1979 Mooney graduate remembers Black Monday
By William K. Alcorn
On the fall morning 40 years ago when some 5,000 shocked employees at Youngstown Sheet & Tube’s Campbell Works learned they no longer had jobs, one of Karen Brunner’s teachers at Cardinal Mooney High School was sadly prophetic about the future.
“Do you hear that whistle? Life as we know it is changed forever,” Brunner remembers the teacher saying on that Black Monday.
As the news spread, she said fellow students were sad and uncertain about what would happened to them and their families.
It was Sept. 19, 1977, the beginning of the almost total decimation of the steel industry in the Mahoning Valley, an area that had grown and thrived on steel for decades.
It also was Brunner’s 16th birthday.
Now 55, Brunner, who graduated from Mooney in 1979 and from Walsh College in 1983 to become an accountant, grew up on Vermont Street on Youngstown’s South Side and worked at Handel’s Ice Cream as a teenager. She said she left the area to find better job opportunities.
Interviewed by telephone from her home in Columbus, to where she moved in the late 1980s, Brunner recalled other impacts on her high school and friends after the massive steel-related job losses.
There were a lot of sad people at school.
Class sizes at Mooney were noticeably down because a lot of families did not have the money for tuition.
Families moved and were split up.
“I felt bad the following year. There were fewer in classes at Mooney, and I lost track of friends whose families moved away to find new jobs,” she said.
The father of one of her friends at school moved to Texas for a job, but the family stayed here, Brunner recalled.
Looking back, Brunner said her paternal grandfather had an inkling of what could happed to the Valley because it was so heavily dependent on one industry.
Her grandfather was from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and had watched the copper industry fail and devastate that area.
Her grandfather advised his son – her father – not to come to Youngstown because it, too, had only one industry: steel. He had foresight because of personal experience, she said.
Her father, Keith Brunner of Poland, is a retired U.S. postal clerk. Her brothers, Keith Jr. and Ken, both live in Poland. Her mother, Joy, is deceased.
Brunner, who returned to the area to visit family and attend the Pitbull concert at Covelli Centre this summer, said she was impressed with the renovations and development in downtown Youngstown.
“The whole area was a great place to grow up in, with places to go like Mill Creek MetroParks and Idora Park,” she said.
But Brunner believes while it is good to remember the past, Youngstown should continue to focus on the future and new opportunities for growth.