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Saturday, December 4, 2010


      It's neither Cooperstown, New York nor Canton, Ohio, but few towns the size of the Gem City can claim that five professional hall of fame athletes once called the ball fields of Toronto, Ohio home.
      Receiving his first shot of professional football here at the old Kaul Field was Wilbur "Fats" Henry, an All American lineman from the College of Washington and Jefferson.  "Those were rough and tumble days," the late Tom McKelvey said about the 1920s.  "Doc Kilgus was the owner of the Toronto Tigers and was trying to build up the team with outside players.  One of those was Fats Henry, fresh out of college."
      Henry would go on to play and coach for the Canton Bulldogs, and in 1926, he brought up Toronto native John Comer for one game.  Wearing number 3, Comer carried the ball once for one yard, giving him the distinction of being Toronto's first professional football player.
       Henry is both a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the National League Hall of Fame.
       The Gem City athlete to next join the professional football ranks was Clarke Hinkle, after whom the high school stadium is named.  Carl Snavey, his coach at Bucknell University said of the Lackawanna Express, "Without a doubt, the greatest defensive back I have ever coached."  Hinkle became a three-time All American at Bucknell and then went on to play with the Green Bay Packers from 1932 to 1941, a period this fullback-linebacker became the NFL's all time leading rusher with 3,860 yards.
      In 1964, the NFL enshrined Hinkle in Canton and the NCAA in 1971.
      Two decades later, continuing the proud gridiron traditions of Toronto was Don Sutherin, a 1954 graduate of THS.
       Sutherin, of course, is best remembered for kicking the winning field goal of the 1958 Rose Bowl for Ohio State, but, locally, he and fellow classmate George Deiderich have the distinction of being the only two future professional football players to have paired at THS at the same time, from 1949 to 1953.  During their senior season, the two future Canadian Football League players performed on a squad that produced four wins, four losses and one tie.
      The New York Giants drafted Sutherin as a defensive back in 1959.  He played for the Giants part of that season and then played with the Pittsburgh Steelers the remainder of the year and the 1960 season.  Sutherin then took his talents north to the Hamilton Tiger Cats and played in the CFL for 12 years, participating in eight Grey Cups, his team winning four.
      By the time he retired, Sutherin held 18 CFL records.  He was inducted into the CFL Hall of Fame in 1992.
      Toronto contributed to the Baseball Hall of Fame, as well.  Pittsburgh Pirate shortstop Honus Wagner often brought several teammates to barnstorm against local clubs.  He also played for the Toronto Athletic Club.
      In The Era of Elegance author Walter M. Kestner wrote, "Wagner, in the twilight of his years of his career, played in Toronto where he alternated with Lawrence Hughes on the all star team managed by Doc Kilgus."
      Kilgus also recruited for the all star squad Boston Red Sox outfielder John Bates and Chicago Cub catcher Tom Needham, both from Jefferson County.
      One hall of fame athlete who did get away from the Gem City was Rollie Fingers, whose father George played for Class D Williamstown in the Mountain State League in 1938.
      The Fingers family resided at 601 Clark Street.  Around when Rollie was ten years old, father George, fed up with working at Wheeling Steel in Steubenville, decided to move the family to California.
      Rollie went on to play 18 seasons in the major leagues, pioneering the role of closing pitcher while recording 341 career saves.
      He was inducted into Cooperstown in 1992.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


1935  Advertisement from old Victory Market

Melhorn Dairy sold not only its own products, but also that which you purchased on the typical corner market of the period. 

Barnum's Stores, Fourth Street, early 1900s
      The corner market, like penny candy inside glass counters, has long disappeared from Gem City neighborhoods, but has left sweet memories and a rich history.
      With the development of Toronto during the late 1800s came the arrival of the neighborhood market, its numbers increasing as the town expanded southward, peaking during the 1950s and 1960s when nearly 8,000 people inhabited the river town.  As many as 20 small markets were in business during that period, usually family owned and operated, the family often residing in the same building that contained the store.
      From Romey's, Karaffa's and Brem's in the north end to Calabrese's and Didd's at the south, a Toronto resident could walk within a few minutes to purchase bread, milk, lunch meat and other daily groceries.  One street, Federal, had three such stores-Frank's, Wasyk's and Smitty's--on three successive city blocks.
      "Most families had only one car back then," said Mike Swaykus, who was owner and manager of the former Mike's Market, where now sits the empty Olive Branch.  "While the father worked, the kids or mother could walk to a store to get whatever they needed."
      Karaffa's Store, catty-corner from the present Tucker's Tavern, was the small grocery with which the Swaykus family dealt when Mike was growing up.
      "My family had an account there," Swaykus said.  "I remember my mom would call Karaffa's and order a pound of bologna, a rump roast or a bag of potatoes, and Joe Karaffa would deliver them to our home on any day of the week.  My mom would always settle the bill on pay day.  That kind of thing is a thing of the past."
      Handshake accounts and home deliveries are two childhood memories for Liz Fedash, who lived on the 900 block of Loretta Avenue, where Katz's was the neighborhood grocer from the 1930s to the 1950s.
      As a teenager during the late 1940s, Fedash cleaned the Katzes' upstairs apartment and worked filling orders at Calabrese's, then located at Pierce and Wentworth.
       "Katz's was like a general store," Fedash said.  "They sold produce, meats and penny candy.  They were really nice people.  Many times my mom needed milk on Sunday, and they would open the store for us.  You don't get that kind of service today.
       "When I went to pay my family's bills, regardless of how much we paid, Mr. Katz would always give me a bag of candy," she continued.  "The Katzes would always send us gifts on Christmas, which I thought was especially nice since they didn't celebrate Christmas because they were Jewish."
      Friendliness was also a familiar trait with the Calabrese family, for whom Fedash worked filling orders.
      "They took call-in orders.  They sold meats and produce and beer by the cases and delivered all over town," she said.
      Vince Exterovich, who grew up on Sixth Street during the 1930s and early 1940s, described McClane's on the same street as "a very small store where you could buy some canned goods and bread."
      He also mentioned Russell's on Findley, north of the old Roosevelt School and and the Victory Market on downtown Fourth Street.  "They were very friendly," Exterovich said of downtown store owners.  "They would always speak to me."
      Just north of downtown was the old Ralph's Golden Crown Store, which the Swaykus family purchased in 1976 and renamed Mike's, a store with a name that reflected the first-name basis values of the traditional corner market.
      "I can honestly say at one time I knew half the people in town by their first names," Swaykus said.
      He attributed the demise of the corner market to the ownership of more than one family vehicle and the competition with franchise markets.
       "The small grocer started declining in town during the 1970's," he said. "Families could then drive to look for better prices."
      Mike's, the last corner market in town, went out of business in 1998.