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Documentary to focus on East Liverpool’s recovery

Western Reserve Public Media will air a documentary focusing on revitalization efforts in East Liverpool.

“East Liverpool, Ohio: My Town,” which airs 10 p.m. Friday on PBS Western Reserve (WNEO 45.1 / WEAO 49.1), highlights the efforts of the East Liverpool Community Partnership in Revitalization to improve their community.

Producer Kelly Woodward said, “The people in this documentary inspired me, and I hope they inspire other people about what’s possible when they join together and bring those diverse talents together.”

Like much of eastern Ohio from Cleveland to the Ohio River, East Liverpool was hurt economically by steel mill closures, but loss of employment at area potteries was a greater economic hit. A region that once had more than 130 manufacturers of ceramics, earthenware and stoneware now has three.

Many of the members of the ELCPR graduated from East Liverpool High School in the mid-1980s to early ’90s and left to pursue their careers, only to return home for different reasons. They’ve opened businesses, renovated downtown buildings and nearby houses and created events to draw visitors.

“They brought their talents back to their hometown and really work well together,” Woodward said. “There’s a real spirit of devotion, a real spirit of commitment. If the Diamond (East Liverpool’s historic district) needs weeded or something else needs to be done, they just do it.”

The documentary was proposed by Western Reserve Public Media CEO Trina Cutter, and Woodward was assigned to the project. Woodward had no connection to the southeastern Ohio town, but the Cleveland native said she understood the Rust Belt struggles the area faces.

Residents were cooperative with the project, which touches on the economic hardships of the region and the crime and drug problems that follow without dwelling on those aspects.

“We worked with them from the very beginning, taking the approach of focusing on their efforts,” Woodward said. “Because there are problems, we wanted to focus on the positivity. That was a very conscious choice. East Liverpool has gotten a lot of bad press. People have written it off. It was important to show what is positive there.”

Woodward was able to lure some well-known talent to the documentary. It is narrated by Regis Philbin, former morning show and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” host.

Philbin is a well-known supporter of Notre Dame football, and East Liverpool native Lou Holtz is one of Notre Dame’s most beloved head coaches. Philbin also is an inductee in the Lou Holtz Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame and has visited the town.

“I found his agent in New York and reached out and sent a letter,” she said. “We’re a nonprofit. We’re not paying a ton of money for someone to narrate. He did it for not very much money at all, more out of the kindness in his heart. He knew the people there. He knew Lou Holtz and his passion for his hometown.”

It also features the music of northeast Ohio favorite Michael Stanley, whose “My Town” is used throughout the documentary and became its title.

Woodward described his involvement as “a happy fluke.” She had gone to see Stanley in concert and was reading information about him online after the show. One of the stories mentioned that Stanley’s mother was from East Liverpool. She reached out to him and he responded, giving permission to use “My Town,” both the rousing Michael Stanley Band version and a more somber, acoustic rendition.

“He sent me the link (of the acoustic version), and I fell in love with it,” she said. “It had a reflective tone to it, introspective, looking at your town from a grown-up perspective. I absolutely loved it.”

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