Photo Mural Stands Tall Near George Shuba’s Childhood Home

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The countdown is on for the unveiling of the Jackie Robinson-George Shuba handshake statue, which will take place in April in Wean Park, downtown.

But another public effort to commemorate the historic moment was introduced Wednesday, and on the same street where “Shotgun” Shuba grew up.

An eight-foot by eight-foot enlargement of the famed handshake photo has been mounted on the wall of a building on Mahoning Avenue across the street from Calvary Cemetery. It faces Fernwood Avenue, the west side street where Shuba grew up and spent much of his life.

The photo and the statue depict the moment when Shuba shook hands with Robinson as he approached home plate after hitting a home run in his first professional baseball game.

It was April 18, 1946, a time of racial prejudice in baseball and the country. Shuba batted after Robinson and was his only teammate on the Montreal Royals – a Brooklyn Dodgers affiliate – to extend his hand in congratulations.

The following year, Robinson would jump to the Dodgers and begin a Hall of Fame career. Shuba would also play seven strong seasons for the Dodgers.

Accompanying the famous handshake photo in the mural are photos of Shuba throughout his life, including his time with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The enlarged photo is accompanied by several smaller photos of Shuba’s life, all with captions beneath. They are mounted on a vacant building that formerly housed a supermarket.

The $3,000 photo mural was funded by Rocky Ridge Neighbors, which used profits from the maple syrup it makes from trees in Mill Creek Park. Additional funding came from the Raymond John Wean Foundation.

Rocky Ridge Neighbors began planning the photo mural three years ago – well before the statue project was started. At Wednesday’s unveiling, the group donated a $1,000 check toward the statue project.

John Slanina, president of Rocky Ridge Neighbors, said Shuba’s baseball career was shaped on the West Side streets, as was his entire life.

Shuba’s legacy, he said, goes well beyond the handshake.

As a child, Shuba honed his batting eye by swinging at a ball dangling from a string in the basement of his home on Fernwood. His parents were immigrants from Slovakia, and the neighborhood Shuba roamed as a child in the 1920s and ’30s was an ethnic melting pot.

The mural faces Fernwood Avenue where “Shotgun” Shuba grew up.

 “We hope [the photo mural] is another catalyst to tell the story of someone from Youngstown who did something kind and wonderful in the world,” Slanina said.

Shuba died in 2014 at age 89.

His son, Michael, is an adviser to the statue committee and was on hand at Wednesday’s unveiling of the photo mural.

“This is a wonderful tribute to my father and the neighborhood,” he said. “It’s beautiful for the neighborhood kids to see and I hope it inspires them to do great things.”

In addition to the handshake photo, Shuba selected a handful of others for the mural that depict his father’s life from his childhood to his senior years.

“I tried to choose [photos] that pertained to the neighborhood here and the house (where he lived),” Shuba said. The late George Shuba’s original home was at 55 Fernwood, less than a block away from the mural.

The Dodgers – which moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1957 – won the World Series on Tuesday night, and Shuba was glad.

“I’m happy the Dodgers won,” he said, adding that it will help the statue project because the spotlight will be on the team.

The statue committee has raised $236,000 toward its goal of $400,000. The dedication ceremony will take place April 18 – the 75th anniversary of the handshake. To learn more, go to RobinsonShuba.org.

Pictured at top: John Slanina, president of the Rocky Ridge Neighborhood Association, Michael Shuba, Robinson-Shuba Commutative Statue Committee adviser, and Nick Chretien, program manager at Economic Action Group. Chretien received a $1,000 donation from the neighborhood association that will go toward the Robinson-Shuba Commemorative Statue.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.