CAMPBELL - It was with the stroke of a pen that thousands of hardworking steelworkers found themselves unemployed 35 years ago Wednesday.
More than a hundred of those former steelworkers, along with their families, elected officials and students, gathered in Campbell to remember the day that became known as Black Monday.
Event organizer William Sferra, who was president of the Steelworkers Local 1418 in Campbell at the time, recalled being called into a meeting Sept. 19, 1977, and receiving word of the Youngstown Sheet & Tube Campbell works shutdown. He spoke at 10 a.m. Wednesday, exactly 35 years to the minute of the layoff announcement.
''Gentlemen, as of this week, right now, we are shutting down the strip mill,'' Sferra replayed the words he heard that day. ''With the stroke of a pen, we went from 5,000 members to 2,500 members within a month.''
The announcement was the first of many to come, and the collapse of the steel industry as it was known in Youngstown and in many cities began. Lack of upgrades to the local mills, sluggish demand, rising competition from imports and costs of shipping helped contribute to the steel industry's demise. By the early 1980s, unemployment levels were reaching 25 percent in Youngstown and Mahoning County.
His predecessor at the local, Jerry Seaman, also spoke Wednesday, recalling the hard work that went into trying to make the mill profitable.
Bill Zemko of Youngstown shows some of the photos and mementoes of the Youngstown steel industry he brought to share on the anniversary of Black Monday. Zemko, who now works at ArcelorMittal in Warren, recalled the days that the Youngstown steel industry was thriving. Tribune Chronicle photos / Brenda J. Linert
''A lot of good people tried hard to keep working, but it wasn't in the cards,'' Seaman said. ''We bounced back pretty good.''
But the theme of an event inside the Campbell Municipal Courtroom Wednesday morning was not all about reminiscing and reflection. A parade of speakers took the time to look at the present and to the future.
''We have probably spent in the last eight years in excess of $6 million trying to revitalize and trying to develop that area of brownfield,'' former Campbell Mayor Jack Dill said.
He said the cooperation with neighboring cities like Youngstown and Struthers also has helped in the revitalization efforts. ''There's a lot of things that are going on down there in trying to improve that area,'' he said.
The speakers also intended to help educate the 40 or so Campbell Memorial High School seniors who gathered for a school field trip about their history and how they can prevent it from repeating itself.
''History is a very important thing and a very powerful thing,'' Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Youngstown, said as he spoke to the crowd, including the students. "I make sure to try to listen to the people that have more experience than I do. ... I am confident we are going to be successful again."
Speaker Mike Deley, a former iron worker who now is a labor studies student, also stressed the importance of being educated and especially aware of issues like the impact competition from imports has on the domestic market.
''The main thing we must do for our young people is reverse our unfair trade,'' Deley said. ''If we can do this, perhaps there will be a better future for cities like Youngstown.''
"You are on the cusp of a new industry," said former steelworker Jerome McNally, speaking directly to the students. He stressed diversity. ''You have to pay attention. Learn so that if something happens and if the bottom falls out, you can find another job.''
Campbell Mayor William VanSuch, who also had lost his job at the Campbell Works when he was a young man, recalled the trying times.
''It's something I will remember for the rest of my life,'' he said. ''I just hope whatever God has in store for us that we work together.''