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The Suburbanite
  • Steve King: Church registry unlocks history

  • A priest who served at St. Francis only four years discoved a window to the past left open by Fr. James Schleicher, who served as pastor from 1974 until his death several years ago.

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  • Accidents happen.
    Thank goodness, they happen.
    But not every accident is a disaster.
    Sometimes, in fact, an accident is a little miracle –  something that was purposely put there, waiting to be found at just the right time.
    And so it was recently when Father Anthony Suso, the outgoing parochial vicar at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Coventry Township, was sorting out things in preparation for new assignment at St. Joseph’s Church in Strongsville.
    There, at the bottom of a drawer in his filing cabinet, was an old manila folder that belonged to the late Fr. James Schleicher.
    Who knows how long it was there? Or why Fr. Suso didn’t notice it before? Those are questions left to be answered for the deep thinkers, or at least those who don’t believe much in coincidences – who believe that there is a distinct reason or purpose for just about everything that happens. We just have to be willing to go along with someone else’s plan and carry it out as he would have liked us to.
    That may have been what happened here.
    Anyway, inside that folder was a St. Francis Parish registry for January 1949.
    Fr. Suso found it on almost the exact 65th anniversary of the church, which opened on May 27, 1948 on Manchester Road, just north of Lockwood Corners, as a local parish for people who, for the most part, had been attending Mass at St. Paul’s in Akron’s Firestone Park area.
    Just coincidence?
    You can believe that if you like.
    Or maybe that’s the way it was meant to happen – with a priest who served at St. Francis only four years discovering a window to the past left open by Fr. Schleicher, who served as pastor from 1974 until his death several years ago.
    Anyway, the registry is a treasure trove not just for St. Francis parishoners, but for everybody who lives, or has lived, in the local area long enough to consider it their home or at least a significant part of their life in one way, shape or form.
    On six pages carefully listed by someone using a typewriter are, in alphabetical order, the names and addresses of those first parishoners along with home addresses, mailing addresses mailing zones and phone numbers.
    Just as typewriters are a thing of the past, so, too, are the way these addresses are presented. There is a home address of, say, 999 Manchester Road, with a mailing address of R. 4, B. 999, which is Route 4, Box 999. Then there’s the zone, which, for most of the people listed, was 19. That is the forerunner of today’s Akron 44319 zip code.
    There are the phone numbers, which, for almost everyone, began with Mi, such as Mi-9999. Mi stood for Midlake, which is the forerunner of today’s 644 exchange.
    Page 2 of 3 - Some people who lived in Barberton had Sh (now 745) and Pl (now 753) exchanges.
    And all calls were made on rotary dial phones, of course, many of which had party lines, where several families shared the same line. Making a call was sometimes like waiting on an older sibling to get out of the bathroom in the morning so you could get ready for school.
    People lived mostly on the major roads of today in the area, such as Manchester Road, South Main Street or Portage Lakes Drive, or on one of the few side streets that existed more than six decades ago. Keep in mind that most of the area was undeveloped. You think you live in the country now? It was really the country then. The allotments with homes less than 60 years old  – which constitute most of today’s allotments in the area – did not exist, which means that many of the streets of 2013 weren’t even a glimmer in a developer’s eye back then.
    A decade later, after the rush from the cities to suburbia in the 1950s, many of those allotments were built. But in 1949, most of the people who would be living in them still resided in Akron, or Barberton, or some other nearby city.
    One family lived on Barberton-Alliance Road. We know that today as Turkeyfoot Lake Road, state Route 619.
    Several families had addresses without house numbers, but indicating they lived somewhere near the South Main Strret-Nimisila Road intersection in what is now New Franklin.
    One woman lived on South Main Ext., which was way out in the sticks, south of Nimisila Road.
    But more than the roads and addresses, there were the people.
    They had all lived through the Great Depression and World War II, and, with those terrible times finally behind them, were looking to re-start their lives. It’s a good bet than many of the men served in World War II. Some may have even served in World War I. Some might have been sent off to the Korean War, but that was still two years away. This was peacetime.
    The older people on the list could remember the turn of the century. Could it be that some of those men may have even served in the Spanish-American War? Maybe.
    If these people had a television, they considered themselves lucky. Many had grown up on farms without running water, inside toilets or electricity, so their lives didn’t crumble without seeing the limited programming that was being aired.
    Most considered the radio their entertainment of choice. But for nearly everyone, radio was still new.
    There is so much to wonder about when looking at this registry – about the church, the area and the people.
    Page 3 of 3 - It is great that our schoolkids know what happened in England in 1768 or in Germany in 1842, but it’s better that they know about what happened in this area – where they now live – 65 years ago.
    And, because of a young man who was here for only a short while and never used a typewtriter or a rotary dial phone, and an older man who was wise enough to tuck a folder away for someone to find after he was gone, we have a clearer view of what was in our area.
    The church, with the help of a 2008 Manchester High School graduate by the name of Joel Clark, is using the registry as a basis to put together a full history of the parish.
    I can’t wait to see it.