After the 1977 Flood: My Perspective
I hope you've listened to the season two premiere episode by now and have been following the "Anything But Routine" Facebook page this week - I've been posting pages from "Disaster's Wake: A Retrospective of the 1977 Johnstown Flood," released by The Tribune-Democrat and Johnstown Magazine, that tell survivors' stories. All of the stories in this book are amazing - some are happy, some are sad, but they all show true Johnstown Spirit. The ones that I chose to post were chosen because they especially underscore that desire to stay and rebuild, no matter how difficult.
I was six years old at the time of the flood. None of my relatives were business owners then, but they - we - had ties to the area that went back I don't know how many generations on my dad's side. On my mother's side, I'm third generation - my maternal great-grandfather immigrated to Johnstown from Yugoslavia and sent for his children - of whom my grandfather was one - to come and work in the coal mines. Much has been said of the ethnic heritage of Johnstown, and of the strong work ethic and sense of commitment and dedication immigrants brought with them and passed down - it's speculated that that's why Johnstown has been rebuilt after each of our three major floods, why so many stayed instead of moving out of the flood plain to a place where life might be less dangerous in bad weather. And that may very well be the case. I can only speak for myself when asked why I left Johnstown as an adult and then, nearly 15 years later, willingly gave up a good job in Washington, DC and chose to return. My reason? Johnstown is home. My roots are here. It has its problems just like everywhere else, but it's mine, and having been gone for so long, I appreciate it now more than I ever did. There is still so much more *right* with Johnstown than there is wrong.
Life here was different in the '70s, before the flood, than it is now, of course. Then, Johnstown was thriving; it was like a mini-Pittsburgh. Now it's much different - but then, what place or person doesn't change in 40 years? I'm gratified by the organizations that have sprung up in recent years to revitalize downtown Johnstown, the businesses that have come in and made Johnstown home base or added this location to their roster. It's disheartening to hear people who have grown up here speak so bitterly and negatively, as though Johnstown is garbage. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, of course. I just wish those who see nothing good could see what I see: the hidden gems, the growth that has taken place, the potential, the history of not giving up. What does it hurt?
My family was lucky after the flood - we lost very little, and we were able to stay. Many of them pitched in and volunteered during the citywide-and-beyond cleanup, as countless others did. If there was talk of leaving, I never knew of it. My parents still live in the same house I grew up in. When I came back, I moved literally only a mile down the road from them. Now I live a bit further out, but my love and I go to Johnstown frequently - for dinners with my family, for date nights, for hockey games in the winter. A few weeks ago, for my birthday, we celebrated with a special dinner at the top of the Inclined Plane, and then we drove downtown and walked through Central Park, with its splashing fountain and dozens of strings of twinkle lights, before ending the evening with a drink at a local brew pub that opened not long ago. Its outdoor seating area was filled with people and their dogs enjoying the warm summer night. It was so nice to see people having fun downtown. I deeply hope the opportunities to enjoy Johnstown continue to flourish.