Kathy Oberst Ledger interview, 10 July 2017

Kathy Oberst Ledger was born in New York and moved as a child to the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. Ledger recalls when Detroit Shoreway. After getting married she moved to the Clark-Fulton neighborhood, which she recalls had a large Appalachian population mostly from West Virginia. She recalls that many Spanish-speaking residents moved to Clark-Fulton from Tremont. She discusses taking over Judy's White Oaks, a bar her parents ran, and turning it into a nightclub called Diamond Dill's Tropical Lounge in the late 1980s. She contrasts its cosmopolitan clientele from its predecessor's mostly Appalachian white patronage and believes that neighbors' hostility toward this diversity led to the city forcing the club's closure and demolition just two years later after she refused to install a steel beam that an inspector claimed was needed. Ledger has been actively trying to revitalize her community through her own initiatives, working closely with Metro West Community Development Organization, and applying for grants from Neighborhood Connections. Most of her efforts have been geared toward community gardening and positioning the neighborhood as an "International Village."

Participants: Oberst Ledger, Kathy (interviewee) / Nemeth, Sarah (interviewer)
Collection: Metro West
Institutional Repository: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Interview Transcript

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:01] Hi, my name is Sarah Nemeth. Today is July-

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:00:06] Seventh.

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:07] Today's the seventh? The tenth.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:00:09] Tenth.

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:10] July 10, 2017. We are here at Kathy Oberst's house in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood on West 48th Street. This is for the Cleveland Regional Oral History Project. And could you please state your name for the record?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:00:27] Kathleen Oberst Ledger.

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:31] Thank you. And where were you born?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:00:34] I was born New York, Manhattan.

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:37] Wow.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:00:38] Yeah. Bellevue Hospital.

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:42] When was that?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:00:43] 1947.

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:47] How long did you live there?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:00:49] Only five years.

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:50] Do you have any memory from there?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:00:52] Well, yeah, was going back and forth during the years, back and forth to New York.

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:57] Oh, you continued to keep going back?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:01:00] Yeah, my family's over in New York.

Sarah Nemeth [00:01:02] Okay, awesome. And where did- Did you move to Cleveland?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:01:09] We moved to Cleveland on West 57th and Detroit Avenue. I went to Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, which is on Detroit.

Sarah Nemeth [00:01:20] Do you have any ethnic background?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:01:23] Italian and Spanish.

Sarah Nemeth [00:01:28] And at Mount Carmel?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:01:30] Mm hmm.

Sarah Nemeth [00:01:32] What was that like?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:01:35] The nuns were really good. I mean, I went to Catholic school all my life, more or less, so. Then I made my communion over there. So it was all Italian neighborhood.

Sarah Nemeth [00:01:50] This whole area was Italian?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:01:52] No, on Detroit.

Sarah Nemeth [00:01:53] Okay, Detroit Shoreway area.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:01:56] Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:01:59] All Italian. And were there bakeries and any restaurants?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:02:02] Oh, yeah.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:02:02] There was Fiocca and [Isabella]. That was the main bakeries that was over there was 69th, which West 69th is still Italians. That's where we lived. We went down on West 69th. That's where Matt Zone lives, the councilman. So, yeah, it's old neighborhood.

Sarah Nemeth [00:02:30] Do you remember what your house looked like?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:02:32] Yeah, I do. And believe it or not, the house is no longer standing there.

Sarah Nemeth [00:02:37] Oh, really?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:02:38] Yeah, they got rid of it. But every time I go down there, you can't get rid of memories.

Sarah Nemeth [00:02:45] Right. What did it look like?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:02:47] Believe it or not, when you go down that street, it looks like an old western town because it's so narrow. [laughs] And my dad used to always call it a western town, but it was older homes. Now they have it all fixed up because it's Detroit Shoreway. But still, don't get rid of the memories.

Sarah Nemeth [00:03:08] Right. Was there in your community maybe a landmark that something that you thought of in Detroit Shoreway that you-

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:03:21] Well, they got rid of Isabella the bakery and Fiocca's. So the main thing that is our Lady of Mount Carmel. I mean, and you go to the feast every year, so-

Sarah Nemeth [00:03:40] the feast?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:03:41] Oh, yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:03:42] What was the feast?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:03:43] The Lady of Mount Carmel has a feast, like, you know, St. Rocco's and all the other churches. And you go there, you get your Italian foods, and, yeah, everybody gets along with everybody. [laughs]

Sarah Nemeth [00:04:04] Where did people work in the community?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:04:08] There was a lot of regular, like, little shops and stuff like that. A lot of 'em were in factories back in the day, they got rid of all the factories, all the stuff. Mainly on Detroit now is all different bars. And you name the bars, they got the bars. Back in the day, there was only maybe about eight bars.

Sarah Nemeth [00:04:35] That's quite a difference.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:04:37] Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:04:39] And do you know any of the factories that people worked at?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:04:44] No. No, not really, because I was too young at the time and didn't really care. [laughs]

Sarah Nemeth [00:04:52] What were you doing for fun?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:04:56] Kids back in the day, they didn't do too much of anything. They're not like today's kids. You were under the parents' thumb.

Sarah Nemeth [00:05:06] So they were constantly watching you.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:05:08] Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:05:09] And if they weren't watching you, the neighbors were. Neighbors didn't hesitate to grab you by your ear and bring you back home to your mother and father. Today, you can't talk to these kids. You can't. Nothing. Kids have no respect for nothing today. Back in the day, you didn't think of even saying half of the stuff that's being said today. So times change.

Sarah Nemeth [00:05:38] Yeah. Definitely a yes, ma'am, no, ma'am type of atmosphere. So it definitely was a community sense.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:05:47] Oh, yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:05:47] Everyone knew everybody.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:05:49] All of 'em. Everybody.

Sarah Nemeth [00:05:52] Back in the day, did you notice that change?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:05:54] Very much so. Very much so. Most of the time, you don't know your next-door neighbor because everybody's got their nose up in the air. Somebody thinks they're better than the other person, and then it's a difference in the way they were raised. If you weren't raised old school-.

Sarah Nemeth [00:06:16] There's no helping it.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:06:17] I really feel sorry for the younger generation today. I would not want to raise no kids today. None. I feel sorry for them, really, because they don't- Their parents never taught them. There might be a handful that was taught. Other than that, they were not taught.

Sarah Nemeth [00:06:42] When, for example, if you got in trouble or something, what might be something that you got in trouble for in that neighborhood?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:06:51] Now, today?

Sarah Nemeth [00:06:52] No. Then when you were young. Oh, you were in Detroit Shoreway.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:06:57] Probably being out after hours.

Sarah Nemeth [00:07:02] Was it when the street lights went on?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:07:04] Yeah, we had to be in by that time the street lights went on.

Sarah Nemeth [00:07:08] Yep.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:07:08] There was no being outside, so the streetlights came on, and you were not at home yet you got in trouble. Mm hmm.

Sarah Nemeth [00:07:17] Were there a lot of cars around in that neighborhood?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:07:20] Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah. There was no problem with the vehicles and people driving. There was quite a bit of action. But if you needed to go to the store, next-door neighbor didn't hesitate to say, well, come on, we'll take you to the store. Today you could have your tongue hanging on the floor. They won't take you to the store. [laughs]

Sarah Nemeth [00:07:46] Very true. Do you remember when I-90 and 71 were put in? It's like 1960- Late 1960s, early '70s.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:08:02] I was married by then.

Sarah Nemeth [00:08:03] You were married by then?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:08:06] Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:08:07] How old were you when you got married?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:08:09] Just turning 18. You know, you think you know everything.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:08:15] Yeah.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:08:16] You're getting away from mom, dad. You don't have to listen. You're not under their thumb no more. I'm gonna get married. Mm hmm.

Sarah Nemeth [00:08:25] Did you meet him from the neighborhood?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:08:27] No, no, he was not from the neighborhood. We moved over from Detroit. We moved over here on Fulton, another Italian neighborhood.

Sarah Nemeth [00:08:38] Fulton was Italian?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:08:39] Yes. St. Rocco's.

Sarah Nemeth [00:08:42] Okay.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:08:43] And, no, I didn't meet him over there. Actually, he was a friend of my boyfriend at the time. [laughs]

Sarah Nemeth [00:08:52] Interesting how those things work out.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:08:53] Mm hmm. Yeah, it sure is.

Sarah Nemeth [00:08:55] Where did you go to high school?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:08:58] I went to St. Michael's High School, and then, like I said, I was just turning 18, decided, well, I knew everything. So I quit school, and I wound up going to beautician school.

Sarah Nemeth [00:09:15] Where'd you go to beautician school?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:09:17] Down on East 4th and Prospect. It was Ohio City Beauty School.

Sarah Nemeth [00:09:25] Were there a lot of people there?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:09:27] Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:09:28] Were any men?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:09:29] Oh, yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:09:30] There were?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:09:31] Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:09:32] What year was this?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:09:36] We're talking back, oh, I don't know exactly what year, but you figure I got married in '66, so it had to be, like, in, I want to say maybe '64, around there.

Sarah Nemeth [00:09:53] Okay. And that's surprising that there- So there was a barber section?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:09:59] No, no.

Sarah Nemeth [00:10:00] Were men doing ladies' hair?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:10:02] Yes.

Sarah Nemeth [00:10:03] Did they get any, like-

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:10:05] No, nobody looked at everybody crazy like- And didn't mean that you were gay because you were doing the woman's hair. No.

Sarah Nemeth [00:10:13] It was all kosher. Everything was fine.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:10:15] Everything was fine. In fact, we had a lot of good times there because of it, because you were able to talk and converse and if you want to get technical, a man does a woman's hair a whole lot better than a woman does a woman's hair.

Sarah Nemeth [00:10:34] It is true.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:10:35] It is.

Sarah Nemeth [00:10:39] So you moved to Fulton area?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:10:42] Mm hmm.

Sarah Nemeth [00:10:43] And it was predominantly Italian.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:10:45] Mm hmm.

Sarah Nemeth [00:10:46] What was like coming in further, was it Italian?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:10:52] Here? [SN: Yeah.] No, it wasn't. That's why I named this place International Village. It's got every nationality in this area.

Sarah Nemeth [00:11:03] Has it always had that, or was that a more recent development?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:11:07] It's more recent that it's international. Back in the day, this area was more. We call it the good old boys area, you know, from down south, West Virginia. All that was in this area.

Sarah Nemeth [00:11:24] Okay. So a lot of Appalachians, Appalachian people, did they have, like, farm animals? I know that you guys have some over there [laughs], some chickens was there. Did they bring their-

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:11:40] No, no, no, they did not. Now, the house next door to me before I moved in this area, that used to be a dairy farm.

Sarah Nemeth [00:11:51] Really?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:11:51] Yeah.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:11:54] No, he had. Joe had cows right here on West 48th. This was a dairy. This was- This was all. Hmm. Next door over on this side, they had a machine shop in the back, and we're talking about years and years and years ago. So this mainly was, like I said, all the good old boys area. They did a lot of hunting and stuff like that. And not so much animals. No, I'm the animal person.

Sarah Nemeth [00:12:33] I do love animals, too. All the times that I've come here, I'm so excited because I love cats.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:12:39] Mm hmm.

Sarah Nemeth [00:12:40] And they all just swarm me. It's fun. So it's Appalachian. I was told that there is a big Spanish population [crosstalk], Spanish-speaking, was there at all?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:12:56] Not as much over here as it was- Let's see here. This is 48. No, they didn't have it over here, it's more towards, like, Lincoln Park.

Sarah Nemeth [00:13:11] Okay.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:13:12] Down that area, the South Side-

Sarah Nemeth [00:13:15] Okay.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:13:16] Was more Spanish. They start moving their way up.

Sarah Nemeth [00:13:20] Right. Do you think that as people maybe got more money or they started moving up in class, that they started moving up this way?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:13:31] Well, what I believe it was was that the Spanish just decided, you know, they were tired of being down there. South Side didn't have that pretty of homes back in the day, and they started coming up this direction to get a nicer home and for their family and stuff like that. Same thing with the people on the east side. They all start moving to the west side. Back in the day, they didn't come over the bridge.

Sarah Nemeth [00:14:05] Really?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:14:06] The bridge was the limit. The east side stayed on east, and the west stayed on the west. Then all of a sudden, they started intermingling.

Sarah Nemeth [00:14:15] So would you say that the east side was predominantly African American?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:14:19] Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:14:21] And so was this area- [KOL: All White.] -and they didn't want to embrace any sort of diversity?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:14:30] Well, no. The best thing I could say is my husband is African American, and he was the only Black that walked Clark Avenue and was able to go into the bars. And that is only because he used to wear bib overalls and have a chew in his mouth. He fit right on in. But he's a taxidermist. So all your good old boys go hunting and fishing and stuff would bring their stuff to him.

Sarah Nemeth [00:15:00] So he was able, they appreciated him.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:15:03] Because he lived in their cultures. And plus he's got blue eyes. Where you see Black with blue eyes? [laughs]

Sarah Nemeth [00:15:14] Did you ever hear of Little Cuba? Like that area, the Isle of Cuba, Clark and 47th?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:15:23] That's right over here.

Sarah Nemeth [00:15:25] Did you ever hear it called anything like that?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:15:27] No, no.

Sarah Nemeth [00:15:29] What about the Joseph Vest Company?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:15:34] That was where, down on 53rd, I think? Or is it the one on 25th?

Sarah Nemeth [00:15:42] 25th.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:15:43] 25Th. That's where they did the sweaters.

Sarah Nemeth [00:15:46] Yeah, it was like, and Hug0.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:15:48] Yeah, yeah, yeah. Hugo Boss, though, was down here on 53rd.

Sarah Nemeth [00:15:54] Oh, really?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:15:55] Yeah.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:15:55] Where they, they tore everything down now, and they're gonna be building all brand-new condos.

Sarah Nemeth [00:16:02] Condos are going in right here.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:16:04] Oh, yes.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:16:05] I'm 53rd. Mm hmm.

Sarah Nemeth [00:16:07] Are they going to be like high real estate condos?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:16:11] Mm hmm.

Sarah Nemeth [00:16:12] Does that frighten you about maybe an imposing, changing this neighbor-?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:16:20] No, no, not really, because this neighborhood needs a change. It really does. You got people that really, I hate to say it, but some slum people that need to, once the condos start coming in and different class people start coming in, will chase the other ones further on out.

Sarah Nemeth [00:16:43] Mm hmm.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:16:44] Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:16:45] This is the next place to make a change and a boom, I think.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:16:49] Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:16:50] Like Detroit Shoreway had their time.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:16:52] Ohio City, everybody had their own.

Sarah Nemeth [00:16:54] Tremont. It's coming down the line. I think this is the last place.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:16:56] Yeah, we were last. We were last.

Sarah Nemeth [00:17:00] So when you moved to this area, when you got, you, when you got married, right?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:17:05] Well, no, before I got married.

Sarah Nemeth [00:17:07] Just before you got married?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:17:08] Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:17:08] Then you met your first husband.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:17:11] Mm hmm.

Sarah Nemeth [00:17:12] When did you- So at that time, it was people from West Virginia kind of over here, and then an Italian community. [KOL: Mm hmm] When did that start to change? Who's the first group of people to sort of move in or move out?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:17:30] Italians start moving out.

Sarah Nemeth [00:17:33] Okay.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:17:34] Yeah. Because they just couldn't get along. They were raised a whole lot different than you get your good old boys and stuff like that. So they start moving out. We wound up moving over to West 41st when I got married by St. Procop's Church.

Sarah Nemeth [00:17:58] Okay.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:18:00] And they had the bar right down the street, the Razorback, that kind of tells you. [laughs] And the Italians just kind of all scattered out. St. Rocco's took the biggest hit because they're Italian church. And now, now it's more- You got a lot of Spanish, you know, it's totally changed. Same thing with St. Michael. Totally changed. It's all Spanish.

Sarah Nemeth [00:18:32] Really?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:18:32] Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:18:33] Do they do a mass in Spanish?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:18:35] Oh, yeah, yeah, I went in there I was totally like- Because I got married in St. Michael's. They changed the whole inside of the church, everything.

Sarah Nemeth [00:18:45] What did it used to look like?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:18:48] Gorgeous. It was like a big cathedral. It was gorgeous. It's the longest aisle, I think, in Cleveland. [laughs] Oh, lord. It was a long aisle you had to walk down. Mm hmm.

Sarah Nemeth [00:19:02] But today, what does it look like inside?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:19:05] They kind of broke it up in different sections. It's not like- It was a beautiful church. It still is a beautiful church. But like I said, mainly it's all Spanish now in there.

Sarah Nemeth [00:19:20] Okay. Do you remember the Aragon Ballroom?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:19:25] Oh, yeah, yeah.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:19:28] I never was in it. Back in the day, we used to go past it. My mother and father. Now my father had polio, but my mother used to go to the Aragon Ballroom. But no, but I remember going past it.

Sarah Nemeth [00:19:45] What did it look like from the outside?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:19:47] It was just a plain, square building. There was nothing really fantastic. Today now they got it really pretty. Whoever bought it rehabbed it and everything. I haven't been inside. We've been to meetings about the Aragon Ballroom and about how the guy wants to change everything up. You know, I don't know whatever happened, if he wound up getting all the permits, if he became a restaurant. I don't know. I didn't follow through with it.

Sarah Nemeth [00:20:18] But was that a place a lot of people went?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:20:21] Oh, back in the day, yeah. Yeah. Because everybody danced.

Sarah Nemeth [00:20:25] What kind of music did they play there?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:20:28] There was a lot of ballroom dancing, but there was a lot of, back in the day, the jitterbug and, you know, all stuff like that. Main thing people did was dance to get along with each other. Today, all they got to do, they drink. Drink and drugs. They don't know how to have a good time.

Sarah Nemeth [00:20:50] Speaking of having a good time, I did interview your husband, and he told me about your bar or nightclub that you had. And he did mention that it was in your family for a while.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:21:02] Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:21:03] What is that what your parents did? They owned?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:21:06] Yeah. Judy.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:21:07] Judy's White Oaks on 53rd and Clark.

Sarah Nemeth [00:21:12] What was it then?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:21:13] It was just a regular bar.

Sarah Nemeth [00:21:15] Was it more like a- So working class?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:21:19] It was a working-class bar, but it was more or less a good old boys' bar. You know, it was just a family bar. You were able to go in it, but I turned it around, made a club out of it.

Sarah Nemeth [00:21:38] When it was Judy White Oaks, was there food sold there, or was it just drinks?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:21:42] Once in a while me and my mother would have spaghetti dinners and stuff like that. But no, normally it was just an everyday beer and shot bar.

Sarah Nemeth [00:21:53] What kind of beer? Did you have taps?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:21:56] Yeah, yeah, they had taps, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Blatz. Yeah, they had Blatz.

Sarah Nemeth [00:22:03] I've never even heard of Blatz.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:22:05] Yeah, they had different stuff on tap, but mainly it was beer and shots.

Sarah Nemeth [00:22:13] Did you have any of the. There's a lot of breweries around here. Did you ever get any beer from them?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:22:18] No, there was no breweries back then.

Sarah Nemeth [00:22:20] By then there was no breweries? They were gone?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:22:22] No, there was no breweries around then. Back then, when you got your beer, you got it off the truck. Beer trucks came, and that's it.

Sarah Nemeth [00:22:33] It was in glass, and?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:22:35] Oh, yeah, you got your bottle, beers and the cases and stuff like that? Yeah, there was no other thing.

Sarah Nemeth [00:22:43] So you inherited the bar?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:22:45] Mm hmm.

Sarah Nemeth [00:22:47] And when was that that you decided to transform it?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:22:51] 19, let's see, 1988, '89.

Sarah Nemeth [00:22:57] And what did you call it?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:22:58] Diamond Dill's Tropical Lounge.

Sarah Nemeth [00:23:01] And what kind of- It was a nightclub?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:23:05] More or less. It was more of a club. It had the carpeting, had glass table, and there was a V.I.P. area for people. They would come, like, if you had a wedding, you would call me up and reserve the table. And so they would reserve the table, and I'd give them a bottle of champagne. They sat at the table. They had their own waitress. They didn't have to get up. Oh, yeah, there was many times there was limos out front of the place. It was- It was uppity.

Sarah Nemeth [00:23:45] And who went there?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:23:48] You had it from all the way from Warrensville. I don't care where you were, because the way I believe, I don't care what color your skin is, your money's green. That's what I was after. [laughs] And that's how it was. So I had all nationalities in there, and everybody got along with it. Everybody was like one big, huge family in there. If you happen to get a little tipsy or drunk, I would get somebody else to drive you home. You did not get in your car and drive home.

Sarah Nemeth [00:24:22] Oh, before Uber, you were the-?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:24:25] Yeah, I made sure everybody got home safely.

Sarah Nemeth [00:24:29] That's really great. I wish more bars, which they should do that. And how long did it operate?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:24:39] It only operated for about two years before the city came. They tried to tell me I needed a steel beam in the top of the roof, and all it was was that all the bars around here was complaining. They didn't like the idea that I had all different people in the bar because it was a good old boys' strip. And when you start bringing the Spanish, the Black, the White, the Asian and all that. They didn't like that, so they started complaining. And then they tried to get me for a beam in the ceiling, which I was not going to put $40,000 for a beam, which there was already a beam in the ceiling, it's just a steel beam. So I knew it was a game, right? I said, nope.

Sarah Nemeth [00:25:35] So that was it?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:25:37] That was it. And then they came in. They said, well, we're gonna close you. I said, no, you ain't closing me. I'm closing myself. All the drinks stayed on the bar the day they came in. The people were all sitting at the bar. I told them, please get up, leave your stuff at the bar. And I put the padlock on the door and I walked away. That was the end of it.

Sarah Nemeth [00:25:58] Is it still sitting there?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:26:00] No. They came, tore it down. They tried to get me to go back. No. You want it that bad, take it. All the liquor was in there, all the glasses, everything, the way it sat, came down. I didn't take a thing out of that bar. You want it that bad? Take it.

Sarah Nemeth [00:26:22] Has there always been kind of a disconnect between the residents? And, I don't know. If you were trying to make a change, I mean, you were trying to do something for everybody to come to-

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:26:33] Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:26:34] They want to fight you every inch of the way. It's the same thing. When I came over here 30 years ago, over here on this street, the street was not nothing like it is today.

Sarah Nemeth [00:26:47] What did it used to look like?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:26:48] Oh, they're all- The homes were all nice, all nice. Then all of a sudden, the drug dealers start moving in and they start taking over. And then that's when me and my husband started. No, no, no, it's not going to be like that. We're not going to live like that. So that's when I started calling it the International Village. And as they start tearing the houses down, we started grabbing the lots because they were throwing tires and something. You're making it look real sloppy. So I come up with the idea of, like, the sanctuary. That's three houses, three lots.

Sarah Nemeth [00:27:27] The sanctuary, what's that?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:27:29] That's down the street over here, right across from taxidermy shop. It's the hummingbird and butterfly sanctuary. Looks like a big park. I made it all-

Sarah Nemeth [00:27:40] This one here?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:27:41] Yeah, yeah, okay.

Sarah Nemeth [00:27:42] Yeah. So orchards and everything?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:27:45] Yeah.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:27:46] Then we turn around another, next door to the sanctuary was another house, and I wound up getting a grant. I put 23 trees in there, orchard. So each one, the councilman kept saying, Kat, you want another lot? We got another lot. And so that's how we wound up with so many lots around here.

Sarah Nemeth [00:28:11] So you started to just go out and fix them up yourself?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:28:15] That's right.

Sarah Nemeth [00:28:16] And then the city comes in and they see you're doing something positive.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:28:20] I'm not that. Not the city.

Sarah Nemeth [00:28:22] The city didn't know?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:28:23] The city don't do nothing. Neighborhood Connections was where I got the grants. They gave me the grants to start building and fixing and doing what I wanted to do with these different properties and buying the tools and the stuff for me to be able to do it. So, yes, Neighborhood Connections was a big help. Then those two lots across the street where the hoop house is, that was Department of Agriculture.

Sarah Nemeth [00:28:54] Really?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:28:55] Yeah. And since I had the two lots over there that I was leasing, they said, well, do you want to put a hoop house on 'em? Said, yeah. So they helped with the hoop house and we grow vegetables in there and we give them to- We sell 'em to Metro Hospital.

Sarah Nemeth [00:29:19] Really?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:29:20] Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:29:20] How did you get that connection?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:29:23] A Spanish girl. [laughs] She's got a little thing in Metro Hospital where she sells the vegetables. So we just got ahold of her and she was buying our vegetables to bring over there and they were selling 'em for Metro.

Sarah Nemeth [00:29:45] For someone who may not know that will be listening to this, what is a hoop house?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:29:50] It is- Hmm. It's all plastic. It's. I don't know how to even describe it. It's where you can grow vegetables and or flowers, whatever you want, all year round, because, yes, big, huge greenhouse. Like mine is 70, 72 feet long.

Sarah Nemeth [00:30:15] So just on West 48th street, there's a 72-foot-long greenhouse and then-

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:30:21] The other one is 45 feet long.

Sarah Nemeth [00:30:26] How many vegetables? Like, how much do you produce out of that?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:30:31] A lot, a lot, a lot. Main thing was, like last year the zucchinis were so huge, we go from zucchini to kale, tomatoes, peppers. You name it, we had it.

Sarah Nemeth [00:30:50] That's really nice. Does anyone from the, like, surrounding area, do they ever come and try to help?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:30:57] The girl you just seen here, she's in the hoop house right now. She's gonna probably be pulling weeds. It's just the two girls upstairs go in there and help maintain it.

Sarah Nemeth [00:31:11] So there's two ladies that live upstairs and they are the only ones in the community?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:31:15] Yeah, because nobody wants to do anything. They all got their hand out when the vegetables are- But no, they don't want to do nothing. They're all lazy. Lazy. The kids nowadays, you can't get them. Now, if I said I had some drugs over there, that whole yard would be filled, but to bend over and pull a weed? No, no. So now I am checking it out. I did have a family across the street from the hoop house that was from Somalia. Okay, yeah. And they were real nice people, and I got to know them pretty good. And the only reason I knew them was they were watching us. Before I had the hoop house, we had the gardens. We were pulling weeds and they started. No, no, no. I did not know our weeds is what they cook with.

Sarah Nemeth [00:32:18] Really?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:32:19] They eat. I did not know that. So I got a big education on what they eat. That's so different from what we eat.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:32:31] Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:32:32] What weed was it that you-?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:32:35] Just a bunch of weeds to me.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:32:37] Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:32:39] And it was like, wow. I was really surprised. So now I'm going to- I hear that [Joe Cimperman], who was a councilman, he is now the head of the refugee thing. So now I'm trying to get ahold of him to turn around and see if I can get refugees to help with the hoop house and the gardening. I don't have no problem with refugees or anybody. These people around here do.

Sarah Nemeth [00:33:14] So there is a lot of the people that have been here for a while, they're upset about the International Village? They're upset about maybe the international-?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:33:24] No, they're not- They're not upset about International Village. They like the idea that they could say they live in International Village just like you live in Tremont. You live in Detroit Shoreway. No. They're upset about- They feel that the refugees is getting something that they couldn't, but they don't realize they have, the refugees have to go to work to pay for what they get. These people don't want to go to work. They want to go down to that yellow building downtown. That yellow building will give them their check every month. Okay? They don't have to work. They get up with whatever time they want to get up. There's a difference. So it's a jealousy. Very much so. And personally, myself obviously don't care what they think. I never did. I do what I want to do and what I think is the best. Now, if they're the refugees, there's. I'm willing to turn around if you help with this, and you want a little part of the garden to grow, whatever you grow, fine. It don't make me a difference. We've got, I think, five gardens. Now the hoop house is the stuff that we sell, but the gardens is for the community. Whoever needs vegetables, we give it away. So I've had where a mother would come with, oh, four or five kids, and they got their little bag. The only thing I ask them to do, don't pull the plants. We will turn around and give it to you. Just come over here and be more than happy to go to the garden and give you vegetables. So that's the difference, you know, they don't care. They really don't care.

Sarah Nemeth [00:35:17] When did you start calling this International Village?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:35:20] Oh, God, to be honest with you, it was back when Joe Santiago was councilman, so that was quite a few years ago. And me and Joe, which at the time, and Joe had a little scuffle with a lot of people around here because of him being gay. Who cares? But he was a real, real nice guy. And if you noticed on West 25th on the bank building it says International Village. That's when we started. So when he went and had that made to put up there, that's when we started calling it International Village.

Sarah Nemeth [00:36:13] Why did you choose those colors that are around the poles?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:36:17] Be honest with you, Italians on Detroit have their little thing of the green and yellow. And I just sat one day and I told Adam, I said, Adam, I want to buy paint. He said, for what? I said, I want to have all the poles going up and down the street painted. He said, what color are you painting? I said, green, yellow and red. He said, why? I said, I just like the colors. It's international. It's all different colors. And it doesn't mean that- No certain ethnic background. Nothing.

Sarah Nemeth [00:36:54] Right.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:36:55] So where if you go down Detroit, that's Italian. This, they can't say it belongs to- It belongs to everybody, whatever color. That's why I did that. [laughs] I gotta have 'em repainted again.

Sarah Nemeth [00:37:11] I like it. I think it's cool.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:37:13] Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:37:14] I'd never been down this street before, before I came and interviewed Art, so it's really cool. You also had a connection with the International School, right? Did you guys come up with that somehow?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:37:26] With the International School? No. bBelieve it or not, that was done with the councilmans.

Sarah Nemeth [00:37:33] Oh.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:37:35] They figured this was International Village, so why not go International School? Because they were all different children that couldn't speak English and be going there, so that'd be international. So that's how they wound up doing that.

Sarah Nemeth [00:37:53] Do you? I know that well, how, just from what you observe, the percentage of people that live in this neighborhood that are refugees?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:38:05] None.

Sarah Nemeth [00:38:06] None.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:38:07] None. They're just now, I think, on 46th they're trying to get some in. Believe it or not, the refugees, they got the best of both worlds where actually there are a whole lot of them is in Lakewood.

Sarah Nemeth [00:38:21] Oh, really?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:38:24] Yeah.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:38:25] They got them all in nice, nice areas. You ain't gonna put them down here in the slum. This is ghetto. This is ghetto. They're not gonna put them over here because then they don't have a chance. Because these people will not give them a chance. They got ghetto attitudes, ghetto minds. They don't accept different nationalities. It's kind of like, you know, I don't like to really point fingers, but it's almost like your president. He's so worried about immigrants, he should look at who's laying alongside of him. Don't point fingers if you live in a glass house. That's how I look at it. But other than that, I would be more than happy to have refugees here. I think a lot to learn from them, believe it or not, a lot.

Sarah Nemeth [00:39:35] I think they have a drive as well to do good and they want to make it. It's way different than someone like you said, that goes downtown and gets their check and comes back and-

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:39:47] That's it. And they're very, very, very polite, very humble. These people, they don't know what the word polite is. Do not know what the word polite is. At first I had a little bit of a hard time. And then when they start seeing that I was going to do, what I was going to do with the thing, and I got a couple of people, a couple guys, so I buy 'em a twelve pack of beer. I needed the muscle for them to be moving the dirt and digging, and they did it. So I had to bribe 'em. They weren't doing it out of the goodness of their heart. So that's how that all wound up happening. So, I mean, like I said, it would have probably never happened without Neighborhood Connections, without the grants, because that helped a whole lot.

Sarah Nemeth [00:40:44] How does that work? Do you go and do a grant proposal and submit it to Neighborhood?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:40:52] Yeah, usually I have Adam come and he has to bring his bottle of Excedrins with him because he's gotta deal with me. [laughs] And he'll sit there and he'll write out the grant of what I want to do. Then he'll look up how much it's going to cost for the items that I want and this and that. And then we come with the total and how many people are going to be working it and stuff like that. Then we got to go to Neighborhood Connections. They ask you to come in for an interview and you gotta talk to the three people there and they'll ask you different questions of what you want. And knock on wood, to be honest with you, I've always gotten everything I asked for. But then I also brought in eight by ten pictures of the accomplishments. So when they seen it in black and white, well, not black and white, but in color, told them that the money was being used for what I said it was going to be used for.

Sarah Nemeth [00:41:56] Yeah. That's important.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:41:59] Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:42:01] I want to do a story, I think, on one of these greenhouses for Cleveland Historical or one of the gardens. Do you have the before pictures?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:42:11] Yeah. Of the green, what it used to look like over in that corner? Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:42:17] Can you describe what it used to look like in that corner?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:42:20] Oh yeah, I have beautiful gardens over there, me and Art. We was with Summer Sprout.

Sarah Nemeth [00:42:28] Summer Sprout?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:42:29] Yeah, that's OSU.

Sarah Nemeth [00:42:32] Okay.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:42:33] Then we go to them. They come and they test your soil, make sure everything is right and everything. And then you go and get your plants from them. And then we would just grow our plants. At the time, a couple of times, we had different people from the neighborhood, we'd section off a plot for them so they could grow their stuff. Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:43:03] So at one time the community did want to help?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:43:08] Not the whole community, certain people, a couple people wanted to go in there and do what they wanted to do. And then it started getting, the kids started becoming- You could see the hoe in the hoop house. They started getting nasty and wanting to make holes and shit and be nasty. So the councilman Brian Cummins paid to have defense put around.

Sarah Nemeth [00:43:35] Oh really?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:43:36] Yeah, it was. He was a sweetheart on that because I told him, come on, Brian, all the money that my hoop house alone was 10,500. Why am I gonna sit there and let them make holes in the plastic? And the other one, that was like 6,000. So you're talking about 16, $17,000 sitting on that. And then you turn around and you plant all the stuff to have them come in and destroy it. I needed a fence going around it.

Sarah Nemeth [00:44:11] Yeah, I mean, that makes sense, especially from what you've described of the neighborhood.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:44:16] So he turned around and he paid to have that put up, which I appreciate very much. So, yeah, I deal a lot with the councilmans.

Sarah Nemeth [00:44:27] Do you have a good relationship with them?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:44:29] Oh yeah.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:44:30] Like right now Kerry McCormick is my councilman here and he just asked me the other day, I've been precinct committee lady for 16 years. For each councilman they've had me as precinct committee lady and then I wound up being the executive committee lady. They had Art as precinct, because when zone had it, Zone was on this side of the street. Forgot who was on that side of the street. It was a different councilman. [crosstalk] It's split right in the middle.

Sarah Nemeth [00:45:08] Interesting.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:45:09] So Art was over there on the corner. So he was precinct committee person down that way, and I was the precinct committee lady down this way. She's pulling weeds. That's what she's doing. I see the gloves on her hands. Yeah. So, yeah, it was again divided.

Sarah Nemeth [00:45:36] Well, I do have one last question before we close. What is your hope for this community?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:45:46] To be honest with you, I hope that everybody would just stop being so radical and get together as people, you know, worry about one another. If I see that child's doing something wrong, quit thinking about suing and this and that. The kid is doing something wrong, correct the kid. I blame the government. Government stepped in. They had no business stepping in. There's one thing of abusing a child; there's another thing of correcting a child. And see, that's where they got it all wrong. And they got these kids believing, oh, no, mom can't hit me because I'll call 696-KIDS. Well, go right ahead. See, I'm old school.

Sarah Nemeth [00:46:31] I didn't even know there was such a- What's 696-KIDS?

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:46:35] That's where the child calls that number and they come out. They put the parents in jail in a heartbeat. You're not allowed to hit your child. See, and what happened with, and the reason I know so well about that is because my daughter one day came to the house and she was crying like anything. Said what's wrong? And her daughter, who was like twelve years old, used to live with her father, come to live with her, and my daughter had two sons. So my daughter turned around and told her, do the dishes. And her, at twelve years old, got a mouth, said, I don't have to do nothing you tell me. You know, arrogant. So my daughter turned around and slapped her. And then she turned around, threatened to call 696-KIDS and my daughter had the two boys taken. So I told my daughter, I said, you know what? Do me a favor. When you see Ashley, tell Ashley to come to Grandma's house. Grandma wants to talk to her. So here comes Ashley comes walking through the door, and I had the phone in my hand. She said, what, Grandma? And I start dialing the phone. I said, well, I'm going to dial 696-KIDS, and I want you to tell them to meet you at Metro Hospital in the trauma center, because that's where you're gonna be if you ever threaten your mother again. To this day, and she's 30 years old. No, don't mess with Grandma. And that's what they did. They ruined the children for this. You can't correct the kids.

Sarah Nemeth [00:48:22] No. I was just interviewing someone, and they said - they're a nanny at the East Side Neighborhood House - and she said, I want to say, like, hey, your kid is doing x, y, and z, and they won't hear it. Yeah, but that doesn't help your child-

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:48:38] They don't care. I did daycare here for 17 years with children.

Sarah Nemeth [00:48:45] Oh, I saw the daycare sign.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:48:47] Yeah, yeah.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:48:47] I did it for 17 years. And, you know, what's a good feeling is because, like, a lot of my kids come back.

Sarah Nemeth [00:48:59] Oh, that's nice.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:49:00] Yeah. And a lot of them are in college. A lot of them are doing this. They're all, nobody in trouble. But I wasn't easy with them. I let them know from get go, this is how it's got to be. This is life. Don't think that everybody's going to put something on the table and it's free. It's not free. You got to work for what you want. And I'm so glad when I see the kids. In fact, I just got a call about, oh, about a month ago from a mother that her son, they just had the first baby, and he wanted me to take care of the baby that would have been the second generation. And I said, no, no, I quit doing that crap. But I loved doing it with the kids. It was really a rewarding thing. But again, I told the parents, like, the one father, he'd come in here, his pants were hanging down here. I said, Hussein, how am I gonna teach your son how to wear his clothes if daddy's walking around with his pants hanging?

Sarah Nemeth [00:50:15] Right.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:50:16] Put a belt on. I don't want to see your ass. Okay, Kat. Okay. Okay. [laughs] Even the neighbor across the street, he goes, he gets out of his truck, he looks at me, they're up, Kat, they're up. That's right. They know it's no more than right. I think they should do something about that with sags. Who wants to see their underwear? So my biggest thing is, when they do walk down the street with their underwear out, I'll say, oh, my God, you're gonna walk around, you got that brown stain on the back of your pants. They're like-

Sarah Nemeth [00:50:55] start checking.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:50:57] Hey, yeah, it's- The kids have to really learn. And God forbid, I don't know what this generation is going to wind up doing when the old generation, the builders, your concrete workers, your cabinet makers, once they die off, what you got?

Sarah Nemeth [00:51:19] Because no one learned those skills.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:51:21] Really. So who, so who does the younger generation go to? If they want their cabinets done? Who do they go with if they want driveway or sidewalk put in? Bricklayers. Yeah. So this is what I'm saying. And they don't press it. They do not. They're so worried about don't hit the child. Yeah. I'm not saying- You do have some messed up people mentally that has done things to children which they should be crucified, but then you got people that do things to animals. I would have them so far under the jail, they wouldn't see the light of day. So, I mean, you know, again, it goes with the government.

Sarah Nemeth [00:52:14] So your hope for the community is that-

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:52:17] Everybody gets along with everybody. Now, what's happening with this street is a lot of them are moving out. They tearing down the houses. They're picking in between what houses stay and what houses go. Then as soon as somebody does move out, and I hate it, put it this way, but these crackheads find out the house is empty, they turn around, break in, take everything out of the house, go to the scrap yard, scrap it. Well, the house is no longer good. Now they got to turn around, tear the house down. So what did they accomplish? Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:53:06] Well, I do hope that there is some-

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:53:10] Light. [laughs]

Sarah Nemeth [00:53:12] Light at the end of this tunnel. [KOL: You ain't kidding.] Especially this street because you have a lot of good things happening-

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:53:20] Well, you know, Metro, Metro has done a lot for this area. And like, I have block club meetings and stuff like that, and I keep all the people in tune of what's going on by having different people come to the block club to speak to the people and stuff like that. And if they have any problems, let me know. Then I go and bug poor Adam and we try to get it all resolved. So, yeah, Metro has been very good trying to get it together, so I don't have no complaints with them.

Sarah Nemeth [00:53:57] Excellent. Well, I thank you so much.

Kathy Oberst Ledger [00:54:00] You're welcome, honey.

Metro West

Interviews in this series were conducted by Sarah Nemeth, a graduate student at the Cleveland State University Department of History, in cooperation with the Metro West Community Development Organization, which serves the Stockyard, Clark-Fulton, and Brooklyn Centre neighborhoods. The oral histories captured in this series focus primarily on those west side neighborhoods.