They call them the greatest generation for a reason
I have to admit that my years with the Ashland Times-Gazette represented a coming of age. When I arrived there in 1997, I had no idea what to do. All I had going for me was raw writing talent and an instinct for tracking down stories. I also had one major handicap; I thought the world revolved around me.
It took a few years, but I gradually realized that journalism isn’t about journalists. It’s about the people we cover. It’s a sacred trust. It’s about capturing the essence of the people and their times – not just to let them know their lives counted for something, but to preserve those nuances for future generations.
I recently had the privilege of interviewing a member of what has been described as the greatest generation, the folks who carried us through the Great Depression and World War II. It was one of the most touching interviews I’ve ever done. I’ll let her story speak for itself.
This article appeared in the June 30 Loudonville Times.
LOUDONVILLE — During World War II, Norma Snyder helped make history at the Flxible plant. Seventy-one years later, she remade history — this time for the Cleo Redd Fisher Museum.
At the age of 17, Snyder worked at the plant, making airplane parts for the war effort. She was on hand in August 1944 when Flxible was honored with the Army-Navy “E” Award flag for outstanding production of war materials.
It was quite an honor for Flxible, which also produced gondolas for blimps and naval sonar components. During the war 85,660 companies produced war materials. Only five percent received “E” Awards. In 1945, Flxible received a renewal of the award for continued excellence. That allowed them to add a white star to the flag.
Somewhere along the line, the flag got lost. Snyder, a former Mohican Historical Society board member and longtime museum volunteer, remade history by sewing a full-size replica of the flag. She brought it in to the museum earlier this month and it’s now on display in the lobby.
Snyder is a quilter and has experience making large banners for her church, Zion Lutheran Church of Loudonville. So, museum curator Kenny Libben asked her in April to make a reproduction to replace the lost one.
She was reluctant at first.
“I’m 88 years old and I don’t take on new projects if I can help it,” she said. “I decided that, if I had experience with making banners at my church, it was something I could do. So I said would.”
It wasn’t easy. All she had for reference were photos of the original.
“It was a challenge to find supplies, the fabric and all the different things we needed,” Snyder said. “It wasn’t ordinary fabric, so I ended up going to four different towns to find what I needed. I went to Berlin in Holmes County, then Mansfield, Ashland, then I went to Columbus where I found the last of the things I needed.”
Her daughter, Connie Snyder McGowan, a retired art teacher living in Columbus, helped with the letters.
The shape of the flag, a design known as a swallowtail, also made the job challenging.
Working part-time, it took Snyder more than two months to gather the materials and make the eight-foot by four-foot flag.
Snyder had a special connection to the original flag. She was among the workers who helped earn it and among those who posed for a photo with the flag outside the plant in August 1944. The people in the photo probably represented only one shift. Snyder is hoping that the new flag will inspire others who worked there or posed for the photo to come together
“I’m hoping that, with the article, maybe people will contact Kenny (Libben) or me and we can gather whoever is left and get another photograph,” Snyder said. “I know of about five local people I could find, some of them older than myself. Time’s a-wasting.”
Snyder, whose maiden name was Stitzlein, was only 17 and still attending Loudonville High School when she started working at the plant. She worked during the summer before she graduated in 1944 and full-time afterward.
A lifetime Loudonville area resident, she attended Greentown School, a one-room schoolhouse that still stands on the property of a relative at County Road 775 and Ohio 95. The building was moved there from another location near County Road 775, commonly known as Honeycreek Road.
“When I was in fourth grade, they consolidated Loudonville Schools and then we rode the school bus,” Snyder said. “Before then we walked — uphill both ways. Actually, it was because it was hills.”
She went to work at Flxible because the company was doing war work.
“We were making the lower aft fuselage of a cargo plane,” Snyder said. “We had sheets of aluminum and you had framework and a jig it was on. I was not a riveter. I was one of those who drilled the holes for the riveters. They called the aluminum skin and we were the skin gang.”
Most the workers on her crew were women.
“There were some men, and a lot of young people like me,” she said.
Snyder was no stranger to hard work.
“I lived on a farm, so I was used to working,” she said. “It was kind of a novelty because, in those days, we didn’t have three or four cars. We had one car and it went to town maybe one day a week, or one night. So it was kind of an experience for me because I was kind of naïve. It was not bad, but it was interesting and we got paid — not much, but we got paid.”
Flxible was the lifeblood of the community back then. The company provided employment for area residents, often from the time they graduated high school until they retired. For many, it was a family affair.
“I had three sisters who worked in the office at that time and one of my brothers worked there for a short time before he went into the service,” Snyder said.
She continued to work at Flxible for a year or so until war production tapered off.
“I went to Minnich Beauty School in Mansfield and I was a beautician for awhile,” Snyder said. “Then I got married and started having children.”
She and her husband, Robert Snyder who passed away 18 years ago, had five children. Four live in the Columbus-Delaware area and one in Lexington in Richland County. The family has grown to 14 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
“So, we started something, didn’t we?” she said.
Snyder was the youngest of nine children. Three of them are still living. Her husband had nine siblings.
“There were six boys and four girls, and four of the boys in his family were in World War II and one was in the Korean War,” she said.
In 1951, her husband built a building and rented it out for a couple of years.
“Then we started having building supplies and had a construction company and I also worked in that business, Modern Home Supply and Loudonville Construction,” she said. “The store on State Route 3 is still in the family. My husband’s nephew has it now, Mark Snyder.”
The Snyders built many houses in the area.
She remains active with the historical society.
“I’ve been a member for many many years, but I don’t do as many physical things as I used to,” Snyder said.
She’s hoping more people will step up and help preserve the area’s history for future generations.
“We’d like to get young people in,” Snyder said. “As time goes on, you lose people or (older) people can’t do all that. That’s true in every group I belong to.”
Her effort to replace the lost Army-Navy “E” Award flag helped preserve a part of that history.
When Snyder stopped by the museum last week, curator Libben thanked her for all her hard work.
“It was a labor of love,” she responded.
Perhaps the same could be said for her efforts during the war years — and throughout her life.
But then, that’s how history is made. And preserved.
The Cleo Redd Fisher Museum and Mohican Historical Society can be contacted at (419) 994-4050 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The website can be accessed at http://www.crfmuseum.com/ and the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/CleoReddFisherMuseum?fref=ts.