Orchids and onions

ORCHID: To members of Austintown-based Knights of Columbus Council 3936 for their continuous volunteer work to help those in need throughout the community. Among their praiseworthy activities are building beds for children who lack them for the Sleep in Heavenly Peace organization, making lunches for homeless people in the area and organizing pasta benefit dinners to help raise money for those with medical issues such as leukemia. The group ranks as the oldest and largest Catholic fraternal organization for men. The good works of the Austintown council embody the noble principles of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism of the global order.

ORCHID: To Go Baby Go, an organization that gifts power-wheel vehicles to children with mobility impairments. Last Saturday was the ninth annual giveaway of custom-designed vehicles that fit each child’s needs. Orchids, too, must go to the Magic of Michael Foundation, started by John and Denise Hirschbeck, for funding the project. So far, 154 of the junior cars have been given to Valley children who otherwise likely would never experience the thrills and enjoyment of maneuvering their own personal vehicle.

ONION: To those criminal defendants who are part of a large increase in the trend of intimidation and retaliation against witnesses, police officers, attorneys and prosecutors. In 2023, Mahoning County logged 20 such cases — the highest number in the past four years — and this year’s total is trending toward 25. The most egregious example comes from a man convicted of felonious assault, gun offenses and aggravated menacing for severely beating his girlfriend on two occasions last year. Prosecutors say he contacted the victim in the case 1,417 times despite a no-contact order. We hope this disturbing increase motivates officials throughout the criminal justice system to seek out preventive safeguards against such despicable actions.

ORCHID: To the Ohio Controlling Board for recently awarding Youngstown State University $3 million for a variety of renovation projects on many campus buildings. Such improvements guarantee the physical campus remains inviting for students and prospective students and ensures maximum health and safety standards are maintained, including handicapped accessibility features. At a time when higher education budgets are strained, this gift from the state is most welcome.

ONION: To the depraved individuals who partake in check cooking, one of the newest and most popular consumer scams in America, as reported last week in this newspaper. According to AARP, check cooking is a scam that involves thieves taking a digital picture of a stolen check and using software to alter it and then cash or deposit it in their accounts. Don’t let yourself fall victim to this shady practice. One surefire way to do so is to avoid using checks to pay bills.

ORCHID: To the select group of high school juniors and seniors in Mahoning and Trumbull counties who are receiving the coveted 2024 Eagle of the Cross awards from the Diocese of Youngstown. The award is the highest honor the diocese bestows on youth, and was created by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry 25 years ago. It is awarded to those who model the dedication, integrity, values and promise for church and society. This year’s Mahoning County winners are Cameron Ward, Grace Burchfield, Dayna Hughes, Isabella Bancroft and John McNally. Trumbull recipients are Madelyn Fonagy, Kayla Haynie, Thomas Pesa and Ethan DeBernardi. Kudos to them all!

ORCHID: To Mercy Health’s St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital for recently winning the Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval for its treatment of stroke patients. It was particularly recognized for its excellence in performing thrombectomies, stroke-treatment procedures that remove a blood clot, or thrombus, from a blood vessel using endovascular devices. The Joint Commission, which accredits more than 22,000 US health care organizations and programs, is a recognized leader in accurately evaluating the quality of health care services. Its Gold Seal should help St. E’s in its quest to secure a $5 million grant to bring even more growth and improvements to its stroke center.

ORCHID: To the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame leaders for choosing to induct Kool and the Gang as new members this year. We’ve been waiting for years for the R&B and funk group, founded by Youngstown natives Robert “Kool” Bell and his younger brother Ronald Bell, to win the prestigious induction. We’re pleased they were not snubbed again this year. After all, the group has dozens of feathers in its cap: two Grammy Awards, seven American Music Awards, a BET Soul Train Lifetime Achievement Award and an inductee into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Adding to the induction’s luster is the fact that 2024 marks the 60th anniversary of the band that’s still going strong. Clearly, in the words of one of the Gang’s greatest hits, “Let’s all celebrate and have a good time!”

Orchids and onions

ORCHID: To the Canfield Board of Education for recognizing the reality that school district taxpayers have spoken loud and clear about physical improvements to facilities. The school board earlier this month reviewed plans for a scaled-down plan that centers largely around the construction of one new middle school that would cost district taxpayers about $67 million. That’s a far cry from two previous efforts in recent years in which bond issues for much larger ($100 million-plus) projects were soundly defeated. “We’ve gone to bat twice with our residents and struck out,” board member Traci DeCapua said. “Cost was a factor. We heard, we listened, and we don’t want to reinvent the wheel.” Let Canfield’s experience be a lesson to other school district leaders with elaborate, expensive and unrealistic renovation plans.

ONION: To negligent utility consumers in the Mahoning Valley who do not pay up. At a recent city council meeting in Girard, Mayor Mark Zuppo reported the city logged a whopping $416,000 in delinquent water payment bills at the first of the year. With many local governments in the Valley cash-strapped and struggling to balance budgets, the wanton neglect of paying for a critical service is inexcusable. Kudos to city officials who have cracked down on the delinquents with payment plans, stern warnings and water shutoffs. Those measures should continue as they have enabled the city to cut that total water fee delinquency in half.

ORCHID: To the Youngstown State University bowling team for advancing to the NCAA Final Four last week in Detroit. The Penguins finished third overall at the national tournament, which is their best finish in program history. Given that this was the Penguins’ second foray into the national tournament in recent years and given the striking talents of the team, we suspect their winning ways will easily roll into the 2024-25 season.

ORCHID: To Youngstown-based Sojourn to the Past and its leader Penny Wells for concluding another highly educational and emotional journey to major civil rights sites in the South last week. The group visited such places as the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, site of the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” march for voting rights and the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, where esteemed civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. The eight-day trip once again fulfilled its noble mission of educating young people on the hard-fought struggles to achieve civil rights in this nation. It also inspired them to carry the torch for ongoing nonviolent progress toward greater equality and inclusiveness for all.

ORCHID: To Barb Anthony, Boardman native and Spartans alumna, for receiving a coveted NCAA Legends and Legacy Community Award. Last weekend, during the finals of this year’s women’s collegiate basketball tournament, Anthony received the award for her role in co-founding and leading Play Gap, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing opportunities, advancing participation and building and fostering connections in sports for adult women. Judging by how the women’s NCAA outperformed the men’s championship this year in viewership, it’s safe to say Anthony’s work has been a game changer for women’s sports.

ONION: To Youngstown city leaders for failing to have an airtight policy to ensure owners of properties the city plans to demolish are properly notified and that such demolitions do not violate court orders to keep targeted structures intact. The city recently demolished a residential structure despite a court order to not knock it down and settled the case with the homeless woman who filed it by giving her a different vacant house. In another case, the owners of the former Anthony’s on the River restaurant downtown won an $80,000 settlement from the city after the closed business was deemed a safety hazard and demolished against the wishes of the owners several years ago.

ORCHID: To the nursing program at Eastern Gateway Community College for achieving a remarkable 100% pass rate on the National Council Licensure Examination recently. Nineteen students, 17 from Ohio and two from West Virginia, are now licensed to help fill a critical nursing shortage nationwide. The stellar performance of that program is heartening as it demonstrates that even as the soon-to-dissolve college has faced many substantial struggles in recent years, this program’s commitment to quality education and training remained top-notch.

ORCHID: To students and staff of Jackson Milton High School for receiving the esteemed Momentum Award from the Ohio Board of Education recently. The award honors school buildings in the state that have improved their performance by three or more points from 2021-22 to 2022-23 school years on their annual state report cards of achievement. The award illustrates how high the J-M Blue Jays have soared in academic growth in recent years. Bravo!

Orchids and onions

ORCHID: To the Youngstown Playhouse for planning a gala event to mark the prelude to its 100th anniversary during the 2024-25 season. The region’s largest and oldest community theater is hosting a special set of performances tonight as a creative preview to what will be in store for audiences during the coming historic season of diverse theatrical offerings. The Playhouse long has been recognized as one of this nation’s strongest community theaters, has launched the careers of many professional actors and has been a source of community pride for 10 decades. For those accomplishments and more, the South Side entertainment landmark merits our community’s robust applause.

ONION: To the sleazy scammer or scammers who have been posing as representatives of the Youngstown Police Department seeking to collect unpaid (and unreal) fines the receiver of the call supposedly owes. The police, however, say they will never try to collect fines or notify people of charges or indictments over the telephone. Recipients of such scam calls should never give money or share any personal financial information. Instead, they should notify the police of the coercive flimflam in hopes of tracking and apprehending the callous crook.

ORCHID: To the Ohio Department of Aging for awarding Easterseals of Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties a $327,000 grant to expand day care services for adults. This funding will allow Easterseals to fortify current services in Mahoning County while also developing a new program for Columbiana County. With the senior citizen population in the Mahoning Valley growing by leaps and bounds, the funding will go a long way toward helping our region stay ahead of the curve in providing this essential and compassionate service that is far less costly and far more beneficial to seniors than institutional care.

ORCHID: To Austintown-based Hearn Paper Company for marking a significant milestone: its 100th anniversary. The company, which provides industrial supplies, chemicals, equipment and various paper products to businesses and schools in a 90-mile radius of Youngstown, also is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its responsible ownership by the Reed family. The company deserves kudos for its focus on customer satisfaction. As Hearn President Rob Reed put it, “We’re not here just to sell you a bunch of stuff, we’re here with answers to troubles or concerns you are having as part of your business operations.”

ORCHID: To Eric Ryan and his team at JAC Management Group for their success in managing one of the most successful years in the history of the Covelli Centre and its adjacent Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre and Wean Park. The facilities had a $275,756 operating surplus in 2023. It’s the largest operating profit since 2019 and the sixth most for a year in the center’s nearly 20-year history. Better yet, the admission tax on tickets brought in a record $355,172 in 2023. In more great news, the city recently made its final payment on an $11.9 million loan it took out to build the center in the early 2000s, meaning all of the money raked in can now be used to improve the facilities to maintain them as the entertainment gem of the Mahoning Valley.

ORCHID: To the Mahoning Valley Law Enforcement Task Force for its success in ridding our communities of illicit drug trades that contribute heavily to community crime and personal tragedies. Though the task force likes to keep a low profile because of the covert nature of its work, the group deserves public accolades for apprehending the merchants of those drugs. Last year, for example, its investigations of 196 individuals led to the successful prosecution of 36 of them. So far this year, it has seized more than 100 pounds of methamphetamines in Mahoning and Trumbull counties. Such success clearly shows the force is up to its task of improving the health and safety of the Valley.

ORCHID: To recipients of the 2024 Golden Apple Awards from the Diocese of Youngstown’s Office of Catholic Schools. This year’s winning educators from Mahoning Valley schools are Elizabeth “Betty” McCullough, principal at St. Nicholas School, Struthers; Jacqulyn DiNardo, teacher at St. Nicholas School, Struthers; Michael Klockner, teacher at John F. Kennedy Catholic School Upper Campus, Warren; and Shawn Mark, teacher at John F. Kennedy Catholic School Upper Campus. We join the diocese in saluting them for excelling in the qualities the award embodies: strong professional development, commitment to students and school, exemplary leadership qualities, service to church and community, effective teaching skills and representing a solid role model as a Catholic educator.

Orchids and onions

ORCHID: To Canfield Township trustees for cracking down on owners of junk vehicles that not only stain the aesthetics of neighborhoods but also create health hazards. Zoning Inspector Traci DeCapua recently reported properties in the township with up to 30 junk vehicles marring the landscape. Thanks to provisions in the Ohio Revised Code, the trustees can now act to have them removed. Other communities in the Mahoning Valley should follow their responsible lead.

ONION: To Canfield City Council for approving a resolution formally opposing a proposed merger between the Boardman Fire Department and the Cardinal Joint Fire District before exhaustively investigating the proposal. As Boardman Administrator Jason Loree put it, “It is disheartening to note that Canfield City Council passed a resolution opposing the merger without engaging in prior discussions, attending work sessions or participating in educational efforts.” Council members also ignored the plea from Cardinal Fire District Chief Don Hutchison to delay any final decision on the merger until the district serving Canfield city and township could gather more details about it. The council apparently is satisfied with the status quo, even though the proposed merger could have brought savings and greater efficiency to the department.

ORCHID: To the Senior Support Action Group and its many volunteers — many of them high school students — for preparing, hauling and distributing more than 260 traditional Easter dinner meals for homebound Mahoning Valley residents for the holiday. The group, which started during the COVID-19 pandemic, works to provide companionship and vital services to homebound individuals — primarily senior citizens — in the area. As the senior population of the Valley is growing by leaps and bounds, there’s no end in sight to the need for the compassionate work and outreach that SSAG provides.

ONION: To the nefarious vandal who damaged an outdoor statue of the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown last week. According to police reports, an unknown suspect stole the spear from the large bronze statue of a Native American mounted on a horse titled “Cry of Vengeance.” New York artist Greggory Perillo created the artwork, and a local physician gifted the statue to the museum. The vandalism is all the more distressing as it could threaten the future of outdoor art for all to appreciate around the Valley’s premiere showcase of American art. We therefore urge police to aggressively pursue and apprehend the heartless vandal.

ORCHID: To departing Youngstown State University men’s head basketball Coach Jerrod Calhoun for transforming the team from one of mediocrity to one of talent and acclaim. Calhoun, who is leaving to become coach at Utah State University, took the helm of the team in 2017 after it had endured a two-decade-long drought of stellar play. Now, the Penguins have amassed five consecutive winning seasons and back-to-back 20-win seasons while Calhoun was heralded as the 2023 Horizon League Coach of the Year. Calhoun’s commitment to the Penguins, however, will live on through his lead role in the multimillion-dollar renovation and modernization of Beeghly Center into a state-of-the-art arena.

ORCHID: To Reyers Shoe Store in the Eastwood Mall for receiving the coveted Gold Medal Service Award for 2023 from Footwear Insight magazine. The annual competition seeks to find the “best of the best” shoe stores in America when it comes to customer service. The magazine sends “secret shoppers” to hundreds of shoe stores across the nation to quietly monitor the businesses. Reyers continues to reign supreme as this is its seventh straight year winning the honor.


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