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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Daniel L. Coit and Coitsville

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US Census, Ruhrfisch, Map of Mahoning County with Municipal and Township Labels, licensed under (CC BY-SA 3.0) The file has been converted to .jpg form. Coitsville is in the northeast corner of the county.

Coitsville Township is a small township in the northeast corner of Mahoning County. The township website includes photographs of cornfields, sheep, wildlife preserves and woodlands. In 2010, the population of the township was 1,392 people. It’s most famous resident was educator William Holmes McGuffey and was also the home of long time Vindicator political reporter Clingan Jackson. The existing township is only about half of the original township, parts of it going to Youngstown, Struthers, and Campbell. Amos Loveland was the first to settle in Coitsville in 1798. The History of Trumbull and Mahoning Counties lists these residents by 1801: James Bradford, David Cooper, Andrew Fitch, John Gwin, Amos Loveland, James Muns, William Martin, Samuel McBride, Alexander McGreffey, John Potter, Rodger Shehy, James Shields, James Smith, John Thornton, William Wicks, James White, Francis White.

No one by the name of Coit. Similar to Boardman, Coitsville is named after the land investor from the Connecticut Land Company, Daniel Lathrop Coit. Coit, along with Moses Cleaveland (after whom Cleveland is named–they dropped the first “a”) and Joseph Perkins were among the earliest involved in the company. As was the case with many members of the company, including Elijah Boardman, Daniel Coit purchased lots 1 through 28 in township 2 in the First Range, giving the township his name, but never moved there.

So who was Daniel Lathrop Coit? His family traces Glamorganshire, Wales, and John Coit came to Salem, Massachusetts in 1638. Daniel was born in 1754 to Joseph and Lydia (Lathrop) Coit in New London, Connecticut. He moved to Norwich with his family in 1775 and apprenticed with his uncles Doctors Daniel and Joshua Lathrop, apprenticing in their mercantile and pharmacy business. In 1782, when Daniel had passed he and Joshua became partners in Lathrop and Coit in a growing business. He represented the business in dealings in England and traveled throughout Europe. While in France, he dined with Benjamin Franklin. When Joshua retired, he entered a partnership with Thomas Lathrop, and met a girl in Lathrop’s house, Elizabeth Bill, who in 1785 moved into his new home as his wife.

With increasing trade difficuties with England, he eventually sold out his mercantile business and joined the Connecticut Land Company in 1796. In addition to purchasing the land that became Coitsville and selling its lots after they were surveyed, he had, through inheritance, interests in the “Firelands,” a large tract of land west of the Western Reserve given to indemnify Connecticut residents for losses from fires started by Benedict Arnold and British General Tryon during the Revolutionary War. While never residing in Ohio, he visited five times, including a trip on horseback through Pittsburgh up to Cleveland, no doubt stopping at Coitsville. While he pursued other ventures, his land ventures in Ohio were the most profitable. His son Henry married and moved to Ohio where he also was successful with land ventures. Daniel Coit died in Norwich in 1833 at the age of 79.

In addition to his involvement with the Connecticut Land Company’s critical work of surveying and settling the Western Reserve, Coit’s family produced at least one famous descendent. His daughter, Eliza Coit married William Charles Gilman. One of their sons was Daniel Coit Gilman, the first president of Johns Hopkins University, the first university in the United States to combine teaching and research at the graduate level along the lines of European universities. He also established the hospital at Johns Hopkins, one of the premier medical facilities in the country.

And that’s the story of Daniel Lathrop Coit and his family, and how Coitsville got its name.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Benjamin F. Wirt

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Benjamin F. Wirt, from The Biographical Annals of Ohio (1902). Public Domain

I have two memories of Wirt Street growing up. One was that I dated a girl for a while in Liberty and often, the quickest (though a bit scary) way home was down Wirt Street from Belmont to the West River Crossing Freeway to the West side. The other was as the site of a driving mishap. I was in college and went to visit a friend at Allegheny College. Driving home the morning after a snow storm, I had edged my way down Wirt Street to where it bent to the right, just before the freeway entrance, and I hit a patch of ice, banging into the curb. It “only” resulted in a bent tire rim and a badly knocked out of line front end. It was dad’s car so I paid. Not the happiest of memories of Wirt Street (now Wirt Boulevard).

The Wirt family, of which Benjamin F. Wirt was the most famous, is one of Youngstown’s early families, and I cannot be certain after whom Wirt Street was named, or if it simply represents one of Youngstown’s early families as does Wick Avenue. Peter Wirt was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and moved to Youngstown after the War of 1812. He had a farm in the Brier Hill district and so the street name may possibly be attributed to him. His son William was born in Youngstown in 1826. He worked as a builder and contracter. He married Eliza Sankey in 1849 and Benjamin was born during the family’s brief stay in West Middlesex, Pennsylvania, in Mercer County, in 1852.

Benjamin was a graduate of The Rayen School in 1869 and went on to read law with W. D. Woodworth, was admitted to the bar in 1873 and joined his teacher in a firm now called Woodworth & Wirt. They remained partners until 1880. In 1881 he married Mary M. McGeehen of New Bedford, Pennsylvania and they took up residence at 31 West Rayen Avenue. From 1880 to 1896, he practiced law on his own, handling many important court cases. He entered into partnership with M. A. Norris in 1896, then was elected to the state senate for two terms from 1899-1903 (This is based on his listing in the Biographical Annals of Ohio: A Handbook of the Government and Institutions of the State of Ohio published in 1902). Other articles list him from 1889-1893, but based on the listing, I believe these in error. His terms began just after those of William R. Stewart in the state house of representatives (incidentally Stewart read law in the firm of Woodworth & Wirt!).

Wirt ended his partnership with Norris in 1901, practiced alone until 1911 and then formed the firm of Wirt and Gunlefinger. He served as president of the Equity Savings and Loan Company, changed in 1920 to Federal Savings and Loan Company, one of Youngstowns major lending institutions of the time. He also served as president of the Sons of the American Revolution.

The lasting legacy of Benjamin F. Wirt stems from his and his wife Mary’s collection of rare books, documents, coins, artifacts, and art works.  He had a library of over 4,000 books, one of the largest private libraries at the time in northeast Ohio. Many were rare or first editions. He was a fan of Ohio author William Dean Howells and the collection included correspondence with Howells sister-in-law Eliza, as well as proof sheets and autographed letters. Upon his death in 1930, his estate was placed in trust and it was hoped that the trustees would establish a museum to properly display his collection. The collection remained in storage until the 1960’s. In 1962 Judge John Ford appointed five trustees to carry out Wirt’s last wishes. There was not enough in the trust to build the museum. However, an agreement was reached in 1965 that the Mahoning Valley Historical Society would house and exhibit the collection within the Arm Family Museum, where it is housed to this day.

Wirt followed the path of many of Youngstown’s distinguished citizens. He came from one of the early families. He made his mark in the practice of law, represented Youngstown in state government, led one of the city’s important financial institutions, and left a lasting legacy to the city, enriching its cultural life, and providing resources to researchers to the present day.

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — William R. Stewart

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Photograph of William R. Stewart in the George Washington Williams Room of the Ohio Statehouse, featuring all the African-American legislators in Ohio

He was the son of one of the first African-American families to settle in Youngstown. He was the first African-American legislator from Youngstown. He helped secure the funding to build the first Market Street Bridge and secured taxpayer funding for Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital. After returning from two terms in the state legislature, he worked another six decades as an attorney in Youngstown and at his death in 1958 was called the “dean of the Mahoning County Bar.”

William R . Stewart was born to Lemuel and Mary Stewart on October 29, 1864, in New Castle, Pennsylvania. A year later, the family came via canal boat to Youngstown, where Lemuel Stewart worked as a bricklayer, in partnership with P. Ross Berry, who built 65 structures in the Youngstown area, including a number in downtown Youngstown’s Diamond Block.

While going to school, he joined his father in bricklaying work, and graduated from the Rayen School in 1883. After a short stint with a railroad that soon became defunct, he began reading law in the law office of Woodworth and Wirt. He earned enough in a side business of cutting through red tape to obtain pensions for Civil War veterans, that he was able to enroll in the University of Cincinnati Law School, meeting his wife Consuela, a medical student. They returned to Youngstown where he set up a law practice in the Diamond Block and she practiced medicine as Youngstown’s first female Black physician until passing in 1911.

In 1895, he won election to the Ohio Legislature, running as a Republican. He served two terms there, from 1896 to 1899. In addition to his work on securing funding for the Market Street Bridge and Saint Elizabeth’s, he helped pass an anti-mob violence bill, and one placing justices of the peace on a salary rather than funding them by a fee system. He legislated for police and fire pensions.

He returned to Youngstown, developing an extensive law practice. One of his cases was a landmark railroad case under the new federal liability act. He established the right of his plaintiff to establish his claim based both on state and federal law, a precedent cited in many legal texts. Because of his experience with pensions, he became a trustee for the Youngstown Police Pension Fund. He served on the Youngstown Interracial Committee promoting racial understanding. He was also an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Stewart obit

Screen capture from Google News Archive of Vindicator, April 5, 1958, p. 1 story on the death of William R. Stewart.

After the Diamond Block was demolished, he moved his offices to the Union National Bank building. His pride and joy, though was his Tod Lane home, particularly his rose gardens. He also had a library of over 1,000 volumes. Late in his life, a hip fracture limited his mobility, and he died in his home on April 5, 1958 at the age of 93. He left an estate of a half million dollars, quite sizable for his time.

That caught my attention. He was born during the Civil War and lived until I was nearly four years old. He came to Youngstown when the small village was turning into an iron and coal center. He helped his father and P. Ross Berry build some of its buildings. He served in the state legislature, connected the South Side to downtown and witnessed the transformation of the city into a major industrial center. He was a civic leader respected by the whole city as well as within the black community and sought to foster interracial understanding.

It is surprising to me that his name, as far as I know, appears on no structure or monument in the city. His contributions were numerous, and until I came across his name while looking for something else, I never knew about him. Now I do, and I hope by writing about him, I can contribute to his memory in the city.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Dana School of Music

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Unknown., “William Henry Dana, founder of the Dana Musical Institute. ,” Trumbull Memory Project, accessed April 17, 2020, https://www.trumbullmemory.org/items/show/176.

During 2018-2019, Dana School of Music celebrated its 150th year. That’s an interesting number, because Youngstown State is only 112 years old. It points to a history that goes back to 1869, to a rented room above a hardware store in Warren, Ohio, at the corner of Market and Main Streets. Back of that story was a man who had a vision for quality music instruction at a time when many music conservatories had abysmally low standards.

William Henry Dana was born in Warren, Ohio in 1846. At the age of 16, he went to Williston Seminary to study civil engineering, following in the footsteps of his father Junius, a civil engineer in Warren. He left his studies to serve in the Ohio Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War, returning after the war to work with his father. His real interest, though, was music, and he went to Baxter University of Music, graduating in 1869.

After graduation, he returned to Warren. He had been dismayed by the low standards of instruction in many music schools and determined to set up a school that was different. This included:

Daily Instruction. Compulsory studies. Stated hours of study and practice and these guarded against interruption. Salaried teachers whose life and interests are centered in the school’s best welfare. (Catalogue, 1931-32, p. 6 via JSTOR).

With those principles, Dana established the Dana Musical Institute. At first his father was opposed, perceiving most musicians in the same class as drunkards. Apparently William won him over, because he became the main financial supporter of the school and served as secretary of the Institute until 1906.

In 1871, tuition at the Institute, only the third to in Ohio after Oberlin and Cincinnati, was a mere $75 for a full year of instruction. Initially most of the students were from the Warren area but the quality of instruction and affordable tuition attracted students from throughout the Midwest and Northeast, They rapidly outgrew their rented facilities and moved to a four story mansion on Park Avenue and High Street that once served as a stage coach stop. Eventually, women’s and men’s dormitories were added.

There were high standards for students and faculty. Students were required to attend church as well as twice-daily chapels, and had a curfew and could not drop out of their studies except in cases of illness. All the faculty were to be married, of an age to be respected by the students and devoted to the school’s interests.

Dana matched discipline with musical excellence. He pursued studies abroad in England and Germany, was a member of the Royal Academy of Music in London, and authored several texts on music theory. By 1911, it was chartered to grant Bachelor of Music, Master of Music, and Doctor of Music degrees.

William Henry Dana died in 1916. His son Lynn B. Dana, vice president from 1901, became president upon his father’s death. He was a concert pianist, Royal Academy of Music member and serve a stint as president of the Ohio Music Teachers Association, pioneering the Standardization of Music Teaching.

After a dip in enrollments during the first World War, enrollments climbed to 700 in the 1920’s. At this time, the Dana Music Institute claimed to be the only music school in the world to support its own string quartet, string orchestra, symphony orchestra, military band and chorus.

In 1931, Ohio required music degrees be granted from accredited colleges. The Institute was only a conservatory, not an accredited college. Dana attempted to establish cooperative relationships with Hiram, and later Kent State. During this time, enrollments dropped from 700 to 253.

In the fall of 1941, the school moved to Youngstown, was renamed the Dana School of Music, and became part of what was then Youngstown College. Sadly, Lynn B. Dana died before the beginning of classes, that year. An epoch of the Institute in Warren ended. But a new one in Youngstown began which has carried on to this day.

In my day on campus in the early 1970’s, I remember going to recitals at the old recital hall which is now the Sweeney Welcome Center, part of YSU’s Admissions Office. In 1977, the Dana School of Music moved into newly opened Bliss Hall, which continues to serve as its home.

In an article in YSU Magazine on Dana’s 150th anniversary it featured the diverse range of outstanding musicians trained at Dana:

  • John Anthony, a local rock guitarist.
  • Jazz musician Sean Jones, artistic director of the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra, and Chair of Jazz Studies at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins.
  • Baroque flutist Mary Oleskiewicz
  • Pianist Christina Reitz.
  • Gospel musician Mark Jackson
  • Trombonist Bob Matchett
  • Country music songwriter and member of the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, Bob DiPiero.
  • Soprano Amanda Beagle
  • Billy Beck, member of the R & B supergroup, the Ohio Players.

What is impressive to me is the musical excellence across so many genres of music. I also knew many others whose excellence took the form of teaching careers in schools, inspiring students to love and make great music. It shouldn’t be surprising that such excellence might be found here. It was the passion of William Henry Dana. And now it is a 150 year tradition.