I am a native Clevelander who was born at University Hospital. My journey began living in the Central Neighborhood with my grandparents in their big house with many family members, plenty of windows and spacious rooms. I have some sweet memories of my childhood. The first birthday party I remember I was having trouble blowing the candles out on my cake. I can see me now, looking at the bright flames while family members stood nearby. Once I finally blew the candle flames out, they clapped their hands with joy.
When Grandma Maggie passed away, we moved into the Hough community surrounded by homes, apartment buildings, bars, churches, schools, the League Park Recreation Center swimming pool, supply stores, libraries and multicultural families. I attended Cleveland Public School’s Dunham Elementary, Addison Jr. High School, and graduated from East High School in the 1960s.
I worked as a seamstress for two well-known sewing companies; Bobbie Brooks and Richmond Brothers. Then I was blessed to obtain employment with Day Nursery Association as an assistant pre-school teacher. It was a wonderful experience to then attend and graduate from Cuyahoga Community College with an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education. It paved the way for me to further my career and education.
After moving for a while to the west coast, my family returned to Cleveland in the mid-1980's. I remember that warm summer when we moved into the Buckeye- Shaker community. What a great experience to meet wonderful families in a vibrant, booming community. I loved the yearly community festival on Buckeye Road. We especially enjoyed the parade. It was a perfect time to connect with each other.
There were always so many exciting things to do and see and we could walk or take the bus and rapid. Everything at our fingertips: schools, churches, playgrounds, Pick N Pay supermarket, Woolworth’s, dry cleaners, churches, movie theater, hardware store, record store, and restaurants. Saint Luke's Hospital was already a firm anchor then, and so was Buckeye.
We believed it was the time to settle down and to participate in this great community, and we did. We decided to purchase a home on the north side of Buckeye Road. The community was known for being strong diverse community with cultural pride.
We purchased a home that was owner-occupied and in good condition, considering its age. It was obvious that the owner enjoyed and loved her home. My mom owned property in the south and she explained to me what to look for and ask for. During our walk-through, I was reminded of my childhood environment and family.
The seller, an elderly Hungarian widow, stated, “I would like for you to purchase my home. I feel you would be the perfect family to take care of it.”
“This is my family home,” I shared with the owner. “I will take good care of ‘our’ home.”
I was taught as a young child to take care of my belongings. Her home was well-kept and the backyard was immaculate with beautiful rose bushes. I kept my promise. I know she would be so proud of me.
A year after purchasing our home, I was invited to join the Street Club. Soon I was voted in as the Volunteer Secretary, and eventually President. I received The Cornerstone Award from Buckeye Area Development Corporation at their 36th Anniversary Luncheon and the City of Cleveland Award for my dedication to Buckeye community volunteer services.
The Saint Luke’s Foundation and Neighborhood Progress and its partners have supported a wide range of neighborhood projects, including the Art and Soul Park at 118th to provide additional space for festivities. I’ve really enjoyed all of the educational activities available. I will always cherish the opportunity the organizations provided us. We became a Model Block Street Club due to many loyal homeowners, landlords and renters.
I graduated from the Neighborhood Leadership Institute, 27th class, a Certificate of Achievement presented by Cleveland State University’s Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs. The experience of sharing and learning from of my classmates was just wonderful.
The last ten years things gradually began changing in Buckeye, like many Cleveland neighborhoods. There was a shift from homeowners to renters, foreclosure, and crime. Longtime owners did not abandon properties, but remained to assist and keep our street stable. Assistance from the City of Cleveland, Saint Luke’s Foundation, Neighborhood Connections, Cleveland Clinic, Neighborhood Progress, Cleveland Development Advisors, Penrose Properties, Buckeye Area Development Corporation, Cleveland Foundation & Gund Foundation, Sisters of Charity & New Village Corporation, Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Greater Cleveland RTA, Metro Hospital, and many more has made all the difference.
Although these are challenging times in so many ways, we will continue to serve our community with our Block Club. I truly believe our lives are like puzzles pieces. We keep changing and adding pieces, no piece are the same size, shape, or color. Our neighborhood is steadily progressing in so many ways. I will continue to help keep it moving forward.
Gwen Graffenreed has been a community leader for over 30 years, and says she has learned a lot in the process. She finds the work to be challenging, educational, and rewarding, and is grateful to the many people and organizations that make up this wonderful community.
Visit Literary Cleveland's Who We Are, Where We Live online anthology for more from the Buckeye/Shaker community.
Community Anthology Table of Contents
About the program
Who We Are, Where We Live is a free community writing program giving voice to people who live and work in the Buckeye/Shaker community. Participants write stories, learn about their neighborhood, and share with their neighbors. Annually, selected writings are published here in an online anthology and presented at a final reading and celebration.