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This Old House features Youngstown home

This Old House features North Side Coalition home in its March issue.


Delphi buildings stand as reminders of Packard

Plant 8 of the former Packard Electric industrial complex on Griswold Street in Warren, Ohio.



Three former Delphi Packard buildings, once part of the holdings of Packard Electric but idle since 2006, were sold for an undisclosed amount in late January to Sergio DiPoalo, owner of DiPaolo Industrial Developers, LLC.

The buildings were once part of a sprawling complex that had housed the world headquarters of Packard Electric, and, in earlier years, were associated with the Packard Motor Car Company.

The buildings, constructed of brick and reinforced concrete, are located on Dana and Griswold streets north of downtown Warren.

This industrial site was an outgrowth of the ingenuity of two of Warren’s better-known citizens and industrial pioneers – brothers James Ward and William Doud Packard.

In 1882, William, the elder, left The Ohio State University after one year and returned home to become involved in his father’s hardware business as a bookkeeper and salesman.

Two years later, at age 20, James graduated from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh University with a mechanical engineering degree and set about to put what he learned into practice.

Local historian Wendell F. Lauth, who has studied the Packard family, said that James took a job at with the Sawyer-Mann Electric Company in New York and quickly rose through the ranks until “he was running that plant.”

He said William also worked at the company, in the administrative end of the business. According to historical accounts, the brothers took the experience and knowledge acquired at Sawyer-Mann and brought it back to Warren, Ohio where they eventually formed their own company.

Apparently, money was not a problem at first for the Packard brothers because their father, Warren, had many successful businesses in the city.

Lauth speculated that Warren Packard encouraged his sons to return home, perhaps to take advantage of recent industrial developments in their town. “In 1890 they were getting ready to establish the first electric generating plant in Warren and he could see the future of the electrical era coming in,” Lauth said.

The Packard brothers grasped that future and didn’t let go, becoming famous not only in their hometown of Warren, but throughout the world.

The roots of the Packards

Warren Packard was born in Austintown on June 1, 1828, when that pioneer township was still part of Trumbull County. His father, William, was the son of Thomas Packard, and the first of the family to settle in the Western Reserve, coming here from Washington County, Pa. in 1801.

Thomas was a farmer, but apparently took an interest in community service. In April of 1802, at a citizens’ meeting held at the public house of Judge William Rayen, he was elected one of nine supervisors of highways for the civil township of Youngstown, which included nine other adjacent townships. Other prominent pioneers present that day were George Tod, who served as the township clerk, and James Hillman, who was elected constable.

It was Warren Packard’s father, William, who eventually brought the family to northern Trumbull County. He settled in Lordstown in 1834 and became its first postmaster.

Warren Packard’s mother was Julia Leach, whose father, Benjamin Leach, was a descendent of Francis Cooke, a passenger on the Mayflower.

Warren Packard moved to Warren in 1846, carrying on his back, as one family history noted, “everything he owned in a cotton handkerchief.” A relative helped him get a job with Milton Graham, who owned an iron and hardware business in Warren.

That first year, it was said that he worked long hours as a clerk. On Saturdays, he would drive a team between Warren, Niles, and Youngstown buying nails and iron for Graham’s store. Packard continued to work in the store after Graham sold it to Charles Harmon. Then, in 1851, he finally began working for himself when he formed a partnership with Harmon, creating the Warren Packard Company.

Packard became sole owner in 1853, when he bought out his partner.

Warren Packard married his first wife, Sylvia Camp, in 1852, a union which produced two sons. However, the Packards lost son Harry at 10 months and Rollo at two years of age.

Finally, in 1856, Sylvia succumbed to illness and died. In the years that followed his wife’s death, Packard’s iron and hardware businesses continued to grow so that by 1863 he was the owner and operator of the largest iron and hardware business between Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

Packard remarried in 1856, this time to Mary E. Doud, granddaughter of Captain James Doud, who commanded a company of cavalry in the War of 1812. Warren and Mary had five children together: daughters Alaska, Carlotta and Olive and sons William Doud and James Ward.

Around this time, William Packard began to diversify his business interests. Lauth said Packard founded a lumber business locally in 1861-1862 and eventually expanded operations into western Pennsylvania and New York, adding that the company supplied much of the lumber used in building the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad.

Warren Packard died on July 28, 1897.

The founding of Packard Electric and the Packard Motor Car Company

On June 4, 1890, James W. and William D. Packard and six other shareholders signed the articles of incorporation forming the Packard Electric Company.

The articles, in part, read: “… said corporation is formed for the purpose of manufacturing, purchasing and dealing in machinery, electrical appliances, and supplies, do a general manufacturing business, supply power and electricity for light and other purposes and to do all things requisite for the convenient prosecution of said business for profit.”

The company started business in a two-story, wood-frame building on North Avenue (present-day North Park Avenue) and had 10 employees. Lauth believes that the elder Packard helped advance his sons’ first business venture by supplying raw materials. “The lumber was coming out of the Packard Lumber Yard,” Lauth said. For tax purposes, the company was incorporated in West Virginia.

In the early years of the automobile industry – before the introduction of car dealerships – customers had to return to the manufacturing plant for repairs. Lauth said that James Ward Packard “being a stickler for good mechanical detail,” followed this procedure with his Winton automobile – over and over. “He kept taking the car back.”

The story, which may or may not be true, goes that during one trip to the Winton Motor Carriage Company of Cleveland, James Packard, wishing to make a few constructive suggestions to owner Alexander Winton, was told: “If you know so much about these horseless carriages, why don’t you go back to Warren and build your own!”

During his numerous trips to Cleveland, James Packard got to know George Weiss, a major investor in Winton’s company. Along with Winton shop superintendent William A. Hatcher and William Doud Packard, Weiss and James Packard set out to actualize the younger Packard’s ideas.

On November 7, 1899, the Warren Tribune simply reported that “The automobile completed by W.D. Packard was given a first test this morning. It proved satisfactory in every particular. It was expected the car would make 30 miles an hour and it can easily go 35 miles. This successful completion of the machine will probably mean a factory for automobiles in this city.”

A second Packard automobile was completed in May of 1900. The editors of Horseless Carriage, a trade paper of the day, wrote in their May 16 edition that the Packards’ car was “solidly built to endure high speeds on rough roads, and workmanship is thorough and first class.”

Packard had indeed built a better car.

The four original manufacturers of the Packard “horseless carriage” and a fifth man, James P. Gilbert, established the Ohio Automobile Company on Sept. 10, 1900. An initial stock sale raised $100,000 and shares were divided as follows: James and William Packard, 33 shares each; George Weiss, 32 shares; and Hatcher and Gilbert, one share each.

Henry B. Joy and Detroit

Eventually the Ohio Automobile Company drew the attention of Detroit capitalist Henry B. Joy, who bought 100 shares of OAC stock in November of 1901, and another 150 in December.

Later in 1902, after being strapped for cash, the Packards offered a substantial amount of shares for sale. This would be a turning point for the company.

Joy persuaded a group of investors to invest in the Packards and took control of the company in 1903. He changed the firm’s name to the Packard Motor Car Company and moved operations to Detroit. James Packard stayed on as president, but this act was largely ceremonial.

Joy and his “Princes of Griswold Street” had control over the company’s day-to-day operations, especially since the Packards preferred to stay in Warren. James Packard resigned as president in 1909 and was replaced by Joy, and took on a new, if equally powerless, role of chairman of the board until 1915. The company existed until 1958, until continued losses from Studebaker, a sister company, pulled Packard under.

However, the Packard brothers kept control of their electrical company, which had begun manufacturing cable for the automotive industry. Lauth said the Packards owned Packard Electric until 1915, when they sold their controlling interest to Newton Wolcott. The company enjoyed success under Wolcott’s leadership until 1932 when General Motors bought Packard Electric.

Wolcott served as general manager for a year until he died in 1933. In 1995 the company was renamed Delphi Packard Electric Systems and was spun off from GM in 1999.

In its heyday, Packard Electric became the world’s leading manufacturer of automotive, appliance and aircraft wiring assemblies and employed 6,500 workers.

© 2011, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.

YWCA renovation nears completion

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.

YSU construction projects alter skyline

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 (, 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, visit

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.

Student hopeful after theater-facade victory

By Jaime Hughes | Special to the Metro Monthly

As night glimmered off the old State Theatre, I couldn’t help but close my eyes and wonder what kind of people had laughed in this building. How many people came down on a Sunday afternoon looking to see movies? How many generations had crossed the skywalk over the alleyway that led to the grand theater?

Memories are what make up Youngstown. But what good are memories if there isn’t a piece of them to stay alive?
A while back, that’s what I decided to do – keep a part of Youngstown alive. It seemed unrealistic to try and save a theater that had been on a demolition list for years, but I felt compelled to save the building from the wrecking ball.

It felt like an uphill battle to protect something that had been closed for decades. Many newspaper articles published on the State Theatre called it unsafe. One paper reported that a man who had entered the building sustained injuries due to unsteady floors and missing railings.

But my endeavor to save the State Theatre led me to meet politicians, students, artists, professors and even a man who would not survive – but who had pushed us and believed in us from the beginning even when no one else did.

I stood to make my case in a small, packed café in front of people all much more older than me – all with degrees and full of skepticism. How could an 18-year-old Cardinal Mooney senior and her 20-year-old YSU partner save a building that would cost a considerable amount of money to renovate?

As I stood in that café in front of reporters, the media, and concerned citizens, I felt as if I were looking into the eyes of a firing squad. That meeting was a blur until the late Bob Fitzer stood up, and I will never forget what he said to that crowd that night: “These kids are full of ridiculous ideas, but if it isn’t for kids like them and ideas like theirs, we would not have the passion and determination we have today. We are standing in a building that I saved [the Cedars]. They may not be able to save this building [the State], but they sure as hell can put up a fight and save the most valuable part – the facade.”

Those words gave birth to the “Save the State Theatre Facade” effort. From that moment, we had vowed to save the building’s decorative facade facing West Federal Street.

A buzz of ideas and positive vibes circulated the room. What had been a firing squad just minutes before had turned into dinner with friends. Downtown Youngstown isn’t just a place you visit then never return. It’s a place where you meet new people who become familiar faces and friends.

As the night came to a close, the fight still was not over. Petitions began circulating, friends and family members began writing letters to local government on the importance of this downtown facade. Architects and Youngstown activists began speaking at national conventions and to the media on the status of the project and the significance of the facade staying intact, in its original location.

The State Theatre, which dates from 1927, has a beautiful terra cotta facade. The State was known for its arched facade and its interesting set-up – a small entrance and foyer area led to a skywalk that took theater-goers into the 2,000- seat theater.

After ending its life as a movie theater, the State became a venue for rock music, first with the Tomorrow Club and then the Agora Ballroom. In the 1970s and 80s, bands like the Ramones, who were rumored to have autographed the back wall of the theater, had played there with many other great bands. It wasn’t until 1986 that the theater closed for good, due to financial troubles. It has since sat vacant. (The State is owned by the Youngstown Central Area Community Improvement Corp.)

Some local theater groups expressed an interest in the building, but no luck. As time went on, the theater slid further and further into disrepair. It finally made its way onto a real demolition list. The site will be used by the Taft Technology Center.

But the story does not end there. Thanks to wonderful activism and a vocal community, the State facade will remain. It will now be preserved on West Federal as part of an emerging technology block. And to ensure that the facade remains intact, there is a $100,000 penalty if it is harmed during the demolition of the rear theater building.

This is why I am never ashamed to say I was born and raised and continue to fight the good fight in Youngstown, because the area is comprised of wonderful, dedicated people who have great concern for our city and it’s future – even if it is one facade at a time.

© 2008, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.

Heroes, scandals impact area’s self image

By John Patrick Gatta | Metro Monthly Staff Writer
Our scandals run deeper, our victories are sweeter. Or so we think.

When incidents like the Ohio Attorney General’s scandal erupt in the community, many Mahoning Valley residents will put on the cloak of shame for talk radio and in their daily conversations. There’s talk of such incidents being “a black eye” for the area. But when champions like Youngstown middleweight boxer Kelly Pavlik emerge victorious, many local citizens take note and will hoist the victor on their collective shoulders.

Residents of the Mahoning Valley have learned to become adept at taking on the highs and lows that are specific to individual citizens. In the past, such lows dealt with organized crime and a high murder rate. Recently, such over-sensitivity reared up following seamy disclosures involving the Ohio Attorney General’s office. Prior to former Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann’s resignation and staff firings that preceded it, those who call this area “home” filled the positions. Yet despite such scandals being the actions of a few, many take it to a personal level and let out the usual statement of persecution – “It makes us look bad.”

One local psychologist thinks such behavior is directly related the community’s loss of identity after the collapse of the local steel industry in the late 1970s.

Albert M. Pondillo, psychologist and executive director of Oakwood Counseling Center in Warren, views such reactions through the prism of a broken-hearted community.

“It’s an interesting phenomenon. The concept of psychology, it’s called an affiliation. We all need to be part of an affiliative group. Our immediate affiliated group is our family. Then, we have other affiliated groups that split off of that. I might belong to a club or an organization.

“If you look at the big picture, if you think about John F. Kennedy’s speech, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ (“I am a citizen of Berlin.”). That’s an example of this affiliation that people had as a nation. Everybody cheered. But nobody wants to say, ‘Ich bin ein Youngstowner’ right now because there’s a black mark against us.”

In an online article, “Overview of Social Psychology Concepts,” Eric Loveday writes, “Affiliation is the desire to be part of a group or groups of people in a way that furthers our self-esteem and self-concept. We affiliate with others to make friends, to gain power and status, to pass time, and to fulfill our social needs.”

At one point the Mahoning Valley’s identity corresponded with having a prosperous steel industry whose materials helped build infrastructures around the world. With the closing of the mills in 1977, a community nervous breakdown of sorts occurred and some say that the area still has not healed properly.

“At least we had something to hang our hats on,” said Pondillo. “We had some type of dignity because we were working and we were contributing and doing something positive.

“When they took that away from us, we had a group of individuals that had nothing left to hang their hats on. Our identity, as the Mahoning Valley, was the producers of the steel, the winners of World War II because we produced steel that won the war and things like that. We don’t have that anymore. We’re just another small Rust Belt town that . . . We get this message on a regular basis, that we’re expendable, we’re not important because there’s anybody that can do what we do. And that’s a horrible feeling.”

Pondillo admitted that he couldn’t recall a time when the area did not have a woeful attitude following the public indiscretions of others. He cited as earlier examples references to Youngstown as “Crimetown USA” or “Little Chicago.”

“People here in Youngstown, there was a time it had a very negative tone. Then, it improved a little bit. This thing that happened with Marc Dann is just another black eye. It makes us ashamed of our affiliation of being Mahoning Valley-ers or Youngstown-ers or the area in general. And we can’t afford to have that right now, especially because the community we live in is so depressed.”

While affiliation can cause people to feel an extreme sense of shame when bad things happen, it can also have the opposite effect when there is cause for celebration. Middleweight boxer Kelly Pavlik wins a championship bout, for example, and the entire area rejoices as if they put in all the days of training, took the body blows in the ring, and had their arm raised in triumph by the referee. The same feelings of pride and triumph were elicited during Youngstown State University’s run of successful football seasons that included four division championships.

“It may sound trivial and trite,” said Pondillo, “but when YSU had a run of championships in the ‘90s, all of a sudden we’ve got our self-esteem back. Little things to hang our hats on because we lost our identity.”

But they become blips on the radar screen of life when the roar of the crowd fades and the incessant news broadcasts report on negative findings take their place. But what would Pondillo say if he had the Mahoning Valley on the couch?

Years of one-to-one sessions have prepared Pondillo for working with an individual on how to overcome such a dismal view of life. “I would say to them that your thinking is irrational. You are not an irrational person. But your thinking is, and that’s what’s causing this depression, a belief that has no basis in fact. That ‘I’m a bad person’ is an irrational belief, and we have to turn that irrational belief around. Look at a more realistic belief.

“Now, I can do that with an individual, but with a community it is difficult. That’s basically what PR guys do. They’ll start selling Youngstown as a good place to live and a good community and good moral values, low cost of living, whatever they’re going to do to begin to demonstrate the irrational thinking. But it’s not easy. These negative things keep popping up.”

© 2008, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.

Suggestions for researching your family history


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,,, 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.

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