Bay Village Comes Through for its Kids: Bayway Cabin, the Later Years
by Michele Yamamoto
This article is a continuation of the story of the Bayway Cabin history. The first part can be found on the Bay Village Historical website at: https://www.bayhistorical.com/bay-youth-brought-the-community-together-the-early-history-of-the-bayway-cabin/
Bayway Cabin and Bay Youth (1964-1980s):
The Bayway Cabin continued to serve Bay Village as a community center for youth groups throughout the 1960s. An “Information and Regulations” document from November of 1964 lists that the Bayway was available to Bay youth groups sponsored by approved adult organizations who would provide supervision. Bay High School football and baseball coach Jack Llewellyn is listed as director and Mary Ann Martin as secretary of the Bay Village Recreation Board which oversaw the cabin and managed service charges to use the facilities. In 1968 there was already a need for remodeling the Bayway, 10 years after the last. A proposal of $1,265 was made by one contractor to make updates to the floors, patch walls and install wainscoting.
The only information in the Bay Historical Society’s collections that we have found from the Bayway in the 1970s and early 1980s is an October 31, 1980 booklet for a “Drop-In Center.” It lists rules by an organization of parents in charge of a Friday evening program. Jim and Pauline Fowler are listed as general chairpersons of the parent organization that was in charge of operations. The center was started in the 1978/79 school year and was available for Bay students in grades 6-8. Sixteen dances were mentioned for the 1980/81 school year, planned by Entertainment Chairman Ray Biltz. “Relatively few” parents were counted on to run the center, helping in the kitchen snack bar and chaperoning the dances. The students who wanted to participate needed to register for an I.D. card at Bay Village City Hall or the Recreation Center for $1.50. Under the rules of the center is written: “This is your Drop-In Center. A lot of effort, planning, and expense have made it possible. Continued operation of your Drop-In Center depends on you. Use good judgement, common sense, and most of all…HAVE FUN!”
Later in the 1980s there seemed to be a feeling that there weren’t enough activities to keep Bay children in middle school age and older occupied beyond school clubs and sports. The next bit of Bayway history in our collections is a July 28, 1988 article from the Sun Herald that talks about a group of parents, led by Patty Kaiser and Astrida Riders, who sought to create a “gathering spot” for kids in grades 5-12 where they could just socialize and have a bite to eat after school. It was planned by a nonprofit called the Bay Youth Organization, which was made up of parents and kids. The idea was prompted, in part, by a recent story of complaints about kids skateboarding and hanging out at the shopping centers. The Bay Youth Organization proposed their idea of a new socialization club to the City Recreation Commission, who expressed concerns of being able to accommodate space to both the Bay Youth Organization’s proposed after school/weekend club and groups like the Boy and Girl Scouts, who were already using the building.
During the 1980s more parents in Bay were working outside of the home and there were worries that kids needed a safe to place to be supervised after school. The concerns were further compounded by the October 1989 after school kidnapping of Bay Village 5th grader Amy Mihaljevic from the Bay Village Square Shopping Center which seems to have had a lasting effect on the Bay Village community and worries about its children. The Mihaljevic case is listed in a January, 1997 The Plain Dealer article about Bayway volunteer and Bay Village Citizen of the Year Mary Ellen Meyers as a reason to continue her volunteer work for Bay youth. “I decided that this town is never going to see another tragedy like Amy Mihaljevic if I can help it,” she is quoted.
Concerns for Kids in Changing Times (the 1990s):
In our collection we have several news articles and reports from the 1990s about the concerns over the increasing violence in public schools in America. It was believed that the violence was fueled by poverty, drug abuse, the proliferation of hand guns and violence in the mass media. There were a lot of theories as to how to combat this. Socialization was one suggestion mentioned as an important way to increase children’s self-esteem and teach them how to resolve conflicts non-violently with their peers. Building a relationship between kids, parents and their communities and emphasizing education over punishment could create safe environments for schoolkids.
Bay High School’s publication, the Bay Window, reported on November 18, 1994 that a school levy failed to pass in Bay for the second time in less than a year by a slim margin of 96 votes. One of the many consequences of this, writer Scott Graham worried, was that extracurriculars such as clubs, sports and band would need to be paid for by the participants, which would limit them to only the wealthier families. Teacher cuts, custodial, lunch service and a freeze on new supplies were also feared. Students were quoted as being disappointed that a majority of the Bay voting community wouldn’t support them.
I spoke with former Kiwanis Club President (1996-1997) and Bay Village Historical Society volunteer Bill O’Brien who remembers the mid-1990s and his work on the Bayway. He spent many years in recreation, working for the city of Pittsburgh and in Shaker Heights. Bill and his wife Elaine have two daughters, Frances (Jessica) and Caitlin, who were in elementary and middle school at the time, and he saw the need for Bay’s own sort of Boys and Girls Club for whom he was working. He realized, as did a lot of the town’s parents, that there wasn’t a lot for kids in middle school through high school to do in Bay after school except hang out on the streets. To avoid this, the town needed a place where kids could just socialize and get help with homework, all in a safe environment. “There was a group of parents, I guess, who were approaching council all of the time about what can we do about youth recreation and there is no youth recreation facility, per se, in Bay Village other than the outdoor pools and tennis courts…let’s build something like the rec. center…it kind of distilled into, well the Bayway Cabin, maybe we can do something with that.” O’Brien became part of a committee to discuss ideas as to what such a place for youth would look like.
All of this discussion and buzz about the kids in the Bay community caught the attention of Bay Village Mayor Tom Jelepis. He and his wife Beverly had two daughters, Elizabeth and Caitlin, who were approaching middle school age. He remembered his experiences growing up in that age group and what an important time it is in the development of a child. During the time he was on Bay City Council (1992/1993) and Mayor of Bay Village (1994-2000) he remembers, “probably the proudest accomplishment I ever had was working with the kids because that’s important, you know, and working with the schools. At the time there wasn’t an area where especially middle schoolers could go and that is such a vulnerable age right there…so we spoke to the city, we spoke to the schools.” O’Brien credits Jelepis for lending much needed weight to the youth center project idea. “He wanted to get that done and I know he really worked hard on it, considering all of the other things he had to work on.”
Bay Village Kiwanis Club is Approached:
The town knew whom to approach to get things done in Bay Village (especially for the town youth) and that was the Kiwanis Club. Jelepis credits the local organization for making a youth center happen. O’Brien remembers “I think [the town] knew to approach us. There were quite a group of guys in there, I mean every part of the community was in Kiwanis, a lot of the business guys. We considered Bay Kiwanis to be ‘the group.’ There was a strong membership for years and years, longtime members that did a lot of things for the community. People would come to [Bay Kiwanis Club] and things would get rolling because we were so involved in every other aspect in the community. We had council people on the board with us, business people, people involved in the churches…it was a pretty good community regardless, I mean we do a lot of things around here as a community anyway, but they kind of focused for us.”
Bonnie Hunt, Youth Coordinator of the Bay Village Youth Center Program:
Jelepis knew whom to ask to lead the new program, and that person was Bonnie Hunt. She initially turned down the offer but Jelepis would not give up on convincing her otherwise. He knew she was the person for the job and asked her repeatedly to interview for it. Hunt recalls what she told the mayor: “Well, I’ll interview but we’re going on vacation and don’t count on me when I get back. Well, he came to my door two weeks later and said, ‘we haven’t found anyone else more qualified than you. Would you still consider it?’ The thing of it is, he never interviewed anybody. It was just me. He just waited until I got back.” Hunt agreed to run the program on one condition. She says, “That was my caveat…if you want me to do this, the program has to be free of charge. If you charge a family for the privilege of coming then I’m missing the very kids that I’m trying to attract.”
Hunt moved to Bay Village in 1979 with her young family and volunteered extensively over the following years. She knew much about the needs of children during the 1990s and could speak with authority on the subject of kids needing a safe place to go after school when their parents were working. Through the city she conducted the Drug Free Schools Program, funded by Bay Village City schools. The focus of the program was parent education and the importance of parents networking with other families and the community at large. Once a year she conducted a parent workshop called “Parent University.” It included keynote speakers and breakout sessions for the adult participants. During the sessions parents expressed concerns that there really wasn’t anywhere that Bay Village kids could hang out safely. They wondered why Bayway Cabin couldn’t be available for kids to use in this way.
Hunt’s daughter Marcy was attending the College of Wooster at the time. Her daughter Katie was preparing to attend the University of Indiana. Hunt now had the time she needed to do even more for the youth of the community. Instead of deciding to take some time for herself, away from the needs of children, she became even more involved in the lives of so many more that were not her own. As O’Brien points out, “Her kids were past that age so she didn’t have any vested interest of her own for the kids. She just wanted something good for the community.”
History Repeats Itself and the Bay Community Again Comes Through for Its Kids:
The Bayway Cabin, as was noted in the late 1980s, was not large enough to accommodate a special daily youth program. A new wing would have to be built and it would cost money. Hunt remembers, “The bottom line was, there was no money for this…to sell the idea that this cabin, by adding this on, would improve the lives of our children, especially those who were in middle school. That was the target age range. [Bay] Middle School was located very close to the Bayway Cabin so kids didn’t need to be bused. They could easily walk. St. Raphael’s was just down the road and they were welcome, if they wanted to come. This was the target age range that made Bayway Cabin a good location.”
The City of Bay and its residents came through with much-needed funds for Bayway. The City Council was very supportive of the idea and the city put in $50,000 for the construction and remodel of the old building. Dick Martin, who was president at the time, was a major supporter. Finance Director Steven Presley would approve many of Hunt’s ideas. Director of Building Farrell Cleary used his resources to get the initial construction underway. The money from the city was matched by the Kiwanis Club and residents of Bay at $50,000.
Luckily there were lots of people in Bay and beyond who believed in the idea of an after-school youth center. As they did in the early days of the Bayway Cabin in the 1950s, various businesses and groups donated much labor and building materials. If you can name the local business or volunteer, chances are they helped in some way with the opening of the youth center. It began with a groundbreaking on March 31, 1995. In the months following, there were volunteers pouring concrete (supervised by Jim Sears in the City Public Service & Properties Department) and doing drywall. Lakewood High School students of the West Shore Vocational trade class who were learning the construction business would come and do a lot of the work, supervised by the Bay Village Building Department. Dave Volle upgraded the electrical work. A new roof was put on with donated materials and labor by Modern Roofing Supply and Fairview Roofing. A number of volunteers attended “paint parties” for the interior walls with special marbleizing techniques and stencils done by artists Carole Tate Begala and Mary Ann Campbell. O’Brien remembers, “I also helped with the remodeling. I hung drywall there, my wife and I both. Her Girl Scout troop did too. I think [the Kiwanis Club] tried to get every group in town involved in there.”
The city paid the salaries of Hunt and her assistant but Hunt secured donations for the inside of the building. She procured donations of pool and foosball tables, computers, craft supplies etc. to outfit the inside with activities for the kids to do. The Bay Women’s Club, Bay Junior Women’s Club, Kiwanis Club and various other non-profits helped contribute. Many of the parents of the children who attended also made donations to the youth center. As long as Hunt could raise the money and make it work, the center would keep running.
Hunt says, “I think it was just golden. It was just the right idea at the right time, with the right group of people behind it that…much like the making of [Play in Bay] in Cahoon Park. That was the stimulus for me to make the Bayway Cabin Youth Center a success. If a community group could get a playground built…and it was shortly after the playground got built that the Bayway Cabin and the Bay Village Youth Center kind of started taking form. It was just the right time for that kind of opportunity.”
Bay Village Youth Center Officially Opens:
A ribbon cutting ceremony and party was held on Saturday, September 28, 1996. In a press release to announce the event Mayor Tom Jelepis asked the children of Bay to bring their own scissors to help him cut the ribbon and open the doors of the 2,500 square foot addition to Bayway Cabin. “I guarantee no one will be cut from this fun opportunity to dedicate this terrific facility. We’re all very proud of this achievement and the safe environment it will provide after school for 5th-8th graders in our community.”
There were 30-60 kids that used the new program and it ran very smoothly. Middle school kids were welcome as soon as school let out until about 6pm. 9th graders were welcomed by 1996. Registration was not required. Daily sign in and sign out notified parents of their child’s attendance that day. The responsibility for attendance was between the parent and their child. The child could call their parents upon arriving and before leaving. A flyer was sent out once a month by Bonnie’s assistant Claire to all of the town’s middle school homerooms with a list of activities offered at the center. Because it was not a fee-based program, if a kid needed to leave early, they could just call a parent and leave. If their behavior was bad, Bonnie could ask the child to leave for the day and come back on another day, when they could do better. Bay Village Parks and Recreation under Don Weeks and later Dan Enovitch was in the building and there to help, if called upon. The Police Department at the time was located next door in City Hall and would be available, which provided a sense of security. The program was held under the Community Services Department, run at the time by Adele Wheeler, who had a strong belief system in what was trying to be accomplished and took the youth center under her department for that reason. Hunt says, “None of this project could have worked if it wasn’t for the support of all of the surrounding people in the city. I didn’t feel alone.”
Volunteers Helped Make the Center a Success:
Hunt credits the volunteers who helped the Youth Center for creating the relationships with the kids that made them want to keep coming back. It only survived with the cooperation and volunteered time and energy of a lot of people. High school kids were a big help at the center. Every day after school about five or six high school students would come to volunteer. Recruitment was mainly through word-of-mouth. The teens seem to enjoy their time with the younger children and played outdoor games they would organize for them. They became friends, which was appealing for the younger kids. Hunt was grateful for their enthusiastic help and for attracting many middle schoolers to the program. Hunt also created many projects at Bayway Cabin for the young people looking for volunteer hours to fulfill in Bay. For instance, the Boy Scouts could earn the rank of Eagle Scout by doing various projects in the building, including painting the walls, building raised beds for the garden and constructing a new sign for the center.
The adult volunteers conducted activities like crafts and supervised the computers. They ran various programs and helped supervise the indoor facilities in general. Hunt remembers how one of these adults, then Mayor Tom Jelepis, would come spend time with the kids: “He was a good pool player and so he would come from the mayor’s office and play pool every once in a while with these kids. You couldn’t imagine how these kids thought that the mayor of the city came to the youth center and played pool with us. They really got a kick out of it.” One news article in the archive details one such tournament in which the kids took on the mayor in an eight-ball pool challenge.
Activities at the Youth Center:
There were a lot of activities in which the kids could participate but had a choice. Fridays were movie days and the kids could watch movies they would borrow from the video tape rental store across the street. Once a week, the children’s librarian at the Bay Village Library would present books for kids to read. There were yoga and dance programs. Several computers were used to play video games. Hunt remembers: “The Oregon Trail was one of the most popular games. I remember that, because I had a limited number of computers that kids would literally run…I could hear the bell that dismissed them from the middle school…and they ran to Bayway Cabin to get to one of those computers.” As Jelepis describes the scene for the kids: “They were in a structured environment and they didn’t know they were in a structured environment, which was the beauty of it.”
Youth Coordinator Bonnie Hunt has been given much of the credit for the success of the youth program at Bayway. Says Jelepis, “Bonnie was really the key to this. She just made it tick. I was just kind of in the position to be able to help, whatever I could do to help. Bonnie was such a gentle lady and the kids loved her. Bonnie was remarkable, I will say that. She did a phenomenal job. She really led the charge and the rest of us followed.” O’Brien agrees by saying, “Bonnie really stepped up. She said that she would run it and she did a really nice job. She’s just such a nice person, very caring and knows how to deal with kids.”
Doing More for Kids in Bay Village 1995-2000s:
Bay families received many wins in the mid-1990s to early 2000s. Bay Village Youth Center was named Bay Village Project of the Year in 1996, earning this distinction one year after the construction of Cahoon Memorial Park’s playground Play in Bay. Soon after, Bay Village was named the “Most Livable Community in Cuyahoga County” by Cleveland Magazine in 1995 and again in 1996. A brand-new middle school was built in 2003 which later housed a gym and weight room for the Bay community.
The Last Years of Bayway:
Bonnie Hunt decided to retire in 2006 to join her husband Jim and do some traveling. In 2019 they moved to Portland, Oregon to be closer to her daughter Marcy and grandson Zak. Bonnie says that leaving Bay Village was difficult to do, having made so many friends and having been so involved in community life. Hunt describes her 40 years living in Bay Village as wonderful and remarks upon what a special place residents have in Bay Village. Ask her now if all of those many hours she spent on behalf of the Bay Village Youth Center was worth it and Hunt will say, “Was it worth it? I’d do it all again in a heartbeat!”
The Bay Village Youth Center after school program continued for a least two more years under new leadership, according to Dan Enovitch. Unfortunately, the 2008 recession hit and budget cuts meant that the youth program had to eventually end. Bayway then reopened as a Kiddie Kollege daycare center in 2012.
As of 2022, there is no longer a physical reminder of the old Bayway Cabin at the spot on 27400 Wolf Road. In March 2021 the Bayway Cabin was completely demolished to make way for the new Bay Village Library building. The old 1920s building, with all of its subsequent extensions, is no more. The site of so many events, through its time as a cafeteria at Parkview School and later as a center of youth activities, will now be remembered only through photographs, papers and the stories it leaves behind. I hope that the history of the Bayway, how the town came together for its youth and the positive impact it had on so many generations of Bay kids, will serve as inspiration and continue to be repeated in other iterations for years to come.
A Call to the Kids of Bayway:
Did you attend the Bay Village Youth Center in the 1990s/2000s or participate in any of the Bayway’s activities over the years? We’d love to hear the experiences from the youth of the time and keep a record for the Bay Village Historical Society archives. We’d also like to identify the kids in the Bayway photos. You may share this information by posting on the Bay Village Historical Society Facebook page or by contacting us at email@example.com and mention the Bayway in your subject line.