YOUNGSTOWN'S EAST SIDE Reunion revives Sharonline

YOUNGSTOWN -- Neighborhood pride can live on, even in the face of a shrinking community and changing demographics.
That's what draws more than 2,000 past and present residents of Sharonline, a community on the city's East Side now known as the McGuffey Heights area, here every three years to celebrate and remember home.
The fifth tri-annual Sharonline reunion kicked off this weekend with a banquet, parade and picnic. Some have traveled from as far away as Africa to attend the reunion in previous years.
Sharonline, which took its name from a streetcar line that ran from Youngstown to Sharon, Pa., until 1939, looks much different from its citylike appearance of decades ago.
In Youngstown's heyday, neighborhoods blossomed and shops thrived along Jacobs Road, where the streetcar line, built in 1900, ran to Sharon.
The open fields and intermittent homes are still there, but many of the businesses and entertainment spots have closed shop and moved on.
Over the years, many residents have called on city officials to help the neighborhood in changing direction. Those who return to fellowship with old friends and neighbors, however, hope to remember the lessons and values a community rich with pride and togetherness once taught them.
"There are really so many people who have made significant contributions to society from out on the Sharonline," said Clifford Johnson, a reunion committee member.
"Given the small geographic area, there have been tremendous success stories, but when we come back, we like to talk more about where we started and not so much what we have done."
What area was like: Johnson, a retired teacher and administrator with Warren city schools, said that origin lies in an area -- not officially annexed into the city until 1929 -- where residents raised chickens, pigs and cows to keep food on the table.
It was an area where, because of a lack of plumbing, outhouses and wells were commonplace, and most streets were unimproved.
"Economically we may have been poor, but we were rich in spirit and that will often carry you a lot further than money," Johnson said .
"I did not know until I went to college in the mid-'50s that I was supposed to be poor or what was called socioeconomically deprived."
Part of the reason Johnson did not realize he and his family were considered poor is because Sharonliners, according to longtime Sharonline resident Mary Robinson, pooled resources to make sure everybody had a piece of the pie.
"If you needed something," she said, "you knew you could get it from this person or the next. It was never mine, but ours."
Those feelings also spilled over into child-rearing, with parents believing in community parenting and togetherness long before the phrase "it takes a village" was coined.
How people got along: Robinson and Johnson both remember how children were disciplined in Sharonline: "When an adult saw you doing something wrong, they got after you right there and it was guaranteed that your parents knew whatever you had done before you made it home. It was one large, extended family."
In the Sharonline family, as with most traditional families, recreational time was the glue that bonded the members.
Robinson remembers 5-cent socials where most members of the community would come together in someone's basement to eat hot dogs, hamburgers and pop for a nickel.
"If you had a large enough basement, then you had a five-cent social," she explained.
Robinson said not everyone in the Sharonline community had a decent radio, therefore whoever had the best radio would put the small box out on the front porch and anybody who cared to listen could gather around the porch and listen to the latest broadcasts.
When television came into the picture, the tradition continued. Johnson said it was not uncommon to find a living room full of neighbors watching the only small-screened black and white television in the area -- "and when color came into play, we had arrived."
No matter how small the screen or crowded the room, there was never a complaint, he said.
This same type of sharing and collective respect covered every area of life in Sharonline, said Robinson. It's those memories and the desire to see long-lost friends, he said, that bring the crowds back here to celebrate every third year.
Today's events: The reunion will wrap up today with services at Rising Star Baptist Church. Even the Sunday service will likely strike a nostalgic chord with some former residents.
Many old-timers will remember the church was once the home of Thornhill Elementary School -- where virtually all Sharonline pupils were taught before graduating to Scienceville School, which later became North High School.