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The Dash Between: Gas station manager Barb Baldwin was known by many

Barb Baldwin managed one of the first Sohio gas stations in Amherst that was converted into a self-service operation after pump-your-own-gas facilities were legalized in Ohio in 1977.

She worked for or managed several Sohio and BP gas stations from the early 1970s until retiring in 1997.

“She started as a cashier back in the days before Amherst looks like it does today,” said her son Rick, who once worked with her. “It was a regular gas station. They did auto repair there. Eventually, she moved up to manager. In the earlier days, there weren’t many female managers.”

More photos below.

Sohio, which later became BP, was like a family business to Barb, who died July 13, 2010, at age 71.

Her husband, Dick, who had pumped gas and fixed cars for a Sohio station in Youngstown as a teenager, later became an auditor for the oil giant. Each of their three sons worked for the company at some point.

The family dynamic even drew in some of her employees. When Jeff DelMonico talked with Barb about going to barber school and cutting hair at his father’s barbershop after working for her for eight years, she told him, “I love you working with me, but you’d better to go to barber school and work for your dad. A family business. You can never go wrong with that.”

DelMonico said, “I went from a family business with Barb to my own family business as a barber.”

Barb, the second youngest of seven siblings, was born Barbara Ann Shea on Feb. 3, 1939, in Youngstown. She and her three sisters shared a bedroom. The two eldest slept in a double bed, while Barb and her sister Peggy Testa shared a single bed. (No details on her three brothers’ sleeping arrangements.)

She was 13 when her mother died, leaving her father, a railroad yardmaster, to finish raising the four kids who were still at home.

The Dash Between:

About this feature

The Dash Between is an obituary feature written by Alana Baranick about regular folks from Lorain County and adjacent areas.

Baranick wrote her first obit in 1985 when she was a reporter for The Chronicle. She wrote obituaries for Cleveland’s Plain Dealer from 1992 through 2008.

She is the chief author of “Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers” and director of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers. She won the 2005 American Society of Newspaper Editors Distinguished Writing Award in the Obituary category.

The Dash Between is scheduled to appear in The Chronicle every other Sunday.

To suggest a story or make a comment, contact Baranick at abaranick@chroniclet.com.

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“My mother trained us well,” Barb’s sister said. “Barbara used to do the cooking. She used to help with housework too.”

Barb graduated from Ursuline High School in Youngstown in 1957.

“She used to say my dad wanted her to go to the convent to be a nun,” her sister said. “No way was she going to be a nun. She met Dick Baldwin; she fell in love. She knew what she wanted.”

One day in 1957, Barb, who then worked in the bookkeeping department at a Dollar Bank, went with friends to the gas station where Dick was working. Their courtship didn’t last long. They were married May 3, 1958.

Dick continued working for Sohio in Boardman, a Youngstown suburb, while finishing his education at Youngstown State University. Following his graduation in 1968, he took the job of auditor for Sohio in the Cleveland area. The family rented a place in Lorain before moving to Amherst in 1969.

In the early 1970s, Barb volunteered with the Amherst Hospital Auxiliary. She co-founded a teen volunteer program at the hospital in 1973 and received several honors for her volunteer service. She donated as many as 358 volunteer hours in a single year.

She devoted less time to the hospital when she started working for Sohio. Over the years, she ran the Sohio on N. Leavitt Road near Ohio 2 in Amherst, stations at N. Leavitt at West 21st Street and East 31st and Grove, both in Lorain, and one at Leavitt and Telegraph roads in Amherst Township.

Barb handled daily inventories, bookkeeping and product orders. She pumped gas for handicapped customers. The fiery redhead also unloaded trucks and used a 20-foot pole to change the posted price of gas, when necessary.

“She would say, ‘Go stock the cooler’ or ‘Paint the curbs,’ but she’d be out there with you,” DelMonico said. “She’d show you how to do the work, but she was doing (75% of) it for you.”

When a woman accidentally pumped diesel fuel instead of gas into her tank, Barb helped her get the car towed, then drove the woman home. Yet she wasn’t an easy mark for people seeking handouts or a foil for employees who tried to get out of work.

“She was tough,” her son said. “She didn’t let anybody push her around.”

Barb was a good judge of people, according to longtime employee Sharron Powell.

“She could tell when you walked in for the (job) interview whether you would make a good cashier or not,” Powell said. “Barb’s workers were hard workers that stayed for many years. She kept us in line.”

Barb’s son Rick wondered what made people keep coming to work for minimum wage.

“She took kids out of high school, instilled a work ethic and harped on them to be on time to work,” he said. “She created like a little bit of a family (with her gas station staff).”

It seemed like an extension of her real family.

“She had a good marriage,” her sister said. “She was crazy about her husband, and he took very good care of her. She had three very nice sons. She was lucky that way.”

Contact Alana Baranick at (216) 862-2617 or abaranick@chroniclet.com.

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