I never knew Howard C. Aley, but hardly a week goes by where I don’t reference his A Heritage to Share, his bicentennial history of Youngstown and Mahoning County. He traces the history of the Mahoning Valley from prehistoric times up until 1975. For most of the time from Youngstown’s beginnings, he recounts the history year by year, interspersing feature articles on events and key figures in the area’s history. Whenever I write about Youngstown history, I often start with two sources. Joseph Butler for anything up to the early 1920’s and Howard C. Aley for the whole time up until 1975. Sometimes, browsing through Aley’s book inspires an article. At other times, I ask, “what did Aley say?” While he was alive, I doubt anyone knew more about Youngstown history. Today, as I was browsing his history, I thought it would be interesting to tell his story.
Fittingly, Howard Aley was a lifelong Youngstown resident. He was born on January 12, 1911 to William and Rose Giering Aley. He experienced an illness during his youth that confined him at home. His parents gave him a typewriter to “amuse” him, and the writer was born. He graduated from South High School in 1931 and enrolled at Youngstown College, serving as an editor of The Jambar. He began a career as a teacher in 1935 that lasted until his retirement in 1974.
He taught history for seventh through eleventh graders for a year at the Rotary Home for Crippled Children. He began teaching at the Adams School in 1936. In the 1940’s he published a series of books on Valley history used in schools in a tri-county area. They won a Freedoms Foundation Award. He won a second Freedoms Foundation Award in 1960. He moved to Wilson High School in 1953, teaching there for 21 years until 1974. Former students would come up to him, asking if he remembered them, and he almost always did. They were eager to keep in touch with him because of his interest in them and because of how he instilled a love of historical knowledge.
He was a radio and TV personality in the Valley. His TV shows ran under the titles of “It Happened Here” and “Telerama” and “Footnote.” He was also active in a number of Valley organizations including the Monday Musical Club, Youngstown Hospital Association, Aut Mori Grotto and the Youngstown Charity Horse Show. He also edited “Chimes,” the monthly newsletter of Trinity United Methodist Church where he was a member. He loved the Canfield Fair and wrote a centennial history of it in 1946. He served as a president of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.
His home in Boardman served as a kind of private historical archive. In some recent correspondence with a former neighbor, he mentioned that Aley had a library of several thousand volumes that spilled over into the garage. One summer, Aley found a house in Canfield with newspapers back to the turn of the century. The neighbor spent a summer working with him clipping articles for Aley’s archives. His obituary states that he could find the answer to any question about people or events in the Mahoning Valley in a matter of minutes.
A Heritage to Share was a fitting capstone to his career as “historian of the Valley.” Completed in time for the celebrations of the national Bicentennial in 1976, it is a treasure trove. It is out of print. My son found a copy for me at a used bookstore. I never got to meet Howard C. Aley, who died in 1983, but I sometimes imagine him turning to me and saying, “do you know why…?” Thank you, Mr. Aley for all you did to tell the Valley’s story.
Source: “Howard C. Aley; Valley Historian,” Youngstown Vindicator, July 14, 1983, pp. 1-2.
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