It was a time of war, suffering and sacrifice.
The fate of nations hinged on the manufacturing might of places like the Mahoning Valley, where giant mills along the Mahoning River belched fire and smoke to produce steel needed to make tanks, ships, guns and other weapons that eventually would win World War II.
Thomas Kosa, left, USW Local 1375 President Ed Machingo, center, and Sam Kosa stand beside a painting by Kosas’ father, Victor, of an open hearth furnace at the demolished U.S. Steel Ohio Works in Youngstown. Local paintings of the steel mill era previously displayed at USW Local 1330’s hall in Campbell have found a new home at the Local 1375 meeting room in Warren. Photo by Larry Ringler
It also was a time that inspired Youngstown artist and interior designer Victor Kosa to immortalize the workers whose labor helped turn the tide against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
Some 68 years after he put scenes of a blast furnace, open hearth furnace and steel ingot pouring on canvas around 1944, the paintings have found a home in the Mahoning Valley's last integrated steelmaker union, Local 1375 in Warren.
Union carpenters who work at the RG Warren steel mill built wooden frames so the paintings could be hung under glass in the local's meeting room.
Ed Machingo, departing president of the nearly 1,000-member local, said the paintings hung for years on the wall of USW Local 1330's hall in Campbell, where members worked at U.S. Steel's Ohio Works.
The Ohio Works closed in 1981, although the union kept the hall until 2007, he said. At that point, USW District 1 Director David McCall looked for a home for the paintings.
"He believed they needed to hang in a union hall somewhere in Mahoning or Trumbull county. Since we're the biggest local in Trumbull County, he gifted them to us," Machingo said.
Kosa's sons, Thomas and Sam, said their father worked at office furniture maker General Fireproofing during World War II but made his mark by designing the interiors of restaurants, hotels, churches and other buildings in the Mahoning Valley, western Pennsylvania and throughout the Great Lakes region.
Through his VeKay Studios in Youngstown, Kosa's projects included the Golden Gate restaurant in Warren, Idora Park Ballroom add Voyager Hotel in Youngstown, they said.
"He had no formal training. It was all self-taught," Tom said.
Sam, of Massillon, recalled his father designing chairs for Gasser Chair Co. in Youngstown, along with bars. He was always "very particular" when it came to designing kitchens, stressing cleanliness, Sam said.
Victor, who died at 74, also was known for introducing the "black light" look to area nightclubs, they said.
Many of the businesses where Kosa did his work have closed, but the three large paintings at Local 1375 remain part of Victor Kosa's legacy.
"I see my heritage hanging on the wall," said Machingo, who has worked 38 years at the Warren mill.
Sam Kosa said the paintings bring back memories when he, as an engineer, was a consultant to the steel mills.
"It shows our Mahoning Valley heritage," he said.
Tom Kosa, of Austintown, said the fire and smoke in the paintings make him glad he started a 39-year career at the General Motors Co. Lordstown Complex instead of a steel mill.
"I got called to Youngstown Sheet & Tube a week after I started at GM. If I'd gone to the mill, I'd have worked 10 years and lost my job," he said of the mill that closed in 1977.