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‘Magical’ Niekro Name; No Decision on Port Authority

August 1, 2010
Al Molnar

For many years the name Niekro has been a very familiar one in the sports world with Phil and Joe pitching their way to stardom in baseball. Now the Niekro name is linked with another up and coming athlete who at the age of 16 is part of a team that will represent the United States in a 5-nation hockey tournament in Huffwel, Switzerland later this month..

Although Jack Matthew Rowe hails from Chicago, his proud grandmother is Charlotte Niekro Elchuck, who resides in the Lansing area which became famous throughout the sports world because of Phil and Joe, and a few other athletes who came from that same area.

His mother, Cherry Elchuck Rowe, is no stranger to the area as she reigned as the Bridgeport High School homecoming queen in 1978. After high school she earned her master's degree from Wheeling Jesuit University before moving to Pittsburgh and then on to Chicago.

The young athlete was selected for the 2010 U.S. Under-17 National Olympic team from among 100 of the nation's best 16-year-old hockey players who were invited to tryout for the cherished spots. He was one of 20 players chosen for Team USA. They will assemble in Washington DC on Aug. 10 for a week of practice before leaving for Europe.

His proud mother said her son practiced hard to gain the honor. "He's been skating since he was 2. He's just a junior in high school but already he has received scholarship offers from 16 Division 1 colleges." During the Aug. 18-22 tournament, the U.S. team will play teams from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Switzerland and Germany.

So it is no wonder that members of the Niekro families can proudly exclaim, "the Niekro name is still producing athletes."

A proposal to maintain a Port Authority with limited and reduced funding from the Belmont County commissioners has not been approved by the commission but neither has it been totally rejected.

In response to the lengthy and sometimes heated statements on Wednesday from an overflow crowd comprised mainly of the county's business and economic development leaders, commission President Ginny Favede said "I don't know when or even if we will entertain that suggestion."

Both Favede and Commissioner Matt Coffland have said in the past they believe economic development should be accomplished under the direction of the county commissioners.

With regard to a request that the commission forgive the repayment of $28,000 that the authority needs to remain in operation through the end of the year, Favede indicated the issue remains moot. "It was first brought to the board in January" she said, and no action was taken to forgive it. "I won't provide added funds to any department that did not stay within their budget. It would be disrespectful to give them more funds and not the others."

Most vocal during that jammed session were Marty Gould, president of the authority's board of directors and William Knox, a board member. They brought with them minutes of a June 14 meeting of a newly formed county planning commission that indicated Larry Merry was on his way out as authority director.

They also submitted a proposal of their own that would retain Merry with a reduced and limited county financial contribution to the authority of $60,000. That would represent a sacrifice by Merry, who currently earns $72,000 a year.

Under the proposed plan the port authority would be responsible for all operating expenses beyond the $60,000 contribution from the county. In addition the authority would abandon its county-owned facility and relocate the office to one of four entities that have offered office space, thus saving the county significant occupancy costs. Public and private funds would be solicited for other authority expenses.

In supporting the retention of Merry, they listed 22 businesses and industries that Merry has assisted since becoming director. A number of the business leaders and others spoke strongly in favor of retaining both the port authority and the Community Improvement Corp./Department of Development.

Although Favede noted those matters were just under consideration and not officially approved, both Gould and Knox noted that with the planning commission moving to hire a grant writer and a secretary certainly indicates the two development organizations are to be replaced.

Knox was also critical of the transfer of funds from the East Ohio Regional Industrial Park to the Mall Road/I-70 development plan in the Ohio Valley Mall/Plaza area. "I am asking for an open, honest discussion of where we're going" with the industrial park.

Although the commission's stand was that it has made a commitment of $250,000 to match a $1 million grant being sought for infrastructure improvements in the industrial park, Knox declared the commission has offered "zero cents" in repayment of money Barnesville has already put into the project. He asked the county repay Barnesville $49,125 it has invested to further plans for the industrial park.

At the conclusion of the nearly three hour meeting, Merry made it clear he would be staying. "I'm not going to leave Belmont County," he declared. There were indications another outpouring of residents over the port authority and industrial park issues would be coming to this week's commission meeting on Wednesday.

A lot of heartache, sadness, memories and grieving were crammed into last weekend as my brother, Ernest, who did his share and then some to bring about an end to World War II, was laid to rest on Tuesday.

It could be said he was a strange type of guy so far as his military life was concerned. Few people, including members of his own family, knew and still don't know the full extent of what he went through during World War II.

He'd readily talk about his work, his family, his garden, his grandchildren, and any other topic but when asked questions about his service, he changed the subject. Even I, his only brother, do not know all the details. From what I gained personally and from tidbits of information he let slip occasionally, his contribution to the war effort was more than just casual.

He was the top turret gunner and flight engineer on the B-17 "Flying Fortress" and after extensive training in Texas and Arizona he was shipped to England to join the world conflict. After 19 bombing missions over Germany his luck ran out and his plane was shot down. His bad luck continued as he parachuted to safety and broke an ankle on hitting the ground. He and the other eight crew members were captured and thrown into a prison camp where hundreds of other POWs were being held.

With allied forces closing in on all fronts, my brother and the other POWs got word that Adolf Hitler had ordered all of the prisoners shot. But Germany's ruling government body broke off affiliation with Hitler and refused to carry out the order.

It was about three months later that ground forces led by Gen. George Patton marched through France into Germany and freed the POWs. When he finally got home, he was thin as a toothpick from being virtually starved in the prison camp. It took some time before he was able to eat a solid meal. I gained that bit of information from his mother who had to prepare special meals for him.

His passing marked the first sibling death in the family in 74 years. He was 85. I had another brother, Mike, who was killed by a suspected drunk driver in 1936. The driver died too.

Overheard bits of a conversation last week where the individuals believed the Belmont County Fair would not be held this year because the new site is not ready. Not so. Just ask any member of the Belmont County Agricultural Society who has been working feverishly to get the site ready.

It's a go on Sept. 7-12. In fact, an 88-page program detailing the schedule of all events has already been prepared and published by the fair board.

Al Molnar can be reached via email at:

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