I stepped into the editor’s role at The Devil Strip in late July, as founder Chris Horne prepared to spend a year at Stanford University envisioning a long-term future for our little magazine. I was delighted to find a well-established tradition of spending time in Akron’s neighborhoods and celebrating their people.
Our team spent the year introducing and re-introducing Akronites to people and places we thought we knew. Here’s the Devil’s Dozen of stories that our readers spent the most time with online this year.
In this August piece, Jessica Hill re-introduced us to someone many of us think we know. Don Drumm, 83 at the time of writing, has sculpted so many Akron landmarks (and so many of our household decorations, wedding gifts and office trinkets) that it’s hard to imagine the city without his trademark aluminum suns, wind chimes and casserole dishes.
I met Jenell Marsek in Kave Coffee Bar, which was then a recently-opened spot in Barberton, the city Jenell had made her home. We talked for an hour about the revival happening in the city’s historic downtown district, which was once home to several Art Deco banks and a company that produced millions of matches per day. A few months later, she took all of our readers to Barberton too.
Noor Hindi, promoted this year to Senior Reporter, spent months talking to people who lived in Lane-Wooster before the Innerbelt sliced the community in half in the 1970s. It’s essential that we listen to those voices as the City of Akron decommissions the Innerbelt and begins planning for what that space will become next.
Anthony and Paul LaGuardia grew up visiting their cousins’ potato chip factory on Grant Street. The family sold the business, OK Potato Chips, 27 years ago. Now, the LaGuardias and their cousin, Ted Robb, have purchased that factory and launched Hartville Potato Chips, a new company that makes chips “as close to the past as possible.”
Firestone Park’s Aster Avenue is a business district with great bones. After years of closures and foreclosures, a committed group of entrepreneurs are blatant about their commitment to revitalization. Mark Porpora, owner of Goodman’s Service Center, told Noor Hindi: “I’m serving life with no parole. I’m not leaving. My flag is set here.”
Kyle Cochrun, who is himself a champion runner, describes Connie Gardener as “a badass on an international scale.” He couldn’t be more right. Connie, 54 at the time of writing, had won dozens of ultramarathons — her hobby, alongside her jobs coaching Archbishop Hoban High School’s cross-country team and selling shoes at Second Sole.
The Byron Robinson Mansion, at the corner of East Market Street and East Buchtel Avenue, is one of Akron’s most visible vacant buildings, photographed beautifully here by Charlotte Gintert. Mark Schweitzer explains that this grand Middlebury home belonged to the clay-product manufacturers of the Robinson family. It is still listed for sale, asking $625,000, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Davey Treen (who co-writes our kids’ column, Rubber City Rocks!, with his brother Paul) competed this summer on the Kids Baking Championship. He started baking while watching the show and hopes to start baking more miniatures, which are “really trendy and fun,” he says.
My first piece of reporting for The Devil Strip took me to the strangest courtroom I’ve ever visited. People convicted of crimes walked in every week comfortable and familiar, slouching in the jury box, then standing at attention before a judge who connected them to genuine resources. Valor Court now has $1.8 million in federal grant money to spend.
After a hiatus, we put the Akron Pizza Task Force into the hands of those with true expertise: University of Akron undergrads. They convened their first Task Force meeting at Pavona’s in Northwest Akron in December.
Organizers designed the Innerbelt National Forest park alongside the decommissioned Innerbelt freeway and programmed it with music, literature and art. The installation was meant to last for two months; instead, organizers got the city to let them leave it up semi-permanently. Programming will continue at the recently re-named Innerbelt Forest in 2019.
Stay tuned for much more to come in the new year.
Rosalie Murphy is Editor-in-Chief of The Devil Strip.