Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Penguins

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Stambaugh Stadium, Youngstown State. Photo by Jack Pearce [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

The athletic teams at Youngstown State are the only collegiate team in the country whose nickname and mascots are Penguins. It’s an odd name for a team from Youngstown. Another area team’s name, The Scrappers, fits. But Penguins? Wherever did this come from?

It turns out that there are two versions of the story, both coming from the same basketball game in 1933–yes, the name goes that far back. Before then, Youngstown College, as it was then known, was called “Y College,” “YoCo,” “Wye Collegians,” or simply
“The Locals.” On the snowy evening of January 30, 1933, the YSU basketball team drove to West Liberty State Teachers College in West Virginia for a game, pulling their cars out of snow drifts on two occasions.

One version of the story has players coming up with the name in one of the cars during the trip. This had been a topic of conversation throughout that school year.

The more popular one, that I always heard, was that when the team arrived, to warm up they were stomping their feet and waving their arms, either in windmills to warm up for the game or just flapping their arms around. Whatever the case (and accounts differ here) the opposing team coach remarked that they “looked like a bunch of penguins.”

When the players returned, the student body unanimously accepted the name. It was announced formally in The Jambar in the December 15, 1933 issue before the first basketball game of the season against Slippery Rock.

There have been three live “Pete the Penguins” during the history of Youngstown. The first was brought back from Antarctica in 1939 and died in 1941, pursuing fish under the ice at Crandall Park pond. A second Pete, along with Patricia, his mate, were purchased shortly after, but died in 1942 of tuberculosis. The last Pete was acquired in 1968 and died in 1972–my freshman year, an event that seemed insignificant amid concerns about the Vietnam war and the re-election of Richard Nixon, and the pathetic football teams of that era under Dike Beede.

910 Airmen celebrate AF 60th b-day at YSU home opener

Pete and Penny Penguin, modified from a U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Bob Barko Jr.

The first student mascot, later revealed to be Vic Rubenstein, was chosen in 1964. His costume was a penguin head and a tuxedo he rented himself each weekend from Rondinelli Tuxedos. Rubenstein, who was a managing editor of The Jambar, only revealed his identity after the last game of 1965. Eventually there was the costume we know today. Then, in 1986 Pete was joined by Penny, who were married in a ceremony. Most mascots are bachelors (think Brutus Buckeye) so in this respect Youngstown State is also quite unique.

In 2004 penguin statues were decorated by local artist and placed around the Youngstown community and on campus. One was decorated to look like John Young, another to commemorate Ohio presidents. A number can be seen in locations in downtown Youngstown, at Southern Park Mall, and a number around campus, including one at University Plaza, greeting visitors to the university.

Youngstown State Penguin Statue

Penguin Statue at University Plaza. Photograph in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

I think most students of my era just thought it kind of odd. We would probably have laughed and mocked the idea of “fighting Penguins.” The change came in the Jim Tressel era of championship football teams where logos, and sports memorabilia and mascots became a much bigger thing. Now Pete and Penny are beloved symbols and “fighting Pete” adorns a gift we received, a set of Wendell August Forge coasters, and matching sweatshirts. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few “Penguins” around your house as well. As we say when we root for our Youngstown teams, Go Guins!

Sources:

Archives & Special Collections: History of YSU

Pete and Penny Penguin Mascots, YSU Sports

Premier Penguin, The Jambar, October 21, 2013.

Marah Morrison, The Story and Significance of Penguin StatuesThe Jambar, January 11, 2018.

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Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Leon A. Beeghly

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Beeghly Center, By Greenstrat – Own work, Public Domain, via Wikimedia

I spent a lot of time at Beeghly Center as a student at Youngstown State. I had a number of classes there including an utterly forgettable health class, a number of psych classes (my major), and a memorable philosophy class with Professor Thomas Shipka. Then there was the physical conditioning class! Of course we went to many basketball teams coached by Dom Roselli as well as concerts. I first heard James Taylor live in Beeghly Center. Amazing that he is still performing!

I never thought “who was Beeghly?” Beeghly was Leon A. Beeghly. He was not a Youngstown native, born in 1884 and raised in a small northwestern Ohio town named Bloomville in Seneca County. After college at Tri-State University in Indiana he began working with the France Company of Bloomville, that operated a number of stone quarries. Eventually the company moved to Toledo. It was here that Beeghly became interested in slag, a by-product of steel production used in concrete, road bases, railroad ballast, waterway construction, and even for soil amendments in agriculture.

Beeghly first formed a slag company in Toledo, but quickly realized that the blast furnaces of Youngstown offered a far greater output of this material. He joined with two other men whose names are also well-known on the Youngstown State campus, William E. Bliss and William H. Kilcawley, in forming the Standard Slag Company of Youngstown. He served as company president. In 1918, he and his wife Mabel and four children (Charles, James, Thornton, and Lucille) moved to Youngstown.

Leon BeeghlyBeeghly continued to work with inventors to develop new processes and products including the cold forming of metal resulting in the Cold Metal Products Company where son Charles was involved before becoming president and chairman of Jones and Laughlin Steel, at that time the fourth largest steel company in the country. James and Thornton and later-born John all were involved in Standard Slag. Last-born son Thomas served as president of International Carbonic Company of Santa Ana, California.

In 1940, Leon Beeghly formed the L. A. Beeghly Fund, to which the family has continued to contribute. This fund has invested in a number of religious, charitable, scientific and literary causes, as well as ten college buildings (two at Youngstown State with the new education building) at nine college campuses. Beeghly was a director for Youngstown Sheet and Tube and headed the Youngstown Chamber of Commerce three times. He led initiatives as diverse as vocational training and mental health care.

Leon Beeghly died in 1967. He was recognized at the time not only as a successful industrialist, but as a supporter of inventors and entrepreneurs and technological development, as well as a community leader and philanthropist. His family has continued Beeghly’s philanthropic tradition, with Youngstown State being one of the most significant beneficiaries. Beeghly Physical Education Center opened December 2, 1972 (at the end of my first quarter on campus), built in part with donations from the Beeghly family. More recently, Beeghly Hall became the home of Youngstown State’s College of Education. In 2017, a $1.5 million gift was announced from Bruce and Nancy Beeghly toward a new endowment to the college as well as two graduate fellowships in Electrical and Computer Engineering and in Business Administration.

For over 100 years the Beeghly family has provided both industrial leadership and philanthropic investment in the Mahoning Valley. Their recent gifts suggest an investment in Youngstown’s future. Leon Beeghly always cared about encouraging technological development coupled with supporting the educational foundations needed for any technological advance. His grandchildren are carrying on that work, an important piece in the economic rebirth of Youngstown.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — William H. and Mattie Kilcawley

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Kilcawley House through the trees. Photo: Robert C Trube © 2010

 

I probably spent more time in Kilcawley Center as a student, and later for a time in the 1980’s as a campus minister at Youngstown, than any other place on the Youngstown State campus. I had several good friends who lived in Kilcawley Dorm (now Kilcawley House) and attended a Bible study group there. I went to various meetings in meeting rooms, listened to music in the music listening room, where I first heard the classic Buckingham-Nicks album, used to love all-the-spaghetti-you-could-eat Wednesdays, bought books in the bookstore, typed papers on typewriters (and had textbooks stolen from me), went to free movies, and probably bought beer from Ed O’Neill in the Pub.

I never knew until writing this post that I had William H. and Mattie Kilcawley to thank for this gathering place. I learned that they had a close connection to two other families whose names appear on Youngstown State buildings. In 1914, William H. Kilcawley joined Leon A. Beeghly and William E. Bliss in forming the Standard Slag Company. Slag is a stony or glass-like by product resulting from the smelting or refining of iron ore. At first glance, this sounds like waste material, but there are a number of uses of slag in concrete, road bases, railroad ballast, waterway construction, and even for soil amendments in agriculture. Obviously the steel industry of the Valley furnished an ample supply. Kilcawley was the secretary-treasurer of the company.

In 1945, the Kilcawleys bought Red Gate Farm, a 290 acre property at US Route 62 and Leffingwell Road. Previously, they lived at an estate called “Raccoon Acres” on Raccoon Road, and in a home on High Street in Canfield. The Kilcawleys raised sheep and cattle on the farm. Their agricultural interests also led to William’s involvement as president and treasurer of the Canfield Fair, and one of the gates to the fair is named in his honor after William died in 1958. The Kilcawleys had one daughter, Anne, who married Byron Christman. They lived in Illinois until returning to the farm in 1967, raising pigs, sheep, and grain. Anne was involved on the board of the Butler, and a trustee of the Stambaugh Auditorium Association. Anne and her husband had no children and she died in 2002.

Mattie was a member of the Youngstown State Board of Trustees. It was in this capacity that she arranged a $300,000 gift from the family trust for the construction of Kilcawley Center. She never saw the full complex, dying in 1972 before the second phase of its construction. The William & Mattie Kilcawley Foundation has give over $1 million to Youngstown State as has the Anne Kilcawley Christman Foundation.

Since the 1970’s students have gathered to eat, study, meet, and relax at Kilcawley Center. All this goes back to a successful company that processed a waste product of the steel industry, and the generosity of the wife of one of its founders, Mattie Kilcawley. Thank you, Mrs. Kilcawley for all those great memories from times at student center that bears your name!

Sources:

Joseph G. Butler, History of Youngstown and Mahoning Valley, Ohio, Volume 2 (Chicago: American Historical Society, 1921), pp. 192.

History Red Gate Farm, The Vindicator, May 18, 2003.

Notable Giving Societies,” Youngstown State University

Susan Tebbe, “Canfield Still Paying for Redgate Farm, Despite Lack of Development,” The Vindicator, March 27, 2013.

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Dr. Leslie S. Domonkos

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Leslie Domonkos, Source unknown

I grew up disliking history. Up through high school, history had largely been presented to me as a series of events, dates to be memorized, and important people. All this, I had to remember for tests, and promptly forget afterward.

Today, I love history as the story of how different factors and forces contribute to events and how these help us understand how we got here, historically, at least. As you might tell from my posts about Youngstown, I love local history–how places get their names, who was such and such, and how they were important in Youngstown history and how the cultural institutions of the city developed?

I think I owe this love of history to Dr. Leslie Domonkos, now an emeritus professor of history at Youngstown State, and the professor who taught the Western Civilization course I took during my first quarter at Youngstown State, 46 years ago. What I remember about his class, is that I never took so many notes in my life–and it was a good thing. His exams were tough. They weren’t fill in the blanks, or a computer-read form. They were essay-based exams of three or four questions that we would answer in handwritten “Blue Books.” You needed to study your notes, do the readings, and take his exam prep suggestions seriously. His lectures were riveting as he opened up the events of European history and the cultural, social, economic, religious and political forces that led to them. He made us think about these forces, and argue which were most important. It was hard, and I loved it, and he awakened a love of history I never knew I had. Looking back, I sometimes wonder why I didn’t major in history. I also think of how much work it was for him to read all those hand-written Blue Book exams and grade them!

Both Dr. Domonkos and his wife Eva were born in Budapest, Hungary, he in 1938 and she in 1941. Her tribute in The Vindicator notes that she came to the U.S. as a World War II refugee in 1951. I do not know if this is true of Dr. Domonkos but he became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1959. For both of them, their arrival in this country was a gift. She worked for many years as a labor and delivery nurse, and later as a childbirth educator at St. Elizabeth’s, returning to Hungary to introduce modern childbirth techniques to that country.

Dr. Domonkos gift to this country was his scholarship and inspired teaching. He graduated from Youngstown University in 1959 with a Bachelors degree in history and completed Masters and Ph.D. degrees in medieval history at Notre Dame. He received a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the University of Vienna during 1963-1964.  He returned to teach as an instructor at Youngstown in 1964, then as an assistant professor in 1965, associate professor in 1969 and full professor in 1975. Twice he served as acting department chair. In 1971, he received an Outstanding Educator in America award. Over the years six Distinguished Professor Awards followed. He published numerous articles in medieval and Hungarian history in addition to co-editing three books. He was admitted to the Corporate Body of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 2003. He retired from Youngstown State in 2002, receiving emeritus status.

In 2013 he was awarded the YSU Heritage Award, the university’s most prestigious award, recognizing faculty and administrative staff who have made a major contribution to the university during their career. At the date this was written, he is continuing to enjoy his retirement.

It is staggering to think of how many students lives were touched by Dr. Domonkos during his four decade career at Youngstown State. Some went on to academic careers in history. No doubt some were just glad to pass his course! But I can’t help but believe there were many of us who gained a much bigger vision of the world beyond the Mahoning valley through his teaching. For me, he inspired a lifelong love of history, manifested in a house full of history books, and a curiosity to know the story behind the facts. I know my life is richer for it. Thank you, Dr. Domonkos!

 

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — James L. Wick, Jr.

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Headstone for James L. Wick, Jr. family plot, Oak Hill Cemetery, Photo by Linda Bunch, all rights reserved, via Find A Grave

Rocky Ridge was a favorite area growing up, whether it was playing on the playground as a child, sledding down the hill below the play area in the winter, playing baseball on one of the diamonds, touch football, or tennis on the tennis courts. As a teen, I was at the skating rink every weekend during the winter and I have memories of going to open air concerts. The one that stands out featured jazz great Lionel Hampton–something I didn’t appreciate at the time!

 

Formally, the name of this place is the James L. Wick, Jr. Recreation Area.  We never called it that, and I have to say I was oblivious to who this gentleman was. In researching him, I found out that I walked by his home on 384 S. Belle Vista (I believe on the corner of S. Belle Vista and Chaney Circle) every day when I went to and from Chaney. The home itself has some history to it, being the original home of Samuel Price, a prominent West Side resident (think Price Road, which is practically across the street from this home). Wick and his wife Clare purchased the home in 1919.

Wick was born into the Wick family, Youngstown royalty of sorts. His father, James Lippincott Wick was a business partner of Freeman Arms (James, Sr. married Julia Arms) and was also associated with G. M. McKelvey’s. James L. Wick, Jr. was born January 28, 1883. He graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, financed by an uncle. He went to work as a general master mechanic at Youngstown Sheet and Tube, then in 1918 took a position as secretary and assistant general manager of Falcon Bronze Company, a bronze foundry. By 1926 he was president, but only separated by a door from the plant where he helped pour a melt and sometimes operated a crane. Wick and Louis M. Nesselbush patented a cooling plate for inwalls and mantles in 1938. He sold the firm to American Brake Shoe Company in 1953.

He played an important role in three Youngstown institutions. He was the chairman of the board of trustees of Youngstown College, later University from 1921 to 1955, overseeing its growth from a night school of the YMCA to a nationally accredited university. Jones Hall, the main building of the university was built under his tenure.

Any of us who write about Youngstown history are indebted to the Mahoning Valley Historical Society. He was one of the incorporators of the Society in 1909 and served two terms as president. His most significant contribution was to help provide a permanent home for the Society and its growing archives. As its president, he persuaded Mrs. Wilford P. Arms to leave her home at 648 Wick Avenue to the society in 1961, and then sold lifetime memberships of $1,000 or more to endow the facility. He remained active with the Society until his death and had a passion for passing along the history of the Valley to its youth, and it was reported he was a lively storyteller.

His other major passion was Mill Creek Park. He knew Volney Rogers, served on the Mill Creek Park board for 21 years until he retired in 1958, could identify trees and shrubs throughout the park, and fought to preserve the park when it was threatened by developers. After his retirement, Rocky Ridge was renamed in his honor, one he could easily visit just a short drive down S. Belle Vista from his home.

He seems kind of a renaissance man. He was a gifted amateur painter, naturalist, inventor, and historian. He was a member of engineering societies, the Youngstown Country Club, a trustee of the Butler, and member of the board of First Presbyterian Church.

I wish I had met him. He passed away on March 16, 1972, my senior year at Chaney. In the words of songwriter Joni Mitchell, “don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til its gone.” I never knew this man, who contributed so much to Youngstown, and did so much that we might know its history, lived along my way to school. I’m glad I know a bit of him now. And perhaps by telling his story, and the story of our city, I can do my small bit to honor his legacy.

Growing Up In Working Class Youngstown — Howard W. Jones

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Statue of Howard W. Jones, photo by Robert C. Trube, all rights reserved

I was able to attend Youngstown State because of Howard W. Jones. He was the principal reason that there was a Youngstown State as the first and longest sitting president from 1935 to 1966. He retired when Youngstown University was on the verge of becoming a state university, which happened in 1967. To protect the university’s private endowment, he became the president of the Youngstown Education Foundation (now the YSU Foundation). He served in this position until 1975. In 1972, I received a scholarship from the Youngstown Education Foundation (full the first year, and partial the remaining years). That scholarship, along with part-time jobs and low tuition, allowed me to graduate in 1976 without any loan debts.

Who was this man whose leadership was so crucial to the growth of Youngstown College, later Youngstown University? Jones was born September 25, 1895 in Palmyra, Ohio. He served in the Navy during World War I and completed his Bachelor’s degree at Hiram College in 1920. He later completed a Masters degree at Western Reserve University in 1938, and was granted an honorary degree in Pedagogy in 1943 from Westminster College. He worked as an athletic trainer, coach, and school principal before returning to Hiram to serve as assistant to the president at Hiram.

He came to Youngstown in 1931 at the invitation of the YMCA. You may recall that Youngstown College got its start when the YMCA starting offering college level courses at the Youngstown Association School. In 1921, it became the Youngstown Institute of Technology, then in 1928, Youngstown College. In 1931, Jones was the associate general secretary of the YMCA and was appointed to direct Youngstown College, essentially to serve as president. He presided over construction of a new 35 room classroom building that would one day bear his name, at the corner of Wick and Lincoln Avenues, built at a cost of $350,000 and dedicated October 1, 1931. Enrollment at the time was 200. He formally was named President in 1935. He brought the Dana School of Music from Warren to become part of Youngstown College. Over the next 20 years he led the expansion of the college into a university, the growth reflected in the name change to Youngstown University in 1955. By the time he retired in 1966, the university had grown to 12,000 students with new science and engineering buildings under construction. He was succeeded by Albert Pugsley, who was YSU’s president when I enrolled in the fall of 1972.

Howard W. Jones died February 25, 1982 at the age of 86. He oversaw a transformation from a small, mostly night school to an urban state university. His work at the Youngstown Education Foundation made it possible for many of my generation to be the first to obtain college degrees. The campus I encountered in 1972, much less developed than today, was fundamentally a result of his leadership. I wish I had met him. It occurs to me that I have a good deal for which I could thank him.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Smoky Hollow

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Harrison Common – Smoky Hollow – Pergola. Photo by Jack Pearce [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

I’ve always been fascinated by the name. Smoky Hollow. Sounds a bit mysterious. Atmospheric. The last was literally so at one time. There often was a veil of smoke over the area in early years due to the nearby Mahoning Valley Iron Company.

The area was once the property of the James Wick family. As mills grew up along Crab Creek in the late 1800’s, immigrants densely settled the nearby neighborhoods with homes where you could read the neighbor’s newspaper through the side window, or even closer in row houses. While immigrants moved there from a number of countries, the Italian community dominated by the 1920’s. There were stores with names on them like Nazurini, Lariccia, Tucci, Gaglione, DeBartolo, Cianello, Conti, and Diciacomo. An early business that has survived to this day is Cassese’s MVR Club. Edward J. DeBartolo, Sr., shopping mall developer was born here in 1919. Jack Warner and Dom Roselli also grew up here.

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Harrison Common, The Smoky Hollow Granite Map. Photo by Jack Pearce [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr (site includes a legend of identifiable structures)

The neighborhood is bordered by Wick Avenue on the west, the US 422 freeway on the north and east, and Rayen Avenue and Oak Street on the South. In our childhoods, both my wife and I attended churches on the edge of Smoky Hollow. We went to Tabernacle United Presbyterian Church, at the corner of Wood and Walnut until the congregation relocated to Austintown in 1968. My wife’s family went to Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church, just down Wood Street, and my wife went to the school next to the church through eighth grade. Many of her classmates lived in Smoky Hollow. For a time, my father worked nearby at the Raymond Concrete Pile plant along Andrews Avenue.

From the 1970’s on, the neighborhood declined, especially after the mill closures and a number of homes were vacant and razed. The vacancies combined with the growth of Youngstown State has resulted in the beginnings of redevelopment in the area. University classroom buildings, a parking garage, and apartments were built east of Wick Avenue.

Wick Neighbors, Inc in cooperation with St. John’s Episcopal Church, Youngstown State and the City of Youngstown developed a plan for the redevelopment of the area. One of the first parts of the plan to be completed was the creation of Harrison Common Park in 2011, across the street from the MVR, using a combination of $4 million in public funds and private donations. The park features a brick-paved plaza, a pergola donated by the Rotary Club, landscaping, and a large playing field. There is also a pizza/bread oven, reminiscent of the backyard ovens many early Youngstown residents used for baking bread and pizza-making. There is an inlaid, granite plat map of the Smoky Hollow area from 1920 to 1940.

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Bread Oven at Harrison Common. Photo by Jack Pierce [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

Other improvements in the area include road and infrastructure improvements on Walnut Street and the major improvements made on Wick Avenue. Long term development includes plans for housing and attracting businesses to the Smoky Hollow area. In 2014 Wick Neighbors, Inc. merged into Youngstown CityScape, which continues under the latter name.

To visit the area is to be reminded of a once vibrant neighborhood of small groceries and other businesses, densely packed housing and a vibrant neighborhood life. Now most of the houses are gone. The MVR lives on. Much of Smoky Hollow’s life is connected to the university. Harrison Common Park suggests the center of what could be a new vibrant community in the future. When that future will come and what that will look like remains to be seen. Until then the name reminds us of the place that once was. Smoky Hollow.

[Like some other names in Youngstown, some add an “e” to the name, making it Smokey Hollow. I chose the usage I found in The VindicatorWikipedia, and Youngstown CityScape.]

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — “The Rock” at Kilcawley

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Yes, that’s a picture of me as a somewhat shaggy first year student by The Rock at Kilcawley. Kind of a weird paint job. Photo courtesy of Marilyn Trube.

We used to joke that it was really a pebble, grown into rock with all those layers of paint. Sitting outside of Kilcawley Center on the Youngstown State campus, “The Rock” was in a central location, and hardly a week went by, sometimes not even a day, when we would pass by a new paint job–a fraternity, a sorority, a club, a cause, or just a group rallying us to support the team for the next football game. One of my favorites was a picture I saw of The Rock being painted to look like the Great Pumpkin! Sometimes, when there was a protest, the rock would be painted by the group protesting and it would serve as a gathering point. After the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. there was a message of loss on The Rock.

According to Penguin Community, the rock was dug up during the construction of Kilcawley Center in 1966. It just sat there for about a year until March 18, 1967 when it was first painted by a group of students, after a Jambar article naming it “Tradition Rock.” Apparently it was known as Tradition Rock during the early years of YSU as a state university. This apparently did not last very long because by the time we arrived on campus in 1972, we just called it “The Rock” or “Kilcawley Rock.”

The Rock has grown over the years, not from a pebble perhaps. A study in 1988 found that the coating of paint was at least two inches thick on the rock. It is estimated that students add about an eighth of an inch to The Rock each year, which would mean about another four inches of paint since that 1988 study!

To accommodate changing landscaping and traffic patterns, The Rock was moved to a different location within about 100 yards of where it was when we were students. It is still at the center of campus, and part of a cherished student tradition.

In November of 2015, that tradition was violated when some party painted messages supporting ISIS. There was an outcry in the community and even the FBI was called in. But this was the students’ rock and students quickly addressed the situation, repainting the rock in red, white, and blue with an American flag, patriotic messages, and an incredible show of campus unity. President Tressel later gave a video interview describing that response, that students came together and basically said, “you don’t mess with our Rock.”

That’s Youngstown–the city and the campus. You don’t mess with Youngstown.

I’d love to hear your stories of painting The Rock, or other Youngstown State memories!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Arby’s

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Old fashioned Arby’s sign. Photo by Jim, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr

Remember when the first Arby’s opened on Route 224 in Boardman? We used to drive over from the West Side to get a bag full of Arby’s on Sunday evenings. At first there weren’t many options other than a regular roast beef sandwich. This was still fast food, but definitely a cut above the hamburger places that were spreading all over the country. And in a blue collar town like Youngstown, it was red meat on a robust bun. A couple would make a good meal for under $2 in the early days.

That Arby’s was literally the first. Arby’s as a fast food chain started in Youngstown in 1964. The name comes from Raffel Brothers (Forrest and Leroy), hence R.B, or Arby’s. It also is the abbreviation of Roast Beef (clever, huh?). The chain spread rapidly, beginning to spread to other states in 1970, by which time they were growing at a rate of 50 stores a year. The menu expanded as well with Beef ‘n Cheddar sandwiches, Curly Fries, and Jamocha shakes, among other things. Eventually they opened up a franchise in Kilcawley Center at Youngstown State, replacing Hardees, which was there when we were students and an entirely forgettable chain as far as we were concerned.

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Arby’s in Kilcawley Center, Jgera5 of English Wikipediaself-taken photo by the author, Public Domain

In 1976, the corporation was sold for the first of several times, first to Royal Crown Cola, then DWG Corporation owned by Victor Posner, and eventually the parent company of Wendy’s (which began in Columbus, Ohio–we live a stone’s throw from their headquarters). Currently Roark Capital Group has the controlling interest with Wendy’s continuing to have a minority share.

Arby’s seems to be doing well these days, with James Earl Jones doing voice-overs on their commercials. [Note: Several readers pointed out and I confirmed that it is in fact Golden Globe award winning actor Ving Rhames. Thanks for the correction!] We still like to stop by to get a sandwich occasionally, and even though they now have fancier deli style sandwiches, I almost always just get a roast beef sandwich. I always reflect on what that sandwich and I have in common–we were both born in Youngstown!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Penguin Football

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Today, Youngstown State’s football Penguins go up against Jacksonville State in the second round of the FCS Playoffs. It is great to see Youngstown back in championship contention. It was something we never saw during my years growing up in Youngstown and as a student at Youngstown State. Back then the competitive sports at Youngstown State were basketball and baseball under Dom Roselli.

Those were the “Dike” Beede days. It seems that Beede’s main contribution to football had nothing to do with winning. It was his idea to invent the penalty flag which was first used in a game between Oklahoma City University and Youngstown in October of 1941, at Rayen Stadium, where Youngstown played many of their games, even during the years we were students.

It’s not that there weren’t some players that went on to excel. Ed O’Neill perhaps made it the biggest. After playing for Beede, he went on to the Steelers, got cut in 1969, and then returned to Youngstown to pursue training in acting. He managed the Pub in Kilcawley when we were students before going on to Broadway, TV and Modern Family. While we were there, Ron Jaworski was the quarterback, known then and later as “the Polish rifle.” He went on to play for the Eagles and is still a sports commentator. Cliff Stoudt also was at Youngstown in the 1970’s before going on to play back-up to Terry Bradshaw with the Steelers. Ironically, Stoudt’s son Cole is currently an offensive assistant coach at Jacksonville State.

The closest we got to championships in our time at Youngstown was in 1974 when Ray Dempsey led the team with Stoudt at quarterback to an 8-1 record before losing in the first round of the playoffs. Dempsey went on to an assistant coaching job with the Detroit Lions the next season. For that season, I actually paid attention although few of us went to the games. There were often not many more people in the stands than on the field. Far more people in Youngstown went to high school games back then. The irony was that northeast Ohio is football country–all those sons of steelworkers! Thinking back, it just didn’t make sense that for so many years Youngstown State was uncompetitive.

Things got better after we left. Bill Narduzzi led them to a couple conference championships and a few playoff victories. But things really turned around in the Tressel years when they won four national championships and were runners-up twice before Tressel went on to coach at Ohio State. We live in Columbus and there were a lot of questions about Tressel but we talked about what he did at Youngstown. Sure enough, in 2002, he won another championship and went on to be the third winning-est coach in Ohio State history.

It was during this time that Stambaugh Stadium, also know as the “Ice Castle” was built. An internet search turned up no definitive answer to where this nickname came from except that the west side of the stadium represents the highest point in Youngstown, and in the blustery weather of late fall can be downright cold. It’s also fun to think of it as a place where the Penguins put their opponents on ice. Bleachers on the east side of the field added another 3,000 seats for a seating capacity of 20,630.

In his second season, current coach Bo Pelini has the Penguins in the second round of the FCS playoff. Here’s hoping that this marks the beginnings of a new winning tradition. Go Fighting Penguins!

Update at 5:40 PM Saturday, December 3, 2016. Youngstown State has just defeated Jacksonville State 40-24!