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!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Charles H Owsley and Charles F Owsley

C F Owsley and C F Owsley

Charles H. Owsley and Charles F. Owsley

This father and son architect team designed some of of the most iconic and enduring buildings in Youngstown. Charles H. Owsley, the father, was born in 1846 in Blaston, England. He apprenticed under two Wales architects, Sir Gilbert Scott and Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt, who specialized in church buildings. When he finished his apprenticeship, he moved to the U.S. via Canada in 1868, buying a farm in Weathersfield Township. Originally he set out to farm but a few architectural commissions led to a career. Even before forming Owsley & Bourcherle in 1878 (Boucherle did the engineering work on Owsley’s buildings), Owsley’s projects included the original Strouss-Hirschberg store and the second Mahoning County Courthouse. One of his surviving structures, built in 1899, is the John R. Davis Building. It may be that his most enduring works were residential buildings. Among these are the Wick-Pollock House, Buhl Mansion in Sharon, and houses on Millionaires Row in Warren. He also designed the Carnegie Library in Salem, still in use today.

wp-15974505284787663596809501285962.jpg

Mahoning County Courthouse. Photo © Robert C. Trube, 2019.

Charles F. Owsley, his son, followed in his steps. After graduating from the Rayen School in 1899, he studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, and then went to Paris, studying at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. It wasn’t clear whether he would be an artist or an architect, but in 1905 he joined Owsley & Boucherle, and worked with his father on some of the notable buildings in Youngstown including the current Mahoning County courthouse, one of Youngstown’s architectural jewels, replacing the one designed by his father, the Reuben McMillan Public Library, and South High School.

After his father retired, the company was reorganized as the Owsley Company. He built homes for some of the powerful Youngstown families, and married into one of them, the McKelvey’s. Needless to say, one of his projects was the design of the McKelvey building, a grand building in which I was privileged to work. He went on to design both the original building of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and North Side Hospital, Youngstown City Hall, and the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District buildings.

wp-15974505585804858637458608961812.jpg

Home Savings & Loan Building (now Premier Bank), © Robert C. Trube, 2019

Two of his most iconic works came at the height of his career. In 1919 construction was completed on the Home Savings and Loan building (now Premier Bank). I used to look out my back bedroom window with binoculars at the sign and clock tower, and the building represented financial stability of Youngstown for generations. Then, in a very different style, art deco, he designed the expansion of the Isaly Dairy plant with its distinctive tower.

wp-15974505770286195786869146231980.jpg

Isaly Dairy plant (now Hertz Rental and Storage), Photo © Robert C. Trube, 2019.

He built civic organizations as well as iconic buildings. He felt it important to gather business leaders over lunch to hear speakers and enjoy fellowship and formed the Rotary Organization in 1914, the 137th in the country. He was active in the Chamber of Commerce, the Masons, the Elks. His business began to wind down in the 1940’s with his last design being the Shenango Inn, in 1950. He died on March 17, 1953 of a stroke at his home.

His buildings live on. The classic beauty, detail, and stateliness of the courthouse, the dignity of the library, the striking art deco design of the Isaly building, and the distinctive presence the Home Savings Tower adds to the Youngstown skyline all are architectural gifts to the city. Yet these are merely the most prominent of many structures from commercial structures to residences given to us by this father and son. Now it is our job to preserve them.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Ed Matey

Ed Matey teacher and coach

Edward Paul Matey, teacher and coach. Photos from 1970 Lariat

As I was finishing an article on Chester McPhee, the first of a long line of great Chaney High School coaches, I saw comments on a Chaney alumni site of the passing of another Chaney coach Edward (“Ed”) Paul Matey on Thursday, July 30, 2020. Confirmation soon followed in Youngstown news media. Mr. Matey had died in his home at the age of 74.

I knew Mr. Matey best as my U.S. History teacher. At that time, he was assistant coach to Lou “Red” Angelo. He would take over as head coach the next year and Lou Angelo would become Athletic Director. I had a number of tough teachers at Chaney. Truthfully, Mr. Matey wasn’t one of them. We learned all the important facts about U.S. history, we watched a lot of films, and the exams were straightforward. If you studied what he told you would be on the exam, you would pass, usually with an “A.” What I do remember was that he was always immaculately dressed–ironed white shirt, pressed slacks, shined shoes, and tie. The most he would do would be to roll up his sleeves in hot weather. While he wasn’t a hard teacher, you didn’t goof off in his class, any more than in gym classes taught by his mentor, Mr. Angelo.

Until his passing, I didn’t realize how much he did both before and after I was at Chaney, and how much he contributed to athletics, and to the Youngstown community. He was born and raised on Youngstown’s West side, born right at the end of World War II, on October 30, 1945 to Andrew and Helen Matey. He played football under Lou Angelo at Chaney from 1960-1963, playing both ways, as players often did then, winning All-City, All Northeastern Ohio and an All State awards in 1962.

He stayed in Youngstown when he could have played for many college teams, playing defense for Dike Beede from 1963-1966. He won a varsity letter in his freshman year, starting from his second game on for the rest of his college career winning four varsity letters. In one game during his freshman year against Southern Connecticut, he had fifteen tackles and six sacks. During his sophomore year, the Penguins were 6-1-2, in part because of his great defensive play. He won most valuable player awards in his junior and senior years and YSU’s Most Valuable Male Athlete for 1966-67. In 1997 he was inducted into the YSU Athletics Hall of Fame.

Leaving Youngstown State with an education degree, he became a teacher at Chaney High School, where he would work until 2002. In addition to teaching U.S. History, he was assistant coach under Lou Angelo from 1967 to 1971. He took over as head coach in 1971 and coached for 17 years. During that time his teams won eight City League championships, including Chaney’s first 10-0 team. He had an overall coaching record of 83-67-4, coaching future NFL players like Matt Cavanaugh and Jerry Olsavsky.

After his coaching years, he became athletic director, and then assistant principal at Chaney until retiring in 2002 after 35 years at Chaney. His career as player, teacher, coach, and administrator earned him induction into Chaney’s Wall of Fame in 2005 beside greats like Chester H. McPhee and Lou Angelo.

His service to Chaney and Youngstown area athletics didn’t end with his retirement. He served as Athletic Director for Youngstown City School District until finally retiring in 2017. He knew everyone in the Mahoning Valley and used his ties to spearhead a campaign to build the new Rayen Stadium, which became the shared home field for Chaney and East High School, Youngstown’s two remaining high schools.

His obituary notes his marriage of thirty-three years, and his love for his children and grandchildren, his love of hunting and fishing with them, and his skills in carpentry. Reminiscences of former players I’ve seen note his impact on their lives and lifelong friendships. And typical of Youngstowners, he made pierogies with friends at Holy Trinity on Thursdays.

It is hard to believe the young teacher and coach of my high school years is gone. As sad as that is, I also celebrate a life well-lived, a life invested in family, athletes, a school, and a city. Rest in peace Coach Matey.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Chester H. McPhee

Chester McPhee

Chester H. McPhee, from the 1936 Rig Veda, Chaney’s yearbook.

Recently I wrote about Frank Sinkwich, the Heisman Trophy winner who got his start at Youngstown’s Chaney High School. His coach was Chester H. McPhee. I remember Mr. McPhee, who still visited Chaney when I was there from 1969 to 1972, sometimes speaking at an assembly, or attending a basketball game. At the time, he was on the Youngstown Board of Education, even though he was in his seventies. He was, even then, a tall and imposing figure.

Chester H. McPhee was born March 28, 1897 in Mahoningtown, Pennsylvania, near New Castle. His family moved to Youngstown and he was a star half back at South High School under coach Russell “Busty” Ashbaugh. He also was a talented basketball player. After graduation in 1915, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, becoming a drill instructor at Parris Island. After his discharge in 1918, he returned to Youngstown, working at Stambaugh-Thompson’s. When it became clear to him that the promotions were going to college men, he enrolled as a student at Newberry College in South Carolina.

He went on to play half back on the Newberry College team, winning both freshman and senior All-Star awards. He was All-State center on the Newberry basketball team, which won four consecutive state championships. He also met and married Mabel, his wife for over 50 years.

oh-youngstown-chaney1935bb-r.preview

Chaney 1935 basketball team. Chester McPhee is on the far left of the second row.

After graduation, he taught coached in Laurens, South Carolina for a year. The following year, he returned to Youngstown to teach and coach at the newly established Chaney High School on Youngstown’s West Side. He taught physical education and coached there for 28 years. He coached both football and basketball. He not only coached Frank Sinkwich, but also All-American Frank Terlecki, the Kabealo brothers and his two sons, Chester, Jr. and Frank. He won five City Series football championships outright and shared four others.

He stepped down from his coaching role in 1954, and took a teaching position at West Jr. High School, teaching physical education and history until he retired in 1966. He organized weekend basketball tournaments and worked summers with Youngstown’s Park and Recreation Commission. He was honored on retirement by the Chaney Sports Alumni Association and elected to the Curbstone Coaches Hall of Fame.

In 1967 and 1971 he ran for school board and served as president of the school board from 1970 to 1972, when he retired. In 1974, he was elected to the Ohio High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame. He passed away June 8, 1975 and laid to rest at Forest Lawn Cemetery. In 1977, Newberry College elected him to its Hall of Fame. Mabel lived on until 1996.

His sons followed in his footsteps in many ways. Chester H. McPhee, Jr., after completing a doctorate at Ohio State went on to a teaching and coaching career at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. At various times he coached football, lacrosse, and swimming for the college. He died in 2012. His other son, Frank, went to Princeton, where he was an All-American in 1951-1952, during an era of great Princeton football teams. He played one season in the NFL with the Chicago Cardinals, and then went on to a successful career in the insurance industry with Prudential. He returned to Youngstown after retirement and passed in 2011.

Chester McPhee established a tradition of great coaching at Chaney High School, a tradition carried on by the likes of Lou “Red” Angelo, Ed Matey, and Ron Berdis. He coached players who went on to success in sports and life, including his sons. He spent most of his life as an educator. Thank you Mr. McPhee. Once a Cowboy, Always a Cowboy!

[After writing this article, I learned of the passing of Ed Matey, one of my teachers at Chaney, and a part of that great tradition. What a reunion he and Red and Chet must be having! My sympathies to the family of Coach Matey. May he rest in peace.]

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Nehemiah Hubbard, Jr.

Nehemiah Hubbard Jr.

Nehemiah Hubbard, Jr.

My aunt’s sister Winifred used to live on the outskirts of Hubbard. We would visit occasionally, usually when my uncle came up from Texas. We would drive up Wick Ave to Logan Avenue, and then turn onto Youngstown-Hubbard Road (Route 62), crossing Crab Creek. All of a sudden, it seemed we were out in the country, with the glow of the mills behind us. Winifred lived in a home on a large lot on the east side of Youngstown-Hubbard Road. That is the extent of my memories of Hubbard.

Like so many places in the Mahoning Valley, Hubbard is named after one of the land speculators who purchased land in the Connecticut Western Reserve. Like many, he never moved to Ohio. Hubbard is named after Nehemiah Hubbard, Jr. of Middletown, Connecticut. He was born on April 10, 1752 as the third of thirteen children of Nehemiah and Sarah Hubbard. From the age of 14 to 21, he clerked in Samuel Talcott’s store and then went to sea in the West Indies, eventually becoming a captain and later, a merchant. In 1776, Governor Jonathan Trumbull Sr. appointed Hubbard as paymaster to Colonel Charles Burrall’s regiment. He advanced to deputy quartermaster for the State of Connecticut. In 1780 served with contractors supplying the French at Yorktown. He was on hand when General Cornwallis surrendered, ending the war.

After the war, he returned to Middletown, becoming a successful merchant, and eventually the president of Middletown Bank, and later the Savings Bank. He became one of the original founders of the Connecticut Land Company. He acquired 15,274 acres, which formed Range 1, Township 3 of the Western Reserve (nominally these were 16,000 acres but varied because of surveying errors). He also acquired land in Ashtabula and elsewhere, owning roughly 58,000 acres.

Hubbard sold the first parcel of land to Samuel Tylee, who acted as Hubbard’s agent in selling plots of two hundred acres (sometimes subdivided) in Hubbard Township, and moved his family from Middletown, Connecticut to Ohio. The township itself remained small until coal fields in the Mahoning Valley opened up in the 1850’s and 1860’s. This attracted settlers from Europe and in 1861 Hubbard became a village, and in 1868 it became a statutorily incorporated municipality.

While Nehemiah Hubbard, Jr. never moved to Ohio, his nephew, William Hubbard moved to Ashtabula in 1834, three year’s before Nehemiah’s death, serving as his agent to sell the remainder of his lands. William Hubbard was known for his abolitionist efforts, joining his brothers Matthew and Henry who had previously settled in the area and who were also engaged in anti-slavery efforts. He was active in the Underground Railroad, at one time sheltering 39 fugitive slaves. His house in Ashtabula, at one point facing demolition, has been restored as the Hubbard House Underground Railroad Museum.

Nehemiah Hubbard, Jr. died February 6, 1837. He has been described as “tall and commanding. He was a man of unbending integrity, of quick and discriminating judgment, and of a noble, frank deportment.” In other places he has been described as energetic. He was a pillar of his community, a Revolutionary War veteran, a founder of the Connecticut Land Company and part of a family that not only gave Hubbard its name but had influence throughout the Western Reserve, particularly in anti-slavery efforts.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — J. Maynard Dickerson

dickerson

J. Maynard Dickerson

A couple weeks ago I wrote about Judge Nathaniel R. Jones,  who rose from early years in Smoky Hollow to serve as a justice on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth District. In writing that story, I began to learn about his mentor, J. Maynard Dickerson. As I learned more about him, I discovered an equally distinguished career as a civil rights leader, publisher, attorney and city prosecutor in Youngstown, and civil servant in Ohio’s State government.

J. Maynard Dickerson was born in Hamilton, Ohio July 9, 1899. He came to Youngstown as a youth, graduating from The Rayen School before going on to The Ohio State University. He then pursued legal studies at the Youngstown College of Law and was admitted to the bar in 1930. He married Virginia Hall in 1933 and they were together until his passing.

After two stints as an assistant prosecutor (1928-1936 and 1939-1942), he was named the first black city prosecutor of Youngstown in 1943. During his legal studies, he ran a printing business, and out of this launched The Buckeye Review, a local weekly newspaper covering the black community in Youngstown at a time when The Vindicator gave very limited coverage.  Nathaniel R. Jones mother came to work for him as a subscription manager, and this led to Nathaniel’s association with Dickerson.

Dickerson first gave him the opportunity to write sports columns. He was a tough editor, marking up his columns with red ink so that they looked “like something chickens had a fight over.” But he explained why every correction he made mattered as well as grooming him in speaking and public behavior. Dickerson was a local officer and president (later state president) of the NAACP. A number of national speakers came to Youngstown to speak, and Dickerson always made sure Jones was at his side to learn from, and establish a relationship with these leaders. Jones served as president of the NAACP Youth Council and was alongside Dickerson in his civil rights advocacy. Later, Dickerson helped advocate for his appointment by Robert Kennedy as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio in Cleveland in 1961.

In 1949, Dickerson was appointed as Vice Chairman and first black member of the Ohio Industrial Commission and eventually was appointed Chairman in 1959, holding that position until 1963. In 1958 he attended a conference convened by President Eisenhower. When Dickerson died, Bob Riley, assistant superintendent of the Safety and Hygiene Division said of his service:

“For many years Maynard served the people of Ohio as Industrial Commission Chairman. He combined a dedicated sense of responsibility while retaining and conveying ‘the common touch’ with employers and employees alike.”

He then went on to serve on the Ohio Liquor Commission until 1970. He fought for civil rights for blacks all his life, advocating for the first Fair Employment Practices Law in Ohio and serving as counsel in school desegregation cases in Dayton and Columbus.

Among his affiliations were membership at Oak Hill A.M.E. Church in Youngstown, the Elks, a Masonic Lodge, and the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. He received a Phi Beta Kappa award for outstanding work in the field of education and an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Central State University in 1960.

He died at his home in Columbus, Ohio in the early morning hours August 5, 1976 of a cerebral hemorrhage, having complained to a guest of a headache the previous evening. He was a civil rights pioneer, publisher, mentor, and a leader in city and state government. Perhaps Nathaniel R. Jones, in his memoir, summarized it best when he said, “…I shall be forever grateful to J. Maynard Dickerson. He stood out as the most powerful African-American in the valley and one of the most significant in the state. He did not shirk from using The Buckeye Review to challenge the racial status quo.”

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Honorable Nathaniel R. Jones

Nathaniel_R._Jones_13828-014

Nathaniel R. Jones, by Jay Godwin for the LBJ Library / Public domain

He grew up in Smoky Hollow. His father worked in the mills and later did janitorial work. His mother took in laundry. As a high school youth, he wrote for a local newspaper and organized a boycott of a segregated roller skating rink. He rose from working class beginnings to become a judge in the second highest court in the land as a justice on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth District. The new Federal Building and Courthouse in downtown Youngstown bears his name. Nathaniel R. Jones.

Nathaniel Raphael Jones was born in Youngstown on May 13, 1926 to Nathaniel Bacon Jones and Lillian Isabelle (Brown) Jones. After his father was laid off from his work in the mills during the depression, he washed windows and did janitorial work in local theaters, often taking Nathaniel along. His mother eventually became the subscription manager of The Buckeye Review, the local black newspaper. Publisher and lawyer J. Maynard Dickerson took young Nathaniel under his wing, allowing him to write a sports column in the paper.

As a high school student, he was active in the NAACP youth council, organizing a successful boycott of a roller skating link that allowed blacks to skate only on Monday nights. After serving in the Army Air Force, he went to a restaurant by the name of DuRell’s in the Youngstown area that refused to serve him. He filed suit against them, winning a judgment that did little more than pay his attorney’s fees. But he made a point. So began a career of pursuing civil rights for blacks.

He went to Youngstown College, and then received a law degree from Youngstown University, graduating in 1956 with his law degree. He set up a private practice, until named by Attorney General Robert Kennedy as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio in Cleveland in 1961. He was the first black to serve in the district in this position. In 1967 he was named Assistant General Counsel to the President on President Johnson’s Kerner Commission on Civil Disorders.

After briefly returning to private practice, in 1969 he agreed to serve as general counsel for the national NAACP. At a recognition banquet hosted by the Youngstown NAACP the following year, he described the situation of blacks in the U.S. in these terms: “We still live in the basement of the great society. We must keep plodding until we get what we are striving for.” In his role as general counsel he strove to change that situation, directing all litigation for the NAACP. He argued cases challenging school segregation in the North and against racial bias in the military. He persuaded Governor George Wallace to pardon Clarence Norris, the one surviving member of the Scottsboro Boys, wrongly accused of the rape of a white woman in 1951.

His fight against racial injustice was fought not only in the courts of the United States. In the 1980’s, he was arrested in South Africa for protesting the nation’s apartheid policies. Later, he helped in the drafting of a new South African constitution, ending apartheid. He also consulted with other African countries on setting up their judicial systems.

On August 28, 1979 President Jimmy Carter nominated Nathaniel R. Jones to the to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. He assumed senior status in 1995 and retired on March 30, 2002. During his term on the bench, he taught at the University of Cincinnati law school and at Harvard Law School. On May 6, 2003, the second federal courthouse established in Youngstown was named in his honor.

After retirement from the court, he became Senior Counsel for Blank Rome LLP and co-chairman of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. He wrote a memoir, published in 2016: ”Answering the Call: An Autobiography of the Modern Struggle to End Racial Discrimination in America.” That same year, he received the NAACP’s Spingarn Award, their highest award, recognizing outstanding achievement by an African-American.

Nathaniel R. Jones died of congestive heart failure at age 93 on January 26, 2020. He was one of the most distinquished figures to rise from working class beginnings in Youngstown. His comments to the Cincinnati Enquirer may give us a clue to his distinction. He said, “The key to prevailing as a minority in a segregated, oppressive society is to not let the prevailing stereotypes define who you are.”

He prevailed.

[Special thanks to Nick Manolukas for suggesting this article]

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Frank Sinkwich

Sinkwich_bulldogs

Frank Sinkwich, Unknown author / Public domain

I was the second generation to grow up on the West side of Youngstown. My parents grew up on the same street where I live and went to high school together at Chaney in the late 1930’s. I remember dad talking from time to time about the great Frank Sinkwich, who played under one of Chaney’s legendary coaches, Chet McPhee. Sinkwich won the Heisman Trophy in his senior year with the Georgia Bulldogs. He went on to a brief pro career.

Sinkwich was born in the town of Starjak in Croatia October 10, 1920 (the same year my parents were born). The family moved to Youngstown two years later, where his father Ignac operated a grocery store. When they first came to Youngstown, they spelled their name Sinkovic’. By 1940, the Sinkwich’s owned a family restaurant. The Wikipedia article on Sinkwich attributes his competitive drive to growing up playing football on the streets of the West side, “I learned early in neighborhood pickup games that I had the desire to compete. When people ask why I succeeded in athletics, I always tell them that I didn’t want to get beat”

Sinkwich was one of the great players to come out of Chaney but was nearly overlooked by the college scouts. Georgia Bulldog assistant coach Bill Hartman had visited Youngstown to recruit another top pick who committed instead to Ohio State. Hartman supposedly was refilling his car at a local service station when an attendant told him about a good player who lived down the street. He met Sinkwich’s dad on the front porch and persuaded Sinkwich to visit Georgia. The rest was history.

As a freshman, he led a team known as the “point-a-minute” Bullpups to an undefeated season. Sinkwich plead with Head Coach Wally Butts to be a fullback but Butts wanted him to play halfback, a position where he would both run and pass. Butts said of him, “He acquired, through hard work and endless practice, the ability to pick the open receiver better than anybody I ever saw.” In 1940, his first year on the varsity squad, UPI named him to the All-Southern First Team. In 1941, his junior year, he set an SEC record with 1103 rushing yards, in addition to 713 passing yards. From the third game of the season on, he did this with his jaw wired shut when it was broken in a previous game. He had a specially designed helmet. He led Georgia to a 40-26 victory over TCU in the Orange Bowl with 139 rushing yards and 243 passing yards and three touchdowns. He was a potent double threat.

The big year was the 1942. He had 795 rushing yards and 1392 passing yards (an SEC record at the time) for a total of 2187 yards. That year, he led the Bulldogs to a 9-0 victory over UCLA in the Rose Bowl, scoring the winning touchdown with two sprained ankles. He was a unanimous All-America choice and was awarded the Heisman Trophy. In three years, he rushed for 2,271 yards, passed for 2,331, and accounted for 60 touchdowns—30 rushing and 30 passing. He was the very first pick in the first round of the NFL draft, being picked by the Detroit Lions.

His first two years looked like the beginning of a stellar career. In both 1943 and 1944 he was named All-Pro, and MVP in 1944. Then he went into the service, and while playing for an Air Force service team, he suffered a serious knee injury that basically ended his career. He tried to return to the pros in 1946 and 1947, but was never the same and retired. He briefly tried coaching, with positions at Furman and at the University of Tampa, and a semi-professional team in Erie, PA in 1949.

After this, he returned to Athens, Georgia where he operated a successful beer and wine distributorship. Apparently, he never contemplated returning to Youngstown after his years in the South. He was reported to have said, “I’m from Ohio, but if I’d known when I was 2 what it was like down South, I would have crawled here on my hands and knees.” He died October 22, 1990 in Athens after an extended battle with cancer. Vince Dooley, then athletic director at Georgia said of him, “We’ve lost one of the great legends in football history. He was not only a great player but a wonderful person and citizen of Athens”

In addition to the Heisman, his greatness was acknowledged both in life and after his death. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954 and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1967. He was inducted into the University of Georgia Circle of Honor in 1996 and his jersey was retired, one of only four Bulldog players to receive th8s honor.

Frank Sinkwich was one of the great football players to come out of Youngstown, and out of Chaney High School. As he said, the streets of the West side gave him his competitive fire. But then Youngstown has always been a football town.