Featured image courtesy of Jordan Unger.
By Ian Frantz
This year marks the 10-year anniversary of The YO Magazine, which has highlighted some of the personalities who inhabit Youngstown over the years. In its earliest days, The YO showcased profiles on activist Phil Kidd and artists Bob Barko Jr. and Ray Simon. The articles featured the accomplishments they made in their field of work, which sparks the question: where are they now?
When his profile came out in 2008, Phil Kidd started the “Defend Youngstown” movement with the goals of making Youngstown a respectable city once again. Since then, he has been able to make his goal a realistic one.
In 2012, he was putting major plans into motion. He started his own business called “Youngstown Nation” which sells Youngstown memorabilia and offers a spot for citizens to learn what’s going on in the city.
At the same time, Kidd was helping journalism majors at Youngstown State University investigate stories and issues affecting Youngstown and Warren. Since then, he’s been a part of the Youngstown CityScape, helped improve the greater downtown area and started the City Club of the Mahoning Valley, which allows business owners and community members to discuss local issues.
Kidd believes his work on Wick Park, one of the largest projects he has been involved in, has had the best result.
“The park is the most used in the city’s inventory, but it hadn’t seen much investment in nearly 30 years before we put together a plan,” Kidd says.
Since 2008, they have been able to raise over $850,000 for improvements.
“It’s an example of what is possible when a mentality shifts, people organize, a plan is made and the community steps up to see things through,” Kidd says.
Bob Barko Jr. and Ray Simons
Another article in the issue focused on two local artists who found inspiration in Youngstown, which has taken both of them to new levels.
Bob Barko Jr. ran his store, Steel Town Studio, for eight years by 2008. He had finished a traveling mural that spans 24 feet wide and six feet tall, showing a visual history of Youngstown.
Since then, he closed his studio for a six-month Air Force reserve tour in the beginning of 2012 to showcase public affairs in Afghanistan.
While he was there, he would help journalists from numerous news outlets meet with squads and fielding calls.
“One of my claims to fame was being a part of the joint operation that Prince Harry was apart of that had his unit coming under insurgence assault,” Barko says.
One of the major challenges he faced was heading for deployment while being recently married.
“It was stressful because we were pretty much planning our wedding as well as my deployment at the same time,” Barko says.
After returning from his tour, he had a newfound respect of how things were back home and wanted to focus on that passion. In 2013, he reopened his studio and went back to doing art shows within two to three weeks.
In the last couple years, he has worked on a piece about the Philadelphia Toboggan Company Carousel that was in Idora Park in Youngstown. He revealed it at a summer festival in 2016 and started a crowdsourcing campaign to help raise interest in the piece and help with production cost.
“I made a post on Facebook and asked if people would be interested in a printed copy and started a GoFundMe kind of thing that, if people were interested, they could essentially buy a print,” Barko says. “It was a huge success.”
Barko plans to add another section to the Youngstown mural that will show all the recent additions to Youngstown. This will include a few details he missed the first time.
Barko also plans on making a piece about the Youngstown theaters. He says there is a story he has heard from several people that when Frank Sinatra Jr. first went solo, he did a show in one of the theaters in Youngstown at the time. He says there was no record that he played there.
“The idea of a young Sinatra riding a railcar to a theater really stuck with me when I first heard it, and I’m still trying to work it out in my head,” Barko says.
The other artist, Ray Simons, was being recognized on a national level with his art, honoring the service provided by police officers, the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom and a tribute to Kelly Pavlik.
Since then, he is still seen as a celebrated artist on a national level with his recent art entitled The Crucifixion and a tribute to Abraham Lincoln that is currently in the Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois.
The Crucifixion has been displayed in several churches throughout the country and has been recognized by numerous officials of the church community as a beautiful representation of the message of Christ.
“Lincoln’s actions lead to an entire group of people being freed and paved the way for a lot of social change,” Simons says. “This painting helps show Lincoln’s character and how generous and great he was.”
The Abraham Lincoln artwork was Simons’ tribute to who he considers one of the greatest presidents in our nation’s history.