I grew up in Clarksville. Like many of the small Ohio villages in the 1950s and 1960s, our little school was the center of the community, even as schools were being encouraged to merge into more centralized districts. Sporting events, school plays, minstrels, piano lessons, dances and Boy Scouts, among others, were part of the daily activity at the school.
The Clarksville school sat at the top of the hill, with the baseball diamond sitting down below and behind the school. The hillside between the school and the diamond formed our version of an Aspen ski mountain, except we used sleds, tubes, car hoods, or sometimes just a pair of slick dress shoes to reach the bottom.
The ride down could easily end by slamming into a stray fence post, or the little concession stand that doled out Coke and bubble gum to the summer baseball crowd, or, if you were going really fast, you might slam into the players’ bench along the third-base line. Never once did anyone think it necessary to warn us about the dangers of sledding by moonlight — other than the occasional ER doctor.
The baseball field was always in use by late March, and there were regular games several nights each week plus all day on Saturdays. It was not uncommon for a pick-up game to be going well into the evening hours, despite the last of lighting.
The Methodist Church stood at the foot of Main Street, also positioned in such a way that sledding down Main Street from the school to the church was feasible in icy conditions. Across from the church was Hensley’s Pure Oil Station, later to become Clabos. Moving on through town one would find the post office, McVey’s Grocery, Stewart’s General Store, a little restaurant, Wayne Wills TV Shop, Nick’s Shell Station, the fire department, a grain mill, and the Baughman’s Lumber Yard.
Clarksville had about 400 full-time inhabitants, which sometimes had the feel of the fictional Mayberry, North Carolina. Many of its male heads of households worked in Dayton at Frigidaire or Ford or GE and could be seen leaving town in groups of share rides at 5:30 a.m. each day, returning about 6:30 p.m.
Families typically ate dinner together without the distraction of a TV. I never knew of a family that had their TV in the dining room. During summer evenings, you might hear a Cincinnati Reds broadcast coming across the radio from the open windows of every other house.
Considering how small the town was, it was a natural that you knew everyone and they know you. If you got injured, or were caught engaging in questionable conduct, the communications highway was a perfectly oiled and an often used method of passing information to the other side of town.
As an adolescent, almost all of my parents’ friends knew how to reach my mother or father in 7.89 seconds, and with no cell phones to boot. Modern satellite communication could never compete with the small-town communication infrastructure. Thus, if I used an inappropriate word or went beyond the boundary of acceptable behaviors, I knew my parents would know about the infraction long before I reached home. Video evidence of the infraction was unnecessary since the observer was able to accurately describe the incident in detail and pass that along to my parents.
I had always heard that it takes a village to raise a child. In Clarksville, that simply meant that every adult looked out for, and ratted upon, all of the less mature of the population.
I constantly pushed the envelope of the rules, but there were many adults in my life that willingly reprimanded me, usually saying, “You know you mother and father have taught you better.” In fact, Clarksville was full of those who tried to remind you of right and wrong.
I seldom quarreled with those adults. First, they were bigger than me, and more importantly, they would tell my parents if I was disrespectful. And arguing with any adult usually caused that proverbial hole to be dug even deeper.
I knew my boundaries, though I always tested the fences when possible.
After a while, I learned to respect the boundaries, not because I didn’t want to test them, but because the quality of the people who watched out for my transgressions were really good people, most of whom had excelled in their own family life and career.
Remember, it’s a really small town, so going to school, playing ball, going to church or shopping at the only market in town meant the you always came into contact with these same people. For some, they were also our school principal, English teacher, Boy Scout Leader, piano teacher, the store owner, a coach, or the choir director at the church.
Despite the perceived drawbacks from living in a small town, there were clearly more positives, even though it would take me some to understand their importance, Our little town also had some of the finest role models in Ohio, people like Frank Carlson, Rena Dunn, Wayne and Helen Wills, John and Don Baughman, Harry and Emma McVey, Paul and Virginia Schwamberger, and of course, my own parents.
With me, they had their hands full, but they never once gave up on me, even when I repeatedly strayed.
Paul Schwamberger was my coach, my Sunday School teacher, school teacher, motivator, disciplinarian, neighbor, bus driver, community leader, mentor, friend, and so much more. His house, even now, sits just beyond the school, giving him a perfect view of the school and the baseball field down below. His passing last week at 90 is just another reminder that I’m on my own. All of my mentors are gone and I’m feeling a little exposed.
What I have left are the lessons of life he and the others instilled in me: Commitment, honesty, and empathy.
I grew up referring to this village champion as “Mr. Schwamberger”, and not because I didn’t know his first name. In my later years, I did call him Paul. However, because of his dedication to his students, his athletes, his family, neighbors, and his church and village, I still prefer to call him Mr. Schwamberger, because he earned the title.
I pray that there are still men and women willing to be that kind role model. He did it with grace and ease and much success.
Much love to his family and thanks for sharing him with the rest of us.
Dennis Mattingly is currently a Wilmington resident.