Colleagues, co-workers, friends recall great community newspaper

Many journalists honed their craft or even had full careers in The Vindicator’s newsroom. Here are some of their recollections:

Anthony G. Paglia, of Hermitage, Pa., former Vindicator senior regional editor, former Regional Chamber vice president of government and media affairs.

I will always be proud of the great community journalism The Vindicator produced particularly in the late 1980s through the early 2000s when we were at full staffing with some great reporters and editors. The breadth of local news coverage in the five-county area was extensive; enterprise and investigative reporting was the norm; and the Vindy particularly led coverage of government corruption and the demise of organized crime and the Valley’s once-popular congressman.

Tim Fitzpatrick, of Shaker Heights, Vindicator reporter, 1981-1988 (city hall reporter 1983-1987). Retired senior marketing and communications executive, now living in Shaker Heights with my wife, former Vindicator reporter Diane Laney Fitzpatrick.

The most captivating day of my career at The Vindicator didn’t involve a single story; it involved many stories. I was lucky enough to inherit the desk of the venerable politics editor Clingan Jackson upon his retirement. (I was the new city hall reporter at the time.)

I sat next to him on a Saturday in 1983 as he cleaned out his desk. As he did so, cigar dangling from his lips, he regaled me with stories of his career, which began in 1929 and ended 54 years later – a remarkable span of our community’s history.

Our exchange drove home the point that, as a Vindicator reporter, I was being given the opportunity to do something far larger than an ordinary job. On that day and on every day of my Vindicator career, I knew that all of us in the newsroom had been given an awesome responsibility.

Yes, some of our news reports would be imperfect. Some would be incomplete under the duress of daily deadlines. But for each story, I believe we all did our utmost to make them the very best possible first draft of the history of the Mahoning Valley. That is what Youngstown deserved and what our Democracy demands.

Emily Webster Love, of Kinsman, reporter, 1968-1985; writer.

I worked at the Vindy first in the Warren bureau and then on the swing beat through the Ohio and Pennsylvania bureaus. After “retiring” from newspapering in 1998, I worked as a writer and editor in the advertising/marketing field, and am still actively writing.

Bureau people do it all – police, courts, government, features – and I carry many vivid memories from the stories of those days: the murder of Niles policeman John Utlak, Wally the Lion, the story of Anthony DelGenio’s visit from his “dead” Vietnam War buddy. But perhaps the most rewarding one was the story of Delphi Packard’s move to Mexico.

Delphi had been moving its Warren jobs to several plants in the South in an open and candid manner; we wrote many stories on the progress. When I found out that they were simultaneously and secretly planning a new plant in Juarez, Mexico, I wrote the story and then, out of some misguided sense of fair play, told their PR director I had it. She and her boss, works manager Jim Rineheart, visited publisher William Brown and persuaded him it was critical to their company’s labor relations that the story not run. I seethed.

Several days later, I was tipped off that, at a press conference in Cleveland, another reporter had asked a GM rep about the rumors of the Mexico plant. I immediately called Paul Jagnow, who was then Trumbull editor. My story broke the next day. I was never so proud of a newspaper in my life!

Dan Pecchia, of Youngstown, business editor 1988-1992. President, Pecchia Communications LLC

My greatest memory of the Vindy was writing a weekly business column that conveyed my observations of events and trends. Published every Sunday, it was like a magnet for tips and rumors from readers. I also enjoyed covering the demise of GF, the rise of Phar-Mor (which later met its demise) and the ups and downs of business in general. I particularly enjoyed hunting down public records and other documents that revealed high-impact blasts of truth.

Is there a better vantage point for observing the comings and goings in one’s hometown than as the business editor of its daily newspaper? I have always appreciated the privilege of working in that role and the daily newspaper business in general.

Lisa (Williams) Niquette, of Columbus, general assignment reporter and assistant business editor, 1991-1992; business editor, 1992-1994; now an independent communications consultant and freelance writer.

Whenever I think back on my days reporting, it’s not the story that stands out most. It’s the process, the back story or the moments. There was the time in summer 1992 when we got a tip that something was going on at the Phar-Mor offices downtown. When I got there, filing cabinets were being rolled out on dollies, locks were being changed and for the next couple years, I would be consumed by the Phar-Mor scandal.

There was the time I was “summoned” to interview Edward J. DeBartolo Sr., who wanted to talk about his successor when he retired. He was smaller than I expected, yet still larger than life. He could recall the prime rate in any given year, and he pulled out of his pocket a thick gold chain strung with Super Bowl and Stanley Cup rings to show me.

And then there was the call that ended up changing my life – from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources that officials would be tagging baby barn owls that evening if anyone was interested in getting pics or doing a story. I was going to be “off the clock” by then, so the city editor told me to “give it to the night reporter.” I’ve been married to that night reporter for almost 26 years now.

I can think of countless moments – the kind that reporters and editors shared with each other while mingling between editions, during lunch breaks or after hours at the Draught House. I’m extremely proud to have been a part of this very special newspaper family.

Helen Paes, Boardman, Vindicator director of community affairs, 1987-2006

As a young girl, I first remember reading The Vindicator, especially the Sunday edition, I would sit on our front porch in the summer reading the front page, the rotogravure section, comics and especially perusing the Society section looking at the elegant brides and the description of their dresses. Little did I know that I would one day be on the staff of the newspaper where I was given the opportunity to work in the newsroom and other facets of the operation as director of Community Affairs to connect and reach out to the people of the Mahoning Valley. Our collective community will never be same without The Vindicator providing news and supporting community events such as the Vindicator Spelling Bee, Canfield Fair, the Athena Award and so many others. It is a sad time for those of us who have had the honor of being a part of documenting our community, yet it provides a pride that no matter what, the legacy of The Vindicator will live on.

Melanie Wallerick, Gulfport (St, Petersburg), Fla., former executive assistant, 2003-2005.

I started working at the paper in September 2003 as Mrs. Jagnow and Mark Brown’s executive assistant. I truly enjoyed my job – except for Mondays when the mail from the weekend would be piled up.

Fast forward to November 2004. The strike. Being stuck inside the buildings at the start, the cold shower by the pressroom where the ladies all stood guard for each other, sleeping on the desks ... it was an insanely bizarre reality. The crazy hours we all put in, the jobs and responsibilities we all learned that were beyond our comfort zones, missing our families, missing our pets, missing our lives.

Day 2 of the strike, ... someone had to cook all these staples and feed you crazy newspaper folk! I volunteered and after a few weeks of cooking daily, that 5 or 6 o’clock dinner bell in the newsroom, known as Mrs. Jagnow, would become a time of solidarity, friendships and love. We all bonded over those meals and we all leaned on each other during such a trying time.

As you all say your goodbyes, please continue to cherish your amazing memories of your life and time at The Vindicator. The next time you sit down to break bread with a total stranger, fondly remember how successful it was and happy you were when you did it in 2004/2005. I know I will.

Mark Niquette of Columbus, general assignment reporter, 1990-92; politics writer, 1992-2000. Now a government and politics reporter and editor for Bloomberg News.

Not long after starting as a new reporter from Wisconsin on the night shift, a call came over the police scanner in August 1991 that “Little Joey” Naples had been shot in a Beaver Township cornfield. I knew this was big but didn’t realize just how big until Vindy veterans Bertram de Souza and Tim Yovich rushed back to the newsroom and started making calls. Next thing I knew, I was trying to interview FBI agents at the scene – and that I wasn’t in Wisconsin anymore.

There were other memorable moments, many of them involving former U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. – especially two days before Christmas in 1997, when he insisted on a live, televised press conference to respond to unsealed FBI affidavits that described a top local aide as an associate of mob boss “Lenny’’ Strollo. Traficant had a jab for most every reporter who stood to ask a question – like calling one a ``castrating vixen’’ and criticizing my tie as a ``cacophony of colors as they explode down to your crotch.’’

There was also the night at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Hall in 1994, when a defeated Don L. Hanni Jr. quietly relinquished control of the Mahoning County Democratic Party to Democrats for Change. “I don’t mind giving up the job, but I hated like hell to lose the fight,’’ Hanni told reporters on the way out.

Along the way at The Vindicator, I met the love of my life. And I learned what it means to be a journalist from talented colleagues, covering a region with a rich history and people who are more than a little poorer today with the loss of their daily newspaper.

Janice (Haidet) Hisle of Cincinnati, reporter, 1986-1990. Freelance writer, book author

My fresh-out-of-college job at The Vindicator took me only 40 miles from my hometown but gave me experiences that might as well have been a world away.

Youngstown was bigger, grittier and tougher than little ol’ Alliance. I parachuted into a world where I wrote about homicides, truck-stop prostitution, mobsters, fires, robberies, rapes and nationally publicized abortion-clinic protests. I even broke the story of a man accused in an international espionage case.

Seasoned reporters and editors coached me to be fearless, fair and accurate. But they also urged me to find inspirational stories:

The community rallying around a little girl, Teralynn Landis, who underwent multiple liver transplants.

The gut-wrenching situation that Michael Taylor faced after his wife went into a coma while pregnant; doctors managed to safely deliver the child via Cesarean section.

“The duck man of Mill Creek Park” – a guy who would honk his horn, cueing ducks to come running so he could feed them. On a whim, I composed a poem to begin that story – a tactic that caught my editors off-guard. But they relented; the story landed on the front page, poem intact, as I recall.

Dozens of other Vindicator reporters could tell tales more compelling than mine. But all of our stories, bundled together, constituted a great American newspaper, one dedicated to journalism’s true purpose: chronicling life and striving to make sense of it. Without The Vindicator, the people of the Mahoning Valley will have a much more difficult time doing that.

Kalea Hall of Michigan, business reporter June 2012-April 2018; General Motors reporter for The Detroit News

I grew up a newspaper reader and that made me want to be a newspaper writer. The paper that gave me this passion is The Vindicator. It only made sense that this was my first job as a professional journalist.

Here’s what I’ll remember about those five years: Joe Gorman rushing into the newsroom with breaking news and slamming his keys to get it out fast; David Skolnick digging deep into the Oakhill conspiracy to find out what really happened so readers could better understand all the players involved; Jordyn Grzelewski telling harrowing stories of our Valley’s battle with heroin; Bob Yosay straddling a bridge to get the perfect shot and nearly giving me a heart attack; Robert McFerren’s dedication to making every graphic and front page perfect; Matt Arnold’s snappy headline writing; writing stories about the impact of the loss of steel on the Valley 40 years later with the great Bill Alcorn; and, of course, all of the editors who held us together, forced us to be competitive and get the news first, and get it right.

There’s no better satisfaction in life for me than to say I worked with these people who all really were in this for one reason: to seek the truth and report it. Support local journalism unless you are OK with not having someone out there vindicating all the facts like the Vindicator staff did for 150 years.

Jeff Sheban, Chicago-based, Vindicator Statehouse correspondent 1981-1984; business editor 1992-1993; editorial writer 1993-1995, financial journalist with Mergermarket

I guess it was in 1980 or so, when I was a college student working a summer internship at the old newspaper office on Vindicator Square behind the Home Savings building. I was in awe of being around real journalists. Then I stepped into the men’s room and was taken aback at the sight of two ancient (in my eyes) editorial writers – I didn’t know their names but they were spitting images of Walter Cronkite and Woody Hayes in short sleeve white shirts and ties – sitting on toilets in adjoining restroom stalls, with the doors wide open, reading newspapers and carrying on an animated conversation about the news of the day. They didn’t bother to look up from their newspapers as I stood there momentarily stunned and staring. I rushed out and found another restroom, but learned an early lesson about “social media.” What camaraderie!

Kelly (Byers) Koenig of Youngstown, Classified Department adviser, 1987-1988.

I filled in for two maternity leaves, then was laid off. I’ve worked at Youngstown Police Department for the last 19 years and currently the administrative assistant to Chief Robin Lees. I was pregnant when I was laid off, and the Classified Department held a baby shower for my going away party and helped me with everything I needed for my daughter who was born in April of ‘89. While working there, we had a computer conversion, and I received a mug for being the first to put a new ad in the new system.

Wendy Fisher, of Boardman, January 1999 to May 2008. Retail account executive, classified account executive.

This was the best company I have ever worked for until I joined my current company in January 2017. Now, I am a territory account manager for Staples. But ink has always been in my blood.

Working at the Vindicator, everyone was family. We all worked together in harmony to produce an amazing piece of history every day. Some of the most talented people I have ever met worked there. I learned so much, laughed a lot, and won a lot of awards along the way.

I was calling on customers on Sept. 11. I will never forget that day. I was driving to Century 21 Mill Creek Realty to pick up their ad copy for the week and sat in their conference room in horror watching the fall of the World Trade Center. I also recall working through the strike, taking my young kids with me to bundle papers and help deliver routes. The strength of everyone through adversity was amazing.

Most of all, Mark Brown and Betty Jagnow were invested not only financially, but also physically. Their constant presence and accessibility were known throughout the sales department. I’m devastated to hear that The Vindicator is closing. It is a huge loss for our community.

George Denney, of Youngstown. Reporter, 1986-1999. Retired steelworker, and court administrator.

There was a time in the 1990s when I had the honor of working side-by-side with a few of the best in the business in The Vindicator’s Warren Bureau. This little storefront on East Market Street barely contained the four energetic people who covered everything from homicides to train wrecks, from businesses to features about students’ projects on Space Shuttles.

A door opened for anyone who chose to step in from the sidewalk on the main street of town, including a murder suspect prepared to reveal his sins, and a councilman who had a story from the night before. We gathered the news every day from dawn to dusk and attended nightly board meetings in far reaches of the county. We wrote for our readers, welcoming criticism and praise.

The Warren Bureau also brought two hard-working district circulation managers in with us, so we watched the paper go out the door on the way to homes and distribution boxes throughout Trumbull County and beyond. We shared doughnuts on Saturday, and stories from the trail.

To my former co-workers, from every niche of the news business, and to all Vindicator readers, I am forever grateful. It was an exciting ride.

Maureen Stapleton, business reporter, 1992-1994, freelance journalist, London, since 1988.

Although my time at the Vindicator was short, it also was extraordinary. I joined the business desk amid the Phar-Mor scandal-bankruptcy of the company, indictments of its founder Mickey Monus (and others) and a whole lot of news. This meant long days and nights, not to mention some surreal experiences, including Monus discussing setting me up with his nephew while he rode a limo back from his federal indictment. I mean, really, didn’t he have better things to think about?

I got to see a car get made at Lordstown. I profiled small business owners. I learned about bankruptcy law. I even got to test drive a new Ford Mustang. What has stayed with me, nearly 30 years later, was the persistent optimism of the region and the people who lived there. The region may have been struggling in the early 1990s after the collapse of the steel industry, but so many people I met fervently believed that better days were just around the corner.

Most of all, though, I remember my time there with such fondness because of the amazing people I had the honor to work with. Making innumerable inside jokes with business editor Lisa Williams and her fianc e (now husband) Mark Niquette. Eating emergency Reeses Peanut Butter Cups courtesy of Ernie Brown. Hotly contested foam basketball tournaments in the photography department with Doug Oster and Bob DeMay. Police reporter Tim Yovich gently telling me that perhaps the route I took to work should best be avoided (I didn’t listen. I was fine.) The joy of working with Robert McFerren in the art department and Shirley Brown on the design desk.

It breaks my heart that The Vindicator is shutting down. The spirit of The Vindicator will live on forever in the people who worked there, no matter where they find themselves in the world. Including me.

Heather (Crawford) Taindel, of Charlotte, N.C., retail and classified advertising intern 2006-2007; senior account manager, Sterling

“The Vindy” will always have a special place in my heart because it paved the path into the professional world for me, as it was my first internship as a business major at YSU. I will always be grateful to Bruce Crawford and Marka Sonoga for hiring me and for the many mentors and friends that I met during my time. I walked in the door a wide-eyed intern eager to learn and left a young professional with skills that I use today in my career in strategic account management for high-revenue clients.

Beyond the ink, deadlines, and new ideas, the most valuable thing that I received during my time at the paper were the life-long friendships. Despite moving more than 500 miles away, I still keep in touch with many of my wonderful friends from The Vindicator, but I am especially grateful to have met my best friend, Wendy (Baklarz) Fisher, during my time in the Classified department. We have been friends for 13 years now, were the maids of honor in each other’s weddings and she is the godmother of my son, Dominic.

I cried the day I found out that The Vindicator was closing. I remember my grandparents and my Buni reading the paper every day. More than a news outlet, it is a staple of Youngstown that ties our cities past with the present. I sincerely wish everyone who is still there well in their new chapter and may our warm memories and friendships from The Vindy remain in our hearts forever.

Don Shilling, of Boardman, Salem Bureau/Austintown-Canfield beat/Mahoning County Courthouse/Business Editor: 1987-2010. Senior Proposal Development and Communications Manager at AVI Foodsystems in Warren.

I can’t describe this Vindicator memory any better than I did in my lede 14 years ago: “I was cruising along at 1,300 feet above West Mifflin, Pa., with my right arm hanging out the passenger’s window. Suddenly, the Goodyear blimp dipped to the right. My stomach fluttered. I looked down at the Monongahela River and the buildings of downtown Pittsburgh and quickly scooched over in my seat.”

Being a reporter and business editor at The Vindicator presented me with incredible opportunities. In my journeys, I saw huge vats pour red-hot molten iron and observed the well-coordinated dance of people and robots assembling cars. I enjoyed a lively discussion with ukulele artist Tiny Tim and even managed a very brief conversation with moon-walker Neil Armstrong. But riding in the iconic Goodyear blimp is tops in my mind, especially after the pilot skillfully righted the tilting airship and settled my nerves.

Well, I guess one thing stands out even more – writing about the ride. I loved the challenge of crafting words to convey the complexities, colors and drama of my reporting experiences. It was a true privilege and a joy to bring airship rides, steel making, car assembly and even Tiny Tim to thousands of loyal, local readers who graciously took the time to read our stories. Thank you!

Michael Braun, Fort Myers, Fla., reporter, editing posts, design desk chief, 1980-2005. Fort Myers News-Press, page designer, reporter, 2005-present.

What still amazes me is being “allowed” to start an outdoors page in 1985 that survived more than 20 years, even after I left in 2005. The people I met while putting the page together and writing a column were some of the most dedicated and stalwart conservationists and environmentally conscious hunters, anglers, hikers, and just plain-ole lovers of the outdoors.

Among my favorite memories was writing about Ohio’s Division of Wildlife’s efforts to reintroduce the north American river otter back into the state after they had been wiped out years earlier, and the leg-banding of the growing American bald eagle population in Northeast Ohio.

Getting to cover opening day of Pennsylvania trout season, with my good friend and Vindy photog Bill Lewis, and being out along the quiet creeksides was a special treat.

Doug Oster, Pittsburgh, photographer, 1989-1996. Home and garden editor for Everybody Gardens and the Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh.

On my second day trying out for The Vindicator in 1989, city editor Tom Ott was on the phone and frantic. He looked around the newsroom to see a 29 year-old, wide eyed photographer from the country as his only option for a pressing assignment. “Go down to SIU,” he said nervously. The Special Investigative Unit was only a block or two from the building, but I desperately needed directions, as I knew nothing about the city.

Upon arriving, police told me we were going to the intersection of Park and Griffith in the projects on a drug sting. We drove there hidden in back of a dingy reddish van to a fenced off building being renovated. Disguised as construction workers, I had all my gear hidden in two white five gallon buckets as we walked up the stairs to the second floor.

As suburbanites drove up to the corner to purchase crack, they were later pulled over up the road and arrested.

A guy walked down from the crack house to the corner, resupplying the street dealer with merchandise, they got into an argument which became heated. As I shot pictures of the conflict, one pulled a small pearl handled automatic pistol out of his waist band and held it to the other guy’s head. Luckily no shots were fired.

“Welcome to Youngstown,” I thought to myself. The photo led off my portfolio for my entire photojournalism career.

I’m heartbroken to see The Vindicator close. We covered the news and did it right.

Shaiyla B. Hakeem, freelance reporter, Dec. 12, 2009, to Feb. 5, 2010.

I owe a lot to The Vindicator. You all gave me a chance and had confidence in me when I didn’t even have confidence in myself. I credit the paper for me taking the path of journalism with the Army Reserve, a move that has opened up so many doors for me. I’m currently in Jordan serving as the Area Support Group-Jordan public affairs noncommissioned officer in charge. I’m still writing and telling the stories of those who have no voice.

Dale Peskin, Potomac Falls, Va. author. Debut novel “The Timekeeper’s Daughter,” is set in Youngstown – inspired by the time he spent as a reporter at The Vindicator in the late 1970s.

In the halcyon days of journalism after Watergate, two young reporters from competing newspapers were assigned to cover Niles. One was Bill Thomas, the tough and probing bureau chief for The Youngstown Vindicator. I was the other, a rookie reporter for the Warren Tribune Chronicle. We set out to make democracy safe from the hapless politicians of Niles.

Truth be told, Bill and I were more like Butch and Sundance than Woodward and Bernstein, but that wasn’t about to stop us. Somehow, Bill talked the clever and decent president of Niles City Council into allowing us to question council members after their public meeting. They were outmatched. Bill grilled the hacks relentlessly, prying unreported stories and incidents of petty corruption from the hapless slugs. I mostly watched and learned.

Some months later I would join Bill at The Vindicator, where we were ambitious comrades in arms for journalism. Both of us realized The Vindicator would not be enough for us.

Ultimately, we both left for destinations to further our careers: Bill to New Mexico where he became city editor of the Albuquerque Journal and later to Michigan where he became a Hall of Fame editor; me to metro papers in Detroit and Dallas, then to the American Press Institute and think tanks for the news industry. Wherever we went, The Vindicator remained part of us, a place where we learned how to be journalists.

Linda Colaluca Kearney, Youngstown, phone operator and secretary in the Classified Advertising Department from 1983 through 1999. Now in the Records Room at the Youngstown Police Department.

[I have] so many memories over the years and met so many fantastic co-workers. We were a team. One memory was the over 14 pages of Valentine’s Day ads. It became a competition for our crew every year to beat the total inches of display ads from the prior year. And yes we accomplished it, even after deadline ... and the next deadline. Jack Sovik, our supervisor, was a good support and let us achieve the goal even if the composing room was going crazy.

Another fond memory was [participating in] the [YMCA’s] Community Cup and the after parties at the Park Inn on Glenwood Avenue

Some employees, past and present, still get together once a month to keep in touch. Best of luck to Mrs. Jagnow, Mark Brown and past and present employees.