Wheeling Spoken History Project: Darlene Stradwick
▼ Interview with Darlene Stradwick
Title: Growing Up as One of 13 Kids: Entrenched Values
[ Date: May 16, 1994; Interview #: 96-017 ]
CARRIE NOBEL KLINE: Can you start by saying my name is...
DARLENE STRADWICK: My name is Darlene Stradwick. We're at the James Paige Learning Center. Today is May 16, 1994.
CNK: Were you born in Wheeling?
DS: Yes, I was born in Wheeling, 1956. I'm next to the youngest of 13 children. My parents were Ethel and Reuben Stradwick. We were raised in Center Wheeling.
CNK: What was the neighborhood like then?
DS: It was great. There were family neighborhoods. Everyone looked out for one another, each other's kids. The time of the neighborhood school. My school's no longer there that I went to grade school in...it was Webster Elementary; actually it was Webster Jr. High School then and it went from 1st to 8th grade and then the kids moved from Webster to Ritchie Elementary. And then they moved on to Wheeling High School; so out of my three schools I went to, only one is still existing--that's Ritchie. And my 11-year-old son is in 5th grade there now.
CNK: And what are some of your earliest memories either at school or in your family or in church?
DS: We were a really close family. My dad's a coal miner. He worked there for 35 years. My mom worked at housekeeping at the Ohio Valley Medical Center. I was mostly raised by my oldest sister. She was kind of the glue that kept the family together while both my parents worked...having 13 kids, they had to work pretty hard. And even as a large family, we were like the working class poor that era. We didn't qualify for the government programs or anything like that because both my parents worked, even though we were a large family, we survived on what we had, and that was important. With my family, my parents did what they had to do... very strong people who taught us right from wrong, gave us the encouragement to stay in school to continue education...that was very important to my parents because they quit in 7th and 8th grade. They were married young, 21 and 20, and immediately...before they were 25...they had six kids, so that was pretty rough. My parents had three sets of twins, so there was always babies around and there continued to be. A lot of the kids were still raised in the household. My mother babysat. She took in my grandmother after she had a stroke and she quit work. I was still in high school and my younger brother was in high school. And then my mother quit when my grandmother had the stroke, and she was bedridden and had to be taken care of, but that didn't matter. That's what families did--they took care of one another then.
CNK: What do you remember about your grandmother? (038)
DS: My grandmother--oh, she was a strict woman. My fondest memory, if you ask any of the youngest of the family...I was the youngest that went to live with my grandmother. We lived with my grandmother for a year in Akron, Ohio. My brother had gotten into some problems in California, and my mother went there, and so the youngest kids, we all had to go stay with my grandmother. She was so strict...we couldn't believe it! The school and going away from the family that was tight and took care of one another to this place--we were all new and we were picked on constantly, and kind of abused by the people that went to school and those kind of things. And matter of fact, my one brother and my one sister were put back a grade in school because they said they weren't smart enough and those kind of things, but I was in Kindergarten then, so it was like, I wasn't as affected as the older ones were. And, it was hard...she was a very strict person, she had her ways about her, she was older, and I think it's kind of what a lot of the kids are going through now being from their parents to saying to older people telling them what to do differently from their parents, they don't appreciate what the elderly can do for them...what they know. It's like they think because they're young that everything's new, like we've never been there before, but they don't realize that we've been through the same thing that they've been through, even though it's a different age.
CNK: So, what's one of the things you remember about this strict grandmother? What was one of the strict episodes? (056)
DS: Gosh...I remember....this is so funny...we laugh about it. When we get together as a family, we always reminisce, and we go back and we talk of old stories, and the story we always talk about when we get together is the time I got lost when we were at my grandmothers. I went to a friend's house...you have to remember I was in Kindergarten...and I thought I could find my way back from this friend's house back to my grandmother's house...well, needless to say, I got lost and had to get taken home by the police. My grandmother was so upset with me that she sent me to bed without my lunch because she was upset. Well, needless to say, my grandmother used to give us leftover oatmeal from breakfast for lunch, so it was not a real good punishment for me--her not to give me that mushy oatmeal for lunch. But that was one of the stories we always go about, and the kids there, and those kind of things cause she was a real old fashioned lady and her and her...she used to have canaries and parakeets, and those kind of things and these dolls that she had in the chairs and we weren't allowed to touch. You didn't TOUCH my grandmother's dolls, and those kind of things. But it's rough remembering her right before she died and having the stroke and not knowing us and those kind of things, and it was especially hard on my mother because even though she took her mother in while she was sick, she felt like she didn't do enough. She never felt like she did enough for her. But my grandmother was 98 years old when she died. What more could she do? And that's just the way it is. We talk about that and we talk about things and...
CNK: Are there traits that your grandmother maybe passed down to your mom and maybe even to you? (076)
DS: Oh, she's definitely her mother's child. But she's a very strict disciplinarian, my mother is, and I think I'm not as much as she is because it just wasn't something I liked and it wasn't something she had to do with me. I was just talking to a friend the other day about how different I am because she has a teenage daughter, they're having some problems, and she was trying to get me to understand that she was like that too when she was a teenager. And I guess I cannot relate to that because I wasn't. If my mother said it...be in at nine or before the street lights came on...I was there. No problem, no argument...you just were there. I would never think of the kind of back-talking and things that kids do now to their parents...NEVER. And I would've never done anything like that...in my house with my 13 brothers and sisters...big guys, over six foot...NEVER would we even think about talking to my mother the way these kids talk to their mothers these days. NEVER...it would never happen.
CNK: So, when you were playing out on the street, were there other parents who would watch out for all the kids?(089)
DS: Definitely. It was like you didn't worry about your kids because everyone watched everyone's else's kids. If someone's parents saw you doing something wrong, you got spanked there; they called your parents, you got spanked when you got home. It was like mandatory. You knew it was coming, and you didn't want to go home but you knew " well, it's best to get home and get it over with then to stay out there and make it worse." Other parents watched everyone's kids. I don't think we had the "missing children" and the things that are going on now. And one thing my oldest brother mentioned to me the other day when he was in...we're kind of spread out all over the country now...but he was saying to me, "You know why there's so many missing children now?" He said, "Because kids don't feel they should tell their parents where they're going." They feel like they know it all and parents don't know anything. And, that's why there's so many missing kids because a parent won't think until maybe midnight that their child is missing, because no one checks in. They feel like you leave at nine o'clock in the morning and if you come home at nine o'clock that night, that's OK. You don't have to check in or anything. That's wrong, and I think that when he said that it really made me think that "Yeah, that is a big problem...why there's all these missing children."
CNK: This neighborhood, was it mostly African American or mixed or what? (105)
DS: In Center Wheeling?
DS: Center Wheeling was like the East Wheeling back when I was little. All the blacks lived in Center Wheeling. And then, when one of the state/federal projects came through, they (everyone) moved from Center Wheeling to East Wheeling or up this way.
DS: I really don't know. I was young then 'cause I was still in Kindergarten. We had come back from my grandmother's and it was after graduation from Kindergarten. And when we came back, everyone was moving, but my dad worked in Moundsville, which is further South. So, we were the only family that moved further South...everyone else moved North. And then out to East Wheeling which is from Center Wheeling. It was hard because my family...my older brothers were real upset cause they were moving away from their friends. Well, I had just gotten back from Akron with my grandmother, so my best friend was still close, but...they still...we moved (as I said) South, and they moved further North and then out to East Wheeling. And so, we were the only black family down there and had to deal with a lot of racism and things like that. One lady whose really good friends with us now, and we're still neighbors, when we first moved down there, she just went, "My husband told me not to mess with people like you." I'm like "OK". And that was really strange, and as a child, you try to understand these things because you don't have that built in to you. It's like something that's taught to you...it's not built in. You don't notice colors or different things like that. Someone makes you notice, and they're already starting to do that. My sons in the daycare--he's four years old--my youngest son. And I notice people are starting to...he's starting to notice color, and it's because he's being taught that this child is white and you're black and these kind of things. And I don't know if that's necessary to do. I think it's something you're going to notice...it's not something like we can't notice that you and I are different here. But to be taught, you don't know how they're teaching your child, I guess that's what I'm trying to say. Because I have a friend who has a bi-racial older daughter and her other two children are white, and her son came home from the daycare and he was saying to his mom, something was on TV and I guess it was a black person kissing a white person, he says "Ooo..yuck, you don't kiss her," she's black or he's white or something like that he said. And that's taught to him, and it wasn't taught in her home, so it was taught somewhere along the line, someone's given him an impression that's terribly wrong.
CNK: What did your own son say? What was this first instance when you thought, "well, he sees color." (141)
DS: It's just something he says...he doesn't compare anything. But he just tells you that you're black or that this person's white. But nothing about that...just that it is. It's nothing that he's being taught, so that's OK. But it's just something I just don't think is necessary to do. Kids will always notice that there's different--there's different white people, there's different colored black people...they're going to notice that anyhow. It's not something I think that has to be taught.
CNK: So talk more about your own first realization of color. Was it this neighbor?
DS: I guess...I guess it was. My neighborhood when I was in Kindergarten was all black, and then this neighborhood was all white...we were the only black family there.
CNK: South Wheeling, this was?
DS: Yes...in Center Wheeling. It was called South Wheeling then, and then they changed it, and now it's Center Wheeling because we always said we lived in South Wheeling. I can't even remember...I can't even remember. It was just never anything that was important to me. I know, and maybe it's because I followed behind my brother who was an athlete, but when I moved from Webster in 8th grade and went to 9th grade, we had to go to Ritchie, so I only spent one year in Ritchie, and went from 3rd grade to 9th grade...and I was the only black student in the entire school...in the entire school. And it was no affect--it had no affect on me whatsoever because these were all the kids I had gone to school with in grade school, and then just some added people that were already there at Ritchie, so it wasn't a problem for me. I don't know. The biggest problem was when I moved from Ritchie to high school. And I was in school, and like I said, all my friends were white because I was at Ritchie. These were my friends that moved from grade school, from 8th grade to 9th grade, and these were all my friends...didn't think about color, but I got to Wheeling High--I couldn't wait cause it's like "ah...black boys"--I can start dating now. I was excited. And...
CNK: There was no possibility in your mind of dating a white boy? (172)
DS: No, no...it just wasn't something I thought about. And we played Clay Elementary in basketball, and there were these guys on the basketball team, and I was like...yes, high school's coming up. That's the way I was thinking. And what happened there was...no one would talk to me. The blacks wouldn't talk to me and the whites wouldn't talk to me. These kids that had been my friends since we were in...so one day, I was really close to this one guy at Ritchie, and so he was at his locker one day and I was walking down, I stood in front of his locker...I said "What is wrong with you?" I said, "You've been running around school...you won't speak to me, what is the problem?" He says, "Well, I figured now that you were up here with black kids, you wouldn't want to talk to me anymore." I'm like, don't be stupid. Why would that happen? And then the blacks wouldn't talk to me because I went to the school where all the whites were. So I had to get everybody in gear here...it was like, wait a minute here. I'm not like that, why are you? I'd say, "Why are you thinking like that. Did I give you a reason to think like that?" It was like, "No, we just assumed." So, they're being taught something, I assume at home or somewhere along the line, they've been taught something that made them think that I was going to be different from them once we moved to another school. So, everything was fine from that point on...but I had to get it straight cause I was losing my mind. Like, what is wrong here? So, we had that kind of problem as far as race and everything...it doesn't bother me, it doesn't affect me--how I think or who my friends are or anything like that...that's stupid. Why should it?
CNK: Well that's...the neighborhood that you were talking about where all the parents watched out for one another, was that an African American neighborhood?
DS: Yes--yes, it was. And we knew.....we knew that there was a parent watching out for us and it was always safe. Didn't feel like it wasn't safe...I think that's what's the problem with the neighborhoods now. Everyone feels so unsafe and you feel like you... My son is 11 years old, and last year was the first year I let him walk to the bus stop by himself because we're right off the highway, my son's being bused...another major problem--everyone's being bused everywhere. We walked to school...both to...I walked to Ritchie, I walked to Webster, and I walked to Wheeling High. Now the kids...the schools they have to go to, they have to ride a bus to all of them. You don't know what's going to happen in between if your child misses a bus? You don't know what happens then? They have a long way to walk and lots of things to do, but in the old neighborhoods, the schools were local. They were neighborhood schools. We walked through this lady's yard. Our house was on 26th and Chapline and the school was on 26th and Eoff. We walked right from my house through this lady's yard and there was the school. It was no problems then. But now...it's so hard for me because I can't do that with my son. I can't let him be free...I can't let him just go out and do things, and have fun, and ride his bike...you have to worry about too much. I don't like, and I like getting back to the old neighborhoods where everyone watched out for your kids.
CNK: So how was this neighborhood different then after Kindergarten when you moved? What was that like? (216)
DS: It was very different...having to make new friends all over again. My one friend, Donna Hunter, she did still live down close to us, not as far down as we did. I think there were just a few families that were still left in Center Wheeling where most of the African American families lived. There were still a few families that still lived there that they didn't take their houses. Because they tore all of the houses down...Center Market and all that stuff was there. We lived right down from where the Center Market is. We lived at 2308 Market Street, and Center Market--we played there. That was our playground. We used to play in the Center Market.
CNK: Was it not open?
DS: It was open...yeah. Only thing that was there was the fish market. And they would have little fruit stands and things in there, but it wasn't closed in like it is now. It was just open....was just the big arches that were there. That's all that was there, and we used to ride our bikes in the Center Market and everything, go over there and buy fruit and those kind of things. So that was our playground. That's where we played.
CNK: What else did you play?(231)
DS: I don't know. I'm trying to remember. We had the 26th Street playground. I'm not sure if that was open to African American then, because there was two playgrounds then. And I'm not sure when I was that young....like I said, I didn't know about black and white, and I didn't associate anything like that. But there used to be two playgrounds...there was 26th Street playground and then there was a little playground over by the railroad tracks. And supposedly 26th Street playground was the white playground and this little playground by the railroad tracks was the black playground, and you weren't allowed in them, but I remember being at Webster and playing at 26th Street, because that's where we went for gym class...when it was outside gym class time. We went to 26th Street playground from Webster. So I'm not sure when that changed but it used to...it was that way at some point when we had moved down there...where there were the two separate playgrounds.
CNK: Were there actual signs? (243)
DS: I don't know. Talk to my parents, they could give you a whole lot of stories about things like that, but not when I was down there. We didn't have the signs or anything like that.
CNK: So how did you know?
DS: From my parents. It's like, you don't go there. It wasn't, well that's the white playground...this is the black playground. There were places you just didn't go, so that was their way of handling it with us...you just don't go there. And that was that.
CNK: So that was the way they dealt with teaching you about color without mentioning color? (250)
DS: Right, yeah. They never tried to teach us to be prejudice at all. Cause that is taught. Racism, prejudice...all that stuff, it's taught. It's plain and simple, it's taught. And as far as they were concerned, it won't get you anywhere, so why teach your child to think this way when all it's going to do is hold them back? It's not going to help...not at all. We just teach them to be safe. I think that's what it was. You don't go to the white playground because it's not safe for you to be there. Someone will object to you being there. That's kind of the way they handled it. And when my parents say, "You don't go someplace," you don't go. It wasn't like now, like "Well, why can't I go there?" Like the kids rare up at their parents. No...it was just like OK, and you didn't go there so that's kind of the way things were.
CNK: So that was before you moved (26th and Chapline)?
CNK: So then you moved, and one of your first meetings was with this neighbor? (265)
DS: Yeah...this neighbor. Now, my family...their friends. Matter of fact, when they go out of town, we keep their mail for them and things like that. It's just something that they had to learn by living next to us for all these years, that we're not the enemy. We're not the enemy; our color doesn't make us bad people or make us "you people" or anything. It doesn't make us that. Just because we're a different race, it doesn't make us bad people. And a lot of people have to learn that. But I had a really good friend after awhile. Her name was Denise Hooper, and she was white and we were really good friends, and...it was funny. One time we were fighting and Denise called me a "nigger" and I said, "Well that's OK, your house is stinky." I couldn't even come back with anything for her. "Well your house is stinky" and my mom made me go apologize because I said her house was stinky. So, it was like little things like that that I'll always remember...we were young then, and she knew that word, but I didn't know any words like that. I was never taught...so my way of hurting her was saying her house was stinky.
CNK: Do you know what a "nigger" was? What it meant? (283)
DS: Yeah...I guess I did. But it's like no one's ever called me one.
CNK: Did it hurt you or did it slide off?
DS: Well, it kind of slid off. I knew she meant to hurt me by saying it...by the way she said it. So I was going to hurt her by saying her house was stinky. So that was my way of handling it. I was real cool thinking "stinky house." But then her mother made her come and apologize and she never called me that ever again. The whole time I was at Ritchie...no one ever EVER used that word to me. Never heard it or anything.
CNK: Were there other ways that you were aware of being the only black person in the school? Subtle ways? (293)
DS: No. It was just a matter that I was. It wasn't anything. It may have been my brother Cornell had gone there the year before I did and he was a football star, so I was mostly "Cornell's sister." So it wasn't anything--no big deal.
CNK: Was there any kind of sense that your parents had maybe that "Oh, our daughter is getting a really good education; she's at a white school." Was there a difference in education?
DS: I think the reason they were better....they didn't want me to get boy crazy already. And I think that's what it was more than anything. It's like, well she'll get an education because there's no distractions for her. I wasn't the cheering type or anything like that. I didn't have extra curricular activities with school, but then they didn't have as many as they do now for girls in school, as they do. Because we didn't have sports teams or anything for girls when I was in grade school, jr. high. They didn't have anything like that. It was all intramuerals...it wasn't teams playing other schools or anything like that when I was in school...cause I'm 38 years old. I graduated...have my 20 year reunion this year.
DS: I can't think of anything that I was down there. I had good teachers who...my 9th grade teacher--I had received an award--it was in the paper, and my 9th grade teacher, Ms. Penny Davis, sent me the clipping out of the paper. I was like, I can't believe she still remembers me. It was great. And she wrote in there, "Darlene, I always knew you'd be something great one day." She was an inspiration. She was the teacher that kind of changed my life. She kind of said, "You can be this, this, and this. There's possibilities out there for you." Because I was good in Math and she says, "You could be an accountant - you can do these things." Even though I'm not an accountant, she gave me inspiration that I could do something good. I can do something great. I can go to college. I can be an accountant! And that was important because in 9th grade, you're starting to form--it's time to think, "What is it that you want to be? What is it that you're going to do?" High school's coming up. These grades count--those grades count. Start getting yourself prepared for what it is you're going to do when you're out of high school. And she was very, very good at that.
CNK: When you were talking about this teacher who gave you some idea that you could be somebody, was this new information? Your parents had so valued education...what did you think the goal of education was going to be...what did they say? (338)
DS: They always pushed for us to finish high school. At the time, my older brothers and sisters, it was like "you have to finish high school." That was their push--my parents. You have to get a high school education. And without any thought to college. My one sister went to Nursing school. Other than that, no one had gone to college in my family out of the 13 kids, and I was next to the youngest. So no one had gone to college, but everyone had to finish high school.
CNK: What was a high school education going to yield according to your parents? (346)
DS: To them, it was better than what they had. My parents are....they're not functional illiterates, they're not illiterate because they can read and they can write. My mother's not a great speller, but... Somewhere along the line, they did learn and they can manage things and take care of whatever business has to be taken of. Very intelligent people, but they knew that without graduating from high school, at that time, you couldn't even get a job. Cause now it was high school....now it's a Master's, but back then, when we were coming up, you had to have a high school education in order to even get a job, so that was their goal to us--to make sure we got a high school education so we could get a job. I never thought about college--no one else went to college. My sister went to nursing school, out of all of those who had graduated, my one sister. When I met Ms. Davis and she started talking about college, well...like I said, I hadn't thought about it. I was just trying to get out of high school. And, so it was like, "Yeah, I could do that." Then, when I got to high school, there was a program called "Upward Bound" which I didn't know anything about. Most people don't believe this, but I was very shy...like, backwards shy--it was awful! And when I think about it now, and I always talk about that with my kids and make them do things, even though they don't want to, because being shy will get you no where. It will get you so far behind, you'd feel so bad--unable to communicate--I think that's what shyness is--just a lack of being able to communicate, and communication is vital. I feel that you have to be able to communicate with people on all levels at all times, and I think that's very important. But when I went to "Upward Bound", I was this shy person and really backward, and we had Speech class...well, in Speech class that first year, I had to out-talk this kid, and his nickname was "Motor Mouth", and I had to out-talk him in Speech class, and I had to talk about alligators and he had to talk about something else. I was like "Alligators"? And, it was such a change because I was popular there for some reason. I don't really know what it was. I sit and I try to think why I was popular, and I don't really know why. I treat everyone nicely, I think. I don't treat anyone differently because of their color or the way they look or the way they act--I don't treat them differently. And I think that's why it was that I was popular. And at the end of each year of "Upward Bound", they gave out these awards. I'd received an award for "Best Personality." That was such a jolt to me--like "me?" I couldn't believe it when they announced my name, and it's voted on by the campers. I didn't think of myself like that, and they did, and it's like, "This is great!" And, it kind of changed..."Upward Bound" was THE program to me, and that they don't have it anymore is very hard, because it was for all low income kids. We got to stay on the college campus for six weeks. We were given $20 a week, then they continued the program through the school years, and we were given $20 a month. We went to class at Northern Community College, and they're trying to get it started up again, and I'm very much trying to back it and get people to back this program because I know how much it changed my life and how much it meant to me. There was a college prep program. Matter of fact, when you're a senior in Upward Bound Program, you take actual college courses and get the credits. I got four hours of college credit from being in Upward Bound. It was just enlightening to me-- to be away from home, my little safe haven, to be out there with people that I trusted just as much as my family who I thought would take care of me, and also taught me something totally different. That's why I feel it's important to take kids from where they are and take them to other places. Let them see how other people live. How places are different, how things are different. You can't just be in this little hole all your life and not go anywhere and really have lived. You can't! It's just not possible....cause that little jump from Wheeling, WV, up to West Liberty State College, that's where we stayed...it's like 15 miles up the road, but it was so different for me. It was so enlightening--it was a great program.
CNK: Incredible, what an experience! Can we back-track--I'm trying to get a sense of your family. Are there other things that you all did together--maybe you went to church or some of you did--did you ever sing together? How'd you all get along? (425)
DS: Oh, we got along great! We were a very close family. With that many people in a small house--we lived in a three bedroom house with thirteen people--we were very close. The boys slept in the attic, my sisters and I slept in one room, and my parents slept in the other.
CNK: How many boys and how many girls?
DS: Eight boys and five girls, and my parents. We were real close. It was like there were two generations in the house, actually, that's what it was like. Because they're was the older ones and then there was younger ones. We were divided as like--the second set of twins divided us. Let's put it that way. My twin sisters! We had like "clicks." There was this click and they have a totally different lifestyle than the ones of us that were at the lower end of the family. It's really strange because when we get together, we start talking about things. They have a totally different memory of life with my parents than we do. I joke with my brother all the time--my oldest brother--because I never knew him until I was in the 4th grade. He was always this picture that was on the mantel, and I'd tell him that as long as I can "I liked you better when you were this picture on the mantel." And I would joke with him about it because he's a talker--he will come and he'll hit that door and he'll talk from the time he gets in the house until the time he goes to sleep--he wakes up talking. It's like, "You know, you were quieter when you were the picture on the wall." And I joke with him about that. He endeared himself to me when he came when I was in 4th grade because he lived in California, and he brought me a Mickey Mouse shirt. I was in heaven then. He was my favorite then. It was hard trying to keep the family in order. My oldest sister, she kind of took care of us, and she was like the mean sister because she had to be the disciplinarian because my parents were at work and she had to be the disciplinarian and you didn't always want to take the rap from a sibling--you don't always want to take that. But we knew that if we didn't, our parents would take care of us when they got home if we didn't listen to her.
CNK: Would she be responsible for punishing you ever? (469)
DS: She had a notorious pinch. We get together and start reminiscing... and she would give you this pinch and twist, and you'd know that you had to straighten up. And it was really hard. We had a lot of hard times because although all my older brothers and sisters, we all have our high school or GED, most of them did drop out, even though my parents insisted. And they'd get further behind and further behind and then when they get 18, they'd drop out and they'd leave home. That's kind of one of the situations with us. But everyone...all my brothers and sisters, we all have high school or equivalency now. My youngest brother, he graduated from college and that was important. But we have....just so many things with us. We didn't go to church as a family. My dad kind of had a thing about the preacher and when he was growing up, and how if the preacher came in your house, the preacher ate first, and you got what was left and he could eat whatever and they would and those kind of things. But he knew it was important that we went to Sunday School, so we all went to Sunday School every Sunday. We did do that. When I was in grade school, we had Bible School in class where we chose what church we would go to and every Wednesday, we went to Bible School in school before the separation of the schools and they took prayer and everything else out of school--well, of course, they took Bible School out of schools also. And I think, that's mostly where we got our religious training is Sunday School and in Bible School at our regular school we did most of our church and learning about Christ and those things.
CNK: Are there important figures there--through the church or through Sunday School? (505)
DS: No. There was not really in church. Most of it was my parents pushing--keeping us together; my oldest sister--she was the mainstay of our family while my parents were at work. And then it was school and teachers that had the kind of effect on you that was really good and turning things around for you and letting you know that there was things out there for you. That's what it was. My parents always pushed--always pushed. You've got to get your education...got to get your education. And it was very important to them that we understood that. My dad--it was always important to him that he never missed important things. Like, if we had a play at school or if we had graduation or anything, that was the only time my dad would ever miss work, ever is if something was important to us kids that we needed him there for, he was there. He would never miss anything like that. And he would tell us, "If you've got something coming up, you let me...you tell me. I won't miss it." He never did. He would go to PTA meetings, because it counted if your parents came to PTA meetings. I remember that in school. Your class got a certain special thing for every time your parents came. And, there he was at PTA meetings...every PTA meeting. He wouldn't miss it unless he was at work, those kind of things. But graduations and those kind of things, he didn't miss. That's important. He felt it was important to us, that it was important to him if it was important to us. And he never missed those kind of things, even little Kindergarten graduations and those things, he was there! He was like that.
CNK: Did you all have meals together as a family? (539)
DS: Always! There was mealtime, and you did not straggle in at mealtime. Mealtime was 5:00 every day and you were there. No one missed mealtime. You came, we had a meal together as a family and we cleaned up as a family. We had evenings as a family where we sat together and we watched TV and we were together. My parents didn't drive--that's another wild thing. With 13 kids, and not driving. At holidays, we'd go on picnics at the park and we'd have to take cabs, and we'd have to do it in shifts--shifts out and back because we didn't have a car. It's all kind of interesting things like that. When I think back, now that you're talking about doing things like that, but...we always did everything as a family. We were close like that. If you'd get my whole family together, we'd tell you--we sit and it's constant. Now we have the younger ones...my nieces and nephews and stuff. When we all get together, it's even more stories! And, I think somebody should write a book because it would be the most interesting book you ever read.
CNK: Talk more about the dinner/mealtimes, cleanup scenes, and afterwards? (566)
DS: Oh, it's maddening! Thirteen people in a house makes a notorious mess. Even just being in the house, it's just a mess. We've had dinner, and there was a schedule. A schedule--everyone had their job to do. There was wash the dishes, to scrub the floors, to clean the bedrooms, and everything, and it was a smooth schedule unless somebody didn't do what they were supposed to do, and then the arguments would start. And then, oh...it was mayhem.
CNK: How were decisions made in your family? Who would set the schedule and would it rotate?
DS: My parents set the schedule, mostly my mother. She would set the schedule for things like that. But my sister followed through and if my sister would tell my mother somebody didn't do what they were supposed to do, they knew they were in for it, and so it was pretty much like, hey, you did what you were supposed to do. And of course there's always the one who decides, "I'm not doing that--I don't want to do it. Well, when they got home, it's like decide--make a decision! That's part of the decision making process--learning to make the right decision.
CNK: So, you learned to evaluate consequences?
DS: Yes, definitely! Evaluate the consequences - that's a good statement there. Evaluate the consequences of your actions. It's hard, like I said, with all of us--we have kids, we're kind of spread out. My sister's kids are very close to the family like we were very close because we're always getting together. My brother's, they're not as close, and their kids aren't as close because, I think mostly because they're not with their kids. They're kind of like...have kids spread out everywhere. When we get together, the kids that were raised in the house, they're a part of that little "get together" and all of us talk about old times and talking about the cleanup, and my mom, and they call my mom "the deadly shoe." Cause, you have all these kids in the house and you get mad, and they start running from you, well you pick up anything that's available, and yeah, mom used to have a deadly shoe. She could hit you around the corner and those kind of things. The kids still joke about that. The older of the kids that know from being in the house and they know how things go, and we get together on holidays, and there's like 55 grandkids and...it's mayhem. We start talking about old times, and we go get the pictures. We go through the pictures and start talking about who's this and who's that and that's when it really gets started. Cause we have this suitcase...we have so many pictures, photo albums are just out, they're just in a suitcase. And we get the old pictures out, and we start looking at pictures and it's like "remember this, remember that" and talking about people from the old neighborhood and it's just really great that we have those good memories that we can reflect back on. And hopefully, that we give our kids--good memories and where they can trace their family tree back to--the good times, and that they got the opportunity. I never got the opportunity to meet my mom's father. I never got the opportunity to meet my dad's mother. But my grandfather and my grandmother, I did get to meet them--one on each side. And that they are getting an opportunity to meet my parents, it was great! I really appreciate that. I think they are such a stabling force--they're such strong people, still to this day with good knowledge and good background and so much that they can give to my kids. I never could believe that these young people think that the elderly people cannot give them any background. Their knowledge that's locked up inside of them, if they would just take the opportunity to talk with some of the older people, and just know...they could give them first hand information and all that stuff they're reading in the textbooks...this is firsthand knowledge here. They were there and they remember. You can get some of that from them. And I wish the young people, I know my kids do, and my nieces and nephews, they love talking with my parents and going and sitting with my dad--they could sit with my dad for hours, and he'll sit and talk with them. That's the way he is. And that they have that opportunity, it's great!
CNK: What's the value of learning that way? (665)
DS: You learn the truth, I think. Looking in some of these encyclopedias and what I learned, my black history from school--two things (1) slavery and (2) George Washington Carver. There was nothing else--nothing else I can remember in school. Nothing about black history. Nothing at all. When I got to my Senior in high school, they were trying to bring some black history programs in the school, but I had Black Poetry when I was in high school my Senior Year and that's when they were just starting to bring some programs in--just starting then. And that was 1974. They should've been long before that. Long before that! So I think that the elderly, senior citizens--whatever they like to be called (some prefer one, some prefer the other), have all the knowledge locked up right in their head that they could tell them a whole lot about.
CNK: So for people's whose histories didn't make it into the books, is oral history the only source?
DS: Yeah, I think so. Even about this town, you don't see too much. Even West Virginia history about the fact that, like the separation things, like I was telling you about the playgrounds. I was oblivious to that at my age, but my parents know about it. My older brothers and sisters know about it, and the fact that they even went to segregated schools, my older brothers and sisters. They went to (I can't think of the name of the school), but it was where Lincoln Center is now. Sacred Heart was the name of the school, and it was all African American.
CNK: Public school?
DS: Ah...it was Catholic. And that's where they HAD to go to school. These kids have choices now where they can go--it's open enrollment. You can go to any school you want to as long as you have your transportation there. But they don't realize--they didn't even have a choice then. It was like, "this is where you go to school" period. No choices. Trying to get kids to appreciate these things that they take for granted--they take too much for granted, but these folks can level it off for them, can give them some leveling of what you have compared to what I had. It's far different from what my parents had to what my older brothers and sisters had to what I had is totally different, and they don't realize that. (726)
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DS: All the traditions I had...holiday traditions. Christmas and Thanksgiving and Easter, and all the holiday stuff. We just celebrated my parents 50th Wedding Anniversary; actually, it's been five years ago, and we all got together and we had an anniversary party at the Civic Center. We had to get the Civic Center to have the anniversary party. It was so great, and yet, it was kind of sad because it was an opportunity for all of us to be together, but yet my one brother was in prison at the time, and he couldn't be here, and that was hard on him. He felt like all the family was there, it's my parents 50th anniversary...and he can't be there because he messed up. It's not that he wasn't young--he wasn't a young kid, he's in his 40's. But he just knows he messed up, and he wasn't there. These things are what we do...we always find the opportunity to be together.
CNK: Yeah...talk about some of the, what was the biggest holiday celebration? (013)
DS: Christmas was always the big holiday for us. And still in that same three bedroom house, only there's us and our children. Luckily, I still have some brothers and sisters--I still have some brothers, all my sisters live out of town, but my brothers still live here, so there's still a few houses that we can spread out to, but 55 grandkids, 25 great grandkids, and all of us together, and it is still fantastic. Christmas was like, we didn't need much, we just needed something under the tree. We didn't never complain...never complained about whatever it was we got. It was fine. But it was best that we were all together and Christmas was just like that holiday and we'd actually, if we couldn't be home for Christmas, like my sisters and them, if they couldn't be in for Christmas, it was traumatic. It was like "I can't come home for Christmas." And we'd sit and cry on Christmas Day over the phone. And now it seems like our family reunion time is the Fourth of July. That's when we all get together.
CNK: What do you do? (026)
DS: When we all get together, we always have to have a big dinner because my mother cooks everything under the sun--had to have turkey and ham, and macaroni and cheese, and potatoes, and potato salad, and...enough food to feed all these people. And everyone comes in and dad always says grace on holidays--I think that's the only time he says grace, but every holiday, my dad blesses the table and we sit down in shifts.
CNK: How many of you are there? (031)
DS: Oh, there's...well, there's my mom and dad, the thirteen of us, 55 grandkids and 25 great grandkids. Heaven knows where that will end because my kids are 11 and 4 and we have a lot of the younger ones, these are just the older ones....I have nieces and nephews that are in their 30's, late 20's--early 30's.
CNK: So you were saying, you can't all eat at once?
DS: Oh, no. We have to eat in shifts, and usually like the kids are eating on newspaper--just put it on the floor and let the wee little ones eat down there, and then, we--the older ones--sit at the table, and it's....you'd have to see my house (my parents house). It's kind of small, but we're in there. And the noise level, the buzz is so loud with kids upstairs playing music (you have your teenagers with their music), you have the older folks down trying to watch TV, you have the talking people in the other room with my dad usually--the talkers are all in there, and usually sports are on, and all my brothers are in there with the sports.
CNK: So, your father is in with the sports or with the talkers?
DS: Oh, the sports and talking--See, they can't have sports without talking, you know. You have to discuss everything too while you're watching sports. And now, you start seeing my older nieces and nephews going there too, and they're in with the conversation and sports...
CNK: Does it wind up being separated by gender then too? (047)
DS: Yes, usually...usually it does.
CNK: Who's where? Where are the women?
DS: The women are usually, usually cleaning up because the men leave. And leave it there to be cleaned. But my mother, she's like that. She automatically once she feels she has to serve and she has to clean--she's of that generation where it's like hey, the women do this and she puts the men out of the kitchen, they're not allowed in to cook. Cause I have a nephew who loves to cook. NO, no men in my kitchen.
CNK: Well, wait a minute. Did you learn to cook growing up?
DS: Actually, no. I learned in school. Because with...my sister always cooked, and then I had the older sisters--I have four older sisters who....there's eight years between me and my, the next sister, so they always did all the cooking and stuff, and I was like, the kid. You know. So, I mostly learned to cook in Home Ec in school.
CNK: Well, what were the...were there gender roles between your brothers and sisters at home?
DS: Oh, always. We had to do the cooking and washing the dishes. They had to do the scrubbing the floors and those kind of things. And laundry day--I didn't tell you about laundry day. We didn't have a washer and dryer in the house, so it would be laundry day and we'd have baskets from the grocery store, and we'd put all our clothes in baskets, and we didn't have a car, so we'd have to push these buggies to the laundry mat. All of us would go. We'd take the whole laundry mat, and we'd wash clothes. People would come in and it's like "Oh no, the Stradwick's are at the laundry mat again." And, it's like...like a family thing--like a family outing. Everyone goes to the laundry mat, including my dad. My dad...ah yes, he did laundry too. And my dad did grocery shopping and all these things--my dad, he did all the stuff, and it was funny! When we get together, and like I said, we reminisce about all these things we did as kids. And those are all part of it...family laundry day, family picnics, holidays...we'd get together, as many as we could, you know, now that everyone's spread out. But every holiday was special when we were kids. We got our holiday outfit, and we had our holiday dinner, and this was important that we had these things.
CNK: A new outfit for each holiday? (073)
DS: A new outfit for each holiday...mmm hmmm. Because we had our school clothes and that was for the whole year...you had these school clothes you bought every year, and there were 13 kids, and buying school clothes. It was rough, and my parents had it hard, but... And then, my dad was a coal miner, and there were always the strikes, and... I only remember one lasting a l-o-n-g time where it got to the point where it was causing us problems. But mostly, we were fine, and 90% of us wear glasses and that was always another thing.
CNK: What did you hear about your, maybe your dad's coal mining? Was he a union man? (081)
DS: Oh yeah. My dad is very pro-union still today. He's very much...he hated some of the things they would go out for, as trivial. But as far as unions themselves, he feels very strongly about unions and that they still should have them. He votes very strongly with people who back unions and those kind of things.
CNK: Well, what did you talk about...would your parents talk at the dinner table?
DS: Ah...no. It was mostly after dinner kind of things. Because it was like "you didn't talk at the dinner table."
DS: Yes. Not...It's that they didn't believe that you should be talking at the dinner table. It was like afterwards, and they'd talk with us about our day and how our grades were and how was school. And we'd talk about their day and those kind of things. This was all after dinner kind of stuff. I don't know why they believed that, but you didn't talk at the dinner table. It was a rule. And you don't sing at the dinner table, and those kind of things.
CNK: Did you sing other times?
DS: Oh yeah. My dad...ah, my dad was an excellent singer. You know, it's one of those things I miss from when we were little; he used to walk around singing all the time. Fantastic voice. I remember him singing all the time--he used to sing all kind of songs. I used to love to listen to him sing.
CNK: Like what?
DS: You know, I don't remember what he used to sing. I just remember they were older songs, like old people music, I'd call it, but I used to love to listen to him sing because his voice was so nice. And then my oldest sister, she used to sing--beautiful voice. She used to sing all the time.
CNK: With him?
DS: Yeah...they'd sing together sometimes. It was nice. We'd just sit and listen to them sing, and it was great.
CNK: You'd all gather around?
DS: Yeah. We used to sing all the time cause we thought about forming a musical group at one time, but...
CNK: Your family?
DS: Yeah, my family. But my cousins did do it, and they had a group for a long time that used to sing mostly in the area, and they recorded one but I don't.....I think they kind of got mixed in with drugs and stuff and they just really blew it out of the water cause they were great! They were great!
CNK: Tell me about your family singing. (109)
DS: Yeah, we would sing when we'd get together and put the music on and sing with records and stuff. We really enjoyed music. That was something that most of it...that we could get on the radio. You know, we always had a radio. We always had TV. We never had a phone, but we had like, things...entertainment--like the TV and the music. And music was something we all loved, and as my brothers and sisters got older they could bring music in, they would...cause they were working and stuff, and so they could buy music cause it wasn't something we bought, that we had a radio and record player--combo thing, but we didn't buy records because we didn't have the money to buy them. But as my older brothers and sisters got out and started working, then they could buy music. Ah...then we got the full (?) then. It's like we got to listen to all kinds of music and listen to all kind of groups and things, and it was great. We'd sit around and we'd sing along. We just knew we were all great, and had microphones to certain boom boxes, not boom boxes, but those cassette players that have microphones, and we'd sit there and we'd pretend we were the Jackson Five, and we'd pretend we were the Sharlites, and all this stuff. We had some pretty good singers...pretty good singers.
CNK: Mostly to other music?
DS: Yeah. Yeah. We'd sing to the music and stuff.
CNK: And your dad too?
DS: Yeah, he liked certain music, and if he didn't like it, he'd let you know he didn't like it. And that was plain, and you just didn't play it while he was around. Not that he didn't want you to listen to it, but it's like, it just wasn't his taste--he didn't like listening to it. But he still likes music. Still today he likes music, and he'll give us his opinion about modern groups and things. He doesn't like rap.
CNK: Does he like gospel music?
DS: He likes gospel. He likes R&B, real soulful singers, real good voice singers.
CNK: How would you describe his voice?
DS: Oh, how...my dad's voice? Let me think what he sings like. He's not a Ray Charles kind of singer. He's more like a Harry Belafonte type singer, real smooth voice. Always loved to listen to him sing, and it's like something I miss a lot--that he doesn't sing anymore. Yep, he was pretty good.
CNK: Well you were talking about his work too. What would he say about work in the coal mine?
DS: It was hard work, and he....
CNK: Were the union ________ (?) (139)
DS: He liked working. He started getting frustrated with it. He worked in the mine for 37 years. He started getting really frustrated with it because of the young people coming in and wanting to strike because of this and strike because of that. He said that's not what it was made for, and my dad's very much into what things were made for. The strike wasn't made for "you didn't get paid last Tuesday, so we'll strike" and when it started getting like that, he started getting really frustrated with the unions walking out because somebody didn't get paid. He felt that the union was there for people to back up the worker....to make sure wages were fair. And as, probably as an African American male, he probably knows how unfair wages were more than...and probably the white males that worked there, even at his own age who worked. He probably knew better than that how unfair the wage and system was. Because I remember him saying that he helped build the Wheeling Airport, and they paid him 75 cents a day. He was talking about how hard the work was and having to walk there every day to work and then work the whole day.
CNK: (?) coal mines? (156)
DS: Yeah, yes. And believe it or not, after working 37 years there, my dad doesn't have Black Lung, which is wonderful! But, all that money he paid into it, they won't give it back. So, that's one of the things. He retired when my brother graduated from high school. He may have worked a couple years after that because my brother went to college...my youngest brother, and then he got married, and I think he quit after he got married cause he figured well, he doesn't need him to be working to keep things rolling for him anymore, so... He pretty much worked all his life. Like I say, when he quit school in 8th grade, he started working, and he's been working ever since....until he retired. I think he was 63 when he retired. My dad's 76 and my mom's 75, and they worked very hard, and I think they did a wonderful job of raising us and giving us and instilling values in us that they felt were important, and trying to keep us on the right track. We learned a lot from them.
CNK: What about your mom....would she talk about her experience at work? (172)
DS: Yeah. My mom she used to work....always worked housecleaning and things.
CNK: She was a...
DS: Yes. My mom was a, she was a hard worker. She always worked, like I said, housekeeping at some of the places around. We lived in the area around that had a lot of houses, and she would clean in those places. And then she got on at the hospital in the housekeeping department, making beds and those kind of things they did there, and she always worked hard at that. She's like the person who helped keep the family together. She's very loving and caring. She's very strict and very....could be mean, sometimes, but she demanded respect from us, and she got it. My parents...I think all of us respect our parents very much, as well as love them and we hope and pray everyday that nothing happens to them. You know, they're getting older and we don't even want to lose them, so it's very important to us that they're around--they've always been there for us.
CNK: Great. Well, we left you some time ago just finishing high school, I guess it was. Why don't you go on from there with your path after that? (190)
DS: After high school, I... When I finished high school, I went to West Liberty. Upward Bound was very helpful in getting, doing like college prep...trying to get us there. But still, it was a big step. Going to college....I was scared about going to college, and getting there. My financial aid was a little messed up and some things, and I think...
CNK: West Liberty College....what year is this?
DS: 1974. It was real scary, even though I was telling you how I felt more confidence in myself and stuff, but it was like totally different, I guess. Because it was like everything was out there and you're on your own, and my financial aid was messed up and I was doing work study in between classes, and it was like...it was crazy. It was just too much. It was too final, I guess. So I did drop out after just one semester. And I never did finish there. And, I guess I had plans on going back--that was my agenda, and then I started working at Ohio Valley Medical Center in Dietary, and it's really crazy because, when I think back at that, I was making I think $1.80/hour. I don't think we had minimum wage then or something. I was making $1.80 an hour, and I thought that was tremendous money. And I did not go back. I thought this was just the most money in the world. That was before I had children. But...it was a real rough time. My parents were, of course they were upset, because now they were into this.... You know, you have to have college in order to do better and... It was high school when we were younger, and now it was college, and they were saying that it was changing and now it's a college education you needed to find good jobs.
CNK: What did that include for them? A good job? (216)
DS: A good job? A job that you could raise a family on, I guess, and get out of their house. "Get out of my house!" Yeah, so they could be independent. Yeah, I was home. I was living at home. A good job to them was a job where you could be independent of them, and OK. Not just living "paycheck to paycheck" but living OK...and you know, free from home. They also knew, it was this boy that I was seeing at this time and he didn't want me to go to college. He wanted me to get married at the time, well... Needless to say, after I finished that semester at college, he was living with some woman when I got back, so I was like, you know... So, there's another thing where mom was right and you were wrong. And you always have to learn those lessons--kids always have to learn the hard way. And, it's the same with our kids--they're all learning the hard way. But, you know, after I started working at the OV, I worked on the patient tray line, and I was part-time, then I became full-time there, and I worked up from that to working in the office to being the supervisor of the Dietary Department. That's where I left. I worked there for 17 years. So I worked at the OV for 17 years, like I said. I worked up to the, to being the Dietary Office Dept. Supervisor when I left. Then I started here at the Learning Center, so I've been here.... I worked the first year of the Learning Center, I worked day camp on weekdays and on weekends, I worked at the OV to keep my job there.
CNK: Yeah, you had said before you were involved in the organizing of this place...how did that happen?
DS: In 1987, I formed a group called the East Wheeling Civics. What happened there was we had gotten a brand new playground down at Elks Playground. Brand new playground...they had put in three basketball courts and had taken out the kids playground. I had a four-year-old at the time, and it's like, my son needs swings. So, I had started a petition to put swings back at the playground. So, we had over a 100 signatures on the petition and received the swings at the playground. One of the councilmen had said that East Wheeling was one of the only places that didn't have a civic group or community group, and so he said well, you should start the East Wheeling Community Group. I was like, well, we could do that. And the interest was great. You know, I put signs around said we're going to start the East Wheeling Community Group and said do you care about the kids, do you care about what's going on in East Wheeling? And, it was like a multitude of things besides the swings. It was like, I was riding on the bus one day and a lady was saying "Oh, why would they put that playground out there...those kids don't deserve it." And just being at work and the way people felt about East Wheeling..."Oh, I can't believe you live there. How can you walk out there and you're going to get killed walking down the street." And, it was a multitude of things, and I think people in the neighborhood were feeling the same way, and the first meetings were great. And so we formed, we got charted and formed a group called the East Wheeling Civics. So, I've been the President since we started in 1987, cause no one else will take the job. They don't want to be in charge--no one wants to be in charge, but they like to help...they just don't want to be in charge. And so, we had done a lot of different things. We've taken kids on field trips and we talked before and I thought it was important that kids see other things and be other places, so we had done all these kind of different things, and we had applied for a grant to put like THIS at the Nelson Jordan Center because it was already a facility that was there, that wasn't being used, City run, no utilities--it has utilities and everything, but we wouldn't have to be responsible for paying those. We'd just have to be responsible for getting someone to do the program, a Director of the Program and also to have the things there that the kids would need, including studying, eating, and different things for the kids. Mr. Paige and Mr. Walters was saying how the neighborhood needs re-vamped with all the buildings that are all falling down and everything. And they discovered this house and this neighborhood, and thinking how it would be nice if there was a Center in the neighborhood, and re-vamp one of these houses at the same time. All that came together. It's like the grant, trying to get the feeding, and the after school program, and all this other stuff that we had thought about, and then them thinking well, we could re-vamp the neighborhood also. Then it all came together, and they like put it all in this one proposal and that's how they got the first grant that did summer camp and some other people to put in some grants to re-do this building to make the Learning Center.
CNK: Well, why weren't these kids having these special needs met as white kids were throughout the city just in school and through other means? (287)
DS: Well, there's a lot of things. We're in the process of...they were trying to close down the only neighborhood school we have and bus our kids. That was a problem because they felt...they didn't think. They thought they could just close down the school and no one would do anything because the neighborhoods been notorious for that. Things would just happen to them...no one would protest. Then, they said they were going to close down the school. And I think the biggest objections, they were gonna bus the kids to...they were gonna bus the poor black kids to the neighborhood with the poor white kids. So, it was kind of, just putting all the poor kids together. That's what they felt was the idea behind this. And, so the people, they had thousands of signatures...thousands of signatures on there not to close the school down. So, it was always let's bus these kids someplace else. That's what...they didn't care. They gave them all kind of proposals--oh, let's bring those kids here. This school's bigger, it's stronger, I thought why not bring those kids....you want to bus our kids to... Oh no, then that got the parents from that school all up in arms, so well....well, OK. Let's make a new dividing line. Ok, instead of all of East Wheeling....the kids at Gunny Manor are closer to Genua School where all the rich kids go, so let's bus them there. Oh, the Genua kids, they got all upset. Oh no, we're not going to have those kids out here. And it was really sad. No one wants these kids. Well, then leave our school alone; obviously we're happy with our kids being here, leave us alone.
CNK: So that was a maybe 90% black school? (310)
DS: Yeah. It was majority black. Yeah, majority.
CNK: You were born two years after Brown vs. Board of Ed, right?
CNK: 1956. And, so that supposedly desegregated schools...
CNK: So what's the story, why is this all the segregation in schools?
DS: It is neighborhoods. Neighborhoods are still basically... East Wheeling people think is majority black, but it's not... It's majority white, but people don't realize this. People start pulling their kids out of Clay School, because we have the open enrollment, so you can go to any school you can get your child to, so the reason that Clay is majority black is because most of the white families have pulled their kids out of the school. So they're either going to the Catholic School or they're getting them transportation to Genua, which is supposed to be THE grade school. And...
CNK: So, is there a difference in the quality of education?
DS: Most people won't like this if I say this, but I think so. Working with the kids here, and seeing the difference in what my kid...My son goes to Ritchie...and that he gets from there. What my son was having in 2nd grade, these kids were having in 4th and 5th grade. They said it's the same curriculum, school board swears they all have the same curriculum. It's like something's wrong here. You have a school where 93% of the kids get free lunch. You have a school where...I couldn't even tell you, where 90% of the kids are black, and most of them are from welfare families, and they really felt, as I said, when they were going to close the school down, that they're so used to having it given to them, that they won't protest. Just bus my kid wherever. And then the school did the ultimate thing...they said, "Oh, this school's genoa close down after next year. Why don't you take this opportunity to send your child to their new school?" Well, of course. Chop their attendance right in half cause all these people, it's like will they supply the school bus for them to go, and they still do, even though the school is not closing. They have supplied the school bus for these kids still to go to another school if they want...they can go to Ritchie. They can't go to the other one--if they go to Genua, they have to have a bus pass to ride the city bus, if they want to go to Madison, they have to have a bus pass to ride the city bus. So, it's kind of set up where OK, as the kids are getting older, if their child that's going into 4th grade and they have to leave Clay School, they will also take the Kindergarten or 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade with them because they want to keep their kids in the same school. So, their...not only are the kids who are getting to graduate to 4th grade leaving, but also their younger brothers and sisters leave too. So, they've opened that up, and now the enrollments down to like 70-something kids. So, eventually, they will close the school. I have no doubt that they will close the school. I wouldn't even doubt if it's this year. If they get to the end of the school year which is only a couple weeks away and say "Well, we won't be here next year." I wouldn't doubt it.
CNK: So, what's the need that this Center was...Why was this proposal written? What was it set to fill? (362)
DS: It was that the kids would have some place to give them encouragement and to help them with their school work. It was an encouragement, not only visually (by seeing this building come out of what was down there--the picture on the wall with the dilapidated building), and the kids helped do that--they came helped gutted it, they helped tear out the weeds that were around and stuff; the kids had a vital part in putting this place together which was important. And also that they're part of this from the beginning. Maybe they didn't put the grant together and stuff, but that they were here with their hands on. It was just a learning experience in itself. This one little boy who's down here, he was digging in a yard, and he asked if there was dirt underneath the ground. You know. It's like it was a learning experience for the kids from the beginning, and to continue this as a learning experience for them, to give them encouragement. Like if mom and dad only didn't even finish high school and some are living in homes with functional, illiterate parents, and we thought this is a place where they could come with their peers and get help with their homework. To make it OK to come here, as a reason. It's OK, just drop in. Don't make any real strict rules for them to come here. Just say, "Oh, come on in. How's school going? Can we help you with your homework?" And check it over and make sure it's OK. That's the whole goal of...it's fun and learning. Letting these kids know it's OK to learn, it's fun to learn, and that we want to help you. If you need...we need you as much as you need us. So, not to put any pressure on them about it. That's what it was all about. And it's safe, and it's clean. It's a social kind of hub for them. It's a place for them to come in...just to be with their friends. Off the street, off that corner down there where all the violence and the craziness is taking place--to bring them here and say, you know "You can be here with us. No problem." It's just like the kid the other day when the bike race guy was here, he told him, "Uh..Uh--Your wrong." I'm like, you know. Hey, he's been taught that. You can do anything that you want to do. And he remembered it. He's keeping that, he's retaining that. That's what it was all about--to give them the encouragement that they need. That maybe they're not getting it at home. Maybe they're not even getting it at school. You know, I was telling you how I got encouragement from school, but I don't think the kids are getting as much as they used to in school. Everyone's just trying to get their...just trying to get paid. And I know it's hard. Being here working with these kids and seeing what their attitudes are right, and their mouths, and the way they talk to you and the way they talk to one another, it has to be hard for school teachers. I...I can't even imagine what it's like to be a school teacher in this day and age. I can't. Because the kids are very different--very different--and we're trying to get them back on the right track. We're hoping that we can help, not only are we helping the kids, but hopefully by what we teach the kids here, it will help them in school. It will help the teachers have....get a better grasp on, you know, what the kids are learning and what they're not learning. Where their weaknesses are, where their strong points are. They can build on that too.
Michael Noble Kline: (415) Where do people get off the track?
DS: When or how?
MNK: Yeah, when or how?
DS: It's.....We always talk when I'm talking with my group about the welfare mentality, about everything should be given to you--you don't have to earn anything. A lot of the kids have that. They don't have to earn anything, you're supposed to just give everything to them. It's like, my parents' house is my parent's house. When I was a kid living there, I lived there, but it was my parents' house. Now these kids are on this thing, like, it's their house. Like they have possession of it, not just that they live there in their parents house with their parents, but it's like "This is my house" you know, and whatever I want to do here, I can do. Well, that was never the way it was. As long as you were in your parents' house, you did what your parent's said was to be done. And they have a whole different attitude. I think music is part of the problem. I think rap music is bad, a lot of it. Not all of it. Some of it's good. Some of it's real good, others...can't come to my house. Can't come into my house. I wouldn't let my child listen to it. A lot of parents aren't listening to what their childs' listening to. I was really surprised when I got back in the school system when my son started school. I had been away from it for so long that when he started school, and I was there, I couldn't believe what school was like. It used to be that you were kind of...everything was from the school. You got everything from the school. And now...they want you to sell this and sell that so that they can get money for this and they want you to...you have to buy everything and give everything to the school. But I thought that's what the tax money was all about.
CNK: What was the last thing you were saying about the track? (445)
DS: Oh, the kids being off track--well, the school's being off track really. They're...with the money, they're money....too much money is going into athletics. I think they need athletics. I think that it keeps a lot of kids in school, like kids that might normally drop out. I really believe that, but I think like last year, Mrs. Bassett, who's excellent and who's the teacher, Ohio County School Teacher who comes here and tutors the kids after school, she had gone through all this academic games, they call them. They have them every year at school. And when they had budget cuts last year, they still let the athletes take buses to games, but they cut the academic games. That's wrong. These kids work just as hard on what they do, as the athletes do on what they do. And if we're going to encourage kids to learn, and yet tell them, Well, when we have academic games, that's where the budget has to be cut, but they can go and buy 110-dollar shoes for every basketball player on the team, something's wrong. Something is very wrong there. And the school's got to decide which is more important, you know. It's either the education end or the athletic end, and athletics is big money. Very big money in schools, in our schools these days. If the athletes were moving on, especially athletes from this area, were moving on to college and getting their college education, I would be so pleased, but that's not what's happening. Most of the college athletes, the star basketball players and football players and stuff, most--not all--from Wheeling Park teams, from this area, most of them aren't doing anything. They're not doing anything. They're just....you know, didn't go to college, not encouraged to go; kind of passed through school so that they can keep their grades up so they can play, but not encouraged to continue their education or even helped to find a college that would accept them and help them out. So, I mean, they've...I think that they've kind of been spoiled in school. Kind of pampered a little bit, and a college coach is not going to pamper you. If you get there and you find out that "oh, he's not going to do all those little diddies they did for you in high school to keep you on the team, to keep you in school" you've got to do it for yourself. And really, they let them go, and I think that's where the problem comes in with our athletes from this area and as far as continuing their education. So, the Learning Center is here to help do that too, those guys to...encourage them, and as far as summer camp goes that we have every year, it's an excellent summer camp. We used to have 90/100 kids here a day, and also it puts some teenagers in a new position. It puts them at the position of mentor. And.....helping them, putting these teenagers in the position of being in charge of the younger kids. And knowing that what you do really impacts these younger kids. It has a very strong impact. They see what you do, they know what you're like, and you can encourage them, you can help them instead of hurting them by doing some more positive things. If they say, "Well, I saw you on the corner last night." " Ah, you did?" " Why were you down there?" They'll ask them. "Why were you down there" and you better come up with a good answer for them. Cause these kids, whatever comes to the top of their heads, comes right out of their mouths. It's like, and they will ask you, and they will inquire, and you had better have something good to tell them when they ask. So it puts them on the spot, but that's good. That's good, they need to be on the spot; they need to have to think and be encouraged to think and to keep doing positive things instead of negative things, and that these little kids are watching them every day.
CNK: Well, what's your experience been working here at the Center? What's been hard and what's been rewarding? (523)
DS: Oh, what's rewarding is seeing a lot of kids that want to learn and they're behind and they're trying to catch up--that's what we're talking about--the kids. And the kids want to learn, and that's the important thing is that they do want to learn, they want to enjoy school. And continuing from grade school where they get a lot of encouragement. At Clay, when they were there, the teachers...they had a lot of teachers who really encouraged them and knew that a lot of the kids, not all and I think it's very important to know it's not all of the kids, but a lot of the kids suffer from parents who couldn't really help them with their work. And I know it's going to get to a point where I can't help my son. He's going to get to some subject where I can't help him, but right now, he's still at a point where I can help him, but some of these kids, while they're in elementary school, their parents don't have the skills to help them with what they have. And so we're trying to keep them kids on the right track and keep them encouraged about going to school. And yeah, it doesn't matter. It's OK that your mom or your dad can't help you with this, because you can help yourself, and we can show you how to help yourself with this. And then, some kids are...one little girl came from an abusive home, and she's with a foster mother, and she said, "I can't help her. I need your help." This child...it's unbelievable. She brought her grades up from D's and F's to A's and B's. That's encouraging. One little girl who's also from an abusive home where her parents...she missed a whole year of school, her parents moved to Florida and just never enrolled her in school. This child went...she just got an award at school because she brought her grades up from a 1.14 to a 2.75. That--those are the success stories. Those are what will continue to make success stories with some kids. And some will get a strong backing. It's like the one little girl from the foster home, now she has a strong backing with her foster mother. The one little girl, she's living with her aunt and uncle, she's got a strong backing now which encourages her. They knew they couldn't help her. It's like, she needs help--they sent her to us and said, "She needs help." So, between the two of us, it's not just going to be us helping these kids, because no matter what we do here, they all have to go home. We're not a 24-hour service. So they have to go home, and they need some encouragement there; they need encouragement at school. They need someone besides us. We're just like a pass-through between home and school that encourages and keeps the kids on the right track and I think that's what our job is here, and we're going to keep having success stories. As long as this stays on the right track, the Learning Center and all the people that are directing it, from the Board to the Director to the staff, as long as everyone can stay on the right track, the Learning Center's always going to be a great place for kids. Always will, long as they get back on the track--it's where we started from, it's all about the kids. That's what it's all about.
CNK: Do you have any other questions?
MNK: No, I don't.
CNK: Anything else you want to add?
DS: No. (590)
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