Brunswick Area Historical Society - 4613 Laurel Road, PO Box 714 - Brunswick, OH 44212 - email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Brunswick at 50: Affordable housing was key attraction to newcomers
'Sam' Boyer, Sun News By 'Sam' Boyer, Sun News Brunswick Sun
on August 30, 2010 at 8:59 AM
One of a series on the early days and development of Brunswick and Brunswick Township, celebrating their 50th anniversaries this year.
You had to be here to understand the tumultuous 1950s and ’60s. The population in the township jumped more than 60 percent from the 1950 to 1960 census, the fastest growing township in the state.
New residents flocked here and their persistence led to incorporating Brunswick Township to Brunswick Village and then City. Large landowners balked and that led to the secession and formation of Brunswick Hills Township.
Many of the new residents came here with one goal — to buy an affordable home.
Robert Sklenka and Charles O’Malley moved to the quickly growing township in 1957 with their young families. They were to play major roles in its future.
Sklenka and his wife, Eleanor, were living in a duplex in Cleveland when they decided they should own their own home. “We had three children and the landlord’s son lived upstairs and it wasn’t working out well,” he said. An uncle lived on Grafton Road and that attracted them to Brunswick.
They purchased the third house on Huntington Circle, in a neighborhood that was quickly growing. “We moved out with an open trailer, turned onto Gravel Pit Road (Laurel) and there was a cow standing in the middle of the road,” he said. “We shooed it back into its enclosure and fixed the fence so it wouldn’t get back out, and continued. The road was so rough, I thought everything was going to fly out of the trailer.”
Those first years were filled with family and his job as a design draftsman. He volunteered as a little league baseball coach and, though in favor of incorporation, did not become involved in the movement.
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Charles O’Malley, his wife Marilyn and son Chuck moved to Mary Ellen Drive because it was affordable. ”You couldn’t afford to buy a home in Cleveland then,” he said. He was an electrician at Republic Steel and there was no easy way to get to work. I-71 was not this far north – he used either Route 42 or West 130th Street to get to Cleveland.
“I was at Boone’s Corners Tavern one evening and a guy came in with a petition for incorporation. Al Boone hit the roof. He went on about how it would raise taxes and was enraged. I couldn’t understand that it wasn’t an automatic process that when you hit 5,000 residents you became a city or village,” he said.
Attorney Sam Sonnefeld, who served as solicitor for several communities, came to a Holy Name Society meeting to explain the differences between an incorporated area and township. He didn’t have any preference and explained it well, O’Malley said. “I was in favor and began circulating petitions. After the fourth try, it passed. Marilyn wanted me to get involved, so we would go to the first village meetings and just sit and listen. Finally, Sonnefeld (who was interim solicitor) said he didn’t understand why we were there. Usually the only people who came to meetings were to gripe or run for office. We had no intention of either.”
The new village council was elected and included Joseph Cain, Joseph Cintula, John Madden, Jacob Miller, Carl Ola and William Sheehan. John Dinda was mayor. But later that year, Cintula’s wife was killed in an accident and he resigned. O’Malley was appointed to take his place. (Tragically, O’Malley’s wife would die in 1966 from complications of kidney disease. He was introduced to and married his wife Marie in 1969.)
In 1965, a neighbor asked Sklenka to go to a council meeting with him to complain about Laurel Road. The subdivisions along the road, all just tar and chip surfaces, and the east-west “thoroughfare” itself were in deplorable condition. “I wrote it up and made a presentation. Two weeks later, I was asked to run for council.”
He was elected in November and first served as chairman of the safety-service committee and later as chairman of the finance committee and he and Pete Piersant led the charge for a city income tax.
They pointed out to opponents, that the majority of residents worked elsewhere and were already paying income tax to those communities. “I explained that unless we had an income tax, none would come back to the city. It was placed on the ballot and won,” Skenka said. The first installment was used to resurface three streets in three different sections of town. “We wanted everyone to see the improvement.”
Sklenka then decided he needed to use his talents on the school board. By now the father of four, he could see a need of the district was growing. He was elected to the board in 1967 and served with William Eyssen, Fred Benco, Al Shirer, Fred Mack and Mike Carlson.
In 1968, he was elected to serve on the charter commission and was among those supporting a city manager form of government. It’s a decision that he still supports. And while he has moved three times as children left the nest, he and Ellie still reside in Brunswick where he is active with both the VFW and American Legion and St. Ambrose Church.
O’Malley, who also was in favor of the income tax, went on to serve several terms as councilman, council president and as the city’s fourth mayor (fifth if you count Dinda as mayor of the village).
He is the only living mayor who served under the strong mayor form of government. He remembers well the days when families had one car and either no phone or party lines. “Dr. Fazoli was the only doctor in town and we had a heck of a time getting a city solicitor because there were no lawyers living in town.”
“We all had full-time jobs and served the city part-time. When I was council president, then police chief, John “Fuzzy” Mrozik gave me my first gavel. It was big and red and he had used it in his vaudeville act when he and Red Skelton were in an act together.”
He and Marie now spend their winters in Texas and their summers here.
O’Malley and Sklenka said they both wished that the city and township were re-united but said they hoped at least that they could work together for the benefit of all the citizens.
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Eleanor and Robert Sklenka have been area residents since 1957.