One Town’s Struggle To Survive In Hard Times: Associated Press On Warren Ohio
By Helen O’Neill, The Associated Press
The auto plants and steel mills, once the lifeblood of Warren, are ghosts of their former selves. Plants lie idle, shifts have been cut, and the huge parking lot outside the Lordstown General Motors factory is nearly empty. The Golden Gate restaurant and Mary M’s, fixtures for years, are shuttered. Houses are boarded up. Businesses have given up on downtown.
There is a saying among old-timers in this gritty river town: What
recession? We’ve been stuck in one for 30 years. Yet even stubborn
Warren, a town with a dwindling population of about 43,000 in
northeast Ohio, is being tested like never before. And folks talk of a hopelessness, a weariness of spirit that is pervading every aspect of life.
“It’s like lives are being stripped away whole,” says Pam Bennett, 55, a retired high school secretary who volunteers at the Warren Family Mission, where hundreds of people flock every week for food and clothes and shelter. Many are families with small children. Many have lost their jobs. And many are coming in for the first time.
There was a time when jobs – good-paying jobs – were plentiful. People like Bennett’s husband, David, marched straight out of high school and into Delphi Packard Electric Systems, once one of the area’s largest and best-paying employers. Now the auto parts plant operates with a skeletal crew. After 37 years, Bennett has been told his health benefits will end when he retires, his pension is frozen and he will lose his job if the plant folds this summer.
And so the Bennetts have abandoned their dream of retiring to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and building a small prefabricated house where they hoped to spend sun-filled days after a life of frugality and hard work.
These days Warren is littered with abandoned dreams.
“It’s awful, just awful,” says Nick Angelo, 73, who raised six children and two grandchildren in what he says was once a vibrant, prosperous community. Now he feels nothing but sadness when he walks past the closed store fronts near the courthouse square.
“I feel sorry for the young people,” Angelo says.
Angelo, a retired high school athletic director, vividly recalls a
time when things were different, when the town sparkled with vitality and hope. It was in the early 1970s and for four consecutive years the two high school football teams – the Warren Harding Panthers and the Warren Western Reserve Raiders – won state championships. There were parades and lavish pre-game dinners at the Golden Gate and 15,000 cheering fans turned out in support.
There was a glimmer of that former glory this spring when the high school basketball team made it to the state semifinals and several thousand fans drove three hours to Columbus to watch the game.
For a week, it was as if the team held the heart of the town. Bands
played at pep rallies, restaurants donated food, and “Go Raiders!”
signs bedecked the town.
“People just desperately need some hope to cling to,” coach Steve
Arnold says. “And for a short time, we were that hope.”
Over at the Hoyt Street Church, Pastor Gerald Morgan sees the same thirst for hope. Worshipers are flocking to services in greater
numbers, though donations are down. It’s always that way in a time of austerity, he says. People turn to the church for solace and for answers they can’t find anywhere else.
The 59-year-old minister, who spent 30 years on a General Motors
assembly line before becoming a full-time pastor, doesn’t have
answers. Just a deep, ingrained knowledge of how his people are suffering. And an abiding faith that, no matter how bad things get, they will pull through.
And so he quotes from Genesis, the passage about how the earth
returned to life after the devastation of the great flood. And he tells his congregation that Warren too will emerge from this latest chapter of darkness, and someday thrive again.
Dare To Dream wishes to thank Jim and Elecpencil blog for sending us this AP article to use in our “series” of Warren “Decay to Growth” posts.