2 leave legacy of service to church and family

March is Women’s History Month, and I want to take a few moments to honor a couple of women who left a legacy of service to others.

Both were born outside the Mahoning Valley, but they made a difference when they made their way to Youngstown.

You may not have heard of Helen B. Suber or Ruby Lee Allen Graves, but they left an indelible mark on their respective families and this community.

Mrs. Suber died Feb. 23 at age 94. Allen Graves is still going strong at 100, and she celebrated that milestone last month.

I attribute my ability to stand and speak in front of people with confidence because of Mrs. Suber, who was born in West Middlesex, Pa.

As a youngster, I attended St. Andrewes AME Church. My parents and grandparents were longtime members. Mrs. Suber for years was active in the church’s Sunday school, Christian education director, and was coordinator of vacation Bible school.

She saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself when I was younger, and convinced my parents I would do well speaking in church plays and recitations.

Naturally, I didn’t want to participate in such things, since it meant speaking in front of other people. But Mrs. Suber was patient, sensitive, yet forceful enough to get me and other young people to believe in ourselves and develop the self-confidence that would help us in the future.

She was coordinator of St. Andrewes’ Pink Tea event for many years and was simply known as the “Pink Tea Lady.”

Mrs. Suber for years was secretary at the YMCA. Her dedication to family and church was exceptional, and something that is sorely missing today. You were a blessed person if you had any prolonged contact with her. She was always so positive about everything.

She leaves two children, two sisters, 10 grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and 29 great-great- grandchildren.

Mrs. Suber will be missed.

I want to thank JoAnne Wright for telling me about Ruby Lee Allen Graves.

Born in Dublin, Ga., in 1915, she was the youngest of eight children. She came to Youngstown in 1936, after the birth of her eldest son. She later would marry Bud Graves, and they had 13 children.

Her daughter, Alberta Cummings of California, sent me this overview of her mother’s life and legacy.

Mrs. Graves worked in the bean and cotton fields in the South and worked just as hard at the former Pick Ohio Hotel when she came to Youngstown. She lived on Ballard Street in what was known as the “Monkeys Nest.” She rented out the lower half of her two-story home, while she and her family lived upstairs.

“Many people would pass her house hungry, and she would prepare a meal and put it in a brown bag for them. She never met a stranger. Her home was open to the community,” Mrs. Cummings writes.

The family later relocated to the city’s East Side, where her committed service to others continued. Her motto was taken from the Scriptures: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Ruby’s schooling ended after second grade. But she had a knack for learning and furthered her education by reading books from the local libraries and keeping abreast on local and national news by reading the daily newspaper.

She was a stickler for education, insisting that her children study hard and become good students.

She loved attending events with her children and supporting their endeavors, including watching some of her sons in the boxing ring at Golden Gloves events.

For Ruby, baby-sitting often resulted in those children living with her for a time.

Also, due to difficult home lives, some East Side children also ended up in Ruby’s care.

Two of her 13 children — 10 boys and three girls — are deceased.

Due to health problems, she left Youngstown in 1975 for Sacramento, Calif., but she overcame that illness, and until recently had made several return visits to the Valley.

For years, she helped raise some of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Ruby is the proud matriarch of her family. Her legacy consists of 65 grandchildren, 189 great-grandchildren, 121 great-great-grandchildren, two great-great-great-grandchildren, and a host of nieces and nephews.

So, what did she do to make it to 100? She told her daughter: “God is doing just what I asked him to do: Make my old days my best days.”

Hard work, a love of God and family and treating people as you would want to be treated — a simple formula Ruby Lee Allen Graves and Helen Suber used to make a difference.

We all could learn from their example.

Ernie Brown Jr., a regional editor at The Vindicator, writes a monthly minority-affairs column. Contact him at ebrown@vindy.com

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