Retired YSU Professor’s Book Reflects on Organization’s Past

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – For 30 years the Ohio Cultural Alliance has sought to connect the people of the Mahoning Valley to the cultural world around them.

George D. Beelen, a retired professor and former chairman of the history department at Youngstown State University, led the group from 1987 to 2017 as it explored the diverse cultures of those who settled in the Mahoning Valley, brought their traditions and foods with them and influenced the rise of the area.

Along the way, Beelen collected the stories told at more than 300 meetings through the years and found some common themes in them. Throughout the years, the group celebrated the lives of others and explored topics that bring so many people together – food, the arts, faith and family.

His latest book, “Genius Knows No Boundaries,” which he introduced on Wednesday, is a loving tribute to the group’s activities throughout the years. A compendium of the stories and photos from those events, the book illustrates just how many ethnic groups settled in the Mahoning Valley and how much richer residents are because of it.

“Through it all, we built community, and we came to believe that all people have more characteristics in common than differences, that all cultures contain good, intelligent, empathetic people,” Beelen said. “Indeed, genius knows no boundaries.”

Many of the people who came for Beelen’s announcement Wednesday at the Mahoning Valley Historical Society went down that road with him for 30 years as members of the OCA.

During that time, they had all learned about some of the Mahoning Valley’s most well-known and little-known founders and invited those from other cultures to share their cuisine, music and stories with the group. They explored the religions of others with understanding.

Each year or group of years had a theme, and for many years, the OCA held 10 meetings surrounding that theme.

At one point, the organization spent two years reflecting on how America is the land of hope, looking at immigrants who came here and the challenges many faced. They looked at the businesses and industries that brought them, including steel, potteries and agriculture. They also looked at the churches, clubs and organizations various ethnic groups formed, many groups which are still active and still have festivals and events in the Valley.

The Ohio Cultural Alliance also explored world leaders and current topics affecting people around the world, including those that had a connection to those in the Valley. They brought in speakers and performers who started in the Valley and had gone on to share their talents with the rest of the world.

Mostly, the Ohio Cultural Alliance explored the ways people are different yet celebrated the many ways they are the same and found ways to share human empathy for the tragedies and difficulties that affect everyone.

Illustrated with many photos of the speakers, performers and guests who presented to the Ohio Cultural Alliance over 30 years, Beelen’s book is available in hardcover for $44.25, softcover for $24.27 and online for $4.50.

Although 2017 seemed like an ending for the organization, the OCA began to rebuild only to be foiled in 2020 by COVID-19. But Beelen announced Wednesday the OCA will have five meetings this year, bringing back speakers and cuisine, as well as topics in the news. On April 2, Ukraine will be celebrated in an event at the Ukrainian Orthodox Cultural Center, followed by Romania on May 1; Italy on Aug. 7; Africa on Oct. 2; and Greece on Nov. 6. Registration for the April event has been extended until Monday. Call 330 743 1589 for details.

Pictured at top: George D. Beelen signs a copy of his new book, “Genius Knows No Boundaries,” for Bill McNally, left.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.