Sunday, June 30, 2013

"Downtown Ashtabula; a New Era Rising."

by Nicholas J. Vocca

Be it a Saturday morning, or sometime during the course of a normal business day, downtown Ashtabula over the past few decades often made me think of the Johnny Cash hit, "Sunday Morning Coming Down" when walking or driving along that thoroughfare.

Bleak, desolate, and utterly depressing, are perhaps the best adjectives used to describe the feelings how most who knew what this shopping and business district used to be like before an urban renewal project in the mid-1970's backfired and brought it to its economic and social knees.

Despite strong warnings that such a project would put a noticeable crunch on our beloved Main Avenue businesses from some City of Painesville officials who had initiated a similar project years before in their town, and then tore it out after they saw such an erosion to their downtown, Ashtabula's leaders at that time forged ahead with the proposed project in assurance it would only bolster the district's potential which had suffered a marked decline in business when some merchants in the late 1960's had either taken up shop in or near one of our area's plazas, or closed entirely when unable to compete with the franchises of national retailers who were steadily advancing and drawing once faithful consumers to their stores.

Admittedly, I originally gave strong nod to this project, and kept abreast of it through maintaining a subscription to the local Star Beacon at my home in the Arlington district of Jacksonville, Florida.  Why not?  Jacksonville, "The Bold New City of the South," had recently began some extensive urban renewal projects in some of its rather run-down areas, such as the eastern portion of Bay Street; an area of that city pocked with dilapidated storefronts, dingy-looking rooming houses, skid row bars, and a character element so seedy you dared not travel through even in the daytime unless your windows were up, doors locked, and you had one ready in the chamber of your Ruger.

When later looking at the proposed copies of some architectural drawings I had requested from the city, I became even moreenamored and supportive of the project and, being the persistent daydreamer I am, I breathlessly anticipated the day I would be able to venture north and visit when it came to fruition!

An open, fresh-air mall where maybe a local restaurateur would add a nice sidewalk cafe for your daily and nightly dining pleasure, and other affordable attractions. Maybe some street vendors selling all-beef hot dogs, fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, or some novelties. Maybe some live entertainment would be provided free for the delight of all as they wearily trudged along with their bags and packages. Maybe outdoor art shows and poetry readings.

An occasional three or four piece quartet playing some soothing Classical music to help one unwind from their hectic and chaotic morning at the counter, or office.  An upbeat Dixieland Band to set the tone for an enjoyable day of selecting that special gift for a loved one, or that special friend celebrating some hallmark event in your life.  Perhaps a "Battle of the Bands" where local musicians and singers could demonstrate their talents, and possibly be discovered by some out-of-town agents. 

Able to sneak into town with three friends from my unit shortly after noon one Friday on a 96-hour pass as a result of driving here non-stop from Jacksonville not long after the Arrowhead Mall had been completed, my initial belief that this was a good thing for the city still remained strong.  Carlisle's was still open, as was Globe-Bell, Schaeffer's, and some of my otherfavorite haunts. Though not as bustling as usual, there was a respectable amount of people mingling about to and fro, and I assured my buddies, all who hailed from major cities like Detroit, Saint Petersburg, and Philadelphia, that this was the "shot-in-the-arm" needed to revitalize our "Port of Progress."

They all seemed impressed with that, along with the many other sights of our community, and after a weekend of touring Walnut Beach, Lake Shore Park, The Harbor, and everyone of the then 20 or more bars here, we arrived back at base with enough time to get at least an hour's rest before making morning roll call at the Provost Marshal's Office.

Saying goodbye to Uncle Sam, and nixing a job offer to train as a sheet metal worker at the shipyard, I packed what I could in my Malibu and rented U-Haul trailer, then made my way home, via Gillette, Wyoming.

After several days of scrubbing, painting, and making some minor repairs to my North Depot home, I stepped out oneSaturday morning and headed directly for Main Avenue.  Why not?  Wasn't that always the best place to find anyone you wanted to on a Saturday?

Entering through the back door of Carlisle's, I made a "must stop" at the Olsen's Bakery counter, bought one of their scrumptious maple donuts, and proceeded to the front door with great expectations of running into old friends I had not seen since enlisting almost a decade before, even though aware some had uprooted after high school or college graduation to earn their way elsewhere.

While I did reconnect with some friends, it took about two-hours of hanging near the front of Carlisle's, or visiting what few once-popular stores were left, that reality bit me like a Bull Mastiff how this once thriving and enjoyable venue was barely breathing with life.

Nothing was playing at Shea's Theater; it's doors were locked, and its marquis read "Closed."  The same went for Bud's Corner Store, a place where you could find all kinds of unusual widgets and model supplies which were virtually impossible to find in the chain stores, and I drew an even greater lament in seeing how most clothing stores, save for Bernie Schaeffer's, were now vacant, dimly lit dwellings stocked only with memories, instead of fine apparel.  Damn!  Even Newberry's and their lunch counter bit the dust!

While several new businesses moved in and a few long-established merchants remained in good-faith as beacons of hope that Main Avenue would spin around and make a comeback when consumers grew tired of the characteristic 'impersonal' services offered by most franchises and outlets, Ashtabula soon suffered further devastation which would still the winds of any new life coming her way.

The often-heard rumors of the late 1970's that many companies in our once strong industrial base who paid well would be scaling back on employees or, even worse, had plans of relocating for better deals in other communities, soon proved to be fact as a new decade arrived.

During the early to mid-1980's, there loomed a lurid cloud of uncertainty in all circles of the community, which eventually trickled down to the privately-owned business sector, that Ashtabula would plummet perilously into one where more and more households would end up existing almost entirely on dependency from whatever public and charitable assistance they could net in order to sustain because it became more evident that some industries were setting things in motion to vacate in the near future.

By the end of that era, such speculations rang true as we watched three Reactive Metals facilities, both Rockwell plants, General Tire, Linde-Aire, Union Carbide, Reliance Electric, and several other major manufacturers give almost immediate notifications that they were leaving with subsequent announcements from others that they were down-sizing in order to cut back expenses during the recession of that time.

If there was any hope for obtaining any gainful employment with somewhat respectable pay and benefits, it came from the likes of Elkem Metals, Bush Industries, and a few others who set up shop in some of the abandoned plants. But most opportunities for careers with these companies were short-lived as they, too, skipped out for less expensive utilities and labor elsewhere.

Delivering more despair to a mainly now-downtrodden and depressed area came when our once-thriving railroads and local shipping ports were laying off, or eliminating more jobs.  Ashtabula, for all purposes, began taking on the general complexion and mood of those "has-been-towns" from the Pre-WWII era that we occasionally read about, and, in time, more Mom and Pop operations followed suit in order to sustain and safeguard their investments.

Main Avenue dwindled significantly from its former days where it teemed with hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of shoppers and motorists who trekked along its route to shop, dine, and conduct other business.  

Sad how, at best, you may see maybe 20 or 30 cars parked along its curbs on a weekday when not so long ago you had to get there early, or circle the block several times and pray you could find a spot anywhere near the particular business you were going to.  Sad how during the peak business hours of the day you may count less than 100 people at varied times on the street, and even sadder when you saw at least half of them pass by storefronts because they were simply 'passing through'.  Of course the saddest part was seeing enthusiastic owners of new businesses open their doors, only to discover that they had to close months, if not weeks later, solely because they went bust from a lack of business.

Regardless of the many note-worthy joint-attempts between its merchants and city officials over the years in hopes of revitalizing and resurrecting Main Avenue from the rancid rubble of a failed economy that they may rekindle the patronage of area consumers, all efforts were met with relatively mediocre approval, or none at all.  

Not long after the new millennium arrived, I surrendered my hopes of ever seeing anything viable come to Main Avenue, avoided her like the plague, and joined in with those others who felt she had seen her glory days, but was now 2 degrees short of being pronounced clinically-dead.  She had a fallen into a dismal demise of absolute destitution where only the wrecking ball and new buildings could redeem her as a potent business district.

Judging from some things which have been transpiring over the past few years, it is evident that some have a different view on Main Avenue's future, and if the works and progress they have made so far is any indication of what other good things will be coming from them, Ashtabula can only consider herself blessed to be associated with such fine, steadfast, and dedicated people.

Due mainly to the creative efforts of Linda Annick, Director of the Ashtabula Downtown Development Association, along with Nikki French, a very not unattractive and open-minded lady, and a small host of concerned merchants, politicians, and citizens, we have enjoyed nearly five annual Multi-Cultural Festivals; a time where people can explore, participate, and become educated in the history, music, foods and other interests of the generous variety of cultures that make up our nation.  In fact, there are about a dozen or more of us here, and from other cities and states, who are considering participating in this event within a few years, and possibly incorporating that weekend into one of our Gothic Madness conventions, along with one or more Gothic bands.  (Would be nice if we could get Evanescence!)

Even though it started about seven-months ago, the non-profit "Saving the History of Ashtabula" has certainly done many commendable things for Main Avenue, and one can only guarantee that, given more community support, they will provide nothing short of excellence and continuity in their diligent endeavors to enhance the ambiance and appeal of Ashtabula's downtown and political hub.

In mid-spring of this year, members of that organization, in cooperation with the merchants on Main Avenue, some local city officials and other concerned individuals, all spent their weekends setting out new planters and painting the facades of buildings, with all items provided free through the generous donations of some area stores, organizations, or private donors.  

They also have stepped in to join the on-going battle to save our once heralded Shea's Theater and restore it to its original grandeur, and I believe they will to the point that I plea for all who can to donate to that cause; even if it is just a few bucks, those bucks add up, and I can assure you this is one organization who will not let our community down!

Main Avenue!  It may take some time, but due to the efforts of those mentioned above, it is going to make a very bold comeback!  But don't just sit back and watch, get involved, today!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

"Past Points to Ponder."

by Nicholas J. Vocca

Having read a recent article where a survey pointed out that black women are the best dressed ladies when attending church services, I found myself agreeing totally that they are as I remember how Taneshia would spend considerable time getting ready prior to our attending Sunday mass at Saint Mary of the Assumption when we lived together in Mentor in 1993.

Exquisitely elegant, and fashionably flawless, are the only words to define how she looked.  Everything from her hat, to herearrings, long skirt, accessories and shoes, all matched perfectly; and no man could be prouder of her than me.

Recounting those days caused me to scale back to the days of my youth in a decade far, far, away, the early 1960's, and what life was once like, as compared to what it is today.

Regardless of what faith or denomination, families then took pride in how they looked when entering their chosen place of worship.  Dads with their best suit, high-buffed shoes, and fedora hats.  Moms attired in a nice dress, high heels, and also head coverings.  The boys and girls, even infants and toddlers, also donning their best.

Though I am light years away from being being the strict Catholic I would like to be, and realize that the Lord gages your heart when coming forward to exalt and honor Him, I do confess that I often fall into a rut of scrutiny of those whom enter His home wearing tank tops, polo shirts, and other casual attire when I saw them decked to the nines at the bar or club the night before.

Sometimes I take a drive down the street I grew up on, Allen Avenue, just south off of West 13th, and while the homes still look the same with their crisp, clean upkeep and well-groomed lawns, the atmosphere of the old neighborhood that Tommy Clint and I so religiously terrorized seems as isolated and remote as a rural South Dakota highway.

Back in the day, neighbors were not those people who lived next door, or across the street, they were your friends, and extended family with whom you shared laughter, tears, dreams, and even meals with.

Because Tommy's dad was a well-respected lieutenant on the local police force, no one suspected that this home at the far southern end of the block was our primary place to plot mischievous deeds or pranks.  I was their daily, if not hourly.

If you wanted to learn something about H.A.M. radios, cameras, the latest high-tech equipment or any specialized information about building and repair work, you went to the far northern end and saw George Hubbard, a man whose I.Q. was so high that only his dog Bullet could hear.  I checked in a few times.

If you needed some good, sound advice, or had to pour your heart out about how some girl at school rejected you, you consulted his lovely wife, Elanor.  I camped out there a lot.

In between, I have to say that the home of Dominic and Filomena Iarocci was the social center; one where you could shop for whatever entertainment or recreational activity you were looking for.

Need a good laugh, or pick-me-up from a hectic day?  Dominic, the patriarch of this most impressive and talented family, never failed to deliver with his easy going and often self-effacing wit.  Dom, my gut still hurts!

Need a good cup of coffee, some delicious treat, or have a tall tale to tell?  Fil, the matriarch, would open her door and heart in a heartbeat.  Yes, I told some whoppers, and gained about 20-pounds there.

As for their children, the mothers of the neighborhood loved them.  Why not?  Moms could kick back and watch 'As the World Turns' or 'The Guiding Light' in peace, and maybe even take a nap!  Some even slid away to shop, knowing full well their tender little brats were in good hands.

Donny, the eldest son, would teach the boys how to set up a tee-pee, throw or catch a ball, and other fundamentals about sports while stressing the importance of good grades in school as a "must" to make the team.

Janice tended to her flock of younger girls reading them books, demonstrating how to twirl a baton, do their hair, sew, make some kind of easy snack, and how to behave like ladies.

Nicky, the youngest, followed the suit of his dad and kept you entertained with jokes, spontaneous acrobatics, and sometimes dare-devil antics envied by all. 

Did he just run full speed for about 50 feet and slam head first into the back of his garage?  "Yep, but he's laughing about it, so he must be OK!"  Wow!  He came out of nowhere, tackled the paper boy, rolled, and then kept going!  "I saw that!  And to think he is only five...hate to meet him on the high school football team!"

For all of the fun and enjoyable times on that street, there were some dark times, and it was during such that all neighbors showed their true colors.

When my aunt Marie, who lived directly across from us, became stuck in the wake of an early morning snow at the base of her drive early one Saturday morning when leaving to pick my uncle Tom up from work, Dominic, Tony DiDonato, JerryGotthard, Joe Cefalo, and Emil Crjmel, were out there in seconds to push her out.  Hearing them yell all was well when they got her on her way, I stepped outside to see just about every other man and their sons in the neighborhood making trek to help.  Then, not long after she cleared the scene, the DiDonato boys, Ray and Louis, along with Donny, and some others, were dispatched to shovel the drive clean.

Judy Clint was God's testament to Allen Avenue that all of his creations are beautiful.  Her thick, natural wavy red hair, soulful, mesmerizing blue eyes, elegant, graceful charm, and soothing voice sparked not only the attentions of those boys coming of age, but also my Dago temper when they made comment how they would like to be alone with her.  Though some parents despised me, the local dentist, nose and eye doctors liked me because I sent them new business.

The day she fell out of our 14-story tree fort was one I will never forget.  Though my knees turned to butter as I saw her back crash to the ground with a loud thud and my mind became swamped on how I would provide for her through the years on a caddy's pay, mothers, and fathers who worked night owl shifts, all reacted on instinct, and came rushing to the scene.  

Prayers for her quick and total recovery along with daily checks from the adults certainly overshadowed my lighting a candle, and within the week, Judy emerged as wholesome, pristine, and gentle as ever.

Today, neighbors seem to have abated the caring for other neighbors that was once the mainstay and catalyst of my youth.

Peek out from the curtains and see an ambulance nearby?  "Don't go over there, there may be trouble."  At best, most answer the door by opening it only as far as the chain hook allows when a neighbor knocks seeking help, and waves them away by saying they are "busy", or can't get involved.  

In many neighborhoods, neighbors are not neighbors anymore, but only "those who live next door," and creatures whose individual habits or characteristics that fall below our expectations or do not meet our standards of how they should act most often become fodder for suspicion where speculation about them becomes fact to anyone you do communicate with.

The old T&H restaurant on Center Street!  Open 24-hours a day!  Nothing to do at 3 a.m.?  Let Lynette sleep, she had a rough time on 2nd shift at Burger King.  Get washed up and dressed, leave your Chestnut Avenue apartment, and walk on down to T&H.  Someone is always there, and willing to talk.

Striking up a conversation with the adult person next you then was as easy as ordering a cup of coffee and drawing a Camel cigarette to smoke, even if you were only 16.   

Ask someone today in a public establishment about the latest Best Seller, political controversy, or how they are doing, and if they don't respond by turning their head in the opposite direction, the best you may get is "What's it to you," or "Get the (pluck) out of here!"

You're in line at the check out counter of some store with a cart full of merchandise when you turn and see that the person behind you has only one or two items.  As is customary courtesy, you bid them leeway, and allow them to move in front of you.  Whether or not they thank you is irrelevant.  But for them to brush by you with a air of self-importance and glare as they look you up and down like some piece of dirt and be even more rude to the clerk is totally unacceptable.

Day in, and day out, sometimes for 12-hours, you work with a guy for several years in the mill.  You develop a chemistry, a bond, and know each other as well as you do yourself.  You cover for him where or when he is weak, and he reciprocates.  You don't have to tell him you had a sleepless night, he knows, in the same way you know his ulcer is kicking in.  No problem.  Today I stoke the furnace, you push the buttons, and tomorrow is another day, brother.

Connie made raviolis from scratch the night before, and you pack extra for him, along with several slices of your home made bread. Jeanette made cherry cobbler on Saturday, and he brings you a generous slab on Monday.  Reaching over his shoulder when he feels your tap upon returning from a restroom break, he takes the salt pills, cup of hot tea with lemon, and digests them in trust that you would never hurt him.  He knew that you knew that he was getting ready to "bend out" from the heat.  Two days later he is swabbing your face with a cool rag, and sending the floater to get you some Gatorade, because the white salt marks on your coat tell him you are ready to bend.

Hit the check pool this week, let's do some steaks and a keg this Saturday at my place!  "Sounds good to me!"  He buys a new boat months later, and it's an all day fishing fest at Pymatuning!  The girls may gag as you eat the eyeballs of the fresh Walleye and Bass, but eventually dismiss it as "the boys showing off".

Weekends weren't made just for Michelob or National Guard meetings, they were made for many other needs and wants.  Connie wanted an all-ceramic bathroom, he needed a larger greenhouse to grow his vegetables, Jeanette needed the floor of her dance studio refinished, and I wanted to outfit my '55 Pontiac with a better sound system and some new plugs.  

One morning he bounces into the diner and tells you over breakfast how he was a taking a vacation day to apply for a better job, and then a week later does the same, only this time saying he has an interview the following Tuesday.

Handing in his two-week notice when returning to work on Wednesday, the two of you make a pledge to remain steadfast in your bond, and for a brief moment after he leaves, that bond remains, yet that bond becomes watered down as the tides of time ebb.

A few overnight visits to each others homes during the first couple of months, followed by  a couple of hourly ones, then some phone calls, and eventually a dead line as to what is happening with each other.  After that, you may occasionally cross each other and make small talk at a store or restaurant, but even these fade over time.  Eventually when you do by chance see other, the two of you just nod, and seem to stare and look at each other as if from a thousand yards away.  The bond is gone; there is nothing between either of you, anymore.

I guess the point I am trying to make here is that humanity has lost its human touch over the years;  we are no longer friends to anyone, but more self-abosrbed in our matrialistic and technologically strung world where memories are stored only on the computer, and not in the heart, which is where they count.

Yes, I am sure it is the same all over the nation, and even the world; but does it really have to be that way?  No, it does not!

Take a bit of extra time to improve how you look before heading out, only because you deserve to look your best, and make note of how others will then look at you with more favor.

Take time to be the first who approaches your neighbor by doing something nice, or saying something nice to them, because the return result(s) may surprise you greatly.

Take time to rekindle those old friendships, by sending a card or making that special call, while keeping in mind that perhaps that long-lost friend may feel the same loss as you, and perhaps they are too reluctant to do the same in apprehension that you no longer care.

Most of all, take time to count your blessings and smile, because life is too short to address it with ingratitude and a frown.

Do these things, and give yourself a deserve it.

Friday, June 28, 2013

A Bakery for Ashtabula

by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster

When I walk down Main Avenue I try to see it as my friends have described. Busy shops, sidewalks teeming with people who knew there, on Main Avenue, they would find friends. Everyone, I was told, went to Main Avenue.

Instead of seeing the pot holes and closed businesses, I imagine what could be, and what must happen for this to take place. Much more is at stake than you might imagine.

The little girl approached the man she had often seen assisting with breakfasts at St. Peter's Episcopal Church. Around seven, she was bundled up in a blanket, though the day was very warm. It was around noon, and the church service had just ended.

Why isn't there food this morning?” she asked him. Looking down at her anxious eyes for a moment he did not know what to say. Then he responded, “St. Peter's doesn't serve breakfasts during the summer months.”

The girl had lost the body fat of childhood and so appeared gaunt, her eyes far too large for her small face. She sighed, turning away.

As she walked off, her shoulders hunched forward, the man watched her, trying not to let his face show what he felt.

Looking first toward South Park and then North, I imagined how Ashtabula could change to provide more of what we need for all of us.

One of the businesses-we-want-here which emerged from the survey the ADDA circulated a while back, included a bakery on Main Avenue. I asked Al, a retired banker from my Yoga class at the Y, about a bakery here in Ashtabula. Al has been retired for longer than most people today have been alive, but he is sharp and had ideas. Bakeries are a resource in the community, providing both jobs and yummy pastries to be enjoyed at home, with friends, and while sitting at a table on Main Avenue, watching people.

A renovation for the Shea Theater, now empty and awaiting its fate, has been proposed. All change begins with one good thing happening.

What Ashtabula needs most is businesses which gives back to the people, and to the community, keeping money local and the focus on making our town a better place to live for all of us.

What would you like to see, when you walk down Main Avenue. Tell Me.

When people dream, and act, those dreams become reality.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Joespeh Sassler: An Ashtabula Unforgettable!

by Nicholas J. Vocca

While Ashtabula has retained many of its fine eateries and pubs from its heyday, as well as adding some newer ones, there is a sad lament in the hearts of many from those times when they pass by the former Sassler's Roselawn Steak House and Motel on the northwest corner of U.S. Route 20 and State Route 45 in Saybrook Township.

What enhanced the cordial ambiance, mouth-watering steaks or chops, and always convivial mood of the faithful patrons was the always-pleasant and jovial owner, Joe Sassler.

This stocky, square-jawed man, with broad shoulders and thick, brushed back dark hair and friendly smile was right out of Hollywood's central casting;  his ever-proud stature drew one to automatically think of a handsome, brave young soldier, star collegiate athlete, or strong, commanding football coach who led his team to victory after victory on the field.

Though you would never hear even the slightest indications that he was all of the above from him, there are people and documents who will attest that Joe was everyone of these things, and more.

Along with Korea being America's "Forgotten War," those who have ever been there, be it in war or peace, can give credit to the fact that its winters are harsh, cruel, and bone-numbing, regardless of whatever winter gear you are provided. Though my assignment was only a one-week affair where we studied cold weather operations and the employment of unconventional warfare strategies in mountain terrain in my secondary M.O.S. as an advanced logistics technician, not a day passed that I did not think of Joe, and how he survived his years as a soldier there in his service to America.  

Upon his return home from "Hell's Ice Box," Joe, like many veterans, took advantage of the G.I. Bill, and was rightfully accepted to college.  

Though I have as much interest in sports as I do drowning myself in boiling oil, a business acquaintance from Cicero, Illinois, once gifted me and my then-wife, Wendy, with some tickets to a Duke versus Purdue football game at the Boilermakers home stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana.  The main reason we attended?

Not the beer or hot dogs! Though both were good, especially the foam, I wanted to see the actual field where hard-charging Joe ran, dodged, and bull-horned his opponents like a freight train on full throttle!

No wonder why, in the late 1960's, the powers that were at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Elementary called on Joe for his guidance and expertise to coach the Badgers after greats like Donnie "Golden Feet" Iarocci, Louis "Quick Silver" Didonato, Chuck "The Truck" Benedict, and others graduated and went on to win, win, win, for Saint John's.

Hearing that Joe would lead the team along with former Ashtabula Police detective Joe Foglio and Jimmy "The Eternal Animal" Rebera, I decided to give it a shot and join the team, despite the fact that I was five-feet-nothing, 98-pounds of nothing, and going up against future grid-iron masochists who ate grenades and drank Napalm for breakfast, such as Robert Petronio, Jimmy Severino, Mark Sassler, and now Doctor Richard Orlando, who is also part of  the Ohio State football medical team.

Holding three Number 1 titles as bench-warmer, tackling dummy, and assistant water boy, I can say that my time on the team gave me a very good opportunity to observe this man-among-men as he stood tall, massive, muscular arms across his chest, and remained completely absorbed and focused on the team in action.

Because perfection speaks for itself, awesome, epic, and absolutely mesmerizing, are the only words to describe watching how Joe coached.

Nothing slid by him, and there were no compromises or favoritism for anyone; even his son, Mark, who years later was the subject of a January 8, 2010 Star Beacon article by Don McCormick when he led Baltimore's Hereford Bulls to the National Youth Football Championship that same year in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Too slow on your pivot after the quarterback handed off the ball to you?  Joe caught that!  A bit of panic when being rushed?  Joe caught that! Anticipating where the ball would go when performing a kick off instead of focusing on where you wanted it to land?  Joe caught that!

Nothing slid by him, and he had no qualms in bringing that to a players attention.  Why?  Because those whom he coached knew some absolutes.

Joe was there to do a job.  Joe was there because he cared.  And Joe was there to recognize and develop each players potentials as an athlete, team player, and individual.

It is because of Joe's dedication, influence, and attentions to detail that the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Badgers went on to scoop up three successive years undefeated; and why those youth who felt the Sassler influence went on to do very well in all other aspects of their lives.

An asset to everyone who knew him?  That would be the greatest understatement ever said, for Joe was more than that!  

Joe coached you about life, its realities, and its benefits, if you dug in and held your ground! I know this for a fact, based on the few talks I was blessed to have with him.

About a year after graduating by the skin of my teeth from Mount Carmel, I followed the path of some hundreds of thousands other juvenile delinquents where I lied about my age, and promptly enlisted in the Marines.  Why not?  Uncle Sam's Misguided Children in 1969 was haven for losers, misfits, and other bottom feeders hoping climb to gain some recognition as a possible somebody, and maybe climb out of despair to net a few morsels of the American Dream.

Ten months later, with Parris Island, Infantry Training Regiment, and my primary Military Police Academy behind me, I was given leave prior to shipping out across the Pacific.  After a few days of carousing the local bars and being served top shelf liquor, often at the compliments of former Marines and other veterans, while most of my friends had not even yet been served the old 3.2 beer, I walked into the Roselawn wearing my Dress Blues with the brash swagger and cockiness typical of a still-green and wet-behind-the-ears Marine.

Taking a seat at the bar, I caught Joe shaking his head at me as he began approaching me directly from the other end. "I'm proud of you, kid, but I can't serve you a drink," he said.  Under other circumstances me, or any other member of the Armed Forces, would protest how we were old enough to lay down our lives for the country, but not old enough to drink, but I could not do that to Joe; he had much to risk, and I could not put him in a vulnerable light.

He drew me a coke, told me to hold on, and went into the kitchen, only to return shortly after with a sizzling platter of steak, and all the trimmings, compliments of the house.  In between servicing his customers, he would return to talk with me, and being the man he was, showed a genuine concern about where I was headed, and how I would do?

About an hour after finishing my delicious free dinner, and overhearing me telling some other patron how I had to get "walking" back into Ashtabula, Joe motioned for me to wait, then went to the phone and made a call. Upon his return, he told me he called me a cab, "compliments of the house", and I waited for its arrival.  

When the driver entered the bar, Joe paid him, then pulled me aside. "Take deserve it," he said, and then stuffed a folded bill into my hand, adding that if I got into any kind of jam while home, to call him.

Once in the dimly lit cab I unfolded the bill, and drew a stunned breath as my head comprehended what Joe gave me!  $100!  That was a whole month's pay, plus $6!  For the remaining 26-days of my leave, I never drew a sober breath or woke up without a headache, and the motel room I stayed in probably still reeks of Wild Turkey bourbon, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, and 10 mg Valiums, all "compliments" of Joe.

Several years later I slid into Ashtabula, around 10 o'clock one Friday night in August while on my way to visit a recently discharged friend who now worked with Lakewood Police Department.

Now of legal drinking age, I hung a left at the intersection of 45 and 20, followed by a quick right into the Roselawn parking lot,and entered to see Joe working the establishment like the gifted people-person he was.

Waving to the barmaid to hold off serving me as I took a seat at the bar, he politely excused himself from the gentleman and lady whom he was speaking with, and quickly stepped behind the bar where he poured a double shot of bourbon and drew a large draft beer which he presented me with by saying I was "now legal."

Nodding in approval as I told him of my accomplishments in the Corps, and how I was now an 0911...something I never believed possible...Joe's reception was both appreciative, and congratulatory.  "Just remember something, Nicky," he advised, "as a leader, a true leader, you be your best follower of the rules and standards you expect from others."

"As for what you've done, you did well. But don't sit back and take any breathers, because though life is short, we all have a long way to go.  Keep that in mind."

If I have any regrets about Joe, it is that I was not made aware of his passing until several months later when returning to Ashtabula, from my assignment in Emporia, Kansas. stuneed is the only way I can describe how I felt at receiving the news, and I remember three things racing through me mind.

His wife Teresa, a women of great charm, impeccable taste, and refined social graces had lost a man who loved her totally for these qualities, and the fact that she was a woman of great inner strength.

His sons, all self-motivated men whose actions far outweigh the words of most, all lost a truly committed and dedicated father, mentor, and friend.

Ashtabula lost a man who knew that honesty, humility, and continual hard work were not only the reasons to live, but the key to achieving true honor. 

Joe Sassler:  Combat veteran of the United States Army.  All-American gridiron player for Purdue University. And the coach who took a team filled with apprehensions and uncertainties, then led it to a still unbroken record of undefeated seasons.

Joe Sassler:  A man who found true, untarnished love in the likes of his wife, Teresa, who was not just his mate, but his "best friend," his "best adviser," and his his "most trusted confidant" whom he relied on in times of "uncertainty." 

Joe Sassler:  A man who never took any recognition for the great successes of his four sons, Mark, Paul, Tommy, and Joseph enjoyed; but a man who told me how he simply "gave them the tools of life...and they built their own way."

Joe Sassler:  Though many such men came before him, very few have followed or been able and worthy of emulating him; and it is these reasons why he remains an Ashtabula unforgettable. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

EPA Now Won’t Finalize Its Study That Showed Fracking May Have Contaminated Groundwater

In this April, 8, 2013 photo, Lucy Childers, 6, plays on the rock formations at Ferne Clyffe State Park in Goreville, Ill. Southern Illinoisans have hopes and fears surrounding the high-volume oil and gas drilling that may be starting in the Shawnee National Forest. BEN NEARY and MEAD GRUVER June 21, 2013, 7:31 AM 6718

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has dropped plans to have outside experts review its theory that hydraulic fracturing may have played a role in groundwater pollution in Wyoming, and the agency no longer plans to write a final report on its research that led to the controversial finding a year and a half ago.
Instead, the EPA announced Thursday that state officials will lead further investigation into pollution in the Pavillion area in central Wyoming, including ways to make sure people there have clean drinking water.
“We think this is the most pragmatic, quickest way to help the residents of Pavillion. We’re going to work hand in hand with the state to make sure this investigation moves forward,” said EPA spokesman Tom Reynolds in Washington, D.C.
Industry officials who have been doubtful about the EPA’s findings since they were announced praised the change as confirmation of their view that the science wasn’t sound.
“EPA has to do a better job, because another fatally flawed water study could have a big impact on how the nation develops its massive energy resources,” Erik Milito, from the Washington, D.C.-based American Petroleum Institute, said in a news release.
EPA officials insisted they’re not backing away from their draft report on Pavillion. They said they reserve the right to resume the study and an assessment by independent experts, known as a peer review, at any point.
Even so, EPA efforts to find potential pathways for pollutants from deeper areas where gas is extracted to shallower areas tapped by domestic water wells have been inconclusive.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, boosts the productivity of oil and gas wells by pumping pressurized water mixed with sand and chemicals into well holes to crack open fissures in the ground.
Richard Garrett, energy and legislative advocate with the Wyoming Outdoor Council in Lander, said he believes Thursday’s announcement shows the EPA is finding it more difficult than originally expected to come to grips with the full environmental effect of fracking. He noted that the EPA is pushing back other work aimed at gauging the how energy production may pollute groundwater.
“It’s not surprising to me that they’re kind of taking a secondary role in rural Pavillion,” Garrett said. “It looks to me like it might be a resource issue. That goes to the federal budget I suppose, and EPA administration.”

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Duke Study Links Fracking to Water Contamination As EPA Drops Study on Fracking Water Contamination

From:  DeSmogBlog

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) kicked the can down the road on a key study designated to examine the connection betweenhydraulic fracturing ("fracking") and groundwater contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming. 
A study originally scheduled for release in 2014 and featured in Josh Fox's "Gasland 2," it will not be complete until 2016 in a move that appears to be purely politically calculated by the Obama Administration, akin to the EPA's dropped and censored groundwater contamination study in Weatherford, TX.
Now, just days later, a damning study conducted by Duke University researchers published in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences again links shale gas fracking to groundwater contamination. The Duke researchers did so by testing samples of 141 drinking water samples of Pennsylvania's portion of the Marcellus Shale basin. 
This is the Duke professor's third study linking fracking to groundwater contamination, the source of drinking water for hundreds of thousands of citizens in the Keystone State. The industry is likely to come out with the familiar chorus that the contaminated water is "naturally occuring," but the latest Duke study shows otherwise. 
"They found that, on average, methane concentrations were six times higher and ethane concentrations were 23 times higher at homes within a kilometer of a shale gas well," a Duke University press release explains. "Propane was detected in 10 samples, all of them from homes within a kilometer of drilling."
Robert Jackson, a professor of environmental sciences at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and one of the study's co-authors, pointed to the the fact that some of the contaminated water samples exhibited the chemical signature of Marcellus Shale gas. 
"The methane, ethane and propane data, and new evidence from hydrocarbon and helium content, all suggest that drilling has affected some homeowners’ water,” said Jackson. "In a minority of cases the gas even looks Marcellus-like, probably caused by poor well construction." 
The Duke study offers food-for-thought in the hours leading up to President Obama'sforthcoming announcement of a climate change legislative plan at Georgetown University, just a month after his Bureau of Land Management adopted the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bill for fracking chemical fluid disclosure on public lands.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Fluid-Injection-Triggered Earthquake Sequence in Ashtabula, Ohio: Implications for Seismogenesis in Stable Continental Regions

From:  Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 

  1. Won-Young Kim
+Author Affiliations
  1. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
    Palisades, New York 10964


A persistent earthquake sequence in northeast Ohio includes many distinct fore-main-aftershock subsequences, illuminates two faults, and was triggered by fluid injection. The first known earthquake from within 30 km of Ashtabula was an Mblg 3.8 mainshock that shook the downtown area in 1987. Seismicity has continued at an average of about one felt event per year. The largest magnitude so far, Mblg 4.3, caused slight damage (modified Mercalli intensity VI) on 26 January 2001. The latest subsequence started in July 2003 with anMblg 2.6 event. Accurate hypocenters and focal mechanisms are available from three local seismograph deployments in 1987, 2001, 2003 and from regional broadband seismograms. These hypocenters are in the Precambrian basement, 0-2 km below the 1.8-km-deep Paleozoic unconformity, and illuminate two distinct planar east-west-striking sources zones 4 km apart, one in 1987 about 1.5 km long, the other in 2001 and 2003 about 5 km long. We interpret them as steep subparallel faults slipping left laterally in the current regime. Like many of the faults that ruptured in hazardous stable continental region (SCR) earthquakes, these faults were previously unknown and probably have small post-Precambrian displacements. The 1987 source was active a year after onset of class 1 fluid injection only 0.7 km north of the fault. The second fault, 5 km south of the injection well, became active in 2000, while the 1987 source was inactive. The well injected about 164 m3/day of waste fluid into the 1.8-km-deep basal sandstone with about 100 bars of wellhead pressure from May 1986 to June 1994. An annular high pore-pressure anomaly is expected to expand along this hydraulically confined horizon at the top of the basement, even after injection ends and pressure drops near the well. Over 16 years, seismicity has shifted southward from ≤1 to 5-8 km from the point of injection. It seems to initiate when and where a significant pore-pressure rise intersects pre-existing faults close to failure and to be turned off when pressure starts dropping back. The largest earthquakes postdated the end of injection at both Ashtabula and at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver, Colorado. Anthropogenic earthquake hazard may thus persist after the causative activity has ceased but can generally be closely monitored. High-stress and low-strain rates in SCRs can account for a larger proportion of triggered earthquakes in the eastern United States and other SCRs than in active regions.  MORE