Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Dr. John C. Melnick

Vintage exam (and surgery) table

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

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

Dr, John C. Melnick

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

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

The Green Catuedral

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

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

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

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

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

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