By Emmalee C. Torisk | Metro Monthly Staff Writer
One century ago, after raising $150,000, several members of the city’s most prominent families established a permanent space for the fledgling YWCA of Youngstown: a five-story brick structure on West Rayen Avenue. Constructed in 1911 and dedicated one year later, the building has since been central to the organization’s programs and services. However, in recent years, the structure has often hindered, rather than helped, efficient fulfillment of the YWCA’s mission.
“The women of the community needed a place for women and families. [The YWCA has] been many things for many people and has seen many uses throughout the years,” said Leah Brooks, development director of the YWCA. “It’s a symbol of women’s history, of the women leaders of our community. But it was in need of a facelift.”
Subsequently, in August, the YWCA of Youngstown began an ambitious $10 million renovation and restoration of the historic building that has functioned, at various times in the past 100 years, as a homeless shelter, a place of worship and a center for childcare, education, health and recreation, social activities and women affected by crisis.
The YWCA Board of Directors began planning the project in 1996 after a feasibility study determined renovation of the existing structure more economical than demolition and new construction. Eight years later, the board recommitted to that idea and started searching for an architectural firm to present a visual plan of the renovation. The board chose local architect Paul Ricciuti, primarily for his experience with preserving and adaptively reusing historic buildings.
“[The structure] is very, very sound,” Ricciuti said. “It’s part of the fabric of Youngstown. We’ve torn down too many historic buildings in our community. It’s a major, major plus for our community that the board decided to stay there.”
Approximately $9 million has been committed to the project. In 2007, the YWCA received $3.2 million from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency in low-income housing tax credits to renovate a portion of the structure, said Constance Shaffer, executive director of the YWCA. She noted that this award was followed by $1.4 million in historic preservation tax credits, $1 million in state historic preservation tax credits, $1 million from the Federal Home Loan Bank, $750,000 from the Ohio Housing Trust Fund, $700,000 from a Clean Ohio grant and $400,000 from the city of Youngstown. The project has also received assistance from the YWCA’s capital campaign and is seeking further community support and donations.
“It’s all been tough,” Shaffer said of financing the project. “It’s never a sure thing. Government grants and the stimulus made the project possible. [We had] the majority of money coming through that way.”
Despite some funding struggles and the project’s inherent risks and challenges, Shaffer stressed the need for up-to-date permanent supportive housing, primarily for those who require “help in maintaining homes.”
“It was not a great environment,” Shaffer said of the building before the project’s start. “It was too hot, too cold, there were things breaking. It was not very modern.”
To better meet the contemporary needs of YWCA residents, the structure’s 36 dormitory-style single bedrooms — which featured common bathrooms, living rooms and kitchens — have been transformed into 30 handicapped-accessible one-bedroom and efficiency apartments for low-income single women. Each unit provides a private bathroom and kitchen facility and ranges in size from 450 to 700 square feet, Brooks said.
“Privacy is important. It’s hard enough for students to live like that, let alone grown women,” Brooks said of the previous housing conditions. “[The new apartments] are cozy; they feel like more of a home.”
All apartments feature several amenities, including a refrigerator, a stove, a phone, Internet, cable, plenty of storage space, heat and air conditioning. Prior to the renovation, residents relied on shared air-conditioning units installed in each floor’s community lounge and one thermostat that controlled temperature settings for the entire building. Now, residents can adjust rooms to their personal comfort levels.
The updated residential space spreads across the top three floors and a portion of the second. Construction should be complete by September or October, while all 30 apartments will likely be rented and leased by December, Brooks said. Licensed social workers will provide on-site supportive services for residents.
This comprehensive effort also includes restoration of the structure’s original two-story gymnasium, which will be used as a community all-purpose room. Areas adjacent to the gymnasium have been designated as small group meeting rooms, restrooms and a kitchen. The YWCA’s health outreach staff will be housed there, but building residents, YWCA program participants and the public are encouraged to use the space, Brooks said.
The public will also be welcomed into the YWCA’s first-floor lobby, which is being restored to its 1911 appearance. Historic elements of the structure were preserved, following state and federal historic preservation standards. What could not be preserved or was otherwise unavailable had to be replicated.
Layers of paint have been stripped from the original woodwork and fireplaces, while multi-pane windows have been installed for historical accuracy, Brooks said. The lobby will also feature a cyber cafe, complete with Wi-Fi, and a limited food service operation.
“[The lobby] will be for public use, a public area. We’ve had public programs, but this will bring more of a traffic [to the building],” Brooks said.
First-floor space will also be used for retail operations, start-up space for women- and minority-owned businesses, case-management support for clients and partnerships with local government, businesses and training programs.
The former pool building, which stood between the YWCA and the new Williamson College of Business Administration, has been demolished. An enclosed garden will take its place.
Plans are also in place to further develop the YWCA’s childcare center. A new children’s center will feature an outdoor playground, developmental assessments, therapy and specialized services for children with disabilities. These services target children aged 6 weeks to 12 years, including those with special needs.
Other additions and improvements include activity rooms, a fitness area and computer labs. More efficient and economical operating systems, such as new wiring and plumbing, were installed.
“We’re gutting out the old and putting in new,” Brooks said. “It creates a healthier environment for staff, residents and the public. When people come in here, even members of our own board, they’re amazed.”
Prior to the project’s start, Brooks recalled questioning the YWCA’s downtown location.
“Do we belong here? Do we belong in the suburbs?” Brooks asked. “But we have a value here, a value downtown. We’re very much involved with community revitalization and the renaissance of the community. The community response to this transition, this transformation, has been very positive.”
© 2010, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.
By Mark C. Peyko | Metro Monthly Editor
Construction projects in and around Youngstown State University are expanding the physical reach of the campus and altering the skyline of the downtown and near North Side.
In late summer, students returning to classes saw scaffolding, steel framing and earth-moving equipment on sites north and south of the campus core. Although YSU’s new $34.3 million Williamson College of Business Administration building on West Rayen Avenue is the centerpiece of the university’s Centennial Master Plan, multi-million dollar restorations at St. Columba Cathedral and the YWCA bookend the project and are the most extensive in each facility’s history.
“One of the underlying land-development concepts is to reach out and connect the campus to the rest of the community,” said Hunter Morrison, director of campus planning and community partnerships at YSU. “That was particularly true in the case of the business school – moving into what was known as the transition zone between downtown and the campus in collaboration with the Diocese of Youngstown and the YWCA.”
The new Williamson College of Business Administration replaces an aging structure on Lincoln Avenue. The 106,000-square-foot facility doubles the size of the current building and adds features not found in the 1960s-era structure. New classroom space will facilitate interactive learning and the building will house a student-run business incubator and labs for computers, financial services, sales and communications. Williamson is expected to open in June 2010 and is the largest single capital expenditure in Youngstown State University’s history.
Last October the YWCA of Youngstown kicked off the renovation/restoration of its historic 1911 building on Rayen Avenue. The $8.6 million project calls for adapting the YWCA to present-day needs, while maintaining the building’s historic ambience. A key component of the project calls for creating 30 one bedroom and efficiency apartments for residents. The renovation will transform current dormitory-style housing into modern, self-contained apartment units with private bathrooms and kitchen facilities. All would be handicap accessible.
“It took a while to find all the resources to put together,” said Constance Shaffer, executive director of the YWCA. “One of the key players was Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing, and they helped us navigate the system to secure low-income tax credits and helped put together the project with funding sources.”
The YWCA project seeks to create job development and “economic empowerment” programming on the first floor. Plans call for a variety of economic development ventures, including a start-up space for women’s and minority-owned businesses and partnerships with local government and job-training organizations. Other improvements include new community meeting spaces, computer labs, a fitness area, and a cyber café in the first-floor lobby. The former pool building is scheduled for demolition and a new enclosed garden is planned in its place.
The total cost of the YWCA project is $8,682,498. The YWCA plans to use a combination of grant monies, low-income housing tax credits and federal historic tax credits to complete the project, but is undertaking a capital campaign to raise the remaining $3,047,926.
To contribute to the project, contact Shaffer or Leah Brooks, development director, at 330-746-6361.
West of the future Williamson College of Business Administration, the Diocese of Youngstown is undertaking a $2 million restoration of St. Columba Cathedral. The work is part of the Diocese’s “Today’s Sacrifice, Tomorrow’s Church Capital Campaign.” The drive, which ended in January 2006, earmarked $22.5 million for a variety of uses, including school and ministry endowments, seminarian support, and restoration of the cathedral. LZ Construction is construction manager for the project. According to the Louis A. Zarlenga & Associates and LZ Construction Web site, the first phase of the project is set to be completed in November 2009.
North of campus and across from the Cafaro House residence hall on Elm Street, U.S. Campus Suites LLC recently demolished the former Electrochemicals Inc. complex, which in recent years had housed a coney island restaurant, car wash, coffee shop and thrift store. U.S. Campus Suites President Dominic Marchionda plans to build a 115 bed student apartment building in the block bounded by Elm, Bryson, Madison Avenue and the West Bound Service Road of the Madison Avenue Expressway. Last spring, the YSU Board of Trustees agreed to lease the parcel for 40 years to U.S. Campus Suites for $110,000. At the end of the lease, the university will gain control of the building.
The proposed development, called the Flats at Wick, is the first phase of a planned four apartment building complex on the site. Rent is expected to be $685 per month for a one-room apartment and $510 per person for a four-bed apartment.
Farther north on Elm Street, Common Wealth, Inc., a non-profit organization, purchased 901 Elm on July 17. According to the Mahoning County Auditor’s Web site, the organization purchased the 5,698-square-foot building from the U.S. Government at auction for an undisclosed price. The two-story brick building formerly housed the Penguin Pub and Amy’s Campus 2000. Constructed in 1929, the Stuart Building contains six one-bedroom apartments and first floor commercial space. Common Wealth is asking between $550 and $700 for a one-bedroom apartment and is marketing to students, hospital employees or anyone else wishing to live on the North Side. The apartments feature hardwood floors, new kitchens and baths and off-street parking.
Two other projects, still in the preliminary stages, include a new CVS drug store on Fifth Avenue and an indoor athletic training facility on Elm Street north of the YSU Physical Plant. The proposed Watson and Tressel Training Site, was announced in 2007, following a $1 million donation by the Watson and Tressel families. Like Williamson, the $10 million project is part of YSU’s $43 million Centennial Capital Campaign. According to the YSU athletics department Web site (http://www.ysusports.com), the $7.5 million first phase of the complex is expected to be complete for the fall 2010 semester.
The enclosed, climate-protected practice facility will be used for YSU football and athletic training as well as area high school teams and youth organizations. The facility will include athletic fields for football, baseball, softball, soccer and track. A video, hosted on YouTube, shows a short, computer-generated video on the proposed facility. To view, visithttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNmsurl4NAE.
For more information on the WATTS project or to donate to the project, contact Joe Casesse at 330-941-2756.
© 2009, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.
By STACEY ADGER | SPECIAL TO THE METRO MONTHLY
Each year, hundreds of Mahoning Valley residents join thousands from across the country starting their own personal quest to reach out to their past.
Genealogy is a fast-growing hobby that provides a wealth of family history and uncovers, oftentimes, unexpected glimpses into the past. But where do you start?
“One mistake many new genealogists make is by not beginning with themselves and working backwards,” said Judy Williams, a member of the Mahoning County Chapter of the Ohio genealogical society. “You should research information concerning your parents before you research your great-great-great-great-grandmother. Also, don’t take all family lore as fact. Try to find documents to either prove or disprove family legends.”
Once armed with some of the basics – names, birth and death dates, Social Security numbers, hometowns or cities – you are ready to begin. With the proliferation of many family history records and sites available online, you can start the search from the comfort of your home. Just Googling your name, or the name of an ancestor, may give you some idea if there is any information out there and if someone may be looking for you.
The main branches of public library systems in our region are wonderful places to start. With books, microfilm of old newspapers and phone books, and land maps showing streets and locales that may or may not still exist today, you can find a wealth of basic information. Most libraries have computers dedicated to genealogical research, which provide free access to sites like Ancestry.com, Heritagequest.com, FamilySearch.org, plus Ohio death certificates and other sources.
A first stop is usually the 1790 to 1930 U.S. Federal Census records, along with international census data. These pages provide information on each individual family: city, state, who is in the household and the relationship, sex, age, and, in some cases, occupation and the value of what they own. This data can be used to determine if you have found your ancestors. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the 1890 census was destroyed in a fire. Other records such as property documents, marriage licenses, and other sources can be used to fill in the gaps.
For African Americans, research often slows down tremendously prior to 1870. That Census decade was the first to list all households regardless of race. From 1860 and before, the Census counted primarily white Americans, and blacks, if slaves, were often indicated as a mark under the owner’s name and only identified by sex and age range.
Emily Davis, past president and current treasurer of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, believes that although slave research is at times difficult, it is not impossible. “It becomes more challenging because many of our ancestors were slaves, and, depending on the state, public records were not always kept. And if they were, they are not always easy to identify or find.”
For researchers who go in knowing the name of the plantation their family was from or the name of the owner of their ancestors, their search may be a little easier. Records that can be searched that may hold clues include: owner wills, property ledgers and diaries. If these records exist, they may be housed in the county courthouse where the owner lived, in special collections donated to libraries, or privately held by descendants of the owner.
It helps to know going in that there are research, copying and postage fees that can become quite expensive. Not all blacks were slaves. Some were termed Free People of Color and may exist on a separate Census. They were often freed due to old age, in return for some act or service rendered to the owner, or they were the offspring of an owner/slave relationship.
Davis points to a high-tech tool that has become a more-affordable option for family research – DNA testing. “There are a number of persons other than Alex Haley who have been able to trace their ancestors back to Africa. Others may not have traced their families using documented records and resources, but have chosen instead to do a DNA test to determine the region or origin of their ancestors.”
Since this scientific sleuthing method has been available to the general public, it has become less costly. A simple mouth swab that will lead to some basic information is available for about $100.
Naturally, a more extensive the test will be more costly. Many companies now offer the service, but do your homework. Ask what may be the best test – the one that will give you reliable information at a price you can afford.
Independent contracted researchers are available for hire and will likely take on your individual case, but be willing to pay. With minimum fees as little as $10 per hour to hundreds of dollars per hour, many may find the service out of their reach and there are no guaranteed results. Subcontracting the work also takes away some of the thrill of making contact with a relative you may have never met as a result of your own research efforts.
Services based on donations, such as Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, are good for getting obituaries and other information at minimum expense, but you have to follow the guidelines for making a request.
Funeral programs, obituaries, cemetery records, birth records (after 1908 in Ohio), military records and family Bibles often hold valuable information as well. Making audio or video recordings of the older members of your family is also key. It provides a valuable family history record or a precious keepsake for those who come after you.
Both Williams and Davis agree that while it is not mandatory, joining a genealogy group is important. Such organizations provide a support network of other researchers who may be able to give you guidance on ways to search and things to consider, in order to take your research farther.
© 2009, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.
The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:
The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.
A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2010. That’s about 31 full 747s.
In 2010, there were 2 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 23 posts. There were 2 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 395kb.
The busiest day of the year was July 18th with 422 views. The most popular post that day was Can’t forget the Motor City: Motown hits 50.
Where did they come from?
The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, search.aol.com, mariaozawa2u.blogspot.com, shoutyoungstown.blogspot.com, and elecpencil.wordpress.com.
Some visitors came searching, mostly for temptations, the temptations, the temptation, motown hits, and the original temptations.
Attractions in 2010
These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.
Can’t forget the Motor City: Motown hits 50 February 2009
Time runs out for Jeannette Blast Furnace February 2009
Downtown from the 7th floor of the Realty Building: Recalling life in 1940s Youngstown January 2009
‘Steel Dreams’ reconstructs community lost to time December 2009
Berry Gordy Jr., Motown and American culture January 2009
By Tyler Landis
Metro Monthly Staff Writer
With a motto like “Blasting forth with complete disregard for the mainstream!” you’d think the minds behind Rukus Radio were a pack of crusaders looking to liberate Internet listeners everywhere.
Quite the contrary. Moe Angelo, Trevor Quillan, and Chris Rutushin have their own sense of style, but seem content with being ordinary guys with a huge passion for music.
While their listeners may know them as Trevor Q and Moestrodamus, it was acoustic performer Trevor Quillan and Kelleys bassist Moe Angelo who got the ball rolling for Rukus Radio back in 2007 during a chance encounter at “Vex Fest IV,” an annual musical festival in downtown Youngstown.
Shortly after, the two were recording podcasts and brewing an idea for a radio show. The result is a Youngstown-based Internet radio station that has been broadcasting free of FCC regulation for a few years now.
The station has a singular identity. Each D.J. has a distinctive style and sound, but everything played on the station is categorized under the umbrella of independent music.
However, listeners won’t hear what is being played on most radio stations. Rukus’ mission is to expose listeners to an eclectic variety of bands and musical genres. Quillan and Angelo take pride in the fact that the station can say or do whatever it wants.
Because they are unencumbered by FCC regulation that means just about anything goes.
“We’re like the extended home show,” Quillan says. Angelo’s free spirited demeanor is what best embodies the themes and tropes of Rukus. “All these stations get playlists from above, we don’t have that,” Angelo says. Each show doesn’t consist of a tidy script or checklist of topics; it’s all very loose with its on-the-go approach.
D.J. Rutushin’s show “Happy Hours,” airs every Monday from 9 to 11 p.m. and features interviews and music from indie artists who Rutushin has had shows with or met during his travels. “It’s about having fun and strays away from sad bastardly music,” Rutushin said.
Angelo’s show, “Notes from the Underground,” is a multi-genre live program that features new releases. It airs every Wednesday from 9 to 11 p.m.
“The Jam Band Breakfast,” hosted by Trevor Q, is the station’s daily morning show and primarily focuses on all aspects of the “jamband” genre. It airs Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until noon.
In addition, “The Rukus Roundtable” airs every Sunday from 9 to 11p.m. and features a discussion forum and a revolving cast of characters.
“Chris [Rutushin] does a fantastic job of knowing what he’s doing the entire show, where I tend to wing it a little more often. It all goes to show the acceptance that anything and everything is O.K.,” Angelo said. Quillan’s on-air style is similar to Angelo’s: He lets the vibe of the day lead the show.
“When I get up, I sit in the captain’s chair and just go from there. The first song I choose dictates the rest of the show,” Quillan said.
Sitting with these guys is like getting a musical and a geek education all at once. “Star Wars” references are spat from all three at a dizzying speed. True to their indie-music focus, each dons a T-shirt with the name of a less-realized band. Their laid-back chemistry and keen insight into each other’s refined taste is what makes one believe that Rukus will be around as long as these guys are friends.
In terms of where Rukus can go in the future, signs point upward. “We definitely have plans to make it grow; we’re constantly adding people and content,” said Angelo.
Quillan said they were definitely not running at full capacity, describing the station as a “duct-tape operation.” “If we wanted to full out blast this thing, it’d probably cost us a couple thousand a month,” Quillan said.
For now, running the station and having other jobs keeps the guys busy. “We’re working jobs to try to build a job,” Quillan said.
With future plans to expand the station, the men behind Rukus realize that it’ll get more expensive. However, Quillan is tickled by the idea that they’re able to run the station for very little right now, prompting Rutushin to jump in and advise Quillan not to pull back the curtain.
Still, Rukus boasts a modest – but increasing – following on their site.” It’s our own social network, our version of MySpace or Facebook,” Quinlan said. “People can be a member for free which gives them the freedom to create a profile, chat, post blog entries, and upload music or videos.”
The site had gone from zero members last May, to approximately 600. Although Rukus enjoys exposing listeners to their favorite bands, the guys remain snake-bitten over the lack of support they’ve received from some local bands. “We’ve done our fair share of promoting Youngstown,” Angelo says, but admits that the response could be a lot better.
To hear Rukus Radio, visit http://www.rukusradio.com. You can listen live and most shows are available for downloading after their original air date.
© 2010, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.
By Mark C. Peyko | Metro Monthly Editor
Although it started as a feature on Facebook, a project by Youngstown photographer Tony Nicholas is rapidly becoming an important chronicle of the creative culture of the Mahoning Valley.
Nicholas, who earned his master’s degree from Rochester Institute of Technology in 2005, didn’t plan on staying in the Mahoning Valley after graduation. He said he returned temporarily to teach part-time, but “one thing led to another.”
“The more I was here, the more I got involved with the local arts scene, the more I wanted to stay,” Nicholas recalled. “And now I feel like I’m so entrenched, and I feel all these good things going on, and things evolving in a good way. And, you know, I just want to be a person here, pushing that along. Just try to help that.”
The Metro Monthly recently spoke with Nicholas about his ongoing project. The interview appears below.
Metro Monthly: Tell me a little about how the project started.
Tony Nicholas: . . . I actually woke up one morning, at about 4:30 in the morning, and I had a couple of other projects that were ongoing and this thing just hit me. I was working with all these other local artists, getting ready for these local festivals at the B&O Station and so forth. And it’s always overwhelming to me how many talented artists there are in the area. A lot of them are friends of mine, and they’re struggling to gain a bigger audience. That was one aspect, just trying to put a face with a lot of these people’s work and create something of it to draw attention to the area about the talent that’s here in the arts. And the other aspect is that photography is my education. I have a master’s degree . . . , but it was just a document for historical reference of the people who are here working in the arts at this period in time. I had seen photos and done studies in school of . . . artists in their workspace and it always intrigued me to see people in their own environment, comfortable working in their own environment, and I thought it was something that had to be done. And I’m surprised it hasn’t been done before. . . . I just thought this was needed and something that had to be done just as a record.
Metro Monthly: Are the portraits only available on Facebook or do you have a Web site where people can see them, too?
Nicholas: I actually do a blog sometimes, but I haven’t posted anything about this. I haven’t actually posted anything in a couple of months. I was going to put them there. The only place there is right now is Facebook and it’s really an edited-down version of just a couple shots of the ones that I’ve done so far. If I would photograph somebody, I’ll probably post four or five from that session and that’s about it. But, at this point, that’s about it. There is no other place to see them at this point.
Metro Monthly: Who is your intended audience for this? Facebook is really friend-to-friend. Are you getting some people who might not be familiar with some of these artists who are linked peripherally to other people who are seeing this?
Nicholas: Somewhat, but to me it’s not enough. Part of the motivation for me was to draw a bigger audience, to show people all these artists right here from the Mahoning Valley, and to try to bring attention to them because I do a lot of these art festivals in the area. . . . A lot of times you’re in the same crowd of people and you talk to them about their struggle to draw people in and make people aware because a lot of people aren’t even aware of the talent that’s right here underneath them.
Metro Monthly: There’s a small group of people using “Rust Belt” as a brand. I was wondering what the thinking was behind that and are all these groups of people affiliated?
Nicholas: It’s an identifiable term that can be used to group a lot of different things together. . . . I’ve worked on shows with Daniel Horne. He’s a local sculptor and he started Artists of the Rust Belt Festivals at the B&O Station. . . . It’s a marketable term that people can relate to. This is where we’re from and this is who we are.
Metro Monthly: The thing that’s interesting about it is that you’re taking [and using] something that has been – for about 25 or so years – a pejorative way to describe the region. Everyone knows what Rust Belt means, but your group has redefined it in a way where you’re using the recognition that Rust Belt has but really creating a new identity for it.
Nicholas: Absolutely. That’s part of it. That’s part of the motivation – to show people that we are, in a sense, the Rust Belt. We are from here. This is who we are. But, at the same time, we’re trying to change people’s perceptions, their attitudes about the area that has evolved so much, and is always evolving to a more positive light. To show people. . . . You don’t know what you’re missing if you don’t come to these [art] shows and see what’s going on. I’m trying to use this as a tool to show people that this is not just what you read 20 years ago. Youngstown is a different place. There’s a group of people here that choose to be here and they live their lives in a really interesting way and they make art that speaks about the area in more ways than I can even explain.
Metro Monthly: One thing I found interesting about the [photography] profiles is [that] you’re seeing the artists. With a lot of these people, you’re usually only seeing their art. And so you’re really giving identities to a lot of the art that’s out there. The people who created the art.
Nicholas: Right, right. And that’s exactly it. There’s a lot of times where I’ve seen a lot of these people’s work. Some of them, a few that I’ve already photographed – I never really knew them personally, other than to see them socially here and there. You might chit-chat for a second but the time spent photographing them might be a couple hours here or there. You sit and get comfortable with them. . . . It’s just a valuable tool to put a face with this work. I’m hoping to evolve it into some type of book form where I can have the photo, a portrait, and maybe an example of their work, and maybe some type of bio. I’m not really sure at this point. It’s [at] such an early stage, but I’d love to see a book that could be marketed to a much broader audience – to introduce people to who these people are to shed light on this area in a positive manner.
Metro Monthly: The portraits are very striking. They seem to capture what the people are about. Like you said, they’re in their environment. There are examples of their work, in some cases, or they’re in very casual settings. I’m just wondering if there’s a common thread that runs through the profiles. What are you trying to convey, I guess, with each person?
Nicholas: I guess I’m just trying to show them in their more comfortable environment and show them that they’re just people like anyone else, but at the same time they convey their creativity in such a way. It’s hard to explain. When I come to photograph them I tell them, “Don’t dress up; just be yourself and show people who and what you are.” I always try to start photographing them with their art in the space where we’re photographing, but it seems like the best photos end up being the photos of them where we almost seem to be having a conversation more about what it is. Just giving them the opportunity to relax because some of them don’t know me that well. Some do, but that interaction is really key to getting them to relax and kind of just sit there or whatever and capture them as they really are. A lot of times when you’re photographed, you put up a shield. You put on your best look and your best shirt. My only stipulation was to not dress up and don’t clean up your space. Don’t clean your studio; just leave it as if it’s another day at the office.
Metro Monthly: You mentioned Daniel Horne as a subject, but could you name other artists you’ve photographed and the art that they create?
Nicholas: Mary Farragher Evans. She does paintings and she also helps organize a lot of shows in the area. In fact, she just had a show at the Old North Church in Canfield. Fascinating work. Fred Shepherd is a guy who has a studio in the Ward Bakery Building and he does it all. He makes these beautiful Christmas bulbs. They are all unique to themselves. He does photography. He did one of the “Goddess of Speed” statues a year or two ago in Trumbull County. Multi-talented guy. Marcie Applegate is a jewelry maker. She’s been at this for a long time and she’s one of the driving forces behind the Artists of the Rust Belt movement. Her and Daniel Horne, as well. And Daniel is a sculptor. He’s not traditionally-trained. It was something he wanted to do and he did it. His style is his own. It is really intriguing. Jenn Cole is an artist. I just met her last Saturday. I’ve seen her before a few times and she does this multi-media collage work that are basically one-of-a-kind originals that are just something else. She’s well-traveled; she gets around to shows throughout the summer. She’s one of those who are really out there making it happen. There’s just so many. And every one I meet, [leads to] getting introduced to five other ones.
Metro Monthly: The impression I have – because this area has an industrial heritage and a blue-collar heritage – is that you see that blue-collar work ethic being infused into the work and the creativity of the people.
Nicholas: Yeah, absolutely, especially some of the sculptors. Those guys like Charles Hughes. He’s basically a blacksmith. He and Daniel Horne, and even some of the painters and photographers. It’s the way they carry themselves, how they put themselves to work. It’s real working class. They put hours upon hours into it. It’s not, from what I gather, it’s not about the glitzy art shows. It’s more about, you know, the creativity to make these works and put it out there. Hopefully, people find it interesting. There are not a whole lot of big egos in the people I’ve met. It’s more down-to-earth, toiling away. Some people won’t even admit to some degree of being an artist. It’s just what they do, what they are. To me, there’s a real working class grit to it. In fact, [after] the first few that I photographed – some of the feedback I got back from others on Facebook was “how come no one’s smiling?” And that wasn’t something [I did]. I never directed anybody to smile. They only thing I told anybody was to look at me now and then. But I think that said something about their mentality. They were serious about their work. But at the same time, it brought joy to them because you can see that in their interaction. You’ll see a couple of photos where they’ll start to relax and show themselves a bit of a smile. But it’s a real workmen’s kind of mentality that pushes them.
Metro Monthly: You said that you wanted people to be comfortable in their own environment and really try to capture them in a very relaxed state. How long is a session and how long does it take to get people to that place of being comfortable?
Nicholas: Well, usually the sessions aren’t that long. It varies. I’ve had a couple where they’re an hour-and-a-half. I want to say that’s probably the average time and some others it’s two hours, three hours. Like Daniel Horne and I; we hit it off. I go a little bit and we start talking and you’re going on and on and on and as you’re doing that you’re just photographing. They key for me is just to get them to relax. And I want to say the first five or 10 shots are just kind of warmups. I can sense in their face that they’re uncomfortable. A lot of them don’t like to be photographed, and a lot of people are that way. They don’t want to show themselves too much. I think maybe it’s just my nature to talk to them. I want them to know that this is a painless effort. It’s something that’s going to be taken in a positive light. It’s not something where I’m trying to take advantage of them. It’s to show them at their best and get them to relax. I want to say I take five or 10 shots before I start to see that smile in their face. It’ll soften. The key is to get that genuine response.
Metro Monthly: You said that when you met someone it led to you meeting maybe five more people. I have a few questions. How many portraits do you plan on doing and what is the area that you’ll cover geographically? How far out do you consider the Rust Belt to be?
Nicholas: Well, I try not to be too limited because it can be a vast area. . . . But, at this point, it seems that most are in the Mahoning Valley, the Youngstown area. Jenn Cole lives in Liberty. That’s probably the furthest north I’ve gone, actually. But if you live from here to almost to Cleveland and to Pittsburgh – in-between that. To me, that’s the heart of the Rust Belt. It [the project] has become such a big thing already. . . . I don’t want to say I’ll limit how many I will shoot. It’s more who’s willing to let me photograph. . . . The more the merrier, is what I say. I had to turn away a few musicians who wanted to do it. I’m happy to photograph them, but this has got to be more or less the visual artists. I just had to narrow the focus. It’s just too vast already.
Metro Monthly: One thing I’ve been wondering. Are you considering doing a self-portrait? Are you considering including yourself in the series?
Nicholas: I’ve been asked by a few of the other people I’ve photographed and I guess so, yeah. . . . I probably will at some point. I don’t know if I’ll do it myself. . . . I haven’t really figured that out how I’ll do that. But I would because I feel I’m in tune. I feel, as humans, we always want to be included in some type of group or something like that. And a lot of artists feel that you never really fit in. To me, this is really a type of group where I really fit in.
Metro Monthly: O.K. Getting back to the Rust Belt thing. You have the Chamber and other business organizations and a lot of time they try to distance themselves from the past and they always look toward the future. Does the business community at large understand what the Rust Belt thing is? Are they embracing it at all? Do you see that in any way?
Nicholas: I want to say they’re starting to embrace it. I don’t see it on a wide scale by any means. But at the same point, it’s more, basically, this vision of Daniel Horne’s making this. He has an Artists of the Rust Belt community Web site and the shows he does – two or three a summer – the Blues Festival is all part of his vision – with a few other people involved, of course. I think the more you see that term, the Rust Belt, put on these kind of positive things, I think the business community will start to see that the past is where it is and we’re looking forward. Let’s try to make it a positive, an asset to our history. It’s part of our history. It’s who we are. At the same time, it can be shown in a new light – this is part of that light.
Metro Monthly: Just to give proper credit to the person or persons who came up with the Rust Belt name. Was it Daniel Horne or was it someone else? Or was it a group of people brainstorming? Do you know?
Nicholas: Not positive on that, but I want to say that Daniel Horne, Marcie Applegate, and probably a couple others came up with Artists of the Rust Belt and were instrumental in getting it started and having a venue like the B&O Station where they could regularly have shows as a group. But at the same time, they don’t exclude anybody. If you want to partake in one of the shows, they’re all for it. They send out invitations or applications to show samples of your work. What you do if you want to set up a booth. They don’t exclude anyone. They’re an inclusive kind of a group. But I want to say it was their origination, this Artists of the Rust Belt.
Metro Monthly: Ten years from now, when someone’s looking at these portraits, what do you hope they come away with? Or even five years or even in a couple years. What would you hope they come away with when they see your work?
Nicholas: Well, I would hope they would see that things are changing a lot in the area in a good way. And the arts are a big part of that – to help show the changes. I would hope that, in five years, people will look at those pictures and say, “These are some of the people who helped this move along and bring the arts to a higher level of attention and respect in the area.” And that’s all I can hope for. For myself, it’s just something I felt I needed to do. And, in the same manner, it helps me. It’s just a way for me to work and do what I love to do. I’m hoping people see it as a historical document and at the same time show the people who helped bring the arts to a higher level in the area, a higher level of respect.
© 2010, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.
This photo is Wildwood, B.C. (before children). The image depicts (L-R) Aunt Liz, Uncle Ed and my mom on the porch of the cottage Uncle Ed and cousin Eddie built in the 1940s. Mom looks like a newlywed, so I’m assuming it’s from 1953-54. Dad probably took the photo. The cottage was located on what is now Shawcrest and Lavender roads, southwest of the Rio Grande drawbridge. Too bad about the unfortunate broom placement; Uncle Ed looks like a British punk rocker.
BY MARK C. PEYKO | Metro Monthly Editor
For two weeks every summer, my family made the journey from northeastern Ohio to the Jersey Shore. Our family vacation was something my brothers and sister anticipated – even expected – each year. My dad managed this annual feat on a teacher’s salary and without complaint or much variance in routine. When young, you don’t truly appreciate the sacrifices that are necessary to pull off such a hat trick, but time and the economics of adulthood have made me further appreciate my father’s discipline and generosity.
My Uncle Ed – actually a great uncle – and cousin Eddie built the cottage in Wildwood, N.J. where my family stayed every summer for almost three decades. Constructed some time in the 1940s, the cottage was located near the inlet area off Rio Grande Avenue. Vacation homes of similar scale and vintage lined the street and raw beach grass filled scattered lots. The cottage faced east, so we could see the fishing boats returning to dock at day’s end and the distant glow of the boardwalk at night.
The cottage was a two-story frame building set back on a sandy lot. A low, open porch ran the width of the cottage and wrapped around the side and part of the back. Since it was a summer building, the cottage had no central heating system, nor did it need one. Dormers on the east and west sides of the building ventilated the entire second floor and brought the cool, ocean air into the sleeping areas. A low-rise, U-shaped enclosure for the central staircase afforded everyone a measure of privacy.
The first floor consisted of a large living room, kitchen and small bathroom. The cottage was a mix of old furniture: Art Deco lamps, mission oak dressers, and even a few console radios from the 1930s. The kitchen had blue, yellow, and gray sheet linoleum in a sort-of Mondrian pattern. Although it seemed equal parts museum and storage shed, the cottage was a fascinating, multi-decade time capsule.
The bathroom was tiny, the hot water tank smaller yet. After a day at the beach, you’d want to be first or second in the shower, but colder water sometimes was just the thing for sunburned skin. After our first day at the beach – and every day afterward – the bathroom floor was gritty with sand.
Uncle Ed lived in Gloucester Heights (outside Camden), worked at RCA, and could fix anything mechanical. He and my great aunt visited at least once while we were at the cottage and stayed the entire day. They always joined us for dinner, but left before dark. Aunt Liz always brought along exotic treats we never had at home, things like Ritz crackers, boxes of Hostess doughnuts, or regional snacks not found in Ohio.
I think my mom really enjoyed seeing her aunt, because she and Aunt Liz never seemed to leave the kitchen table during the visit. My dad genuinely liked them, too. Uncle Ed and Aunt Liz were good-natured and fun to be around. My dad paid them for use of the cottage, even though they never asked for anything.
The cottage was pretty far from the boardwalk and motel district, so my family’s vacation experience may have been different than most on the island. The usual drill was breakfast, beach all day, then pick up some fish or steaks and jelly doughnuts from the Marine Italian Bakery.
There was a distinct compartmentalization of activity due to our distance from the beach and entertainment districts. When we went to the beach, we stayed. (A rainy day usually meant a trip to Cape May to look at the ruin of the U.S.S. Atlantus in the deep water off Sunset Beach.) There were shopping trips, of course, but the late afternoon meant relaxing at the cottage, reading the Philadelphia Inquirer and waiting for dinner. There’s a peculiar hunger you have after being on the beach all day, so we were always ravenous.
Family vacations meant a temporary reversal of parental roles and I think it was truly a nice respite for my mother. She was freed from the daily grind of feeding and caring for her family and my dad did all the cooking. Consequently, everything tasted different – the steaks, the home fries, even the way my dad chopped the ingredients for the salad.
Other things were different, too. We didn’t have television for two weeks and busied ourselves with making our own fun while waiting for dinner. As children, we would run upstairs when a boat’s horn signaled the Rio Grande drawbridge to open. We’d stand on the edge of the bed and look out a northern window to watch the vessel pass. From the upstairs, we could see fishing and tour boats from two directions. It never seemed to get old.
After dinner, we’d feed our table scraps to the sea gulls then relax before getting ready for the boardwalk. When we returned for the night, it was common for us to eat Italian hoagies and large bowls of ice cream after 11 p.m. The hours of walking the boardwalk made it all balance out, I guess.
I want to thank dad for giving my mom and all his children this experience.
Happy Father’s Day!
© 2010, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.
By Tom Welsh | Special to the Metro Monthly
Despite the fact that his grandfather was involved in one of the Mahoning Valley’s most celebrated court battles, Alan Jenkins knew little about the case until he entered law school. One summer, while Jenkins was serving as a clerk at a local law firm, an uncle handed him a packet of old documents, with the recommendation that he “might find them of interest.”
This marked the beginning of Jenkins’ long fascination with Myron T. Wick Jr. vs. The Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company, the 1930 lawsuit that prompted a major court battle over the proposed merger of Youngstown Sheet & Tube and Bethlehem Steel. The more Jenkins researched the case, which involved some of the era’s most prominent business and finance leaders, the more convinced he became that it could serve as the basis of an engaging historical novel.
“Steel Dreams,” the novel that Jenkins wrote, owes remarkably little to family lore. Although Alan Jenkins’ grandfather, Judge David G. Jenkins, presided over Wick vs. Sheet & Tube, the case was hardly a topic of discussion within his extended family. “To his credit, I don’t recall my grandfather ever discussing his cases,” Jenkins said. “What went on in the courtroom stayed in the courtroom. Instead, he loved to tell us about his life in Wales, and he was a great storyteller.”
Jenkins observed that only one scrap of oral tradition found its way into the novel, which was recently released by Tate Publishing & Enterprises and is available at local bookstores. “Steel Dreams” includes a brief account of a conversation his grandfather recalled having with LeRoy Manchester, who served as general counsel of Sheet & Tube in 1930.
For Jenkins, the absence of family lore in the novel is significant. “Steel Dreams” represents a combination of solid storytelling and intense archival research, much of which was completed in Youngstown. “The good thing about having no preconceived notions of the case was that it allowed me to base the story on the contemporaneous accounts of the events themselves, rather than trying to reinterpret the events,” Jenkins said in an online interview.
At a glance, the case appears reasonably straightforward. In 1930, James “Old Jim” Campbell, an organizer of Sheet & Tube who was rounding out his long tenure as chairman, opened negotiations with Eugene Grace, president of Pennsylvania-based Bethlehem Steel, to explore the possibility of merging the two firms. Campbell, then 75, feared that Sheet & Tube would not remain competitive unless combined with another major steel maker. Grace, meanwhile, had been looking for opportunities to expand his steel operations into the Midwest.
Beyond their compatible interests, Campbell and Grace shared a personal affinity, which the authors suggest through imaginative reconstructions of business meetings and private conversations.
Campbell, a native of Ohltown (present-day Meander Reservoir), overcame childhood infirmities to become a college athlete and business leader. Throughout his career, Campbell took a hands-on approach to the management of his firm’s vast steel operations. In a well-known photograph, the aging industrialist poses casually with a group of rough-hewn steelworkers. His bearing betrays no hint of noblesse oblige. These rough-and-ready qualities appealed to Grace, a former college athlete who abandoned the prospect of a major league baseball career to climb the industrial ladder. Grace reportedly commented to friends that he sometimes felt as though he had made the wrong decision.
Although Campbell was 22 years older than Grace, both men were old school industrialists who made business deals over glasses of brandy. They resented the tactics of “pirates” like Cyrus Eaton, the Cleveland-based protégé of John D. Rockefeller, whose string of acquisitions was financed with funds drawn from lucrative holding companies. These holding companies, or “trusts,” were set up with modest initial investments, but they attracted legions of investors. When building his corporate empires, Eaton’s preferred strategy was to quietly secure a controlling interest in those firms he planned to acquire.
While Eaton owned considerably less than a controlling percentage of shares in Sheet & Tube in 1930, he wielded enough clout to rally shareholders who viewed the proposed merger as a “sellout” of Youngstown’s largest homegrown industry. The disgruntled stakeholders included Myron Wick, whose late uncle, George D. Wick, had helped organize Sheet & Tube in 1901.
After the plaintiffs filed their lawsuit, the proposed merger began to appear more complicated. The plaintiffs noted that, in the proposed merger, the valuation of shares for the two companies had been based on business figures from 1929, which bore scant resemblance to those recorded in 1930, the first year of the Depression. Critics also questioned whether Sheet & Tube’s shareholders—including members of its board of directors—were properly notified about the merger. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the proposed merger, at least for opponents, was the presence of business executive Henry G. Dalton on the board of both companies, a situation that raised the prospect of fraud.
On Dec. 29, 1930, amid national media coverage, Judge David Jenkins issued an injunction against the merger. Among others, Judge Jenkins ruled that Sheet & Tube’s board of directors had failed to vote on the merger “as a fully informed unit.” He also determined that the merger was actively promoted by Dalton, a common director of both companies. According to the Youngstown Vindicator, the ruling found that Dalton’s role “was a breach of trust and against proper policy,” regardless of his intentions. At one point, Judge Jenkins quoted Matthew 6:24: “No man can serve two masters.”
Judge Jenkins also found that those negotiating the merger failed to take into consideration Bethlehem Steel’s controversial bonus system, which allocated $3.6 million to the firm’s executives in 1929. The judge went on to question a report compiled by accountants for the purposes of the merger, determining that it “had a misleading tendency, whether intentional or not.”
One day after the ruling, the Vindicator presented the outcome as a coup for Eaton, who was hailed as “the fourth financial independent of the century who had battled ‘Wall Street’… and had won.” The paper compared Eaton to business titans like Andrew Carnegie, Edward H. Harriman, and Henry Ford, who had successfully battled the country’s financial powerbrokers in the past. The Youngstown Vindicator apparently concurred with Eaton’s description of the ruling as a victory for the Mahoning Valley, one that ensured the “autonomy of the midwest’s [sic] growing steel trade.”
Months later, Campbell and Grace appealed Judge Jenkins’ ruling, but the pair watched grimly as the economy continued to unravel. Furthermore, it was hard to ignore that the U.S. public had been outraged at the prospect of two industrialists pursuing a $1 billion merger in the midst of a severe economic downturn. On Oct. 16, 1931, The New York Times reported that Eugene Grace had canceled the merger deal, “owing to changed conditions.”
Eaton, the court battle’s presumed victor, suffered his share of setbacks in the years that followed. Widely disseminated rumors that Bethlehem Steel would merge with Republic Steel, the steel company Eaton formed in 1930, came to nothing. Saddled with debt, Eaton was compelled to sell Continental Shares, his most lucrative holding company, along with his substantial interests in the utility, steel, and mining industries.
© 2010, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.
For more articles and features, visit http://www.metromonthly.net.
Editor’s note: Before he died, Robert Fitzer asked Holly Burnett and me to deliver eulogies at his memorial service. The request made it necessary for me assess Bob’s importance to the Youngstown community and beyond. What follows is my eulogy from the memorial service at Bliss Hall at Youngstown State University in 2007.
By Mark C. Peyko
Today we gather to remember and celebrate the life of Bob Fitzer. We also offer our condolences to Bob’s family during this difficult time.
As a teacher, musician, public citizen and friend, Bob had an expansive definition of what constituted family.
Bob’s actual family was dear to him, but circumstances in his life would expand that definition to include colleagues, childhood friends, and a variety of kindred spirits. It is not an exaggeration to say that Bob had made the entire Youngstown community his family.
Bob said his parents – Dolores and Robert – had a profound influence on his values and outlook on life. He said he always tried to live up to their standards as a musician, teacher and public citizen.
A love of politics, art and music was fostered in the Fitzer home. Dolores and Robert Fitzer were teachers at the Dana School of Music. Both performed professionally as musicians. They traveled to Greenwich Village to absorb the art and culture of New York City. They supported Youngstown’s art and poetry culture of the early 1960s. Bob said his parents bought some of the first works produced by artists in the region.
Perhaps more important, though, was the influence of Robert and Dolores Fitzer’s social conscience.
When Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers was assassinated in June of 1963, Bob’s mother, Dolores wrote an impassioned letter to the Youngstown Vindicator denouncing racism. At the time, Bob’s dad was in Chicago for six weeks earning a graduate degree in music education.
Bob said many people called the house and said whatever vile things the anonymity of a 1963 telephone in Youngstown could allow.
At a very young age, Bob learned that standing up for one’s principles involved risk and the threat of alienation.
Against this backdrop of this time was a lot of personal family tragedy. Within one year, the Fitzer family endured the loss of two of their four children – a sister, Susie, and a brother Daniel. Dolores and Robert Fitzer also lost three of their four parents in the same year.
Yet, despite extremely difficult times, Bob said he and his sister Karen home had a home filled with love and happiness.
It was a home where Bob learned social justice and the importance of equal opportunity. It also was a place where he and his sister learned to have an open mind and an open heart.
Like his parents, Bob studied music, loved the arts, and had a passion for politics. He had deep love for the Mahoning Valley – a sometimes unnatural love for the Mahoning Valley.
When he graduated from Northwestern University with a B.A. in music performance, his career track was in music performance not teaching. Bob envisioned performing with a major metropolitan symphony.
While in his early twenties, Bob’s parents died. He said their untimely deaths made him reassess his life. He said he looked inside himself a lot in the three years it took to settle his family’s affairs in Youngstown.
After much reflection, Bob decided he didn’t want to play “200 year old music for people in fur coats.” Bob wasn’t suggesting he wanted to play jazz or rock and roll music. He meant it was important for him to be relevant in the community in which he lived.
During this period, Bob said he deflected the well-intended comments of friends and colleagues who warned him about the dangers of getting stuck in Youngstown.
The earlier lessons of standing up for one’s principles and acknowledging the risks involved would play out numerous times during this time.
Bob’s interest in politics resulted in his running for and holding political office. He held the position of precinct committeeman in the First Ward.
He co-hosted a public affairs program on WYSU called “Commentary Café.”
He gave the Democrats for Change political movement broad public awareness through an article and illustration in Holly Burnett’s “Speed of Sound.”
However, Bob did not run for office as part of some grand career strategy. He got involved in local politics to be an agent of change.
Bob’s finest hour politically was his investigation of the Cafaro Roundtable meetings. With pen, notepad and a pair of opera glasses, Bob exposed a regular, secret closed-door meeting between one of Youngstown’s most powerful political families and local politicians and business leaders.
Most of Bob’s work was guided by his parent’s quest for social justice and equal opportunity. And for Bob, it was never simply a case of whether the glass was half empty or half full. He wanted to know what was in the glass.
From the students he taught, to the community in which he lived, Bob cared about what was in that glass.
By Mark C. Peyko | Metro Monthly Editor
• Authors Staughton and Alice Lynd will discuss their memoirs at 7 p.m. on Monday, July 6, 2009 as part of the Universal Café’s Arts and Lecture Series. The event occurs at the First Unitarian Church in Youngstown.
Attys. Alice and Staughton Lynd recently published “Stepping Stones: Memoir of a Life Together,” a book that recounts their work as long-time activists in the Mahoning Valley and across the United States.
Over the years, the Lynds have taken on a number of unpopular and thorny causes – many times well ahead of the public’s awareness of or tolerance for an issue.
The Metro Monthly recently spoke with Staughton Lynd about the couple’s recent book, their lifetime commitment to social activism, and the dangers of voicing sometimes unpopular opinions.
Metro Monthly: What made you decide to want to write the book?
Atty. Staughton Lynd: Well, it’s hard to say. I’m 79, Alice will be 79 in a little less than two months. And so if there is any kind of summing up, it seemed like a good time to do it.
Metro Monthly: What do you hope readers may learn from reading about your experiences and Alice’s experiences?
Lynd: Well, a couple of things. One is to keep going. It was an observation of mine that in the sixties, we had an awful lot of sprinters and not too many long-distance runners. And I think [laughs] people may say Alice and I ran in the wrong direction or that we lost all the fights that we entered – but I don’t agree with either of those.
But one thing we have done is to keep going, so that was a general motivation.
But more specifically, I have a feeling that a lot of folks with liberal or radical ideas wind up on the West or East Coast. You know, they’re in San Francisco, or Cambridge, or New York City. And we wanted to make a plea that people who think they are pursuing a profession that’s of some use – I’m sure you feel this way, we felt that way as lawyers – take a look at the Youngstowns of this world. The medium-sized cities in-between the two coasts. And the particular term we used for what we had in mind was something we ran into on trips to Latin America. We learned of Archibishop Romero – in this case talking to Catholics – who had said that “People with a professional training should accompany those who might have need for their services.” Instead of spending all your time in an endless exchange of ideas in some rarefied university, just get out on the streets and see if you can be helpful to ordinary people.
Metro Monthly: I’ve always wondered that about you and your wife. Actually, that was one of my questions, too. But I think we should back up a little bit. Could you tell us a little bit about what brought you to Youngstown?
Lynd: Yes. I was in a funny situation at the end of the sixties, because I had chosen the profession of history. My wife was doing early childhood education and each of us ran into a roadblock. But in my case, it was being so outspoken against the war in Vietnam that I couldn’t continue as a full-time history teacher. And in Alice’s case, a lot of the funding for Head Start and early childhood education dried up in the early seventies.
Metro Monthly: O.K.
Lynd: And so we kind of looked the world over and decided to take a shot at becoming lawyers and being lawyers together and, specifically, we had been doing some oral history with steelworkers and others in the south Chicago/northern Indiana areas. The same part of the world, actually, where President Obama did his community organizing.
And one thing we ran into was the unionized industrial worker who felt he was being worked over by the employer and not getting much help from the union and was left to fight for himself. And so we had this specific project: maybe we could be lawyers to help that kind of person and, as you know very well, there are quite a few of them in the Mahoning Valley. And so, while in law school in Chicago, . . . we learned of some steelworkers in Youngstown. They worked at the old Brier Hill mill, Local 1462.
Metro Monthly: Frame this a bit. What year was this, which decade?
Lynd: This was the first half of the 1970s. I was going to law school – ’73, ’76. The question is: Where are we going to go when we get out of law school? And so we ran into these steelworkers and they were pretty broad-gauged guys. You know, they were into combatting racial discrimination in the mill and in the community. They were civil libertarians, they were concerned with peace and I figured, you know, this is the kind of person that I think I’m looking for.
I’m going to put my chips on these couple of guys and their friends in Youngstown, Ohio. And so we moved here in ’76 with that in mind and we’ve never looked back. They’re both dead now [the workers], John [Barbero] and Ed [S. Mann], and others whom we met. And I would add someone we met after we moved here, and is also now deceased, an electric utility lineman named Robert Schindler.
Metro Monthly: But when you came here, you’re coming right at the time when the mills started closing down.
Lynd: . . . It was GF [General Fireproofing] that first fall, if you remember. They had broken ground for a new plant here in Youngstown. There was a strike. The company canceled its plans and began to move out. They moved to Tennessee. And then, beginning in ’77, came every year a major steel mill closing.
Metro Monthly: A lot of people undergo career changes, but you underwent a career change where you were actually looking at controlling not only your destiny, but also really channeling your energy into something that reflected your values and your interests and your political views and everything else. . . .
You’ve had social activism and involvement in politics probably prior to the Vietnam War, but I’m just wondering what the roots of your social activism are and also your wife’s roots, too.
Lynd: Well, I would say in each case probably our parents. Not that we were carbon copies, but, for example, my dad had been to divinity school and between his first and second year at Union Theological Seminary, he was a volunteer summer preacher at a Rockefeller oil camp in Wyoming.
And he picked up the impression that the men who were working six days a week for Mr. Rockefeller were not excited about this handsome young man from the East who would spend his week visiting their wives. And so my father got a job as a pick-and-shovel laborer and preached in the schoolhouse Sunday night. And, you know, you have that kind of dad and it rubs off.
Metro Monthly: When people are socially active, do you see it as one event that may trigger an interest or is it upbringing, or maybe the culmination of a series of events? Or maybe a little of each sometimes?
Lynd: Well, I probably think people take different roads. In my case, there’s just no doubt my parents influenced me and then when I met Alice, she was a little more into an anti-war tradition than I had been exposed to. . . .
And one experience just built on the next for us and that’s why we call our memoirs “Stepping Stones,” because I don’t know it you’re a hiker, but sometimes you’re out in the woods, you come to a stream. There’s no bridge and so you make the way from one rock to the next, never knowing whether the rock is going to turn under your ankle or not. And we kind of used that as a metaphor for our lives.
Metro Monthly: I think when people are driven by causes, social justice and things like that, there’s resistance and disappointment. What do you consider your most educational disappointment?
Lynd: [laughs] Well, that’s fascinating. And I would say it was probably when – in the early sixties – I was a teacher at a college for African-American women in Atlanta called Spelman College. And on the strengths of my history writing I got invited to Yale University, which is you know like one of these movies where the guy is pitching in the cactus league and he gets a call from the Cleveland Indians.
And so I went to Yale, and what happened when I was there was that the Vietnam War escalated. I made a very controversial trip to Hanoi. And for the first time in my life, something that I assumed would be a good thing – namely getting a lifetime position at Yale University – was denied me.
And I think that was the best favor I could have received because as a lawyer in Youngstown, Ohio – a kid who grew up in New York City, son of two college professors, you know – I didn’t have much in common in the way of life experience with steelworkers, and, more recently, prisoners. But as a lawyer, that was like an invitation card. I was able to meet folks that I would have never met otherwise, so I’m very thankful [laughs] to Yale University. What did you call it, a creative disappointment?
Metro Monthly: The disappointment you found most educational.
Lynd: Well, that was it.
Metro Monthly: Getting back to the book. How long did it take to write? And I wondered about the process of doing the book. I’m sure you and your wife talked about life and work experiences.
Lynd: There had been various dry runs going back to the early nineties, I would say. I remember drafting something with a number of separate chapters, but it kind of got into high gear when Alice and I decided we were going to do this together, which is how we’ve done some of our best work.
I would say [there was] another critical point. We have three children and . . . we read our draft aloud to Martha [our youngest daughter]. And it was interesting, because things we took for granted about the 1960s, for instance, we had the feeling ‘Well, everybody knows that’ . . . and Martha would say ‘What’s that, mom and dad? I never heard that before.’ So we tried to revise in such a way that a young person today who didn’t share any of those experiences would have some clue what we were talking about.
Metro Monthly: Considering your political views and social activism, I just take for granted that there are people who disagree with you or hate your ideas. How do you deal with that in your work, when you come against someone who is so dead against what your views are?
Lynd: That’s a very good question and I need to explain [that] Alice and I are Quakers. And we’re believers in non-violence. And that’s not just a question of marching in the street with a picket sign . . . but also how you treat people who to all appearances are antagonists.
For example, in 2001, Alice and I spearheaded a class-action lawsuit about conditions of confinement at Ohio’s first Super Maximum Security Prison here in Youngstown.
And I’m here to tell you that the lawyers for the state of Ohio were initially very hostile, very suspicious. And we have a relationship of trust with those people now. I won’t go into details because I don’t want anything to happen to these understandings, but I think they feel we can help them do their job. In other words, if there’s something festering out there at the Ohio State Penitentiary – maybe something between blacks and whites or something between the prisoners in a particular cell block and certain officers, it’s in the interests of the warden to know about it and I think there have sometimes been instances where we could bring things to their attention, which we had heard from prisoners.
Well, not snitching on anyone individually, but just saying ‘Warden, we think maybe there is a problem out in the cellblock, perhaps someone could look into it.’ And that’s an example of taking a relationship which you’d think, at first glance, ‘Boy, oh boy, they should be hostile toward one another.’ The guy’s trying to run a prison filled with people they consider very dangerous, and the ACLU lawyer is trying to improve conditions, but it just so happens that I think we’ve created a pretty trusting and cordial relationship with our lawyer counterparts on the other side.
Metro Monthly: In evaluating your work, do you measure it by progress or do you see it as a series of challenges that may or not be related?
Lynd: Well, that’s a question that a person asks himself or herself. I would have to honestly say that most of the ventures in to which I put a lot of energy have not proved permanent. It doesn’t mean they didn’t accomplish anything, but as organizations or institutions, they’re no longer here.
And you could look at that and say, ‘Well, the guy didn’t get anything done.’ But, you know, an African-American was just elected president of the United States, a black man was just elected mayor of Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three summer volunteers were killed in 1964. And I was the co-ordinator of so-called Freedom School that summer [in 1964]. I was a part of opening up the world for maybe 2,000 African-American youngsters in that state. So I think I’ve accomplished a lot, although it’s difficult to measure.
Metro Monthly: Going back to the book. How long did it take to write? You said you had some dry runs or some early drafts, but this project – from beginning to end – what would you put the timeline on as far as how long it took?
Lynd: Well, I would say 15 years, but that doesn’t mean we were writing a book for 15 years. As I told you, I did a draft of my own experience. I sent it to a certain reader, that wasn’t too excited about it [laughs], so I set it aside. Later on, I sent it to a publisher – same reaction. And then, and I cannot remember exactly why, at a certain point I told Alice, maybe if we work together on it, maybe if we changed this and changed that, we can produce a product we would feel happy about. And so far, even though it’s not yet available in paperback, we feel terrific about it.
Metro Monthly: When looking back at those cool earlier receptions, do you think it all worked out for the best because you decided to wait?
Lynd: Oh, for sure, because, as I also explained with regard to our daughter Martha, if somebody tells you ‘I don’t really understand that,’ that’s helpful. You know that as a journalist. You want to try to find the words that speak to the reader’s situation. That catch his or her attention. And so that’s what I hope happened over the years. That we more and more found those words.
Metro Monthly: My last question for you: What keeps you in Youngstown?
Lynd: You know, that is such an interesting question because when all the mills closed, which had basically happened in the city of Youngstown by the summer of 1980, I [laughter] remember saying to Alice, I’m a little ashamed of it, but I said to her ‘Well, I guess time to be moving on.’ And she said, ‘Cool your jets. Let’s wait. Let’s see.’
And what happened, of course, was that by the mid-eighties, you had the LTV bankruptcy, we had retirees who were losing their health benefits, pension benefits were being reduced. We had a whole new chapter of the story.
And when it came time to retire in 1996, Alice said to me, ‘I hear there’s some talk about building something called a Supermax. What is a Supermax?’ And so a new chapter opened up. And that’s one way of describing it.
But there’s something else, as well, which is [that] my parents were both born in the Middle West. Alice’s mother comes from Cleveland. And we like the people out here. You know, we like the idea of folks getting up early and making it to the mill or Lordstown by the time the shift starts because we’ve always been people who worked hard and felt that we at least tried [laughs] to get to places on time and so on.
There is the sense of, despite my very different early childhood as the son of two university people in New York, there’s a sense of being at home, of being comfortable with the folks that we meet here. And I think some of those who have become our friends would say the same about us.
© 2010, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.
Visit http://www.metromonthly.net for more articles.
Dora Schwebel, co-founder of the Schwebel Baking Co., with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1950s in Youngstown, Ohio. Image courtesy of the Schwebel Baking Co.
By Natalie Lariccia | Special to the Metro Monthly
From the familiar yellow plastic bags adorned with a smiling clown face, to the appetizing aroma of fresh bread that permeates Midlothian Boulevard, near the Youngstown-Struthers border, Schwebel’s Bakery stands as a symbol of Youngstown’s history.
But the nearly 103-year-old, family-owned bakery represents much more than a long-standing Youngstown baking icon. Schwebel’s is a direct result of the courage and perseverance of one widow who refused to quit.
Even through some of the most devastating personal and economic circumstances and during an era when women were not typically running businesses and raising families, Dora Schwebel never stopped believing that her company would rise and prosper to become one of the most recognized bakeries in Ohio and Western Pennsylvania.
And, just in time for Women’s History Month, Dora Schwebel’s legacy will be commemorated with her induction into the Baking Hall of Fame during the American Baking Society’s 2009 Baking Tech Conference March 1-4 in Chicago.
Although Dora is deceased, some of Dora’s relatives, including Lee Schwebel, Dora’s great grandson and Schwebel’s director of corporate communications, will attend the ceremony.
Lee Schwebel never had the opportunity to meet Dora – he was just one year old when she died – but he is familiar with the many endearing stories about his grandmother and has helped gather a vast collection of photographs, newspaper articles, advertisements, memorabilia and audio recordings that memorialize Dora and the bakery.
“She had the heart of Mother Theresa, but she was tough. I never knew her, but I was obviously influenced by her legacy as it’s been passed down from generation to generation,” Lee Schwebel said.
The story of Schwebel’s bakery began in the small kitchen of Dora’s Campbell home that she shared with her husband, Joseph Schwebel. A young Polish immigrant, Joseph arrived in America in 1898, and married Dora – then 19-years-old – in 1906.
Fresh from the experience of losing just about everything from his initial baking business, Dora suggested to her husband that she should be his new business partner.
Within eight years of baking their first loaf in 1906, Schwebel’s was serving a growing number of small grocery stores, and in 1923, the Schwebels spent $25,000 to open a small bakery on Lawrence Avenue that produced 1,000 loaves a day.
Tough times ensued when Joseph suddenly died of appendicitis, leaving Dora a widow raising six young children, as well as managing the bakery.
Friends and family encouraged her to sell the bakery and focus on raising her family, but Dora refused. In 1929, she faced more hardship when the stock market crashed and the business lost nearly all its investments, leaving Dora without cash to pay the local miller that supplied it with flour. But Dora was determined to maintain her business and convinced the flour companies to extend credit to continue operations.
The Great Depression followed, and while the economy floundered, Schwebel’s flourished, opening a new bakery in 1936. The company’s still-current mascot, Happy the Clown, was introduced as a symbol of hope and optimism during this otherwise bleak time. Dora also helped served the hungry and poor in the community by distributing loaves to those in need, Lee Schwebel said.
In 1951, Schwebel’s opened its “Million Dollar Bakery” at its current location on Midlothian Boulevard, which serves as the company headquarters. Dora remained an active fixture in the company’s operations until she died in 1964.
Today, Schwebel’s continues to prosper, employing about 1,400 workers at its four baking facilities and 30 distribution centers across Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia.
Lee Schwebel, who joined the company in 1995, recalls a fond memory when he heard Dora’s voice for the first time after stumbling across an old record of a WKBN radio broadcast that featured Schwebel’s history and Dora’s efforts.
“It was like opening up a treasure chest. It was very emotional,” he said. “It gives us a much better understanding of the times, hearing her voice. If Dora didn’t persevere and demand that we (Schwebel’s) continue we wouldn’t be here . . . it’s that simple.”
Joe Schwebel, Schwebel’s president, recalled a fond memory of joining Schwebel’s in 1960 as a rather “full of himself” college graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Although Joe Schwebel, who is Dora’s grandson and Lee’s father, may have expected to have a more prestigious office Job, Dora put him to work on early morning shifts, learning the company’s 39 wholesale delivery routes.
“The moral of the story is that I learned more about business riding those 39 routes than I learned in four years of college . . . I think she (Dora) still inspires us today. Her presence was so strong,” Joe Schwebel said.
1898 – Joseph Schwebel, an apprentice baker, comes to America from Poland at age 16.
1900 – Dora Goldberg emigrates from Poland at age 13 with an eighth-grade education.
1906 – Joseph and Dora marry and start baking rye bread in an old fashioned stove in their East Youngstown (Campbell) home. They deliver on foot using wicker laundry baskets filled with 40 pounds of bread. Their primary customers are steel workers living in boarding houses.
1914 – A driver/salesman begins making deliveries by horse and buggy. Customer base expands to mom-and-pop stores.
1923 – With a capital investment of $25,000, the Schwebels open a small bakery on West Lawrence Avenue in Youngstown. Production increases to 1,000 loaves daily. Six trucks make deliveries. The company has 15 employees.
1928 – Joseph Schwebel dies of acute appendicitis at age 46. Dora Schwebel assumes leadership of the company and son Irving Schwebel leaves college to help run the business.
1929 – The stock market crashes and the Great Depression begins. Dora Schwebel takes steps to preserve assets.
1930 – The company invests $8,000 in a new dough mixer. Dora Schwebel guarantees payments to creditors by promising to work on her hands and knees, if necessary.
1931 – Schwebel Baking Co. incorporates.
1932 – The company introduces “Happy the Clown” as its company trademark.
1936 – Schwebel’s introduces bread sliced and wrapped by hand. A $50,000 plant expansion increases production to 15,000 loaves daily. The company installs new automated equipment to separate loaves from baking pans and package 1,800 loaves per hour. Eleven delivery trucks now service customers.
1941 – The U.S. government subsidizes the company during World War II to ensure an adequate food supply. The majority of the company’s output is shipped to the Ravenna Arsenal in Ravenna, Ohio to feed the military. Production increases to 24,000 loaves per day and delivery expands to a 50-mile radius.
1945-48 – Sales department goes entirely wholesale; house-to-house sales discontinued.
1949 – The company constructs a new bakery on Midlothian Boulevard in Youngstown.
1950 – Fire destroys most of the West Lawrence Avenue bakery location.
1951 – Schwebel’s moves into the new $1 million bakery on Midlothian Boulevard. Capacity grows to 40,000 loaves per day.
1954 – Employees number 100.
1955-1963 – The Midlothian bakery expands numerous times.
1964 – Dora Schwebel dies at age 76.
1968 – Schwebel’s presents a bronze replica of its 100 millionth loaf to Youngstown Mayor Frank Kryzan.
1969 – Company introduces Roman Meal.
1972 – A Canton distribution center opens, the first move outside the Youngstown market.
1974 – Schwebel’s enters the Cleveland market when Laub Bakery of Cleveland closes.
1976 – Schwebel’s enters the Pittsburgh market with the purchase of the McKeesport, Pa. Vienna Bakery.
1977 – A $2.5 million expansion in Youngstown fully automates bread production. The state-of-the-art bread line produces 120 loaves per minute.
1983 – Schwebel’s begins providing its original rye bread to Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center.
1984 – The company completes a $2 million plant and office expansion.
1990 – Three Schwebel’s bakeries have a combined capacity to produce 500,000 pounds of bread products daily.
1995 – The fourth generation of the Schwebel family begins working for the company.
2006 – Schwebel’s celebrates 100 years.
– Source: Schwebel Baking Co.
© 2010, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.
Visit http://www.metromonthly.net for more articles.
By Mark C. Peyko | Metro Monthly Editor
Forum Health sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on March 16, but this decision has raised questions in the community about the future of the local health care provider.
The Metro Monthly recently spoke with Forum President and Chief Executive Officer Walter “Buzz” Pishkur about the challenges facing Forum Health and the measures being taken restore the company to fiscal health. The following interview was conducted on March 26 by Mark C. Peyko, Metro Monthly Editor.
Metro Monthly: Could you tell me a little bit about your background before you took on the role of CEO at Forum Health?
Walter “Buzz” Pishkur: I grew up in Hubbard, Ohio. I have a bachelor’s from Ohio State. I have a master’s from the University of Illinois. Prior to Forum, I had worked 39 years in the water-utility industry. I worked 10 years for the city of Hubbard. I worked 29 years for Aqua America in various places.
I had worked in the Struthers division, here in the Youngstown area. Then I moved to Marysville, then out to Danville, Ill. to run [the] water system there. Back in Ohio, I was president of the whole state. And Aqua Ohio, by the way, is the largest water utility in the state of Ohio with about 400,000 customers.
Metro Monthly: You were on the board of directors at Forum Health prior to becoming CEO. How long were you on the board?
Pishkur: I joined the board of directors in mid-year 2005. I became chairman in June of 2008 and became CEO of the hospital in October of 2008.
Metro Monthly: What are the biggest challenges facing Forum Health at this point?
Pishkur: Well, its challenges are that we’re in an industry that continues to be impacted by the economy – i.e. reduction in people’s ability to pay for health care because of loss of health-care coverage and loss of jobs – combined with a situation where we had struggled financially in the past three to four years, actually, to make our operations profitable.
So what we need to do is address our cost structure and address it in a way that allows us to also facilitate the declining usage and the declining ability of people to pay [charity care].
Metro Monthly: Is the charity care issue the single biggest obstacle you face or is it merging [with other things] to create a bigger problem?
Pishkur: Charity care is a major issue. The ability for hospitals to get paid for the services they provide is a major issue. Our charity care exceeds $50 million a year. Our operating losses, including investment losses, have exacerbated our position for about $16 million last year.
So, as you can see, if we had collected half of the non-paid care, we would have been profitable. I’m sure that issue will always be with us and it’s been with us, but the problem is it’s actually climbing. And for Forum Health, we have to deal with not only our current situation, but we have to understand in the short term, my sense is the pressure of not-paid care is going to continue to rise.
Metro Monthly: You met on March 23 with a variety of elected officials. Was the issue of charity care central to the discussion or just part of it?
Pishkur: It came up. I gave them a bunch of statistics that I had been talking to the media about, basically since I became CEO of the hospital. The main statistics are 4,000 jobs at Forum Health in the two counties. We have a $170 million plus payroll.
Our benefit package for our employees equates to about $50 million a year. And we pay $55 million a year in state, local and federal taxes. Not only are we a big part of the local economy from an economic standpoint, but we’re also a big player in providing tax revenues to the cities, as well as the state. And we are the largest employer in Warren. So a lot of the discussions we had were around those statistics.
The one statistic that caught everybody’s eye was the amount of charity care being provided. Everybody figured out very quickly that if we would collect half of that and if we could pay for half of that, it would erase all of our operating losses.
Metro Monthly: OK.
Pishkur: By the way, that’s not unique to Forum Health. It’s just a little more acute here.
Metro Monthly: When Tim Ryan said the Forum Health of the future will be different, he really didn’t go into what that meant. Was that something discussed with him or was it something discussed among the other people in the room?
Pishkur: I think that was an observation Tim made. I think it’s intuitive to most people. We have to somewhat change the way we’ve gone about our business. And I think that has a lot to do with some of the things I talked to them about, specifically the branching out we’re going to be doing in Newton Falls and moving into Hubbard, and the fact that we need to get back into the Boardman market.
Our organization really hasn’t been very aggressive in expanding its service areas and its catchment areas and that’s critical to bringing admissions to the hospital. As we’re dealing with our internal-cost structure, we’re also very actively pursuing expansion of services and expansions of admissions.
Metro Monthly: When you’re reorganizing, you’re putting your attention on economic recovery. It seems like it would be hard to expand during that time. Are things being done in tandem? You’re looking at recovering, but you’re also looking at having a sustainable recovery. Is that what the intent is?
Pishkur: Absolutely. And I would argue that Aqua Ohio, when I was managing that organization and it was buying systems every year, was managing its business very well and managing its cost structure and dealing with all the other things we had to deal with. I think that’s just intuitive in how very successful organizations function. You can’t be one-dimensional.
And you can’t cut costs to prosperity. And I believe the organization [Forum] is really adapting to this – that we need to be doing all these things. We need to be expanding our business, we need to be growing our business, and we need to be working on our cost structure, so not only do we survive but we begin to be able to be financially solvent and be able to do the things we need to do to be a top-notch hospital into the future.
Metro Monthly: As you reorganize, will Forum Health health care facilities continue to have the same level of service and areas of service?
Pishkur: Fundamentally, the answer is yes. One thing that will change is that each of the entities – i.e. the three major hospitals in our services group – need to be financially solvent on their own. We will not be cross-subsidizing. … And that to me makes a lot of sense from a corporate standpoint. We will have several hospitals, maybe add a hospital someday … but each of them has to contribute and be able to financially be viable.
Metro Monthly: Are you looking at reducing the amount of beds at any of the hospitals or closing any wings?
Pishkur: Actually, at both of our hospitals, we increased the number of private rooms. And that’s where our focus is, because we believe that’s an important patient-satisfier as well as an important new standard of care.
We’ve increased our private rooms at Northside Medical Center in the last two months by 42 percent and we’re doing the same thing at Trumbull. And so what that does is it reduces, I guess, the number of beds by virtue of having no more than one bed per room. But in reality we have the capacity at our hospitals for 250 beds or so. Northside has 177 people in beds as we speak right now and Trumbull’s very close to that. So we’re pretty much at our normal census.
Metro Monthly: How will Chapter 11 affect your contracts in the future with interns and residents coming to the hospital?
Pishkur: We don’t believe it will affect it at all. On March 19, we just matched all of our residency positions. That’s the third time in history and the third year in a row we’ve done that on the first day. All those residents were made aware of our situation. … So we don’t see any issue with that.
Metro Monthly: At the meeting with the elected officials, it was said that there were no plans to eliminate jobs, to kind of keep things at the status quo for employment, but is Forum Health considering asking the unions to reopen their contracts during this period?
Pishkur: Absolutely. When 60 to 70 percent of your operating costs are in labor and benefits, obviously those issues have to be dealt with if you have a cost problem. And yes, we’ve been doing that. What I’ve told our unions, and the way we’re going to try to approach this until it proves itself not feasible, is [that] we want to keep all of our institutions open.
I want to preserve every job that’s currently filled. If we reduce jobs, it will be through attrition as those opportunities present themselves. But we certainly have to address some of our other cost structures with having those people on board. To be honest with you, I’m trying to approach this as if it was me sitting on the other side here.
Metro Monthly: The lenders were pretty clear during the Chapter 11 hearing about the status of Northside Hospital and the losses at Northside and the losses at Trumbull Memorial. What are the biggest threats facing Northside?
Pishkur: Let’s be clear: Trumbull Memorial is profitable and Hillside is profitable. The only hospital we have that loses money is Northside.
Metro Monthly: OK.
Pishkur: And the little bit of information that I think is important: The same procedures at Trumbull, if they were performed at Northside, would generate $20 million more because of the payer mix.
But the biggest challenge to Northside and one of the biggest reasons leaving the Boardman market was so critical – not only in number of admissions but in the payer mix piece – is because a higher number of people in the Boardman market are employed and have employee-sponsored health care benefits and can pay for procedures.
Northside’s Achille’s heel is very simple: It’s a teaching hospital. We have the largest residency program in the area. It’s been in existence since 1881. Its clinical outcomes are second to none, but its payer mix, because of its location, is challenged. Therefore, we have a higher amount of non-paid at Northside, which obviously impacts its financial viability.
For Northside, its admissions and its getting a catchment area in an area that has a better payer mix will help it enormously in its financial viability.
Metro Monthly: The care center you’re planning for southern Mahoning County – that’s an attempt to recapture what you lost when Beeghly Medical Park was sold?
Pishkur: Exactly. Somebody asked me, “Gee, that’s crowded down there. Do you think you can get back in?” First of all, remember one thing: We only sold Beeghly one year ago, so it’s not as if we’ve been gone 20 years.
And we were the first hospital in Boardman. We had the first emergency room. Our reputation there is excellent. And my sense is we can get back in that market. We might be out two years at the most, but we can certainly get back in that market. So it’s not like we’ve been gone 20 years and there is a replacement for our services. … My sense is we’ll be able to recapture a significant part of our lost admissions by getting back in that market.
Metro Monthly: A lot of people talk about the importance of health care choice, but they don’t explain why it’s important. What are some of the things Forum has that cannot be found elsewhere? What are your strengths as a hospital system?
Pishkur: Maybe number one is that we are locally headquartered, locally owned, and our orientation is strictly to this region. That’s one thing that we’re talking to people about. Our quality of care, the physicians we have – certainly in the awards that we consistently win – set us in a very elite group of hospitals across the country as far as cardiac care, orthopedics, emergency room management.
Those are important things. We have a dental clinic. We have a family clinic with urgent care. We provide $50 million plus in unpaid care. That care, without our institution, would probably not be available to the population that’s taking advantage of it.
Having one provider in a market is certainly going to put pressure on the price of health care. The competition between the two hospitals certainly benefits employers and Anthem and others [that] negotiate contracts.
Choice is an important thing for both the patient as well as physicians. … My sense is that if you have one provider in this market, the price of health care is going to go up for employers. The choices that we talk about will not be available. And my sense is we will lose physicians due to that, so there are a lot of [positive] factors related to having two sources of health care in the Valley.
Metro Monthly: If you were describing to someone from outside of the area the three best things about Forum Health, what would they be?
Pishkur: Clearly, we have world-class physicians. We have experienced nursing and we have some of the best technology around.
Metro Monthly: The term “sustainable business model” has come up repeatedly in reference to the future of the auto and newspaper industries. I just wonder how you would define a sustainable business model for Forum Health. What does that mean for the system?
Pishkur: It means we have to develop a cost structure that allows us to employ the best and yet be able to maintain enough operating margin so we can capitalize our business and stay up to date with technology.
It’s not just a break-even proposition. As we look to restructure and as we go through this process, we’re looking to bring our cost structure in line to provide enough profitability to both meet our expense levels as well as create an operating margin that allows us to continue to recapitalize our hospital. We will then supplement that with growth initiatives which will bring in additional admissions and therefore allow us to expand that margin and better structure our business.
Metro Monthly: During the hearing the banks were pretty clear about Forum meeting benchmarks in its recovery. Can you identify these benchmarks and what measure are being taken to meet them?
Pishkur: Yes, I actually can. I can tell you I just had a meeting with our leadership this afternoon and I was happy to report on the six parameters for the first 10 days. We’re on a 13 week kind of budget here, which is a 91 day budget. After 10 days, or about 12 percent of that period, we are exceeding every benchmark.
Metro Monthly: What was the beginning date for the benchmarks? Did it begin the date of the hearing?
Pishkur: It began the date of the hearing, on the sixteenth.
Metro Monthly: What benchmarks did you meet?
Pishkur: One of the benchmarks is total external receipts or total expense and we’ve exceeded that by 25 percent. Our total receipts are exceeding what the benchmark needs to be. That means we’re getting people billed, we’re having admissions, we’re providing procedures and people are paying.
One of the other measurements is total disbursements and that’s operating costs and again we’re exceeding that benchmark by 25 percent. Cumulative cash flow, which is the difference between whether we’re building cash or burning cash, is almost $5 million favorable through the first 10 days, the benchmark. On capital expenditures, we’ve agreed to a fixed amount. We actually haven’t had any capital expenditures in the first 10 days, so obviously 100 percent ahead of budget.
On fees that we would incur to file during this bankruptcy, we haven’t been billed yet but we think we’ll be fine as far as tracking against that number. At Northside, we are 25 percent ahead of budget for adjusted admissions and at Trumbull we are 10 percent ahead of budget for adjusted admissions. We are exceeding every one of the benchmarks through 12 percent of the period.
Metro Monthly: Just the idea of reorganizing and being in bankruptcy presents a series of public relations problems. How are you instilling confidence in the public during this period?
Pishkur: That was one of our major concerns as we prepared for the filing because obviously if we didn’t handle the messaging well internally and externally, it actually could have precluded us from having any opportunity to succeed. I’m very much pleased to date. Our employees seem to be very much invigorated. We’ve talked to them and continue to talk to them and communicate with them.
Metro Monthly: Why did you agree to become CEO when some of the problems at Forum Health were starting to become more obvious? What made you want to become CEO and take this on?
Pishkur: Well, obviously, a lot of people have asked me that question. It’s a combination of things. Here’s the thing that weighed into my decision. Number one, I happen to have four sisters that work at Forum Health. My father retired from Trumbull Memorial Hospital and my father has a very fond affinity for the hospital, as you can imagine. I am a person I believe that is community-focused and I’ve spent a lot of time in my career devoting both my time and some of the wealth my wife and I have created to supporting community activities.
I just believe that from an economic standpoint, and a social standpoint, and a quality of life standpoint, the facilities – the hospitals at Forum Health – are just really crucial to our community. I saw some of the challenges and what I thought was the need for leadership and someone locally to take an interest in this hospital system and try to address its needs. … It prompted me to consider being available for the job.
I can tell you, as frank as I can say it, that in June of 2008, when I was asked to chair the board and I agreed to do that for basically the same reasons, I had no intentions of ever leaving Aqua Ohio and my 39-year career and changing careers. But I can tell you right now, it’s been exciting, it’s been challenging, and my sense is if we’re successful it will be the most personally and professionally gratifying thing I’ve ever done.
Although the riot-exercises proposal was published on the front page of the March 21, 2001 edition of The Vindicator, the board of the Youngstown Central Area Community Improvement Corp. did not go through with the plan. The following editorial originally appeared in the April 2001 edition of The Metro Monthly.
By Mark C. Peyko
Body piercings, Eminem and Marilyn Manson do not bother me. As a copy editor at a daily newspaper, I had learned to quickly and efficiently process thousands of wire stories dealing with all sorts of human tragedy. But just when I think there are no new ways to be offended, it happens. And it happened in late March  in The Vindicator.
In a front-page article, City Hall reporter Roger G. Smith wrote about a proposal to use downtown commercial properties for simulated riot exercises. According to the article, the board members of the Youngstown Central Area Community Improvement Corp. were seriously considering the proposal.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the article, a front-page headline in the March 21 issue of The Vindicator crowed: “What a riot! Unusual use for old buildings.” In the article, Smith described how Kyle A. Nurminen, a lieutenant with the Ohio State Penitentiary, had approached the CIC seeking permission to conduct riot training exercises in some of the properties the agency controls in the central business district.
Smith’s article – gleeful in tone – went on to describe the recent meeting where CIC board members joked about how the supermax prison Special Response Team’s exercises “could reduce eventual demolition costs for a few too-far-gone buildings.” One founding CIC board member – presumably to the delight of the room – even said, “We finally found somebody who can use our buildings.”
Maybe I’m a little thick, but I fail to see the humor in a proposal that deeply insults the individuals and families that built Youngstown through their wealth and labor. And what about Youngstowners my parents’ age – the generation that worked, shopped, and spent their leisure hours in downtown Youngstown? Were they amused? Did they see the entertainment value in a proposal that allows downtown Youngstown to be physically and psychologically desecrated and devalued?
In the CIC’s 1999 annual report, the nonprofit organization’s mission is explained as “advancing, encouraging and promoting the industrial, economic, commercial, retail and civic development of the central area of the municipal corporation of Youngstown in Mahoning County, Ohio.”
I would like for the CIC board to explain to the community how kicking down doors and shooting paint pellets in CIC properties would succeed in “advancing, encouraging and promoting the industrial, economic, commercial, retail and civic development” of the downtown area.
Not only does accepting the supermax proposal appear to be in violation of the downtown agency’s expressed mission statement, but allowing such a disgraceful and insulting activity to occur also sends a powerfully negative message to prospective developers and businesses who may have been considering relocating to downtown Youngstown.
Additionally, accepting the supermax proposal would undermine the revitalization efforts of organizations like Downtown Partners, the Downtown Revitalization Committee, the Regional Chamber, and others. And what about the merchants, property owners, and shopkeepers who have chosen to remain in the Central Business District? How does turning downtown Youngstown into a Midwest version of the post-apocalyptic action film “Escape from New York” improve their bottom line?
If you really start to think about the supermax proposal, other troubling questions arise. The Ohio State Penitentiary lieutenant may have thought it was a good idea to approach the downtown’s chief development agency. But why did he think it was appropriate to approach the CIC? And does the CIC board understand that many older Youngstowners might find their jokes about the condition of the downtown disrespectful and offensive?
In defense of the CIC, I’ll say that the board is rather large and I can only assume that there are individuals who may have been as uncomfortable with the supermax proposal as I was. But these same individuals must understand that the shameful opinions of a few – when not balanced by the contrasting views of more moderate board elements – leads the community to assume that those views are shared by the entire board.
This possible perception raises other concerns. The CIC is supposed to be an advocacy organization, but just whose interests are they representing? Certainly not the merchants. I find it incomprehensible that the CIC would even entertain a proposal that so seriously undermines the idea that downtown Youngstown is a place worthy of conducting business.
The revitalization of the Central Business District is difficult enough, but when CIC board members publicly express amusement over the destruction of the downtown, it sends a powerfully negative message.
© 2009, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.
The following article originally appeared in the December 2001 issue of The Metro Monthly.
By Mark C. Peyko
Warren’s Courthouse Square – like Lancaster, Pa. and Shelbyville, Tenn. – has its roots in European town planning.
Dr. Marshall McLennan, retired director of the historic preservation program at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Mich., said the original American courthouse square plan reflected the “influence of the Scots-Irish on settlement in the Pennsylvania region.”
The plan, which typically features a courthouse building as a focal point of a downtown, ultimately had its roots in Ulster, Northern Ireland.
McLennan said the British put government buildings in the center of town to assert their power and dominance. These buildings were centrally located to allow “a field of fire in all directions.”
Although the European model had political implications, the American plan simply sought to create a pleasant parklike setting in the center of town.
Bobbie Brown, director of the Fine Arts Council of Trumbull County, agreed.
“In the midst of all these tall buildings and concrete, there’s this lovely green space. It’s a nice place for people to come together.”
McLennan said Lancaster, dating from the 1700s, is the earliest known existing courthouse square plan in America. Besides Warren, other courthouse square plans in the region include Lisbon, Ohio and Butler, Pa.
© 2009, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.