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A John D. Rockefeller Story – Teenager in Charge of Building the Family Home

Eliza & William Rockefeller, parents of John D. Rockefeller
Eliza & William Rockefeller, parents of John D. Rockefeller

Cleveland, Ohio home to John D. Rockefeller, the world’s richest individual at one time, was a man made from many experiences afforded him as he grew into manhood. Each experience was a stepping stone of sorts building the stairway to his Standard Oil Company. The glue that held Rockefeller together I believe was a work ethic of unbelievable proportion coupled with a self discipline that boarded on beyond remarkable. Those who knew Rockefeller at the time also knew that Standard Oil was no accident.

John D. Rockefeller was raised by a devoted mother, Eliza, and an often times absent father, William Avery Rockefeller. Because of his fathers long absences John D in many respects became the head of the household at a relatively young age. This experience proved a good one for John. At one point, John age 18 was given the task of building the new family home on Cheshire Street, East 19th, in Cleveland, Ohio. John’s father assured his son that funds were available and that he would not be there for planning or construction. John thus began organizing the planning and building of the new brick home for the family. Estimates for the work were received from at least 8 contractors. Obviously the low bidder got the job and it is said when the home was completed the builder actually lost money as John meticulously reviewed all invoicing. Upon completion this house served the family for many years.

Now, I believe one could ask, what might todays 18 year old do when faced with a similar task to John’s? In an age when we all think our children are growing up all too fast, I believe measured against Rockefellers result most of today’s generation may not succeed in a similar endeavor. Truly we may suggest that John D. Rockefeller was a superior individual with talents far, far above the average. I believe the point here is that although John achieved something less than a high school education, his father knew that a big part of real education did not take place in school. John’s father believed in both formal education and practical education forged together with the creation of responsibility in the real world.

Education in real life experiences may even ellipse the classroom on occasion. The point of this story seems to be, do parents today give their children enough real world experience? Do we educate them to use one of the most important senses they have, common sense? I would lean to the side that says, “No”; thus my story of John D. Rockefeller. The building of the family home made him responsible for outcome, an outcome of great importance to his family. John also learned what he was capable of and this experience remained with him for the rest of his life.

John’s home building experience led to the building of a grand company housed in a grand city, Cleveland, Ohio. During John’s time Cleveland, Ohio, by many accounts was the greatest city in the world. In sports terms of today it would be like winning the World Series, Super Bowl and NBA Championship all in one year. You know, Cleveland was just that great.

Credit: Photo from the book John D. Rockefeller, The Cleveland Years, by Grace Goulder, courtesy of the Western Reserve Historical Society

New Clevelanders – Sue Farrell Interview

Sue Farrell grew up in Oakmont, Pennsylvania which is about 16 miles up the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh. This was her home until she left to attend college in Michigan.

The Farrell family’s move to Cleveland represented their ninth move! They have lived in Michigan, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Indianapolis, Indiana (where their 3 children were born), Philadelphia (again), Columbus, Ohio, Richmond, Virginia, Denver, Colorado, and THEN…. on to Cleveland. The Farrell’s came to Cleveland in 2007 after Sue’s husband Mike was recruited for a position at University Hospitals

As Sue considered relocating in Cleveland, she was essentially neutral about the move. She had been to Cleveland 30 years earlier when her sister got married in Shaker Heights. She really did not know a lot about the city, but like many people, had heard the derogatory phrase “Mistake on the Lake” applied to Cleveland.

University Hospitals arranged to have a company called Executive Arrangements provide the family with a good overview of the area. This company helps “sell” Cleveland to prospective new residents. Sue described a day she spent (before the move) being driven around the city’s downtown and concentration on the eastern suburbs because of their proximity to University Hospitals. One of the places she was taken to by Executive Arrangements, was Playhouse Square, where she walked through the elegant and historic theatre complex.

Following this very favorable experience, the Farrell’s weighed other factors that had an impact on a move to Cleveland. These included their fondness for the Midwest and its values, and closer proximity to their respective families (Mike is from Toledo, OH and Sue from Pittsburgh, PA).

Transition from a new-comer to an active participant in the greater Cleveland community came relatively easy to Sue. About 6 weeks after the family arrived, Executive Arrangements sponsored a tea for Sue to acquaint her with people in the community. At the tea, Sue was approached by someone who told her about the New Clevelanders organization which she subsequently joined. Sue also began volunteering at University Hospitals because of her husband’s association with the hospital.

Reflecting back on her move, Sue indicated that she remains disappointed by the “bad rap” that Cleveland gets. She feels this is sometimes substantiated by the attitude of some native or long time Clevelanders.

Sue regards Cleveland as a very accessible city, stating it is much easier getting to various venues here than it had been for her in other cities. She and her husband enjoy the Midwest values of this area.

According to Sue, the greater Cleveland area has so much to offer: the arts, theatres, nationally recognized sports teams, world class museums, etc. She has been impressed by the quality of the shows, exhibitions and performances that come through Cleveland.

Sue and her husband, Mike read an article in Cleveland Magazine which depicted some of the greatest homes in this area. The article made mention of Dan Ruminski. They did some research to find out more about what he was doing to promote Cleveland. Currently, Sue is a co-chair of the New Clevelanders Luncheon and Program committee and as a result of reading that article, Sue and her co-chair, Jane Plank, went to meet Dan and asked him to present a talk at a future New Clevelanders luncheon.

In November of 2009, Dan did a presentation on the White Family of Cleveland, known for White Sewing Machine and White Motors fame, for 48 women of the organization. It is this author’s opinion that the people who attended this talk now know more about the historical significance of Cleveland in the late 19th –early 20th century than many Cleveland “natives”.

Because of Sue’s participation in the New Clevelanders and their monthly “excursions”, she has been literally “all over” Cleveland. When she meets new people they always ask her how she knows so much about this city.

Sue believes that Cleveland is a wonderful place to live. The family lives in Chagrin Falls. She said she wishes their children had been able to grow up in an area like Chagrin Falls. Sue talked about how wonderful the people are in this whole greater Cleveland area.

Sue was fortunate to have a very smooth transition into her new hometown. This is yet another example of a person who has been transplanted to this area and has found a way to discover the “jewels” of a city that has been taken for granted for too long. Many of us locals should use the same type of approach to discovering Cleveland, as we do when we visit a city we’ve never been to before—we might be very surprised at what we find!

– Written by: Roberta Malbin Levenson

New Clevelanders – Allison Powers Interview

Allison Powers grew up in a very small town in Connecticut and lived there until she completed high school. During that time, her family had the good fortune to spend two years in Japan due to her father’s job responsibilities.

Allison attended college in Massachusetts and lived and worked in Boston for 5 years. She met her husband, Jim while they were both employed by a large engineering firm in Boston.

Before finally locating in greater Cleveland, Allison and her family lived in many different and varied places. From Boston, they moved to Long Island for six years. Following that, they moved to San Diego, and then on to Huntsville, Alabama. Allison reminisced about encountering wardrobe issues with each move, i.e., not wearing dark colors in the hot climates, needing lots of layers and especially, sweaters, in the Cleveland area, etc.

When Allison’s husband was offered a position in Cleveland, she didn’t have strong positive or negative feelings regarding the move. She was aware of Cleveland’s rich cultural reputation. She was also familiar with some of Cleveland’s well known negative publicity such as the Cuyahoga River catching fire in 1969 and knew that this was a thing of the past. As a matter of fact, Cleveland has been the butt of many nationally known comedians’ jokes. The city’s great treasures, history and institutions seem to be some of its best kept secrets.

Initially, she was glad to be leaving the Alabama heat. Her childhood in Connecticut, she thought, had prepared her for the winters of Ohio. However, once she got here, she said she wasn’t “prepared for the gray days” that are the result of our proximity to Lake Erie. She related that she immediately had to stock up on sweaters! After some time here, Allison realized that she one of those people who are affected by seasonal affective disorder.

The Powers moved to this area in late August of 1995. Their first home was in Mentor. They actually moved here the day before her son started first grade in his new school. The family came here with just a few things because their home in Alabama still had not been sold and most of their personal belongings would be shipped along with their furnishings.

Allison recalled that their son’s first grade teacher had a hard time understanding why he didn’t dress up for Indians (baseball) Day soon after school started. It was necessary for Allison to explain to the teacher the difficulties associated with a relocation. There was so much going on with selling a home hundreds of miles away, moving into another one, getting the family settled, and being in an area with which the family was unfamiliar.

At first, Allison didn’t know what to do to acclimate to her new surroundings. She was still very involved in selling their home in Huntsville and at the same time getting her two children settled in school, etc. She joined the PTA at their school in an effort to meet new people, however, that did not turn out to be a satisfying experience for her. Allison noticed that so many people she met were native to this area with long established friendships and local family and, therefore, they did not go out of their way to get involved with “new” people.

She went to the local YMCA frequently to swim. As the staff got to know Allison, they realized that she was new to the area and did not know many people. Coincidentally, they needed a swimming instructor, so she was hired. At this point, she had a lot of free time and really enjoyed teaching the classes. Once she became more involved with community and friends, her seasonal affective disorder became more tolerable.

After more than six years in the Mentor area, Jim’s job required the family to move, yet again, this time to Sandusky, Ohio. They lived in Sandusky for eighteen months before Jim was transferred to Akron, Ohio.

This time, the Powers settled in Hudson, Ohio which is about a 20-minute drive from Akron and about a 30-minute drive southeast of Cleveland. They have been in the Hudson area for about five years now.

With this move Allison said she “got lucky” with regard to meeting people and feeling part of the community. One of Jim’s co-workers invited Allison to bowl with her league.

Allison and Jim hosted a party at their home. The guests were people with whom Jim worked. One of the guests asked Allison if she was going to join an organization (she had heard of before, but never joined) called the New Clevelanders. As Allison explained, when she and her family came to this area, finding organizations and things to do was not as easy as it is now with “Google” and other search engines.

So Allison got started with New Clevelanders. She found it to be a wonderful way to share experiences associated with relocation with others who had “been there, done that”. Everyone was looking for the opportunity to find new friends and discovering their “adopted” home town. The great thing about New Clevelanders, according to Allison, is that ‘this month you’re the new person, but next month, it’s someone else. Within a few months, you’re a veteran.” Allison now serves the New Clevelanders as its president.

When asked what was most enjoyable about living in the greater Cleveland area, Allison listed several things. She enjoys living in Hudson which is on the outskirts of the secondary “snow belt.”

Because of her association with the New Clevelanders which has a monthly group “trip” to visit various places in the greater Cleveland area, she discovered some wonderful places. She lists the towpath trails which are part of the Cleveland Metroparks as one of the greatest treasures here in this area. She talked about how lovely the summers are in Cleveland.

Allison feels that Cleveland does not get enough credit for the great variety and quality of performing arts available in the community.

Some other favorable points Allison listed about Cleveland included: Cleveland is a less expensive place to live. Locations/events are much more accessible than in New York, for example. She cited attending theatre productions in Cleveland vs. New York with required commute time of ½ hr. vs. 1 ½ hr., and the cost of parking being considerably less here.

Allison states that greater Cleveland is a wonderful place to live with many great things to do, but one has to get out and explore the city. Some activities she listed include: great places to bicycle, wide selection of museums, lake and river cruises, Lolly the Trolley, numerous unique shopping areas, knitting and fabric stores, etc. Allison made specific mention of the Lakeview Cemetery with its original Tiffany works. The various neighborhoods of Cleveland, its great restaurants, and numerous church festivals, are among the many “pluses” of Cleveland that Allison has discovered. She feels that people who are new to the area tend to discover more about the Cleveland “jewels” than those folks who have lived here most or even all of their lives.

From somewhat unhappy beginnings/experiences upon moving to this large metropolitan area, to total involvement in the community and what it has to offer, Allison found a way to learn about this remarkable place to live. As I talk to more “new arrivals” in Cleveland, it appears that this group makes it their objective to learn about the greater Cleveland area they now call “home”. They seem to be very captivated by Cleveland’s rich history and the treasures we have today that stem directly from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of the “native” Clevelanders tend to take this great city for granted and may not be aware of all the great things this area has to offer. We hope to allow our longtime Clevelanders (and anyone else who is interested) the ability to view our area through the eyes of our “newer arrivals.”

– Written by: Roberta Malbin Levenson

My Cleveland – What’s Great About NE Ohio

Cleveland Skyline - photo courtesy of Dead Tree Photography
Cleveland Skyline - photo courtesy of Dead Tree Photography

Jane Plank has been living in Hudson, Ohio, a small town reminiscent of New England, about 30 minutes east of Cleveland for approximately five years. She grew up in the Washington, DC area, later moving to California in the 1970’s. She and her husband, Dennis, met in San Francisco. Ironically, he was originally from the Dayton area of Ohio.

Before Jane met Dennis, he had graduated from Western Reserve University, now part of Case Western Reserve University. Following graduation, he taught history at Warrensville Heights High school (which is in an eastern Cleveland suburb of the same name).

Following this he was associated with Premier Industries in Cleveland.

While residing in Cleveland, Dennis developed a fondness for this city and became very interested in its history. However, he also loved the west coast so he relocated in California.

While the Planks lived in California, Dennis worked in various corporate settings. In the mid 1990’s they came to Cleveland to attend a Case Western Reserve University reunion. Dennis wanted to show Jane the Western Reserve Academy in Hudson. (This was the original site of Western Reserve University.) Jane found Hudson to be very “charming.”

After many years out west, the Planks decided they wanted to move back “east.” They have family scattered around the east coast and Dennis has relatives still in southern Ohio. Based on Dennis’ previous experience in Cleveland and the rich history of this area, they decided “why not” move to Cleveland.

Besides being closer to family members, Jane cited change of seasons as one of the draws of this area. Dennis’ familiarity with Cleveland from his college years and post-graduate employment was another. Dennis has remained an active Western Reserve alumnus since graduation and this was a major reason for their relocation to Cleveland. The Planks have an avid interest in history, so the rich heritage of Cleveland enticed them. They considered homes in Chagrin Falls and Hudson, finally settling on the latter in 2005.

Once settled, Jane asked Dennis to take her to visit various areas of Cleveland he had previously described to her. Thus, she came to learn about Cleveland’s strong cultural heritage including its world renowned orchestra, museums, theatres, lush vegetation, and historical landmarks.

In 2006, they attended the Western Reserve Historical Society’s exhibit on “Millionaire’s Row.” Jane was very impressed with Cleveland’s status as one of the wealthiest cities in the world in the late 19th to early 20th century.

For example, she knew that John D. Rockefeller lived in Cleveland during its “heyday” but learned about many other Cleveland “notables” of those stellar days in Cleveland’s history. This led her to want to discover exactly where the Rockefellers had lived and learn about others who had some claim to fame in that fascinating period of history.

In an effort to make acquaintances and learn more about her new surroundings, Jane joined and became active in a non-profit women’s organization called the New Clevelanders. Currently, she serves as program co-chair, setting up luncheon and speaker events.

As a coincidence, one of the guest speakers for the New Clevelander’s Club was Dan Ruminski, who presented a talk about the White Family. This talk further sparked Jane’s interest to learn more about Cleveland’s intriguing past.

Unlike many “native” Clevelanders who complain about the weather, Jane finds Cleveland’s weather to be what one would expect having grown up in this climate. Living in California, she said, she really missed the four distinct seasons we experience here. The beauty of the area, the traditional homes, and all the “perks” unique to Cleveland make this city a vibrant area that the Planks intend to call “home” for a long time to come.

— Interview w/ Jane Plank by Roberta M. Levenson

Combination of Greatness – White & Kundtz

White Sewing Machine in Cabinet by Theodor Kundtz. The cabinet doubled as a writing desk.
White Sewing Machine in Cabinet by Theodor Kundtz. The cabinet doubled as a writing desk.

I continue to write about our great city of Cleveland 1875-1929 when Cleveland contained one half of all millionaires in the world. Among these were two great men namely, Thomas H. White and Theodor Kundtz.

Thomas H. White produced the White Sewing Machine which revolutionized the way family clothing was made. Thomas, in his pursuit of perfection, felt that a White Sewing Machine should be housed in more than just an ordinary wood cabinet. Enter Theodor Kundtz, a man from Hungary who had learned the cabinet business while working in Cleveland, Ohio.

Theodor Kundtz had the desire to form his own company and so he did, The Theodor Kundtz Cabinet Work. Theodor’s vision grew to having over 1 million square feet of factory before 1900. He built the finest cabinets in the world and Thomas H. White wanted the finest.

The end result was the sale of millions of cabinets, each valued not only because they were incredibly functional, but also as a beautiful piece of furniture. The White and Kundtz factories were located very close to each other making the supply chain very effective.

Theodor Kundtz Company buildings in the Cleveland Flats circa 1920
Theodor Kundtz Company buildings in the Cleveland Flats circa 1920

Today the product so proudly built by Theodor Kundtz and Thomas H. White is displayed in New York’s Smithsonian Museum for all to see. Pioneers with a philosophy of perfection, these men became part of our great Cleveland history. These men changed society for the better with their hard work and innovation.

New technology which benefits the masses, this is what will again produce a great Cleveland. One would do no better than to study the model of Thomas H. White and his friend Theodor Kundtz.