Growing Up Lakewood, H2O Interviews

One bathing suit per summer, ice skating at Lakewood Park and never having to remember to take your house key were a few memories shared by long time residents of Lakewood that made some Lakewood youth say “really?” This summer H2O Summer Service Experience “campers” chatted with adult residents over Zoom and collected their memories for an informal oral history of life in our community. H2O Summer Service Camp staff took our activities virtual this year, but made certain that campers had the opportunity to connect with many different people in our community by leading video conference storytimes with children in daycare centers, playing Zoom Bingo with senior citizens in partnership with the Lakewood Division of Aging, interviewing Lakewood residents, and hosting guest speakers ranging from Mayor Meghan George to H2O Alumni working in local service organizations. Interviewing Lakewood residents enriched their perspective and lens through which they understand their community.

The middle school aged campers learned that prepaid passes for admission to our local pools used to come in the form of metal tags that were sewn to the swimmer’s bathing suit. On a hot summer day if you wanted to cool off in one of the Lakewood pools, you had to wear the suit with the attached pass.The message was clear from parents: “Do not lose this tag. No tag, no pool.” Along with spending summers at the pool with friends, residents remember skating at Lakewood Park in the winter. Part of the lawn near the Oldest Stone House was flooded when temperatures dipped low to create an ice rink and everyone could skate free, so long as they brought their own skates. One camper recalled hearing his dad call a building at the park “the skate house” but assumed that was in reference to the nearby skate park for skateboarders rather than a place where ice skaters could seek shelter from the weather. Very few adults we spoke with remember having to carry a house key when they were out and about as kids and never encountered a locked door when they got home, even when no one was home. No one had memories of much, if any, crime in Lakewood but one resident did recall hearing about a kidnapping in a nearby suburb that caused a ripple of fear in the community.

Campers learned that Lakewood families used to include more children than today’s average families. This meant more children to play with on your block and an enrollment of nearly 4000 students at Lakewood High School, much higher than today’s total around 1300 students. Even though families were bigger then and gas prices were generally well below $1 per gallon, most households had just one car. Babysitting for younger siblings and neighbor children was almost everyone’s first paying job. They used the money they made to see movies at one of Lakewood’s several movie theaters: Hilliard Square Theater, The Detroit Theater, Westwood Theater and The Homestead Theater just to name a few. Skate night at Winterhurst (Serpentini Arena) was also a popular social hotspot on weekend evenings. Some folks we spoke with had fond memories of a putt-putt golf course at Kauffman Park. Another source of fun was the many youth groups and youth activities at local churches. It was common for young people to volunteer at their church from a young age.

The residents we spoke with attended various local public and private schools, but their experiences were similar. Older residents recalled few children with disabilities in their classes and the school buildings they attended would have proved a challenge for students with physical disabilities. Other residents recall more children with disabilities entering school with them over the years and amendments were made to the school facilities to accommodate their needs. We’re all very proud of our city’s current diverse population but it is not a new trend for us. We heard from one person whose grandmother taught at Harrison Elementary early in the 20th century when most students were children of immigrants from Eastern Europe. They came to school speaking Slovak, Polish and Carpatho-Russion languages and learned English at school. Students over the years had opportunities to take classes in foreign languages, music and art along with the core academics and to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities much like today.

Some people we spoke with have only lived in Lakewood during their adult life and talked about choosing to make Lakewood their home because they appreciate the walkability and the proximity to downtown Cleveland and Lake Erie. Some also based their choice on the top notch public and private schools in our town. Other residents we spoke with left Lakewood as young adults to attend college or serve in the military and pursue careers elsewhere but returned to raise their own family. One resident said she wanted to return and raise her children here because Lakewood feels like home and home is the best place to grow up. We couldn’t agree more!

Amy Chodzin is the Assistant Coordinator of the H2O "Help to Others." H2O is a program of the City of Lakewood's Human Services, Division of Youth and operates with tremendous support from the Lakewood City Schools and the Lakewood Community.

Amy Chodzin, H2O Assistant Coordinator

Amy Chodzin is the Assistant Coordinator of the H2O "Help to Others." H2O is a program of the City of Lakewood's Human Services, Division of Youth and operates with tremendous support from the Lakewood City Schools and the Lakewood Community.

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Volume 16, Issue 18, Posted 5:22 PM, 09.16.2020