REGINA BRETT: Roots in Ravenna transcend sale of family homestead

By Regina Brett Published:

By Regina Brett

A Ravenna landmark will soon change hands.

The house at 420 Sycamore St. will remain standing, but for the first time in 79 years, there are no longer any Bretts living there.

The home where Tom and Mary Brett raised 11 children is being sold in an auction on Monday, June 30. Mary, a former city councilwoman and church sacristan at Immaculate Conception Church, is 83 and is no longer able to care for the six-bedroom home. She has moved into Light of Hearts Villa in Bedford.

All of the equipment and tools in the shop that used to be Brett Sheet Metal will be sold, too. Kiko Auctions, a family-owned business in Canton, is handling the sale.

Tom Brett never imagined a day when there would be no Brett family members living in Ravenna. His dream was for all of his children to grow up and stay in Ravenna their whole lives. He died at 83 in 1999.

When the Great Depression hit, his father, Michael Francis Brett, an Irish immigrant, lost the family farm in Shalersville. It was sold in a sheriff's auction. The money from the corn crop that Tom planted was used for a down payment to buy the home on Sycamore Street in 1935.

Tom had nine siblings. The youngest ones finished their childhoods in that home. Then Tom married Mary Kerecman. They bought the house and raised 11 children there.

It was holy ground. The family walked to Immaculate Conception Church and school. The children trick-or-treated at the convent on Riddle Avenue where the Dominican nuns gave out the largest candy bars. The children played baseball in the street and moved aside to let the sea of traffic pass from Darwal Furniture. They scavenged for ball bearings outside of Rotek. They built Soap Box Derby cars. They waved to the train and the man on the caboose who tossed handfuls of candy to them.

The Brett children were educated at Ravenna High School where David Maske, the choir teacher, made every day joyful with music. Jim Roberto, the biology teacher, constantly reminded them, "There's no such thing as a free lunch, Brett." Sam Ricco, an English teacher, taught them to cherish words.

The teachers they once revered are either dead or retired. The high school was demolished after a new one was built. Immaculate Conception School was closed and partially torn down and turned into a parking lot.

The original neighbors on Sycamore Street are gone, except for Rod Cunningham. All those wonderful people in the Cipriano, Triscori, Profio, Policano and Cunningham families live on in every child that grew up on Sycamore Street. Back then, neighbors were more than neighbors. They were family.

Every Brett who grew up in Ravenna carries with them the lessons learned on Sycamore Street. The work ethic of all those who labored at Darwal furniture factory and Rotek ball bearing plant. Men and women who worked hard and built their lives on the pillars of God, country, family, community. People like Nick Mendiola, who walked to and from work a mile or more every day, whistling no matter what the weather, because a disability kept him from driving.

Small towns like Ravenna are full of people like him and guys like Hank Iarussi, who just about lived at the library and walked everywhere. Neighbors like Paul Policano, who taught every kid on the street how to throw a football and hit a home run. Business owners like Guido Cipriano, who gave every teenager a safe place to go every Friday night and a great slice of pizza. Librarians at Reed Memorial Library who gave every child a passport to the world in those books.

Michael Francis Brett ended up having 54 grandchildren. A bit of Ravenna lives on in all of them, especially in Tom and Mary's 11 children: Therese, Joan, Michael, Mary, Regina, Tom, Maureen, Patricia, Mark, Jim and Matt. Because when you leave a town like Ravenna, it doesn't leave you.

A town like Ravenna gives you roots.

Roots you stand on the rest of your life.

A Ravenna native, Regina Brett is a newspaper columnist for The Plain Dealer. Her most recent book is "Be the Miracle: 50 Lessons for Making the Impossible Possible" (2012).

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  • Great article! It's true....Ravenna does give you roots!