Tag Archive: Bryan Ohio

1979: Canoeing on the St. Joe River

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978 with Polly’s Grandfather and Parents

In February, 1979, Polly and I left Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan and moved to the place of my birth, Bryan, Ohio. I had vowed never to return to rural northwest Ohio — with its flat land and monoculture — but thanks to me losing my job and Polly finding herself pregnant six weeks after we married, we needed to move somewhere where we could get help and find work. That place was Bryan and the home of my sister and brother-in-law. We had gone to the dean of students for counsel about how to deal with our predicament. His advice? Pray, trust God, and above all else, do NOT drop of school. He advised us to borrow money, if necessary, to pay our tuition bills and to stay in school no matter what! Of course, his advice was terrible counsel for a pair of twenty-something, soon-to-be parents. Never mind that fact that Polly and I were clueless about money, budgeting, and credit. Fortunately, no one would loan us enough money to cover our college debt, so we decided to drop out of school and move to Bryan.

On the appointed day, we packed our meager belongings in a U-Haul trailer and towed it with our 1967 Chevrolet Impala to the home of my sister and brother-in-law. We lived with them for a month. Polly and I shared a bunk bed. I quickly found work at General Tire. However, after a few weeks, I was moved from first to third shift. I decided I didn’t want to work that third shift, so I looked for a new job, and quickly found work at ARO Corporation — a large employer who made pneumatic pumps and other air equipment. I worked in shipping and receiving making $7 an hour, including top-shelf, free medical insurance. My brother-in-law worked at ARO, as did my uncle and several of the men I attended church with at nearby First Baptist Church.

My local friends assumed that I would return to First Baptist, the family church pastored by Jack Bennett, my uncle’s brother-in-law. Much to everyone’s surprise, Polly and I decided to attend Montpelier Baptist Church. My sister and her family attended church there. The church was a stridently Fundamentalist church affiliated with the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC). Running about 150 in attendance, the church was poised for growth. (Montpelier Baptist reach 500 in attendance on our last Sunday at the church. Yes, Skippy, I had a lot to do with the attendance growth.) After we visited the church several times, its pastor, Jay Stuckey, came to my sister’s home and asked if I would be interested in being his assistant — a full-time, unpaid position. Eager to get busy serving Jesus, I said yes, and for the next seven months I worked at ARO full-time and devoted the rest of my waking hours to helping Pastor Stuckey. I primarily worked with the bus ministry and visitation program. Strangely, Stuckey never asked me to preach. I did, however, preach several times on Sundays at the Funny Farm Campground. The owners attended the church and were looking for someone to preach to the campers. I’d go preach a short sermon, give an altar call, and then a love offering would be taken. The money was dumped in a paper bag and given to me as I was leaving. Pretty good pay for less than an hour of work. It was, by the way, more money than I ever received from Montpelier Baptist. The church had the means to provide me some sort of stipend, but chose not to.

My sister married at the age of fifteen. Several months pregnant, she married a man who was one day younger than I was. He and I were in the same hospital nursery in June 1957. Initially, I didn’t like my brother-in-law. He was a pot-smoking hippie who listened to rock music! However, between the time they married and my return to Bryan, they found Jesus and were actively involved in various church ministries at Montpelier Baptist.

My brother-in-law seemed to really love Jesus, outwardly anyway. We got along quite well, and when I needed help driving one of the church buses, he gladly volunteered. One day, my brother-in-law asked if I would be interested in going canoeing with him. At the time, I was an outdoorsman — quite fit — so I said, sure!

Up to this point, the only canoeing I had ever done was at youth events at canoe liveries near Loudenville, Ohio. These canoe trips were quite docile, with little threat of drowning. Little did I know that the trip my brother-in-law had in mind would be, on one hand quite thrilling, but on the other hand, quite dangerous.

It was late March, and the St. Joe River was flooded from early spring runoff. The water was cold, in the thirties, temperature-wise. We planned to canoe from Montpelier in the north to Edgerton in the South — a 12-15 mile course. I was excited about making this trip, though I did worry a bit about the coldness of the water. What happened if someone fell in the water? I thought. I quickly dismissed my concern, jumped into the canoe, and my brother-in-law pushed us off from shore. Being a good swimmer, I didn’t wear a life preserver. What could go wrong, right? Little did I know, my carelessness almost cost me my life.

The St. Joe was quickly moving thanks to all the runoff swelling its depths. This, of course, made for swift currents — just what two athletic young men wanted. Towards the end of our trip, we came into some fast-moving water that was partially blocked by a fallen tree. My brother-in-law navigated our canoe towards the right side of the river, and when we came close to the tree, I attempted to push us away with my paddle. To this day, I don’t know for sure what happened next. Somehow, my pushing movement caused the canoe to become unstable, and before I could help right it, I was catapulted over the side. As I hit the freezing water, I found myself gasping for breath. This resulted in me taking in a bunch of water — choking. Little did I know, I was moments away from drowning. Fortunately, my brother-in-law realized I was in serious trouble and, grabbing ahold of the neck of my coat, he pulled me back into the canoe. He literally saved my life.

My brother-in-law paddled the rest of the way down the river with me lying in the bottom of the canoe. We arrived to our destination, loaded the canoe onto our vehicle, and quickly made for home. Boy, did I have a story to tell my bride of eight months! My brother-in-law and I never canoed together after that. I suspect he didn’t want to put his life in the hands of someone as inexperienced as I was. I learned a valuable lesson: ALWAYS wear a life preserver when you are on the water. Unfortunately, this did not steer me clear of doing other dumb, dangerous stuff. When God is with you, no worries. right? Except it was a human, and not God, who pulled me from the chilly waters of the St. Joe on that fateful day. If I had waited on God to “save” me, my wife would have been a widow, and my unborn son an orphan.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Do You Want a Date, Hon?

naiveAfter my freshman year of classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan, I returned home to my mother’s palatial palace — also known as a trailer — on U.S. Hwy. 6, five miles southwest of Bryan, Ohio. I had come home to work, hoping to earn enough money to pay for my next year of college. I accepted a first shift machine operator position at Holabird Manufacturing, a manufacturer of cheap furniture — cheap as in trailer show furniture. Holabird would close its doors and file for bankruptcy in 1983. I also worked a second shift job at Bard Manufacturing, a maker of HVAC units. I was attending First Baptist Church in Bryan at the time. One of the church’s deacons was a manager for Bard. He graciously arranged for Bard to hire me for the summer.

I was twenty years old in the summer of 1977, strong, fit, and full of energy. Had I not been, I would never have been able to work eighty hours a week: 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM at Holabird and 4:00 PM to midnight at Bard. I didn’t catch up on sleep on the weekends either. Oh no, weekends were for running around with friends, going to one of the local lakes, or trekking to Newark to visit Polly for the day. That’s right, for the day. Polly’s mom did not like me and treated me like a rash she hoped would go away. I would get up early on Saturday, drive three hours to Newark, spend as much time as I could with Polly, and turn around and drive three hours back to Bryan. (Under no circumstances would Polly’s mom let me spend the night.) On more than one occasion, I was so exhausted that I pulled off along the road and slept for several hours. The things we’ll do for love, right?

I followed the aforementioned schedule for twelve weeks. Come late August, it was time for me to return to Midwestern to begin my sophomore year. I packed my belongings into my car and headed in the general direction of Pontiac, Michigan. As I neared Toledo, I decided to take U.S. Route 23 to Pontiac. Ninety minutes into my drive, I exited the highway into a rest stop. I needed to stretch my legs and use the restroom. As I walked towards the restroom, a 30-ish large-breasted woman wearing revealing clothing came up to me and said, Do you want a date, Hon? Confused, I replied, excuse me? The woman repeated, Do you want a date? I smiled and said to her, no thanks, I already have a girlfriend. And with that, I continued walking to the restroom. As I walked back to my car, I saw the woman walking with a man towards a parked delivery van.

almost twelve kenneth taylor

I was quite naïve when it came to matters of sex. My sex education consisted of reading an Evangelical book titled Almost Twelve and six years of locker room sex ed. I knew the fundamentals, but as far a broader understanding of human sexuality and its darker, seamier side, I knew nothing. And as ignorant as I was, my fiancée was even worse. One warm day in the spring of 1977, Polly was in the college parking lot, sitting in her car — a 1972 AMC Hornet. Purchased new in 1972 by Polly’s father after the family car broke down in California, by 1976 the car was already worn out, a piece of junk. This car is a story unto itself, one that I will tell another day. For now, picture sweet, naïve Polly sitting in her car, AM radio blaring, singing along with Starland Vocal Band’s hit Afternoon Delight. I came up to the car window and asked what she was listening to. She replied, Afternoon Delight. I said, you know that song is about having sex! Polly replied, IT IS NOT! The song is about having fun in the afternoon. Slightly less naïve Bruce took the time to educate sheltered Polly about exactly what it was they were having fun doing in the afternoon. This lesson would pay dividends after we married and we experienced a bit of afternoon delight ourselves.

Video Link

After I returned to college, I told my roommate about what the woman had asked me at the rest stop. She asked me if I wanted to have a date! Why I didn’t even know her. Why would she want me to go on a date? I already have a girlfriend. My room-mate laughed and said, she was a prostitute and was asking you if you wanted to have sex with her. Really? I relied. Yes, really. I would receive many more such lessons over the next year. These are stories left for another day.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Questions: Bruce, Is Rural Northwest Ohio Less Prejudiced Than When You Were a Child?

questions

I recently asked readers to submit questions to me they would like me to answer. If you would like to submit a question, please follow the instructions listed here.

Becky asked, “Questions: Bruce, Is Rural Northwest Ohio Less Prejudiced Than When You Were a Child?”

Rural Northwest Ohio is about as white as a Mississippi Ku Klux Klan meeting. In the 1970s, I attended Findlay High School, one of the largest high schools in the state of Ohio. There were two black students in the whole school — a brother and a sister. I spent the early years of my life in Bryan, Ohio. There were no black people who lived in Bryan. Even today, very few Blacks live in Bryan or the surrounding area. I saw my first black person at the age of five — a porter on the train we were riding from Chicago to San Diego. Every public school I attended was as white as white could be. I don’t blame this whiteness on the people who live in rural Northwest Ohio. It’s not their fault that everyone happens be white. That said, living in homogeneous communities and not being exposed to racial diversity tends to breed racist beliefs. The closest rural Northwest Ohio comes to having a minority population is the sizable number of Hispanics who call this part of Ohio home. But even here, I have vivid memories of how family members, church members, and my friends thought of “Mexicans.” Many of the Hispanic families in rural Northwest Ohio trace their lineage back to family members who came here as migrant workers. These workers would pick local crops and then move on. Some of them decided to stay, putting down roots and having children. Thanks to automation, most farmers no longer need migrant workers. There are still a few working farms that hire Hispanic transients to pick their labor-intensive crops. If these farmers had to rely on local whites to harvest their crops, their tomatoes, squash, sweetcorn, and other crops would be left on the ground to rot.

I recognize that I am a white man raised in a white culture. My interaction with nonwhites is somewhere between little and none. I had a black college roommate, but he spent his four years of college trying to be white. I now have several local Hispanic friends, but this doesn’t mean that I truly understand the vagaries of their culture. I’m a white man in a white world, and as long as I live in rural Northwest Ohio, that’s not going to change. Fortunately, attending college in Pontiac, Michigan, living in San Antonio, Texas, and managing restaurants in Columbus, Ohio exposed me to people of color. The beginning of the cure, then, for racism, is exposure to people who are different from us. I’ve known more than a few homophobes, yours truly included, who saw the light after they met someone who was gay or who had one of their children come out of the closet. There’s nothing better than exposure to people different from us to force us to deal with our deeply rooted bigotry and racism. As a sixty-one-year-old man, I can say that I’ve come a long way when it comes my attitudes about race and human sexuality. That said, I don’t believe for a moment that I have been miraculously delivered from the conditioning of the first forty or so years of my life. All I can do is confront racism and bigotry in my life when it shows itself.

etch a sketch

The Etch-a-Sketch is made by Ohio Art, a Bryan Ohio Company. Once Manufactured in Bryan, it is now Made Overseas.

The rural Northwest Ohio of my youth was stridently racist. Anyone who suggests otherwise is living in denial. In 2015, I wrote a post titled, Does Racism Exist in Northwest Ohio? Here’s an excerpt from what I wrote:

I am a member of the Growing Up in Bryan, Ohio Facebook group. The group is made up of people who live/lived in Bryan, Ohio. Recently, the subject of racism was brought up and this provoked a lively discussion about the state of race relations in Bryan. This got me to thinking: does racism still exist in rural Northwest Ohio and Bryan? Have we reached a place where we live in a post-racial era? Before I answer this question, I want to spend some time talking about demographics and my own experiences as a resident of northwest Ohio.

….

In 1995, I moved back home to northwest Ohio, pastoring a church in Alvordton for a short time and pastoring a church in West Unity for seven years. Polly and I have lived in this area now for 17 of the last 20 years. This is our home. Our six children and ten grandchildren all live within 20 minutes of our home.

It was during my time as pastor of Our Father’s House in West Unity, that I began to address my own latent racism and the racism that percolated under the surface of the local community. As my politics began to move to the left, my preaching took on a social gospel flavor and this included preaching on race, racism, and race relations.

When a church member would talk about colored people I would ask them, so what color were they? Oh, you know what I mean, preacher! Yes, I do. So, how is the color of their skin germane to the story you are telling? I did the same when members talked about “those” people, those meaning blacks, Mexicans, or welfare bums.

What made things difficult was that we had a black man attending the church. He was a racist’s dream, the perfect stereotype. He was on welfare, didn’t work, lived in Section 8 housing, had an illegitimate child, and spent most of his waking hours trying to figure out how to keep from working. The church financially helped him several times and we brought him groceries on numerous occasions. One time he called me and told me he needed groceries. I told him that I would have someone bring over some groceries. He then told me, preacher, I’m a meat and potato man, so I don’t want no canned food. Bring me some meat. He’s still waiting for those groceries to be delivered.

As I read the comments on the Growing Up in Bryan, Ohio Facebook group, I noticed that there was an age divide. Older people such as I thought Bryan was still, to some degree, racist, while younger people were less inclined to think Bryan residents were racist or they thought local racists were a few bad apples. I think that this reflects the fact that race relations are markedly better now this area.

The reasons are many:

  • Older generations — those raised in the days of race riots, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jim Crow — are dying off.
  • Local residents are treated by doctors who are not white.
  • Interracial couples now live in the area.
  • Migrants workers, once a part of the ebb and flow of the farming season, are now permanent residents.
  • Younger adults and teenagers no longer think race is a big deal.
  • Music and television have brought the world to our doorstep, allowing us to experience other cultures.
  • Sports, in which the majority of athletes in the three major professional sports — football, basketball, and baseball — are non-white. Cable and satellite TV broadcast thousands of college and professional games featuring non-white players.

Exposure breeds tolerance. Bigoted attitudes about gays and same-sex marriage are on prominent display in rural northwest Ohio. These attitudes remind me of how things once were when it came to race. Time and exposure to people who are different from us can’t help but change how we view things such as race and sexual orientation. My children are quite accepting and tolerant of others, and I hope that these attitudes will be passed on to my grandchildren. We are closer today than we ever have been to Martin Luther King’s hope of “a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

We haven’t arrived. Latent, subtle racism must continue to be challenged. Unfortunately, on both sides of the political divide, there are those who use race and fear to stoke distrust and hate of those who are different. We must forcefully marginalize those who want to return America to the 1950s. We must also be willing to judge our own attitudes about race. We enlightened liberals gleefully look at the extreme right and we see racism and bigotry in all its glory. Yet, if we are honest, such things exist in our own backyard. None of us can rest until we have achieved a post-racial world. We have much work to do.

Three years after writing this, I continue to see progress on the race front with younger locals. These teenagers and young adults are much more tolerant and nonjudgmental than their parents and grandparents. They also are much more likely to vote Democratic. That said, their racist and bigoted parents and grandparents, thanks to the election of Donald Trump, are far more likely these days to express racist thoughts on social media and in private conversations. Donald Trump and his lackeys have, in one way, done us a big favor. The president’s overtly racist tweets and abhorrent immigration policies have ennobled local racists, giving them permission to fly Confederate flags and preach the gospel of white Christian nationalism and white superiority. The good news is this: we now know who the racists are. From this perspective, it seems that little progress has been made on the local front. However, I’m confident that once Baby Boomers and The Great Generation die off, their white and proud thinking will die with them. I am not so naïve as to believe that rural Northwest Ohio will ever be free of racism, but I’m confident that there is coming a day when racist bigots will be so marginalized that their bigotry will be little more than a minor inconvenience. We are not there yet, but I see the train picking up steam. Once the bigot who resides in the White House is either impeached or voted out of office — along with all those who supported and enacted his abhorrent policies — I have no doubt a better tomorrow lies ahead.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Bus Ministry Promotion: Tar and Feather the Bus Pastor

montpelier baptist church 1979

Montpelier Baptist Church bus, Montpelier, Ohio

In February of 1979, Polly and I moved from Pontiac, Michigan to Bryan, Ohio. Polly was six months pregnant. For a short time, we lived with my sister. Once I found suitable employment, we rented a place of our own. Bryan is the city of my birth. When I moved away in 1976 to study for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College, I planned to never return to Bryan. However, marriage, an unexpected pregnancy, and job loss turned my “never” on its head. Over the years, we have lived in or near Bryan several times, and in 2007 we bought our current home in Ney, a small village five miles south of Bryan. Try as I might to get away from Bryan and the flat lands of rural northwest Ohio, I keep returning home. I have now resigned myself to the fact that this where I will live out my life.

Not long after we first moved to Bryan, Polly and I began attending my sister’s church, Montpelier Baptist Church in Montpelier, a community ten minutes north of Bryan. Jay Stuckey was the pastor, and after a few weeks Jay asked if I would be interested in becoming the church’s bus pastor (an unpaid position). I quickly told Jay yes! In a post titled, Bruce, Were You Happy in the Ministry? Part One, I detailed our time at Montpelier Baptist Church:

In February of 1979, we moved to Bryan, Ohio, the place of my birth and the home of my sister Robin. After living with my sister for a short while, we found a house to rent on Hamilton Street. I began working at ARO, a large local manufacturer of pumps and air tools. ARO paid well, but I still desired to be a pastor. As with every job, I viewed secular work as just a means to an end — me pastoring a church. My sister attended the Montpelier Baptist Church in Montpelier, Ohio. When we first moved to Bryan, we thought that we would attend First Baptist Church, the church I had attended before enrolling at Midwestern. Though I knew everyone at First Baptist, we decided to go to Montpelier Baptist, a young, growing GARBC church pastored by Jay Stuckey. This decision did not sit well with the people at First Baptist. One of the matriarchs of the church told me, “Bruce you know you belong at First Baptist!”  At the time, First Baptist was pastored by Jack Bennett. Jack was married to my uncle’s sister Creta.

I had previously preached at Montpelier Baptist, so I knew a bit about  Stuckey and his ministry philosophy. Stuckey was a graduate of Toledo Bible College, which later moved to Newburgh, Indiana and became Trinity Theological Seminary.  After attending the church for a few weeks, Stuckey asked me to help him at the church by becoming the bus pastor and helping with church visitation.

The church had one bus route. It brought in a handful of children every week and little was being done to increase ridership numbers. Enter hot-shot, get–it-done, Bruce Gerencser. In less than a month, on Easter Sunday, the bus was jammed with eighty-eight riders. I vividly remember arriving at the church with all these kids and the junior church director running out to the bus and frantically asking me what I expected him to do with all the children. I replied, that’s your problem, I just bring them in. Needless to say, this man was never very fond of me.

A short time later, the church bought a second bus. I recruited bus workers to run the new route and before long this bus was also filled with riders. On the first Sunday in October, 1979, Montpelier Baptist held its morning service at the Williams County Fairground. A quartet provided special music and Ron English from the Sword of Lord preached the sermon. Five hundred people attended this service and about 150 of them had come in on the buses. Less than two weeks later, I was gone. Polly and I, along with our newborn son Jason, packed up our meager household goods and moved to Newark, Ohio.

As mentioned in the above excerpt, I quickly went to work building up the church’s bus ministry. Using the skills and gimmicks I had learned while working in the bus ministry as a teenager and at college, I rapidly grew the bus ministry, and bus ridership numbers exploded. Key to increased ridership was a system of regular bus promotions. Every Saturday, bus workers would meet at the church and I would motivate them to, as Luke 14:23 says, go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. Like the Apostle Paul who said, I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some, I was willing to use whatever means necessary to entice children to ride our buses, The goal, of course, was for them to hear the gospel and be saved.

One such promotion was Tar and Feather Pastor Bruce. I told the bus workers that if the total bus attendance was such and such a number that I would let bus riders cover me with Karo syrup and goose feathers. Sure enough, bus workers scoured the area looking for new riders, and in a few weeks they exceeded the attendance goal.

Here’s what happened the following Sunday after the morning service:

montpelier baptist church 1979

montpelier baptist church 1979

Yep, that is me. Stupid, stupid me. It took me an hour, in a steaming hot shower, to get all the syrup and feathers off my skin. Needless to say, I never did this promotion again!

As I Remember it: Bryan, Ohio Part 1

gerencser family 1950s

My grandparents, Paul and Mary Gerencser and Children, 1950s.  My dad is on the front row, far left.  Only my two aunts, last row, far right, are still alive.

Bryan, Ohio is a small, rural community in the far northwest Ohio county of Williams. Bryan is the place of my birth, which occurred at Cameron Hospital (recently torn down) in June of 1957. My mother moved to the Bryan area in the 1950s. My father was a Williams County native. Dad’s parents, Paul and Mary Gerencser, were Hungarian immigrants who came to America in the 1920s. Arriving at Ellis Island, they made their way to Cleveland, and from there moved to Defiance County, Ohio. Grandpa and Grandma Gerencser later moved to Williams County Ohio after purchasing a 100-acre farm on the Williams/Defiance County line. (please see My Hungarian Grandparents: Paul and Mary Gerencser)

Bryan, the seat of Williams County, has, according to the 2010 census, a population of 8,545. The population in 1950 was 6,365. Racially, Bryan is 96% white. I was 7 years old before I had my first encounter with a black person – a porter at the train station in Chicago. There were no blacks living Bryan during my teenage years. Only a handful of blacks live in Bryan today.  Hispanics make up about 4% of the population.

great black swamp

Much of northwest Ohio was a part of a glacially fed wetland called The Great Black Swamp. According to Wikipedia, The Great Black Swamp:

…existed from the end of the Wisconsin glaciation until the late 19th century. Comprising extensive swamps and marshes, with some higher, drier ground interspersed, it occupied what was formerly the southwestern part of proglacial Lake Maumee, a holocene precursor to Lake Erie. The area was about 25 miles (40 km) wide (north to south) and 100 miles (160 km) long, covering an estimated 1,500 square miles (4,000 km2). Gradually drained and settled in the second half of the 19th century, it is now highly productive farm land. During the second half of the 20th century, efforts were undertaken to preserve and restore portions of the swamp to its pre-settlement state.

….

The land once covered by the swamp lies primarily within the Maumee River and Portage River watersheds in northwest Ohio and northeast Indiana. The boundary was determined primarily by ancient sandy beach ridges formed on the shores of Lakes Maumee and Whittlesey, after glacial retreat several thousand years ago. It stretched roughly from Fort Wayne, Indiana in the west, eastward to the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge near Port Clinton along the Lake Erie shore, and from (roughly) US 6 south to near Lima and Findlay. Near its southern edge at the southwestern corner of present-day Auglaize County, the swamp was so impervious to travel that wheeled transportation was impossible during most of the year, and local residents thought the rigors of travel to be unsuitable for anyone except adult men.

Although much of the area to the east, south, and north was settled in the early 19th century, the dense habitat and difficulty of travel through the swamp delayed its development by several decades. A corduroy road (from modern-day Fremont to Perrysburg) was constructed through the Maumee Road Lands in 1825 and paved with gravel in 1838, but travel in the wet season could still take days or even weeks. The impassibility of the swamp was an obstacle during the so-called Toledo War (1835–36); unable to get through the swamp, the Michigan and Ohio militias never came to battle. Settlement of the region was also inhibited by endemic malaria. The disease was a chronic problem for residents of the region until the area was drained and former mosquito-breeding grounds were dried up.

In the 1850s the states began an organized attempt to drain the swamp for agricultural use and ease of travel. Various projects were undertaken over a 40-year period. Local resident James B. Hill, living in Bowling Green, Ohio, in the mid-19th century, made the quick drainage of the Black Swamp possible with his invention of the Buckeye Traction Ditcher. Hill’s ditching machine laid drainage tiles at a record pace. The area was largely settled over the next three decades. The development of railroads and a local drainage tile industry are thought to have contributed greatly to drainage and settlement.

(Astoundingly, Wikipedia fails to mention the Indian (primarily the Ottawa Indian tribe)  population that inhabited parts of the Great Black Swamp in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.)

Bryan sits just north of what once was the Great Black Swamp. The land of northwest Ohio is flat. Jokingly, local residents say that road overpasses are our mountains. In Williams County, the roads are laid out in a grid: the east-west roads designated A,B,C and the  north-south roads 1,2,3. Most of the roads are a mile or so apart from one another, and it is impossible to get lost in Williams County unless one is drunk.

While Bryan is a rural community surrounded by fertile farmland, it is also an industrial community. Sadly, in recent decades, Bryan has watched its industrial base decline due to factory closings and job outsourcing.

Ohio Art, the maker of the Etch-a-Sketch, still calls Bryan home, but most of its products are now made outside of the United States. ARO, another home-grown major corporation once employing over a thousand people, closed its doors a few years ago. The same could be said for factories such as  Hayes-Albion and Challenge-Cook, both thriving manufacturing facilities until their demise in the 1980s and 1990s.

Northwest Ohio has been hit hard by factory closings and the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs. There was a time when a person could make a good living at many of the local factories, but those days are long gone. Wages are stagnant or in decline, and there is little prospect of any sort of economic improvement. While northwest Ohio counties now have some of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, wages remain depressed.

I worked for a number of Bryan businesses during my teen and young adult years. Places  such as:

  • Bryan Nursing Home (closed)
  • Everhart’s Restaurant (changed hands)
  • Bob’s Dairy Freeze (closed)
  • Myer’s Marathon (closed)
  • Foodland (closed)
  • Holabird Manufacturing (closed)
  • Bard Manufacturing (manufacturer of furnaces)
  • General Tire (changed hands)
  • ARO (closed, now owned by Ingersoll-Rand, but manufacturing is no longer done in Bryan)

I also baled hay during several summers, and one summer I participated in a youth work program for teenagers whose families were on welfare. My  job placement was at the local elementary school and the Bryan Sewer plant.

I have moved in and out of Bryan many times over the years:

  • Born in Bryan 1957
  • Lived in or near Bryan from 1957 to 1962 (moved to California)
  • Lived in or near Bryan from 1965 to 1966 (moved to Lima, Ohio)
  • Lived in or near Bryan from 1967 to 1969 (moved to Deshler, Ohio and then to Findlay, Ohio)
  • Lived in Bryan in 1973 (moved to Findlay, Ohio)
  • Lived in Bryan in 1974 (dropped out of high school and later moved to Arizona)
  • Lived in Bryan 1975-1976 (moved to Michigan to attend college, came home during the summer)
  • Lived in or near Bryan in 1979 ( oldest son was born in Bryan, moved to Newark, Ohio)
  • Lived near Bryan from 1995 to 2003 (moved to Michigan)
  • Lived near Bryan from 2003 to 2004 (moved to Arizona)
  • Lived in or near Bryan from 2005 to 2007 (moved to Ney, Ohio where we currently live)

Even now, I live five miles away from Bryan, just across the Defiance/Williams County line.

For many years, I had a love-hate relationship with Bryan and northwest Ohio. In my youth, I couldn’t wait to get away from boring, flat, Bryan, Ohio, yet, despite my resolve never to  return to northwest  Ohio again, here I am, living, once again, in northwest Ohio.

These days, I have made my peace with Bryan. My six children and ten grandchildren live within 20 minutes of here. This is their home, and wherever they are, that is where I want to be. The land may be flat and b-o-r-i-n-g,  but there is something about this place I call home, something familiar and secure.

Now that I have laid a bit of groundwork, in future posts I plan to write about my experiences growing up in Bryan.

Notes

The Great Black Swamp-1987 Ohio Historical Society article by Carolyn Platt

Ohio’s Great Black Swamp-Undated Ohio Inside Story article

History of the Great Black Swamp-2011 The Black Swamp Journal article

NW Ohio: Secular, Non-Religious, Same-Sex Wedding Ceremonies

bruce gerencser 2015

Are you having a hard time finding someone to perform your wedding ceremony? Are you non-religious, secular, humanist, atheist, agnostic, or pagan and want to get married but can’t find anyone to perform the service? Are you religious but not affiliated with a church and are looking for someone to perform your wedding? I can help!

Are you a same-sex couple looking for someone to officiate your wedding? Now that the Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriage in Ohio, same-sex couples can now be legally married. Now is the time to book a date for your special day.

My name is Bruce Gerencser and I am duly licensed by the state of Ohio to perform wedding ceremonies. If you are interested in having me perform your ceremony, please contact me at defiancecounty@gmail.com

Service area: Bryan, Montpelier, West Unity, Alvordton, Pioneer, Wauseon, Napoleon, Archbold, Paulding, Hicksville, Defiance, Ayersville, Antwerp, Sherwood, Farmer, Ney, Holgate, Deshler, McClure, Malinta, Evansport, Ridgeville Corners, Pettisville, Fayette, Liberty Center, Stryker, Edon, Edgerton, Blakeslee,  and all points in between.

Beauty at the Bard Centennial Fountain

Bryan, Ohio is about five miles from our home. Bryan is the seat for Williams County and arguably has one of the nicest courthouses in Ohio. Nearby Defiance County has one of the worst. Two years ago, Bard Manufacturing donated the funds necessary to install a fountain on the northeast corner of the courthouse lawn.  Here’s two photos of a young woman who was enjoying the coolness of the fountain with her two children.

woman at fountain bryan 2015-001

woman at fountain bryan 2015

Dear SONIC, You Asked for My Opinion, So Here It Is

sonic 4

Dear SONIC,

You sent me an email today asking me to join your SONIC Insight Council. Here’s the email you sent me:

sonic

I thought, OK, I’d be glad to share my opinion with SONIC. So, I clicked the link and this is what I got:

sonic 2

And this perfectly illustrates my opinion of the SONIC in Bryan, Ohio.

In 1994, my family and I moved to San Antonio, Texas. This was where we first ate at a SONIC. We quickly grew to love eating at SONIC and were thrilled when one was opened in Bryan, Ohio, five miles from our home. My sons can still remember how excited I was when I learned that a SONIC was coming to Podunk City, AKA Bryan, Ohio!

I still remember how crowded the Bryan store parking lot was as people tried SONIC food for the first time. Today, the store is pretty much a vacant parking lot. Part of the reason for this is your unwillingness to build dining rooms at stores in the north. We have winter here, and most of us are unwilling to sit in a parking lot with our car motor running so we can eat lunch. Add inside seating and I think it will improve customer numbers.

As customers and sales have dwindled, the store has developed some bad habits. For example, one night we wanted to get milkshakes, so we drove to Bryan only to find out that there were no milkshakes available at SONIC because the store ran out of milk. At the time, I said to my wife, are you fucking kidding me?  There’s a Walmart and a Chief grocery store a few thousand feet away. Can’t they go buy milk? Evidently not. We bought nothing and went to Dairy Queen.

I love SONIC onion rings. At first, the onion rings were deliciously awesome, but over time, as the store settled into lower volume sales, they tried to improve their food cost by not changing the fry oil at the proper time. Because of this, the onion rings had an off taste, ruining the once awesome flavor of the best onion rings in town. Having managed restaurants for several fast food chains, I can taste (and smell) old fry oil from a mile away.

Over the years, we’ve had smashed hamburgers, milk shakes not completely mixed, no whipped cream, no maraschino cherry, no straws or napkins, and credit card fraud. Yes, credit card fraud; a problem that necessitated me calling the SONIC corporate office so I could get the problem resolved. And twice we’ve been given food that belonged to someone else, only discovering this once we arrived home.

There was a day when the Gerencser family loved eating at SONIC. Not anymore. The management and staff at the Bryan SONIC are polite and helpful people. Generally, we are served promptly and every time I’ve called the manager they have taken care of us. However, after a while I got tired of calling and we stopped eating at the local SONIC.

I am a registered SONIC customer. I even get text messages from SONIC urging me to eat or drink this or that food. But, SONIC never comes to mind these days when I ask, where do you want to eat?  So let me leave you with this graphic:

sonic 3

Maybe we’ll be back if you give us a reason to do so. We remember the days when SONIC was the first name on our lips when I asked, where do you want to eat tonight?

We are not hard to please. Good customer service and properly prepared food  will win us over. The ball is in your court, SONIC. If you want us back, you know where we live.

The Gerencser family

PS. If you are going to send me email with a link in it that you want me to click, it’d be nice if clicking the link didn’t return a 404 response, page not found. Everyone makes mistakes, but this is one mistake that should NEVER be made. Click the link to make sure it works before you send it  out via an email broadcast to thousands of customers.  Two seconds…and no unhappy customers.

Bruce, Were You Happy in the Ministry? Part One

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978, With Polly’s grandfather and parents.

When I write posts like Leaving the Ministry: Dealing with Guilt and Regret, I am always concerned that someone might conclude that I was unhappy while I was in the ministry or that felt I was trapped in a job I didn’t want to be in.  Neither of these conclusions would be an accurate assessment of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry.

I was fifteen years old when I went forward at Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio and informed the church that I thought God was calling me to the ministry. A few weeks before, I had made a public profession of faith and was baptized.  I had no doubts about God’s call on my life. In fact, my desire to be a preacher went all the way back to when I was a five-year old boy in San Diego, California. My mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her I wanted to be a preacher. Not a baseball player, not a trash truck driver, or fireman. I wanted to be a preacher. Unlike many people, I never wondered about what I wanted to do with my life. God called-preacher, end of story.

In the fall of 1976, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College, a small fundamentalist college in Pontiac, Michigan. Polly Shope, my wife to be, started taking classes at Midwestern in the spring of 1976 while she was finishing her senior year at Oakland Christian School. At the age of fourteen, Polly went forward at the Kawkawlin River Baptist Church, Bay City, Michigan and let the church know that she believed God was calling her to be a preacher’s wife. When Polly enrolled at Midwestern, she had one goal in mind, to marry a preacher.

polly gerencser, pontiac, michigan 1978

Polly in front of our apartment, Fall 1978

Polly and I were immediately drawn to one another. She was quiet, reserved, and very beautiful. I was outspoken, brash, with a rebellious spirit. According to Polly, I was her bad boy. We started dating in September of 1976 and by Christmas we were certain that we were a match made in heaven. Unfortunately, Polly’s parents thought we were a match made in hell. My parents were divorced and Polly’s mom thought that divorce was hereditary. Though she did her best to quash our love, in the spring of 1978, we issued an ultimatum: give us your blessing or we will get married without it (a few weeks earlier, we had seriously considered eloping). On a hot July day in 1978, Polly and I exchanged vows at the Newark Baptist Temple, Heath, Ohio. As Mark Bullock, the soloist for our wedding, sang the Carpenter’s hit, We’ve Only Just Begun, Polly and I had thoughts of the wonderful life that awaited us in the ministry. Little did we know how naïve we were about what being in the ministry really entailed.

Polly’s idea of the ministry was quite idealistic. In her mind, we would have two children, a boy named Jason and a girl named Bethany, and live in a beautiful two-story house with a white picket fence. She saw herself as the quiet helpmeet of her preacher husband.  My idea of the ministry was a bit more realistic. Preaching, teaching, winning souls, visiting the sick, all in a church  filled with peace, joy, and harmony.  No one had prepared us for what the ministry would really be like. I still remember a time when I was standing in a three-foot deep hole partly filled with sewage trying to repair a broken septic line. Polly came out to see what I was doing and I said to her, well, they certainly didn’t teach me this in college. No one told us that the ministry would far different from our idealistic expectations.

Two months after we were married, Polly informed me that our use of contraceptive foam had failed and she was pregnant. Not long after her announcement, I lost my job at a Detroit area production machine shop. Financially, things quickly fell apart for us. We went to see Levy Corey, the dean at Midwestern, and told him that we needed to drop out of college. He told us we just needed to trust God and everything would work out. While I was able to find new employment, it was not enough for us to keep our head above water. In February of 1979, we dropped all of our classes and prepared to move to Bryan, Ohio. Several of our friends stopped by before we moved to berate us for not having faith in God. One friend told us that we would never amount to anything because God doesn’t bless quitters. Years later, at a Newark Baptist Temple preacher’s conference, Dr. Tom Malone, the president of Midwestern, mentioned that I was in the crowd. He said that I had left Midwestern before graduating, but if I had stayed, they (the college) probably would have ruined me. He meant it as a joke, but I took his comment as a vindication of our decision to leave college.

polly bruce gerencser cranbrook gardens bloomfield hills michigan 1978

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Cranbrook Gardens, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Spring 1978, two months before wedding.

In February of 1979, we moved to Bryan, Ohio, the place of my birth and the home of my sister Robin. After living with my sister for a short while, we found a house to rent on Hamilton Street. I began working at ARO, a large local manufacturer of pumps and air tools. ARO paid well, but I still desired to be a pastor. As with every job, I viewed secular work as just a means to an end — me pastoring a church. My sister attended the Montpelier Baptist Church in Montpelier, Ohio. When we first moved to Bryan, we thought that we would attend First Baptist Church, the church I had attended before enrolling at Midwestern. Though I knew everyone at First Baptist, we decided to go to Montpelier Baptist, a young, growing GARBC church pastored by Jay Stuckey. This decision did not sit well with the people at First Baptist. One of the matriarchs of the church told me, “Bruce you know you belong at First Baptist!”  At the time, First Baptist was pastored by Jack Bennett. Jack was married to my uncle’s sister Creta.

I had previously preached at Montpelier Baptist, so I knew a bit about  Stuckey and his ministry philosophy. Stuckey was a graduate of Toledo Bible College, which later moved to Newburgh, Indiana and became Trinity Theological Seminary.  After attending the church for a few weeks, Stuckey asked me to help him at the church by becoming the bus pastor and helping with church visitation.

The church had one bus route. It brought in a handful of children every week and little was being done to increase ridership numbers. Enter hot-shot, get–it-done, Bruce Gerencser. In less than a month, on Easter Sunday, the bus was jammed with eighty-eight riders. I vividly remember arriving at the church with all these kids and the junior church director running out to the bus and frantically asking me what I expected him to do with all the children. I replied, that’s your problem, I just bring them in. Needless to say, this man was never very fond of me.

A short time later, the church bought a second bus. I recruited bus workers to run the new route and before long this bus was also filled with riders. On the first Sunday in October, 1979, Montpelier Baptist held its morning service at the Williams County Fairground. A quartet provided special music and Ron English from the Sword of Lord preached the sermon. Five hundred people attended this service and about 150 of them had come in on the buses. Less than two weeks later, I was gone. Polly and I, along with our newborn son Jason, packed up our meager household goods and moved to Newark, Ohio.

021916

 

Does Racism Exist in Rural Northwest Ohio?

etch a sketch

The Etch-a-Sketch is made by Ohio Art, a Bryan Ohio Company. Once Manufactured in Bryan, it is now Made Overseas.

I am a member of the Growing Up in Bryan, Ohio Facebook group. The group is made up of people who live/lived in Bryan, Ohio. Recently, the subject of racism was brought up and this provoked a lively discussion about the state of race relations in Bryan. This got me to thinking: does racism still exist in rural NW Ohio and Bryan? Have we reached a place where we live in a post-racial era? Before I answer this question, I want to spend some time talking about demographics and my own experiences as a resident of northwest Ohio.

My father grew up on a farm three miles south of Bryan and attended Bryan High School. My mother moved to Bryan as a teenager. Both of them worked for local Bryan businesses such as K&R Cleaners, The Hub, Carroll Ames, and Bryan Trucking. My father was part of a close-knit ethnic Hungarian group that settled in the Bryan area. My parents considered Bryan home and in 1957 it became my home. My brother and sister were also born in Bryan.

Even though I have spent most of my life living other places, Bryan is home for me. Try as I might to flee the boring flatlands of Bryan and rural northwest Ohio, I consider Bryan my home. Over the years, I’ve lived in California, Michigan, Texas, Arizona, and southeast Ohio. I’ve also lived in or near the northwest Ohio communities of Farmer, Deshler, Harrod, Alvordton, Mt. Blanchard, and Findlay. Currently, I live in Ney, six miles south of Bryan.

Bryan was settled in 1840 and is the seat of Williams County. In 1950, the population was 6,365 people. In 2010, the population was 8,545 people.  Bryan saw a 12.9% population growth between 1970 and 1980 and 5.9% growth between 1980 and 1990. Since 1990, the population has grown 8.2%.

According to the 2010 US Census:

  • 94.3% (8,056) of Bryan residents are white
  • .6% (47) Black
  • .9% (73) Asian
  • .2% (14) Native American
  • .1% (5) Pacific Islander
  • 2.0% (170) Mixed Race
  • 5.1% (436) Hispanic or Latino

Statistics taken from 2010 US Census Report

The Bryan of today is more racially diverse than at any time in its 175 year history. While this is good news, the reason for the diversity is non-white medical professionals moving to Bryan to work for the local hospital and medical group and white-collar professionals moving here to work for local companies. This diversity is primarily driven by economics.

The Bryan of my youth was 100% white. I was five years old before I saw a black person for the first time, a porter at the Chicago train station. As a teenager, I was told by one proud and ignorant Bryanite that Bryan was 100% white and proud of it. According to him, any black caught in town after dark was run out of town. I suspect his attitude was quite common

In the 1970s, I attended high school in Findlay, Ohio, a community 75 miles southeast of Bryan. The 1970 population of Findlay was 35,800 people. Like Bryan, Findlay was as white as white could be. There were two black students who attended Findlay High School and they were brother and sister. Today, .3% (886) of Findlay residents are black.

In the mid-1970s, I attended a Baptist church in Bryan. I can still remember the day that a woman who once attended the church and moved away, returned home with her new black husband. Oh, the racist gossip that ran wild through the church: why, what was she thinking…marrying a black man! Think of the children! It was not long before she and her husband moved on to another church.

It was not until I moved to Pontiac, Michigan to attend Midwestern Baptist College that I came into close contact with blacks. Freshman year, one of my roommates was a black man from Philadelphia. The college was connected with nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. Emmanuel ran numerous bus routes into Pontiac and Detroit, busing in thousands of blacks. Most of the children from Detroit attended B Sunday school. The B was the designation given for the afternoon Sunday school. It was not long before I figured out that the B stood for black. When an overtly racist man became the bus pastor, one of the first things he did was stop running the buses to Detroit. We were told this was due to budget restraints, but many of us thought the real reason was race.

The college and church were located in a bad part of Pontiac. (Some might argue, is there a good part of Pontiac?)  The projects were nearby and the area east of the college was decidedly black. My experiences with the local black community, with its rundown housing and rampant crime, helped to reinforce the racist stereotypes I had been taught by my parents. It didn’t help that gangs of black youth repeatedly broke into the dormitory and ransacked the place while everyone was at church. A few years back, the college relocated to an overwhelmingly white community.

My parents, typical of their generation, were racists. It is impossible to paint the picture any other way. Whether their racism was from their own upbringing or their membership in the John Birch Society, they made no apology for their fundamentalist Christian-driven racism. They had a special hatred for Martin Luther King, Jr. My mother thought King got exactly what he deserved when he was assassinated in 1968. Like it or not, this is my heritage.

In the 1980s, Polly and I lived in southeast Ohio. For a number of years we were foster parents. One of children we cared for was black. We had made arrangements to rent a house outside of Somerset, Ohio where I was pastoring at the time, from a retired school teacher. When we looked at the house we did not have our foster child with us. Several days before we supposed to move in, the matronly pillar of the community called and said that she decided to not rent the house. We found out later that she told people that she was not going to have a nigger living in her house.

We moved to New Lexington, Ohio and enrolled our foster child in the local public school, thinking little about how hard it might be for her to be the only black kid in the school.  Needless to say, she was subjected to daily racial taunts. One day, the principal called us and said our foster child had created a disturbance in class. One of her classmates had called her a nigger and she threw her book at her taunter and stormed out of class.

I was quite upset at her behavior. Having never walked in her shoes, I had no way of knowing what it was like to be singled out and taunted. I gave her the stern Pastor Gerencser lecture, reminding her that she was accountable for behavior and that she couldn’t respond this way every time someone called her a nigger. While my words had a ring of truth to them, they were quite insensitive and showed that I didn’t have a clue about how difficult it was for her.

In the mid-1980s, the church I pastored had a black missionary come and present his work. I took the missionary on a tour of area and we stopped at the Somerset Snack Bar for lunch. The Snack Bar was where locals hung out and it was always a busy hive of storytelling and news. The Snack Bar was quite noisy when we walked in the door, but as patrons glanced up to see who was walking in, the noise quickly dissipated. I later learned that several of the locals were upset over the Baptist preacher bringing a nigger into the Snack Bar.

In 1995, I moved back home to northwest Ohio, pastoring a church in Alvordton for a short time and pastoring a church in West Unity for seven years. Polly and I have lived in this area now for 17 of the last 20 years. This is our home. Our six children and ten grandchildren all live within 20 minutes of our home.

It was during my time as pastor of Our Father’s House in West Unity, that I began to address my own latent racism and the racism that percolated under the surface of the local community. As my politics began to move to the left, my preaching took on a social gospel flavor and this included preaching on race, racism, and race relations.

When a church member would talk about colored people I would ask them, so what color were they? Oh you know what I mean, preacher! Yes, I do. So, how is the color of their skin germane to the story you are telling? I did the same when members talked about “those” people, those meaning blacks, Mexicans, or welfare bums.

What made things difficult was that we had a black man attending the church. He was a racist’s dream, the perfect stereotype. He was on welfare, didn’t work, lived in Section 8 housing, had an illegitimate child, and spent most of his waking hours trying to figure out how to keep from working. The church financially helped him several times and we brought him groceries on numerous occasions. One time he called me and told me he needed groceries. I told him that I would have someone bring over some groceries. He then told me, preacher, I’m a meat and potato man, so I don’t want no canned food. Bring me some meat. He’s still waiting for those groceries to be delivered.

As I read the comments on the Growing Up in Bryan, Ohio Facebook group, I noticed that there was an age divide. Older people such as I thought Bryan was still, to some degree, racist, while younger people were less inclined to think Bryan residents were racist or they thought local racists were a few bad apples. I think that this reflects the fact that race relations are markedly better now this area.

The reasons are many:

  • Older generations, those raised in the days of race riots, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jim Crow are dying off.
  • Local residents are treated by doctors who are not white.
  • Interracial couples now live in the area.
  • Migrants workers, once a part of the ebb and flow of the farming season, are now permanent residents.
  • Younger adults and teenagers no longer think race is a big deal.
  • Music and television have brought the world to our doorstep, allowing us to experience other cultures.
  • Sports, in which the majority of athletes in the three major professional sports — football, basketball, and baseball — are non-white. Cable and satellite TV broadcast thousands of college and professional games featuring non-white players.

Exposure breeds tolerance. Bigoted attitudes about gays and same-sex marriage are on prominent display in rural northwest Ohio. These attitudes remind me of how things once were when it came to race. Time and exposure to people who are different from us can’t help but change how we view things like race and sexual orientation. My children are quite accepting and tolerant of others, and I hope that these attitudes will be passed on to my grandchildren. We are closer today than we ever have been to Martin Luther King’s hope of “a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

We haven’t arrived. Latent, subtle racism must continue to be challenged. Unfortunately, on both sides of the political divide, there are those who use race and fear to stoke distrust and hate of those who are different. We  must forcefully marginalize those who want to return America to the 1950s. We must also be willing to judge our own attitudes about race. We enlightened liberals gleefully look at the extreme right and we see racism and bigotry in all its glory. Yet, if we are honest, such things exist in our own backyard. None of us can rest until we have achieved a post-racial world. We have much work to do.

081516

The Bryan Times Shuts Down Printing Operation

the bryan times

According to the WBNO website, the 65-year-old Bryan Times will no longer be printing the newspaper in-house. This end 150 years of a local newspaper being printed in Bryan, Ohio.

This comes as no surprise as small-town newspapers such as The Bryan Times try to adapt to the changes in how local residents get their news. As with TV news, newspapers have an increasingly aging subscriber base. Younger adults no longer turn to the TV or newspaper to get the news.

The Bryan Times made a stab at having a website with blogs and other internet news, hoping to attract those who use the internet to get their news. I doubt anyone at the newspaper would consider the website initiative a rousing success. The Times, like the Defiance Crescent-News, hides most of its news behind a paywall.

While I understand the economics behind such a move, younger adults will just look for some other news site at which to get their news. Having grown up in an age where most everything on the internet is “free,” most younger adults are not willing to pay for online news. Young adults live in a world where they can stream unlimited movies with Netflix or stream unlimited music with Spotify for less than $10.00 a month. In their mind, paying $8.99 for a newspaper they can read in a few minutes is an unnecessary, frivolous cost. They might spend the equivalent amount of money buying ring tones for their smartphone, but young adults increasingly no longer see the value in a printed newspaper.

Even though I am an old man, I no longer subscribe to a printed newspaper. I read the Crescent-News online, and every day I read blogs, news websites, Facebook, and Twitter to get my news fix.  I wistfully lament the passing of printed newspapers, especially those that played such an influential part of my life. Over the years, I  faithfully read The Bryan TimesDefiance Crescent-NewsZanesville Times-Recorder,Newark AdvocateDetroit Free PressThe Columbus DispatchThe Toledo BladeThe Fort Wayne Journal Gazette Findlay Republican CourierYuma Sun TimesThe Arizona Republic, and the Perry County Tribune. And these are just the papers I read regularly when I was living in these communities.  I also read, from time to time, small, local weekly papers, along with the newspaper of whatever community Polly and I were vacationing in. Needless to say, my newspaper reading habits resulted in the death of a lot of trees.

As I looked up the links for the aforementioned newspapers, I noticed that many of the newspapers had been bought out by larger media companies. What were once local, independent newspapers are now owned by media giants such as Gannett.  I suspect the newspaper industry will continue to contract until almost every newspaper is a subsidiary of a Wall Street media giant.  Future historians will write of the days when America lost the voice of a free press.

The Bryan Times remains a family-owned independent newspaper. The Cullis family has owned the paper for many years. Christopher Cullis, the same age as I am, is currently the publisher. Years ago, when I first started writing Community Voice editorials for the Times, Cullis told me that my editorial could be any length, but if I wanted people to read it I should write 800-1,000 words. This proved to be good advice.

Several times, Cullis called me after I submitted an editorial to ask if I really meant to say _________________? In most cases the answer was “No,” and he would suggest a better wording. I appreciate his help in making me a better writer.

Sadly, with the Times moving its printing to Fort Wayne, 18 people will lose their jobs. I suspect some of these employees have worked for The Bryan Times many years. No doubt, their layoff was a difficult action for the Cullis family to take.

In 1946, Grant Brown opened Brownie’s Restaurant in Bryan, right next door to The Bryan Times. It  was Bryan’s first drive-in restaurant. As a teenager, I ate many a hamburger at Brownie’s. For a time, I even had a weekly tab that I paid each payday. Facing competition from the chain fast food restaurants that moved into Bryan in the 1970s, Grant Brown closed  Brownie’s in 1975. The Times bought the building and tore it down to make way for a building expansion.

Will The Bryan Times go the way of Brownie’s Restaurant? I hope not, but I wonder if there is a future for the printed newspaper? It is increasingly cost-prohibitive to print a newspaper, and being unable to significantly raise subscription prices, newspapers cut the one thing they can cut: their employees.

I wish the Cullis family nothing but the best. The Bryan Times is one of the best small town newspapers around. From my Mom’s letters to the editor in the 1960s to my own letters to the editor and Community Voice editorials, The Bryan Times has graciously allowed us to voice our take on the world. I wish them nothing but the best, even if I have my doubts that a prosperous future lies ahead.  Someday, we will realize what we’ve lost as a result of  the decline of American newspapers. For now – hey, did you see what J-Lo and Kim Kardashian did today? OMG!

Note

The Bryan Times was established in 1949. Before that, the local newspaper was called The Bryan Union Free Press, The Bryan Press, and The Bryan DemocratYou can read some of the old newspapers here.

041616

My Hungarian Grandparents, Paul and Mary Gerencser

gerencser family 1950's

Paul and Mary Gerencser and Children, 1950s

The Gerencser Family, circa 1950s Front: Robert (my Dad) and Irene Middle: Grandpa Paul Rear: Paul (Paulie), Grandma Mary, Mary, and Helen

My grandparents immigrated from Hungary in the early part of the 20th century.  I don’t know much about them. I was six years old when they died in 1963. Paul was born in 1888 and died of a heart attack in February of 1963. Mary, six years younger than her husband, died of a heart attack six weeks later.

Paul and Mary Nemett Gerencser (grr IN’ sir or grinsir) immigrated through Ellis Island and settled in Ohio. (I don’t think Paul and Mary were their given names.) I think they originally settled in the Akron/Cleveland area and then moved to  northwest Ohio. Best I can tell from what few official records remain, Paul and Mary Gerencser owned a farm in Defiance County, lost it, and then bought a farm in Williams County on the northwest corner of Williams County Road 14 and Williams-Defiance County Line Road.

mary gerencser 1919

Grandma Mary Gerencser, 1919

Paul and Mary Gerencser had six children: Irene, Paul Jr, Steven, Helen, Mary, and Robert. Steven died in a farming accident as a young boy. Irene died in 2009 at the age of 87. Paul (Paulie) died in 2012 at the age of 88. Robert, my father, died in 1987 at the age of 49. Mary and Helen, both in their 80s, are still living.

The Gerencser homestead was torn down decades ago. The new owners built a ranch home in its place. The old farmhouse was a white two-story structure.  I do remember a few things about the house. There was an enclosed back porch and Grandma kept big sacks of flour and sugar on the porch. I also remember the wood-fired stove. I think there was a water pump at the kitchen sink. The house did not have indoor plumbing. There was an outhouse for necessary daily functions.

mary paulie paul robert gerencser 1940's

Mary, Paulie, Paul, Robert Gerencser, 1940s

I do have a vivid memory of the creek that ran a few hundred yards from the back of the house. One year, Beaver Creek overran its banks and flood waters turned a portion of the low-lying farm ground into a lake. To a little boy the flood water looked like a huge lake but I am sure it was probably much smaller.

I don’t remember anything about my grandparents’ demeanor. I do remember they spoke Hungarian to each other. I don’t know if they spoke English in the home. My father, aunts and uncle, were schooled at the nearby one room school-house that sat on the southeast corner of Williams County Road 14 and  US Highway 6. The one room school-house was torn down many years ago. My dad also went to school at Farmer, Ney, and Bryan. I do not know where any of my aunts or uncle attended school.

mary robert gerencser 1930's

Mary and Robert Gerencser, 1930s

Paul and Mary Gerencser settled in northwest Ohio, Williams County, because a number of Hungarian immigrants already lived here. Derek Harvey, a Toledo, Ohio man, wrote an interesting article about the Hungarians who settled in NW Ohio:

An important immigrant group to Toledo and Northwest Ohio were the people that came from the area in Central Europe known as the Magyars. This area stretched from Poland to the North to Belgrade in the southern region. The area would also encompass the large area known as Transylvania. (No Dracula jokes) With the redrawing of borders after the first World War much would have been considered Hungary would have changed. Many large populations after this time would live in Romania, Slovakia and northern Yugoslavia. Some groups prior to World War 1 would be misidentified as Hungarians.

The largest group of this ethnic group 1.7 million came to the United States starting in 1880. Many would locate in the Birmingham neighborhood in Toledo. In 1900 there were almost 17,000 people living in Ohio that claimed this nationality. By 1920 the number would increase to 73,181. The primary group of immigration was males under the age of 30. Almost 90% of them were literate, but would take dangerous jobs that involved using their hands. This job areas in Toledo included automotive, glass and railroad industries. They tended to only come to the United States temporarily and over 50% would return to their homeland. Many would come back or just stay.

The religion of the Hungarians in Toledo was Catholic. Their home church in town St Stephen’s Catholic Church. The early population of this church was almost all Hungarian. This is a valuable place to check for church records for people of this nationality. The church was the center of their socialization activities. It would later become the center of their fraternal organizations. In Toledo a popular event was the Grape Harvest Festival and the Easter egg sprinkling. These groups and events played a important part of the assimilation of Hungarians into the fabric of Toledo. Family units in Hungarian early life extended beyond the immediate family. It was referred to as the “sib” and included aunts, uncles, cousins and godparents who might not be relatives.

A common practice after 1910 was for Hungarian families to take in recent immigrants primarily males. The husband and the boarders would work outside the home while the women would take care of the chores necessary for maintaining a household. The diet would lean towards meat and very few dairy, fruit or vegetables. Wonderful opportunities exist for more understanding of Hungarians genealogy. Great strides have taken place in many parts of the United States to get a better understanding of this group. There heritages are being preserved and new resources are being discovered daily.

From time to time I will run into local Hungarians who remember my dad or my aunts and uncle. Mary and Helen sang on the radio in the 1940s and every so often someone will ask me if I am related to them. When someone notices my last name and asks me, are you related to ____________, the answer is always yes. All the Gerencsers in northwest Ohio are related to one another. I have second and third cousins in the Chicago, Benton Harbor Michigan, and Akron/Cleveland area whom I have never met. Locally, I have a few first and second cousins.

mary gerencser and pickles

Grandma Mary Gerencser with the Family Cat, Pickles.

When my aunt with Alzheimer’s was over at our house last year, she didn’t know who the woman in the picture was but she with delight said, oh there’s my cat Pickles.

I am not certain what my grandparent’s religion was, but I suspect they were Catholics.

I regret not taking time to know my family history while those who could tell it to me were still alive. My dad died 25 years ago and my grandparents died over 50 years ago. Such is the lament of a man growing old. As death comes nearer and nearer to my door, I think more and more about the past. I wonder…what was it like for my dad to grow up on a farm? I will never be able to ask questions like this. Sometimes, when we drive down US 15/127 to Bryan, I gaze off to the left as we pass the Williams-Defiance County Line. I try to picture my grandparents, my dad, and my aunts and uncle, working the ground and taking care of the farm. I wonder about their hardships, about the hard work it took to eek out a living from the flat land of Williams County Ohio

I have lots of questions…

*dates and ages are approximate. My recollections are not what they once were. One reason for writing this post is to have a written record of these things before I some day can no longer remember them.