AVON - When Marci Rich looks back on growing up on Elyria’s south side, she has fond memories of the city's once-bustling downtown and vibrant neighborhoods that have vastly changed.
With the help of her iPhone, the Avon resident has recorded and preserved those well-remembered stories and many vintage images in her first book, "Looking Back at Elyria: A Midwest City at Midcentury." The book was published by Arcadia Publishing’s History Press.
Slightly more than two years in the making, the 222-page book mostly is a compilation of stories from the people "who lived it.” It also includes a selection of the award-winning history columns Rich wrote for The Chronicle-Telegram about the city's bicentennial in 2017. Those columns ultimately led to the book.
Rich, an Avon resident, has fond memories of growing up in the 1950s and ’60s and wanted to preserve her stories and those of others who lived in Elyria during those years.
"Elyria was kind of a magical place," Rich said, noting the beauty of Cascade Park with two 40-foot waterfalls. "It wasn't an international city like Lorain, but it had many different ethnic groups consisting of dedicated people with hard work ethics. That's why so many of the stores and businesses were around for so long. They're gone now, but people remember them and still talk about them. There was a strong sense of community."
Rich, 63, takes readers back to the 1950s and then to the brink of the turbulent 1960s. Those years symbolized the changes and challenges in America that came with the Vietnam War.
Besides the stories, the book includes vintage photos, mostly from Rich’s private collection. There are also some from the archives of the Lorain County History Center, the Elyria Public Library and the Lorain County Vietnam War Memorial in Amherst. The book includes a picture of each of the 18 Elyrians who were killed in the Vietnam War.
It contains about 100 pictures from a time when people frequented the corner stores along Middle Avenue and saw movies at small ornate theaters. Elyria’s population was 30,307 in 1950 and 43,782 in 1960, according to the U.S. Census. The Lorain County seat’s population was 54,533 in 2010, census figures show.
Soon after its release in early November, the book became the top seller in Amazon's history and photography category. The first-time author has been speaking to groups and appearing for book signings in the community since then.
Rich is a 1974 graduate of Elyria Catholic High School and a graduate of Lorain County Community College with an associate of arts degree. She also earned a bachelor's degree in English with an emphasis in creative writing from Oberlin College. She twice won Best Freelance Writer in Ohio awards, in 2018 and 2019, in the Press Club of Cleveland’s for her history columns.
Part of Rich's worldview is based on her experiences at Abookire's Grocery and Meats, her grandparents' store at 1621 Middle Ave. that operated from 1923 to 1963. Her grandparents, Anthony and Marie Abookire, immigrated to Elyria from Beirut, Lebanon, in 1919.
She also has fond memories of her father’s store, Supreme Hardware, on the corner of Middle Avenue and 17th Street. One of those is from Sept. 27, 1960, when her father held her on his shoulders as U.S. Sen. John Kennedy was driven past during his campaign for president.
Rich asked current and former Elyrians to share their photos from that era and they responded.
"People were very generous with their stories and pictures, and I'm grateful," Rich said.
One of those people was Katie Keys, the daughter of J. Grant Keys, Elyria’s mayor from 1953 to 1958.
Keys said she had read Rich's columns, and contacted her through Facebook pages "You Know You're From Elyria if .... " and "Vintage Elyria" when Rich was seeking pictures. A picture on the book’s back cover shows Keys being held by her mother on their front porch the day Kennedy was campaigning.
"I thought the stories were absolutely fascinating," said Keys, who still lives in Elyria. "Marci did capture what it was like, she really did. Many of the people she wrote about in the book I either knew or knew of. It was pretty cool to walk down memory lane like that. I appreciated what she did in putting the book together."
Although many of the establishments people frequented in the ’50s and ’60s have long vanished, Rich believes Elyria still has that hometown feel and is in the midst of a renaissance.
“Not many cities can boast a town square or beautiful nature parks smack dab in the heart of the urban landscape,” she said. “These are just a handful of examples — there are many more instances of a city ready to rise like a phoenix from the ashes.”
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