Eva Stidham’s vision isn’t as sharp as it used to be, but she can see the past clearly.
When a person has lived in Akron for as long as she has, there’s certainly a lot to see.
The Firestone Park resident, who turns 101 on Sunday, has witnessed tremendous changes over the past century.
“I remember when a lot of the streets weren’t even paved,” she said.
The former Eva E. Snyder was born Nov. 4, 1917, in Meyersdale, Pa., but moved to Akron as a little girl. Her parents were Harry and Beatrice Snyder. He was an independent truck driver who operated a jitney service in Akron, and she was a homemaker.
Eva had three brothers, George, Howard and Harry, and one sister, Eileen, who is eight years younger and her only surviving sibling. The family lived on Juneau Avenue in the Maple Valley neighborhood off Copley Road.
“It was a plain wood house,” she recalled. “Didn’t have a bathroom.”
The trips to the little house “out back” could be bone-chilling adventures during Ohio’s notorious winters. So could walking to school in snow and rain.
“We went to Maple Valley, which was on the corner of Copley and Hawkins Avenue,” Stidham said. “It was a four-room school.”
Her teacher’s name was Mrs. Wallace and she was strict, but that was understandable since she had to oversee nearly 40 pupils in her class.
“She was a very busy woman,” Stidham said. “She had the second and third grades.”
After hours of reading, writing and arithmetic, there was still time for play.
“We had a little recess,” Stidham said. “There were swings on the playground.”
The school was so small, though, that it didn’t have a cafeteria.
“We all went home for lunch,” she said.
Even in the snow and rain.
When Maple Valley School was closed in the late 1920s for construction of a larger elementary, she briefly attended Crouse before going to high school. By then, the Snyder family had moved to Noble Avenue and stood witness to a big excavation project along Copley Road in 1930.
Architect M.M. Konarski had designed the $455,841 John R. Buchtel High School to accommodate more than 1,000 students. The new building had 19 classrooms, five laboratories, a gymnasium, library, and music, typewriting and bookkeeping rooms.
When it opened Sept. 14, 1931, it had 936 students — and one of them was Eva Snyder.
“We were the first class that went to Buchtel,” Stidham said with pride. “Buchtel was not completed at that time. They were just building it.”
C.J. Bowman was the no-nonsense principal. The faculty included Dorothy Whittington, English; L.O. Weiss, mathematics; Helen Pfahl, Latin; and Lucile Gustafson, history, who suggested the name Griffins for Buchtel's teams. Bob Harper was football and basketball coach.
“We went only half a day,” Stidham recalled. “I only went to noon, and then I went to work.”
As a teen, she had jobs looking after children in the Maple Valley neighborhood.
Did she like going to high school?
“I didn’t mind it,” Stidham said matter-of-factly. “We were either commercial or college. I was supposed to be college. … My father passed away one year before I was to enter college.”
She was in the first class to spend all four years at Buchtel, one of 132 seniors to graduate June 13, 1935. Following commencement, she took a $50 IBM class at the Second National Building and learned to operate a comptomer, a mechanical calculator. She recalls tabulating inventories at the M. O’Neil Co. as a student.
She then found work as an executive assistant at Robinson Clay Product Co.
In 1939, a family friend introduced her to Charles H. Stidham, a pipefitter and welder at Firestone.
“We saw ‘The Wizard of Oz’ at Loew’s,” she said. “It was brand new.”
Before she could say, “There’s no place like home,” she and Charles became steady dates, and they married in August 1940.
He was drafted into the Army during World War II and she continued to work at Robinson. After the war, the couple raised two children: Charles and Beatrice. The years just flew after that.
As a hometown, Akron suits Stidham just fine.
“I’ve always lived here,” she said. “We’ve always been in the city so I don’t know any different.”
She and her husband did enjoy traveling in motor homes, though, crisscrossing the nation and visiting 48 states over the years. They were married 60 years before Charles died in 2001 at age 85.
Today, Eva Stidham is a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, the matriarch of a family with a keen interest in ancestry and history. She admits that she doesn't have any wisdom to impart about achieving longevity, but having a balanced diet and active mind undoubtedly have helped.
How does it feel to be turning 101?
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said with a chuckle. “I didn’t expect to go that long.”
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.