by Rosalie Murphy

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.

The Life and Legacy of Don Drumm

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.

Photo: Courtesy of the Barberton Historical Society

Don’t Sleep on Barberton

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.

Photo: Rosalie Murphy

‘A Road to Nowhere:’ How the Construction of the Innerbelt Displaced Thousands

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.

Photo: Courtesy of Anthony and Paul LaGuardia

A Taste Some Will Always Remember, A Taste Others Will Never Forget

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.”

Photo: Noor Hindi

‘It’s kind of like a mafia. Once you’re in, you can’t get out.’

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.”

Photo: Kyle Cochrun

Meet Ultramarathon Runner Connie Gardener

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.

Photo: Charlotte Gintert/Captured Glimpses

Vintage Structures | The Byron Robinson Mansion

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.

The contestants pose for a photo, as seen on Kids Baking Championship Season 5.

Davey Treen to be Featured on the Food Network’s Kids Baking Championship!

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.

Photo: Rosalie Murphy

In Summit County’s Courtroom for Veterans, ‘I Can Let My Guard Down’

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.

Photo: Josy Jones

Can West Hill’s dream of a ‘live-work village’ finally take off?

Josy Jones lives in West Hill, so she’s heard a lot of talk in the last year about the UPD-40 zoning district, where homeowners can operate businesses out of their buildings.

Photo: Akron Pizza Task Force

The return of the Akron Pizza Task Force

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.

Photo: Christine Batten

The Innerbelt National Forest is here to stay

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.

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