a judge in the Court of Common Pleas for the Third Circuit which encompassed  Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Huron, Medina, Portage, Richland, Wayne and Trumbull counties. He served two seven-year terms between 1816 and 1830. A fellow judge, Rufus P. Spaulding, gave this description of traveling from Warren to Cleveland with Tod:

“We made the journey on horse-back, and were nearly two days in accomplishing it. I recollect the judge, instead of an overcoat, wore an Indian blanket drawn over his head by means of a hole cut in the center. We came to attend court, and put up at the house of Mr. Merwin, where we met quite a number of lawyers from adjacent counties. At this time the village of Warren, where I lived, was considered altogether ahead of Cleveland in importance, indeed there was very little of Cleveland at that day…The presiding judge was the Hon. George Tod, a well read lawyer and a most courteous gentlemen, the father of our late patriotic governor, David Tod. His kindness of heart was proverbial, and sometimes lawyers would presume on it.”

After his second term, he returned to his legal practice in Youngstown and a term as Prosecuting Attorney for Trumbull County from 1833 to 1835. He died at Brier Hill Farm on April 11, 1841 and was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery.

Brier Hill Farm remained just a farm until after George Tod’s death. It was his son David who realized the value of the block coal beneath the surface that fired the iron, and later, the steel industry, making “Brier Hill” synonymous with blast furnaces rather than crops and livestock. All of this was an unenvisioned future to Judge George Tod. He fought for Ohio and country on the battlefield and courtroom, establishing the rule of law and the precedence of the state’s constitution in the Western Reserve and the newly minted state of Ohio. He was one of Youngstown’s founders, whose contribution in law, land, and children would leave its imprint on Youngstown’s future.

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