Excerpts from an interview with Mary Malone, Blue Ash resident since 1947
Interviewed onMay 29, 2009
We bought a house onKenwood Rd. By that time we had a year-old daughter. The first year I was in Blue Ash, I taught school inMadeira. I decided our daughter needed her mother with her. I quit teaching and stayed home to take care of her. When she was in second grade, I talked to Ed Greene, school superintendent, and said I was interested in teaching again. He hired me to teach English and physical education at Sycamore. Those were my majors. I taught about fifteen years at Sycamore. All told, I taught about 20 years. When my daughter graduated from college, I decided I got her through college and I don’t need to teach anymore. I would stay home and do what I wanted to do.
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Mary Jane Flege had the idea that the older people in Blue Ash didn’t have anything to do; they were hidden in the back rooms. The senior citizens were not visible. She decided that we should investigate what possibilities there were for getting some things established for the seniors. She had some contacts with the Council on Aging, and she called together as many of the leaders of Blue Ash as she could think of. In a meeting in the Sycamore library she explained what she had in mind. She said, “Now if you don’t want to be a part of this, you don’t have to.” Some of them decided they didn’t want to. Some more decided this was a good idea. With about 15 people, we did some investigative research and found out where you put the touch to get the money. We knew there was money available, but how could we get it? Our first source of money was the Tri-County Charity Fair. They used to have a charity fair in the fall of every year. Different organizations could set up shop in the mall, and ten per cent of everybody’s take for the day went to the charity of the day. Mary Jane and I went to the committee meeting, and Mary Jane had a real sob story to tell; by the time she had finished she had those people in tears. We were voted the charity of the day. We were awarded ten per cent of everybody’s gross for the day, and we got a check for $1600.80. That was our start-up money.
We found the Council on Aging and the Ohio Department of Aging (I’m not sure that’s the correct name.) had money. Mary Jane and I went toColumbusand met with some people, and they finally, after investigation, awarded us a grant. They would supply 75%, and we had to come up with 25% either in dollars or in kind. Mary Jane went to everybody she knew and told her sob story. Old type writers, old desks; other people were giving us chairs and such to count as “in kind.” We used the money that we earned from the fair to rent a garage onCooper Road, and we set up shop there.
Before that, we had incorporated. Four incorporators were Harry Perkins who used to be the principal ofBlueAshSchool, Bill Graylor who was a Presbyterian minister in Montgomery, Mary Jane and I. We had Frank Ferris draw up the papers of incorporation. I think that the money we used to pay for the incorporation came out of a sugar bowl. We used to meet in Mary Jane’s kitchen; everybody would put the money in the sugar bowl, and finally we had enough to pay the fee for getting incorporated. Mary Jane and I went to the Cincinnati Foundation that gives grant money to people. We made an appeal to buy chairs because Mary Jane said the chairs we have are not safe for seniors to sit on. We needed sturdy chairs. They accepted our appeal and gave us money. We bought some really strong oak chairs like the kinds that they had at teachers’ desks, so these people weren’t going to fall. We did a lot of begging to get that senior center started. Before we could really get into a building we met in the old Civic League building.
Mrs. Morris: Is that the one off Hunt?
Mrs. Malone: There used to be a building behind the Strawser Funeral Home. They let us use that one day a week, on Thursdays. We put out the word that it was open. For a while, I would show up with all the stuff in the trunk of my car to entertain these people if they showed up. Finally a couple came drifting in and then word spread, and we had a nucleus of people who were coming to the center on Thursdays. Then we moved to that garage. That’s how the center got started.
We had some money from the state so we hired Winnie Walker who was our first center director. I was hired as the activities director. We had a secretary. I’m sure Winnie and I moved every stick of wood, every stick of furniture, that was in that building two or three times trying to find how best to arrange things.
We also started a Meals-on-Wheels program. That program was started by Mary Jane. She made arrangements with the school board so we could have the cook at the junior high prepare the meals for the seniors, and she had some volunteers from the community to deliver the meals. I think the first group of Meals-on-Wheels clients was about 12. When school was out, what would we do? We hired the cook from the junior high to do the meals for the summer, but she wanted a two week vacation so we had to find somebody to do the meals for those two weeks. A group of women from the board of directors decided they would do the meals for those two weeks. We had permission from the Montgomery Presbyterian Church to use their kitchen to prepare the meals. We did that for two weeks and then our cook was available again so we moved our center of operations back to the garage.
A lot of stumbling around, but we finally got he program off the ground and worked out of that garage for four years or so. We then made arrangements with the board of education, since the school building was sitting empty. For a dollar a year we could rent the building if we did something about the roof that was leaking. We went to the Council on Aging and got a grant to fix the roof. Then we moved in there. When Ronald Reagan was president community development money was available. The cities of Blue Ash,Montgomery,Deer Park, and Silverton went together and made a petition. We got a grant to add on to that school building. We finally had a place to locate. We were open five days a week.
During that time I had retired because my mother was sick, my father-in-law was sick, and I thought my first allegiance was to them. I retired from working at the center. The next year both of them died, so I got involved again, by serving on the board of directors. We got a new center director, Bob Logan; he lives onCooper Road. He asked me to come back to work as activities director. I said yes I would and worked there for another nine years. I had a very interesting and enjoyable time working there.
Then I decided to do what I wanted to do. I signed up to volunteer at the Cincinnati Nature Center. I volunteered as a trail teacher with the kids for about ten years and then I started having difficulty with my knees and couldn’t go down those limestone steps anymore. I quit going there. After I had my knee surgery, I decided that I would volunteer atSharonWoodsVillageand did that for about eight years. Meanwhile, when I was working at the senior center, I was appointed clerk of council for the City ofBlue Ash. I did that for 21 years and saw a lot of changes.
Mrs. Morris: What kind of changes?
Mrs. Malone: Well, prior to that time we’d had a lot of trouble with our city managers. They didn’t get along well with council. Council hired Vick Suhm as the city manager. He was a stabilizing influence. He brought about some changes like the golf course and made some arrangements with companies that would develop northern Blue Ash into a light industrial area. When Vick decided that it was time for him to move on, the city hired Marvin Thompson, and Marvin brought the city along further.
By redeveloping downtown Blue Ash, cleaning out some of the old houses that really needed to be cleaned out. AlongKenwood Rd., there used to be a place just south of the building and loan or where the bank is now, a number of apartments that they referred to as the “Blue Ash Hilton.” It was rat-infested. There were a lot of domestic problems. Marvin decided we needed to buy that and get it cleaned out. A lot of other houses were in bad shape. The city bought them. They burned them. Some of the people said, “Hey, you better bait those rats before you set fire to them because they’re all coming to our houses.” They had to have a rat-baiting session before they could burn those places. It was good training for the fire department. Then they started redeveloping, and Thriftway built their headquarters and then the store. The store stayed awhile. Marvin was the one who really brought the city along.
Mrs. Morris: You mentioned living onKenwood Rd. when you first moved here. You moved from Kenwood to this house. You were telling about this land being part of the Ferris farm.
Mrs. Malone: The Ferrises lived on Decima; one of their daughters was Dr. Dorothy Ferris who was a missionary toIndia. They had quite a number of children. One of their sons, Lydel Ferris, and Ray Williams fromMontgomery developed this subdivision. They also developed a subdivision across from the high school, the present junior high. The street in this subdivision is naned Donjoy after two of Lydel’s children, his oldest daughter Joyce and their son Don. This was the Ferris farm. I guess Mr. Ferris decided he couldn’t take care of it any more and it was time to do something else with the land. It was developed into a subdivision.
Mrs. Morris: You must have enjoyed being in Blue Ash. You had so many activities going on. You’ve been here all these years.
Mrs. Malone: I’ve been very involved. I’ve been involved with Blue Ash Presbyterian Church. I’ve been a member there for 60 years. I’ve held about every office you can hold.
Mrs. Morris: Blue Ash Presbyterian moved. They had other property, I believe.
Mrs. Malone: We used to be on the corner ofHighland and Perry, by the railroad tracks. We didn’t feel that the community knew that we were there so we thought, “How are we going to get rid of this property?” We let it be known that we were interested in moving. The minister decided that it was not to his advantage to be living in the manse, that the ministers should be building equity in property so he bought the manse. Now we had some money. Close to the city building was a woman whose name was Bertha Hafner. Her son had moved toCalifornia; she was there alone. Her son wanted her to come toCalifornia. So the house was for sale. We used the money from the sale of the manse to buy her property. We rented it out for a while. Our minister always had a little garden in the back yard.
One day a Baptist minister came through and said he understood the church property was for sale. The minister said, “Yes, as a matter of fact it is.” The Baptist minister said he thought they would like to buy this. There was approval to sell the building, so we moved from that church building over to our Christian education building. It was like a grand parade to march across the street. We consolidated everything into that building. It was a little crowded, but we had some more money.
We started negotiating with a doctor who owned the property where the present church is. We negotiated with the city. There were people who wanted to locate on the doctor’s property. The building commission approved a plan for some developer to build an office park, like the little separated buildings across from Frisch’s on Plainfield. They were going to build an office park. Council didn’t like that because there would be too much traffic. They also didn’t want a fast food place on that corner. Council voted the developer’s plan down. They came back with condos. Council said they didn’t want any more condos. They already had condos next to the cemetery. They said they didn’t want any more condos south of Cooper Rd. They voted that down. Then the church came along with their idea. Council thought that sounded like a quiet place. There would be traffic on Sundays that wouldn’t interfere with Reed Hartman. The city bought the property. The persons in charge decided it should be sold at an industrial price rather than residential, so the city had to pay dearly for that property. We owned the property next to it, and Council decided to trade their church’s property for our property. They could develop the back into a park, and the church would have a nice corner. The church has a 100 year lease on the parking lot. The city will let us use the parking lot for our activities if we promise not to have anything on Tuesday night because of those concerts in the park. The city owns the parking lot, but we’re allowed to use it for the church.
Mrs. Morris: Did you spend any time in the Hunt House with Elizabeth Bell?
Mrs. Malone: I spent a lot of time with her after her husband died. Her husband had gone toHanoverCollege and was there when I was there. Betty would come down toHanover on the weekends to see George. When he graduated, he went into the Navy. I didn’t see her for a number of years and then they moved back into the Hunt House. My husband and I saw them socially, but not a lot. Betty and I became closer after George died. There was a tie because we had known George. She and I used to go out to dinner or the movies. When George was alive, we’d go to races at Churchill Downs. Not to theKentuckyDerby. Hanover would have a day at the races. A lot of alums would go down.
Mrs. Morris: When you were new to Blue Ash, what kind of activities were you involved in? Was there much social life?
Mrs. Malone: No, mostly the church. And of course the first year I was here there wasn’t much time for a social life. My first year here I was at Madeira High School and was involved with the girls’ sports teams. I taught school all day and coached after school. With the sponsorship of the cheerleaders, I knew very Friday night what I was going to be doing. I also had the GAA, so that was my social life. Then on weekends I had to go pick up my daughter because she was staying with my husband’s parents in Lawrenceburg. I was very busy then. When I quit teaching atMadeira, we got involved with the church. When I got back into teaching, my social life becameSycamoreHigh School.
Mrs. Morris: When you were teaching, was the high school in the current junior high building?
Mrs. Malone: I was in what is now the junior high when it was in much smaller building. Every fall, school couldn’t start unless there was a tractor outside my window, building onto the school. I learned to talk loudly to compete with the tractor. That was a much smaller school with much less of a curriculum. As I worked with the school, I was instrumental as one of the founders of the School Planning Commission and also with the Sycamore Education Association. I was chair of the committee to pass a school bond issue to build Greene School and to get a tax levy passed. I was also on the committee to get a tax levy passed to build Maple Dale School. I was involved with PTA.
Mrs. Morris: Do you think we’ve covered everything?
Mrs. Malone: When we first moved to Blue Ash there were two little grocery stores, there was a carry-out, the funeral home, and17 gas stations. There was a gas station on every corner, sometimes one on all four corners. There was a drug store, a ten-cent store, two airports. Mr. Glos took a lot of pictures which his wife gave to the Blue Ash Historical Society. A lot of his pictures are on display at the Hunt House. It has been interesting to live here. My husband served on the Civil Service Commission for about 35 years and was finally the chairperson of the Civil Service Commission. When we moved into this house, I think the City ofBlue Ash was being sued every week because the police were always serving papers here. They were always able to get things straightened out. There were some growing pains in the beginning when Blue Ash was incorporated.
Mrs. Morris: Do you remember any details about the plans to incorporate?
Mrs. Malone: No. At that time I was involved with teaching and wasn’t into many civic affairs. In 1983, I was the lay person of the year from the Blue Ash Kiwanis, and in 1988 I was nominated and honored as one of 200 greater Cincinnatians when the city ofCincinnati celebrated its bicentennial, along with four other people from Blue Ash. In 2006, I was inducted into theTaylorHigh School sports hall of fame. At the time when I was in high school, the girls had two interschool sports, track and basketball. For four years in high school, I received awards in sports.
Sycamore had the first school nurse. It had the first dietician. It had the first psychologist. Joe Flege and Ed Greene looked into the future and saw what was coming. They reached out and got these things for our school district. I am so pleased with the way the school has developed because I feel that I’ve had a part with getting the bond issues passed and tax levies passed. I’ve seen a lot of things happen around here.
The interview concluded at this point.