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Hubbard woman’s hobby freezes time

Staff photo / Marly Kosinski Linda Vasconi of Hubbard, accompanied by her terriers, Iris (center) and Vespers, sits in front of one of her black-and-white photographs depicting the basement of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Youngstown.

HUBBARD — Linda Vasconi has had a lot of jobs, but none of them have made her as happy as her hobby of taking photos.

Vasconi, 52, a native of Hickory, Pa., and a 1986 graduate of Hickory High School, talked about her colorful employment history from the Hubbard home she shares with her husband, Bill Hogg, and two female terriers, Iris and Vespers. She and Hogg (Vasconi still uses her maiden name) met 17 years ago when they worked together at Sharon Tube. They have been married four years.

Vasconi now works at Nordson Xaloy Inc., a specialty machine shop in Austintown, where she has been for 3 1/2 years. She is the quality control inspector there, and the Victoria Road company is the result of a merger and relocation of several companies from western Pennsylvania.

“It is highly technical. I have to know a lot about the product to be able to tell if the parts are good,” she said, noting quite a few women work in the office, but she is only one of about a handful who work on the floor.

JOURNEY BEGINS

Her journey to her current job started in high school at Giant Eagle in Hermitage, where she worked for 13 years in various positions, including as a scan coordinator, which meant she was responsible for pricing accuracy. At the age of 27, she went to Youngstown State University and earned an associate’s degree in nutrition, but she said she couldn’t find a job in the field that paid as much as she was making at Giant Eagle. So, she took a job at Frito-Lay for one year and started working at Sharon Tube in 1998.

“The money was good, and I had great benefits,” Vasconi said of the difficult work.

The factory downsized, and she lost her job in 2010, so she went back to school, earning a two-year degree in specialty business at Erie Business College. After that, she went to another machine shop as assistant plant coordinator, but was downsized after just six months.

Vasconi then took a job as an inventory control / purchasing coordinator at Anderson-DuBose in Lordstown in 2013. However, she was laid off from that job in 2014 — just 10 days before Christmas.

She had trouble finding a full-time job and worked for a temporary agency in two-week stints at various companies before learning that Resco Inc. in New Castle needed a quality control inspector. The company produced clay graphite products, and she ended up with black residue all over hands and coat during the interview.

“I told my husband I didn’t want to work there, but I took the job anyway and after six months, I took over the job of the woman who hired me,” Vasconi said.

The company was located next to an abandoned Shenango China factory, and Vasconi said she and her friend both were hired and after work, they would go to the abandoned factory and take pictures with their digital cameras of items left behind — boxes of china bowls, mugs and dishes, as well as old shelves. The 17-acre factory closed in 1992.

“My grandma worked at Shenango China for 10 years and my aunt worked there for 40 years, so I had a special connection to it,” Vasconi said.

INTEREST IN PHOTOGRAPHY

Those photos led to her interest in what she called “abandoned photography,” which is taking photos inside old warehouses, factories and stores. However, she broke her ankle while photographing an abandoned gas station on Indianola Avenue in Youngstown in March 2019.

“I tore three tendons and had two fractures. That ended my interest in abandoned building photography,” Vasconi said.

Her interest in photography began when she was 13.

“I would steal my dad’s Polaroid camera. I took it to a party once, and I showed my earth science teacher, Carol Mitchell, who also was into photography. She told me my pictures had nice composition, and she kind of took me under her wing and taught me some skills,” Vasconi said.

She and Mitchell often went to Buhl Park in Hermitage to take pictures.

“She told me once that taking pictures enabled you to freeze time, and I thought that was so cool,” Vasconi said.

She took two photography classes in high school. During her senior year, she won a blue ribbon in an industrial arts show for the entire northwest quadrant of Pennsylvania.

These days, she is snapping away at pretty much anything — trees, animals, water. Her husband is a frequent model for her pictures.

Vasconi said her monochrome pictures, or black and white, get the most positive responses on social media.

“That may be my new thing,” she said.

Vasconi has won six awards in three years, including the Eileen D. Scragg Memorial Award at the 38th annual Women Artists exhibit at the YWCA Mahoning Valley earlier this year. She won for a black-and-white photograph of fog taken at Harding Park in Hubbard.

She also won the People’s Choice and Best in Show at the Davis YMCA “But I Know What I Like” art competition. She estimates she has taken close to 5,000 photos in the past several years because she shoots “at least 100 pictures” at every site. She attends one or two photography workshops each year with Abandoned America and Uncovering PA.

CHURCH INVOLVEMENT

And because her full-time job and hobby don’t keep her busy enough, Vasconi also is involved at her church — St. John’s Episcopal Church on Wick Avenue in Youngstown. She has been a member for 10 years and helps out with community ministry, including at the church’s food pantry and soup kitchen. She also started a women’s coffee group the third Saturday of each month where the women who come to the soup kitchen get together for fellowship, breakfast and a raffle drawing for door prizes.

Vasconi said the group started out with 15 women and before COVID-19 hit, the group was up to 45. She said the meetings have been halted until the pandemic is over.

The Rev. Gail Catinella has made space at the church for an art gallery, and Vasconi was the first to show her work there.

Her art also has led to her becoming a member of the SMARTS (Students Motivated by the Arts) Circle, which she joined about 18 months ago. Vasconi explained that her company does fundraising within the plant and Nordson doubles whatever the employees raise and the money goes to various charities through grant applications.

SMARTS board member Liz Testa got Vasconi involved in donating art for the organization’s large fundraiser and Vasconi called SMARTS director Becky Keck about applying for one of Nordson’s grants, which led to Vasconi ending up on the board.

Vasconi’s work can be found on Facebook and Instagram under Linda Vasconi Studios.

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