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Many of us have wonderful hobbies, hobbies that we are often times passionate about, work hard at and really have no ambition above the shear joy that such endeavors bring.
So it was with me, Dan Ruminski and my passion for early Cleveland history, let us say, 1875-1929, you know the Millionaires Row era. My hobby was and is experiencing of the great enjoyment of learning of this history and the wonderful cast of characters that made this period great, a John D. Rockefeller for example.
While doing some research at the Gates Mills library one day a very nice lady saw what I was doing and asked if I would be willing to give a talk at the library on this history. This wonderful lady was Sally Burke, president of the Gates Mill Historical Society.
This request was interesting especially since Katherine Malmquist, head of the library, was also enthusiastic about the project. I agreed to prepare a 45-minute talk, an April date was set up and I must say the rest is history.
Audience expected was to be between 30 and 40 people, so I prepared accordingly. My, oh my, did we not get nearly 100 people, enthusiastic people who wanted to hear my story. And indeed I delivered it as a story, no power point, no computer, just a marvelous story. The audience stayed for 2 hours asking great questions as my talk concluded.
Since that first memorable talk, I now have given over 10 presentations to various audiences. In each case there is noticeable enthusiasm. Audience size always exceeds any expectation, which tells me that folks are very interested in a very dynamic early Cleveland.
Thus my little old hobby has bloomed into a larger endeavor. I now have made myself available to all types of potential speaking opportunities as my quest to inform while promoting Cleveland continues.
If you group or organization has interest in experiencing the Cleveland history experiences please feel free to contact me, Dan Ruminski, The Cleveland history storyteller at 1-800-876-1312 or email me using the link at the bottom of the page. A small fee is charged.
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
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
I have been writing about Cleveland, Ohio and its great period 1875-1929 when Cleveland by all accounts was one of the greatest cities in the world. I write because often times the path to a return to greatness can be clearly defined by understanding the cause of former greatness.
Cleveland became a great city and world force in the past because of great families doing great things. Example, John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil fame and the White’s of truck giant, White Motors. Both Rockefeller and the Whites knew all too well how to treat their workforce. The Whites in particular created a family atmosphere among employees, thus their turnover rate was exceptionally small. Employees were treated as a major asset of the company.
A family approach, what was this? The brothers, Windsor, Rollin and Walter, founders of White Motors were schooled well by their father, Thomas H. White who founded The White Sewing Machine Company. Father Thomas insisted that while growing up his sons work side by side with the men who ran the production equipment: an experience his sons used to guide their treatment of their future employees – over 4000.
The White brothers now in charge of their own company added to their fathers’ philosophy. The Whites promoted employee orchestras which played at lunch time. Even the grave yard shift had its own band. Company sports teams, baseball in particular, were used to build company pride. The company operated its own small hospital and its own night school offering classes of all types. Employees could pay utility bills and even their taxes through the company cashier. Their industrial service department helped employees fill out forms when needed.
All of the above and more served notice that the Whites valued and respected their work force. All three brothers spend several hours a day in the plant getting to know the names of all employees. Lunch on many occasions found the Whites in the employee cafeteria, not the executive dining room.
When an employee of Walter White fell sick and could no longer work in the plant, Walter transferred him to his Circle W. Farm, a healthier environment for this worker. Common sense, productivity matters, productive workers matter, turnover is no good. The Whites applied common sense to human nature to achieve great results. The White model holds the partial key to a return to greatness not only for Cleveland, but for our entire country.
The absence of common sense today is historical.
Many thanks for Charles D. Weller Esq. and The Cleveland Plain Dealer for some of our content.