Commentary: The ‘Walk’ from John Young to Summer Penguins

By Ed Noga

Sometime in the late 1970s, the Walk on Wick became a reality in downtown Youngstown.

I am reminded of “the walk” each time I put up my Christmas decorations and place a rustic Santa (in a green outfit, would you believe?) on my windowsill.

My sister was with me the day Walk on Wick happened, as were thousands of other area residents. The Youngstown Area Arts Council worked hard to bring this arts festival from the planning stage to the street that cuts through the Youngstown State University campus and leads folks from the near Northside of the city to downtown.

As the festival grew, the walk made its way to a new location just west of Wick Avenue. The winding, tree-lined walkways of the university campus allowed the festival to expand and draw more folks and more artists and more food vendors.

2019 saw the culmination of a much-anticipated Ohio Cultural Alliance, whose mission encourages cooperation at all levels to bring together and support the various arts in northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. As the alliance took hold, the Walk on Wick/YSU Summer Arts Festival once again was on the move as the Summer Festival of the Arts.

The heart of the Summer Festival of the Arts is the regional and national artists and artisans who display and sell their work.

This move was to Wean Park and further branded itself and its mission by including a local downtown Greek Orthodox church food and music festival and a jazz festival/experience at the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre.

It should be noted that the Festival of the Arts joins many local groups and organizations that are finding the Mahoning River downtown development area (it stretches from the new Penguin City Brewery and Youngstown Flea to the Covelli Centre, then to Wean Park, the Community Alley under the bridge and the amphitheater) a more flexible and feasible gathering space for all kinds of festivals, fundraisers and entertainment.

The planning and dreaming of this riverfront development will be further enhanced next year when the Mahoning River dams in the city of Youngstown will be removed and the river banks and river itself will begin the self-cleaning process and eventual repurposing.

Those who come to the river today find ample parking and easier handicap access, as well as an abundance of space free of buildings, traffic signals and curbs.

Interestingly enough, it now seems to allow a better blending of what goes on downtown each and every day in a work and business setting with what happens after work and on the weekends. The two distinct areas don’t interfere with each other but enhance each other for the benefit of all.

In a recent conversation with YSU’s interim president, Dr. Helen K. Lafferty, the notion of cooperation and future possibilities were a major focus of her comments. The rich history and experience she brings with 40-plus years at Villanova University, coupled with her personal magnetism and enthusiasm, made the conversation a total delight.

Lafferty mentioned that when she arrived, she shared with the community that she was going to listen and learn from us in the Valley. She used these occasions as part of the backdrop in helping to guide the university to the next level.

We can all remember her early open-door policy as she invited the university community into her office so she could hear what was on the minds of those she would serve and work with.

She learned a lot. I shared with her that former Mayor John McNally did the same thing and often commented that he learned so much when he opened the door to his office in City Hall.

YSU’s interim president also commented on her earlier years here being tremendously influenced by the Ursuline Sisters and her alma mater, YSU.

As a teen selling pizzas to pay for her high school tuition, she speaks of the “grit” – her word – of the community here as an unbelievable testament to our strong work ethic and cultural awareness. In conversation, there is no doubt that she wants young people to earn their degrees and become involved in the community.

Pete and Penny may be mascots, but they are two rich symbols of personal growth and initiative. As many comment, “Once a Penguin, always a Penguin.”

The vitality that Lafferty is committed to is replicated throughout our Valley. Her personal history here has given her tremendous insight as she helps to guide the future of YSU as well as the future of our community.

Over 200 years ago, as the Mahoning River made its way through this part of Ohio, John Young made his way from New York to property he purchased. He was part of a pioneering generation that transformed this Valley. The pioneer spirit is now in our hands.

Thankfully, there are Penguins all over this Valley!

Pictured at top: The Summer Festival of the Arts took place Saturday and Sunday at Wean Park in Youngstown.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.