A thank-you, 40ish years later

A street in Boardman is named for Frank Stadler, who lived a colorful life early in the 20th century of Youngstown.

Stadler Avenue is a speck of a street between Market Street and Southern Boulevard, specifically, off of Washington Boulevard.

For a spell, Stadler Avenue wasn’t.

It was a long spell, in fact — like several decades.

Someone of official standing had changed Stadler Avenue to Statler Avenue.

A 1940s map in The Vindicator library even shows “Statler Avenue.”

But it was originally Stadler. Frank lived on the street where it intersected with Washington Boulevard.

Don Stadler is a proud grandson. He remembers his mom telling him there’s a road in Boardman with his name on it. He went to find it one day in the 1960s; but could only find Statler Avenue.

Years later, while back visiting, he headed to the same area again. To his surprise and appreciation, there was his family name on the street sign and the mailboxes.

“It made me glad my mother wasn’t fibbing,” said Don, in deep sarcasm. “Second, I was glad something was left in Youngstown to remember my family by. Not many people have streets named after them. With this one, somebody, somewhere, realized a mistake and corrected it.”

That correction, in fact, was what brought Don’s and Frank’s story to me.

Don wanted to say thanks.

Yep — years after it was fixed, unsure who made the mistake, unsure who fixed it, Don felt the need to say thanks, and wrote a letter to The Vindy:

“When your own mortality turns from a suspicion to an awful certainty, you begin to think of the things you owe. I’m going to pay up while I can.

Some years ago, the township of Boardman changed the name of a street, Statler Avenue, to the correct Stadler Avenue. At the time, a Stadler Court was added as well. While annoyed residents had to change mailbox signs, I found one woman living there who understood why the change was made. She purchased her house from my grandfather, Frank Stadler. The street is named for him — so, a much-belated thank-you to Boardman for correcting this.”

Pretty cool, huh? Don’s letter goes on — continuing its wry irreverence, Youngstown nostalgia and respect for a man who gave him his name. Find my column on Vindy.com and you can read Don’s letter in its entirety.

Much of the story — Don’s life, Frank’s life, the Stadler Avenue area — is such a rich, textured reflection of a vintage Valley at its best and worst.

Frank spent some time in a rooming house in Pittsburgh before finding Youngstown in 1902 at age 26.

From Don’s family history and verified in some of our records, Frank was an entertainment guru in the city.

He helped form the Mandolin Club. Stadler’s Dance Studio was a downtown Youngstown fixture for years on Federal Street. He was one of the creators of the Yankee Lake Ballroom and was associated with Idora Park Ballroom, Stambaugh Auditorium and, at the end of his career, he managed the Elms Ballroom.

Don said he brought to Youngstown entertainers such as George Gershwin, Rudy Vallee and a very young Bing Crosby.

He even has a patent application on file for a pop-up advertising display. It sold nothing, said Don.

In all of this entertainment entrepreneurism, Frank made and lost three fortunes, per the family legend.

And he lost his marriage by the 1940s.

It’s then that he ended up on a tract of land off Southern Boulevard, near where the trolley line ended, on a road that would eventually get his name. He owned the popular Southern Park picnic area there and had a dance hall just behind his home.

When his life ended in 1963, Don’s dad had Frank in a care home, the empire just a faded memory.

The area where Frank lived, like Frank, has lived many lives, too. Southern Park was a landmark country destination. It’s gone. The Southern Park Racetrack was an enormous hub of horse-racing activity founded by the Tod and Stambaugh families, starting in 1915. The Depression snuffed that out. The mall now booms to the north; a new hospital booms to the south.

Don’s life boomed, too, but never in the Valley. The 1961 Ursuline graduate followed up military life with a career in management analysis from Vermont to Virginia. He lives now in Roanoke and is working on a fiction book about, get this, a management analyst who gets involved with a secret society.

Alas, his grandfather’s entertainment bug is in him still. It was in him earlier, too. He starred in WFMJ and WYTV programs, won some humorous speech competitions and was active in Ursuline productions.

He’s fond of his role as a “Youngstown native.”

“In the years since I left Youngstown as a part of the ‘Great Diaspora,’ I’ve run into many others who have done the same; too many,” said Don. “One of the most striking things we have in common, aside from chutzpah, is a deep sense of cynicism. We know we can’t go back. We tend, though, to keep up with affairs in the old town and often communicate with those we are still in touch with emails heavily larded with sarcasm.”

His mom died 15 years ago, and that was his last existing attachment to home, he said.

But for that road sign.

For which he’s thankful.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on Vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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