Hubbard Township, Ohio
Transylvania is a land of mystery, myth and intrigue – probably best known as the home of Dracula. But good people come out of Transylvania, too. Daniel and Catherine (Suteu) Libeg came to Sharon from the Transylvania area in 1912. Three years later Catherine gave birth to a son, Nicholas.
The Libeg family lived for a while in Pulaski, PA, where the elementary school had one room with one teacher who taught everything in all eight grades. Compare that with kids today who probably have different teachers for language arts, science, math, music, art, library, and gym – perhaps 20 or 25 teachers before.
There was no gym in the Pulaski elementary school, but the kids got plenty of exercise by walking to school. And that sometimes provided more adventure, excitement, and aerobic exercise than many gym classes do today.
“One day my sister and I decided to take a shortcut through another farmer’s pasture,” Nick said. “There was a bull, and all of a sudden he put his head down. That’s a bad sign. So we started running. My sister was taller and much faster than me, and I was hollering, ‘Wait for me.’ She grabbed my hand and dragged me along. I lost my shoe. We made it across the fence and climbed a tree because he could come through that fence easily if he wanted to. He finally went back towards his home, and my sister ran and got my shoe. We didn’t take that route again.”
Nick’s father worked in the steel mills and had to move wherever the work was, so Nick attended a number of schools.
“I went to practically every school in Sharon – South Ward, Russell Street, and I think it was Central – where Penn State is now. And I went to school in Hubbard, Brookfield, and Warren, Ohio.”
When Nick graduated from Brookfield High School in 1933, local steel mills were not hiring new employees. He moved to Indiana Harbor, Indiana, to work at Inland Steel, a plant with about 15,000 employees. He loaded and unloaded steel eight hours a day, five days a week, for 65 cents an hour.
The company had an excellent sports program, with bowling, boxing, wrestling, and other sports. All the employees would contribute a couple of dollars out of their pay every six months or so. Nick won the inter-mill boxing tournament in the 135 lb class.
“After winning that championship, I decided that boxing was not going to be my career,” Nick said. “I decided I liked dancing more than boxing. East Chicago had a fine dance hall called Danceland. Most of the dancers, both men and women, were ‘stags,’ and were very good dancers. I learned much from them – swing, waltz, cha-cha, etc.”
Nick came home for Christmas in 1936 for a ten-day vacation. He decided to stay when he learned he could get a job at National Steel Castings that paid $2 more per day than he was earning in Indiana.
He worked days at National and evenings at his mother’s tavern for a couple of years. In 1938, they built Libby’s Tavern, in Masury, Ohio, that did very well. He quit his day job to manage it full time.
“It was located on old Route 62 that went from Sharon, PA, to Youngstown, Ohio,” Nick said. The Jennings Manufacturing plant was right next door to it, and General American was right across the street. It was centrally located to the steel mills.”
Then World War II started, and Nick was drafted into the infantry in June, 1940.
“I was sent to Camp Walters in Texas,” Nick said. “Then I was transferred to Headquarters Company of the 179th Infantry, 45th Division in Camp Barkley, Texas, not too far from Dallas. They made me clerk typist because I had taken typing and shorthand in school. Clerk typists were worth their weight in gold because there weren’t many there who could type.”
One of his major jobs was to do the paperwork for courts martial.
“Mardi Gras was on just at the time the 45th Division went on maneuvers in Louisiana. Hundreds of men went AWOL. Most of them were gone for just three or four days, but we did have some that were gone for as much as four months. One was six months. He had found himself a girl friend and had gotten a job.”
Nick’s regiment had all of their paperwork and data completed long before any of the other regiments. The captain in charge of the courts martial was happy with his work, so he recommended Nick for Officers Candidate School.”
After completing OCS at Fort Benning, Georgia, Nick was commissioned a second lieutenant and went to Camp Rucker, Alabama, where he served about a year as an infantry basic training officer.
“They saw in my resume that I had managed a tavern and a restaurant, so all of a sudden I was the mess officer and officers club manager, along with all of my other duties.
But he wanted to be a pilot, so he transferred to the Army Air Corps. He was sent to train at Maxwell Field, Alabama, then to Clarksdale, Mississippi.
“I loved it, but I crashed two planes. After the second accident, my trainer wanted to know whose side I was on in the war.”
Nick still wanted to fly even though he couldn’t be a pilot. He became a bombardier, with cross-training as a navigator.
On October 15, 1943, in Panama City, Florida, Nick married Madeline Ann Cain of Youngstown. They were able to be together until Nick was assigned overseas to fly missions on a B-24 bomber out of England.
“We flew mostly lone missions at night over France and Germany. We also dropped supplies to the French and Norwegian resistance forces.”
Enemy fire made the work dangerous, but one of the most frightening incidents occurred because of a problem within their own plane. They were carrying twelve 500-lb bombs designed to explode on impact. Each bomb was held up by solenoid-activated clips at its nose and tail. Nine of the bombs released properly, but three didn’t. The clip on the front of the top bomb released, tipping the bomb nose down onto the one below it. One wrong move and it would have exploded.
“Well, we were pretty close to heaven about that time,” Nick said. “It was 20 degrees below zero. I had to go back along an 18 inch wide walkway over the open bomb bay doors and release the bombs with a screw driver.”
After completing the required 30 missions, the crew headed back to the United States on a ship. They were supposed to begin training for assignment to the South Pacific. Fortunately, the war ended while they were still at sea.
Nick was released from the service in October, 1945. He came back home to work at Libby’s Tavern. That’s when Nick and Madeline started their family. Their first daughter Valery was born in November, 1946, daughter Ann in June, 1948, and son John in September, 1949.
“The tavern was doing well, but it wasn’t enough to support my mother, my sister, and me. So in June, 1950, I got my real estate license.”
That same year Nick and Madeline bought a farm in Petroleum, Ohio (Hubbard Township). While his family grew with the births of son Tom (April, 1952) and daughter Mary Kay (April, 1954), Nick started a long and successful career in both real estate sales and appraisals.
In 1955, Nick began real estate development of his property in Hubbard Township. He put in Connelly Street, named after a friend who was instrumental in his purchase of a piece of property from U.S. Steel which provided access to his property. In 1956 he added Madeline Street and Catherine Street, named after his wife and his mother.
For many years he did appraisal work for banks and loan organizations, as well as appraisal work for state and local governments. He was very active in many community organizations, including the Farrell Lions Club, the Wolves Club, the American Legion, VFW Post 8860, the Optimist Club in Brookfield, and the Shenango Valley Board of Realtors. He served terms as president of a number of them.
But if you want to hear pride in his voice, ask him about his family, whose ties remain strong to this day.
“We are a close-knit family,” he says.
He speaks lovingly of his wife, who passed away in 1989 from a cerebral aneurism. It struck her suddenly and unexpectedly a couple of blocks from home, where Catherine Street intersects with the street that bears her name.
Their five children and nine grandchildren are now scattered from Hermitage and Brookfield to Maryland and Nevada. When they get together, their kids reminisce about the great times they had as a family, particularly swimming at Farmer Jim’s in Cortland. They had a good chance recall old times on December 20th, when 20 members of Nick’s family and friends gathered to celebrate his 90th birthday at his son Tom’s house in Hermitage.
That gathering wasn’t just the celebration of one day in Nick’s life. It was the celebration of his successful career, his great family, and his continuing good health. Not bad for the son of immigrants, a kid who started his education in a one-room school.
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 1, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2007