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.
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 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.