James R. Hooper: The Story of 20th Century Zanesville Man

“Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house the howling you heard wasn’t a mouse!” That howling was from Dorothy Hooper giving birth to James Russell Hooper December 24, 1921. Hooper has seen Zanesville through the bad and good times which include the Great Depression, World War II, the building of Interstate 70, and more.

Garfiel Elmentary School in Zanesville, Ohio, where James spent serveal years in learning about the Zanesville and the world.  Credit:oldohioschools.com

Garfield Elementary School in Zanesville, Ohio
Credit: Oldohioschools.com

James Hooper went to Munson Elementary School for the first, second, fifth, and sixth grade while he went to Garfield Elementary for his third and fourth grade. He attended Garfield for the third and fourth grade, because he lived on the border between the two school districts which often share students where he lived to keep class size even. After elementary school, he attended Grove Cleveland for his junior high education until he entered high school at Zanesville High School. When James was not at school, he hung out in a gang. This particular gang would play baseball together, explore the city on bicycles, and box fight with each other. 

When the boys hung out in the neighborhood, James’s father Pearly Hooper would often be a part of his son’s gang often being the “biggest kid on the block.”  His father was also very responsible in the group. When the boys played baseball, they often broke a window in a neighbor’s house. Pearly, accustomed to these accidents, kept panes of glass in the basement, apologized to the neighbors, and installed the new glass.

The love of James's life, Betty Mathew in 1945.

The love of James’s life, Betty Mathew in 1945.

During Hooper’s junior year at Zanesville High School, he met his high school sweetheart and future wife Betty Lee Matthew. At the time, his friend Tom Hardman was dating Betty and Hooper had a huge crush on her. When James found out that Tom and Betty broke up, “I ran and pound on the (her) door and asked, ‘Will you go out with me?”’ The two started dating and fell in love. They were married on August 30, 1941 and were happily married until her death on July 9th, 2010.

When James graduated high school in 1939, his parents wanted him to be the first in the family to go to college. However, they did not have the funds to send him to school, so James looked for work near Zanesville. Finding a job in the midst of the Great Depression was hard with unemployment at 11% until the Ohio Power Company hired him as a draftsman. His job was to map all of Zanesville for the power company and to pinpoint the electric pole lines. This job took Hooper almost two years to complete and required a lot of time and effort to make the maps as accurate as they could be. From there, he became the Head of the Engineering department until he left to help the war effort of World War II.

James in his Navy Uniform in 1945.

James in his Navy Uniform in 1945.

When James enlisted into the service during World War II, he did not see any battlefield action, but worked as an electrician on two naval ships: the USS Houston, a destroyer, and the USS Randolph, an aircraft carrier. Both of these ships were attacked by the Japanese, rebuilt in Brooklyn, and sent to New Port, Rhode Island for crew training. Hooper worked as an electrician aboard the ships to keep them running and also did some side work like wiring illegal coffee makers for individual crewmembers on board. Since these makers ran on electricity it was necessary to ban them to keep power for more necessities on board like radar and radio use. Coffee pots like this were not unusual on board these ships, even though the mess hall had food and coffee twenty-hours a day. Many crewmembers simply did not want to walk the length of the ship to get to the mess hall which may be hundreds of field and a great many decks away from them. Hooper ensured that the crewmembers would not abuse this privilege by putting in fuses that would melt if someone decided to power anything stronger than a coffee pot. While Hooper was in the military, Betty worked as an inspector of gun safety for the Hoover Company in Zanesville and James’s mother, Dorothy, worked at the Firestone plant making self-sealing bladders for military planes that would prevent bullet riddled wings of planes from losing too much attitude.

After finishing his work on those vessels, James received orders to go to Brooklyn to help rebuild naval vessels which left at eight in the morning. He also received another set of orders to go to the 9th Naval District in Chicago which left at ten. These orders directly conflicted with each other, but Hooper had a sure way to figure out what to do. He took his gear, found an empty barracks, slept in pass eight, and jumped on the ten o’clock train to Chicago. Once he arrived, a superior officer declared that he was AWOL, because he was assigned to the Brooklyn shipyard. To prove that he was not deserting the army, he produced his Chicago order papers which the officer accepted. It turned out that the post to which he was sent was a discharge center, and Hooper was discharged with ten months left to serve. James said, “I was scared for three or four years that they (The Navy) would come back for me!”

James in 1960.

James in 1960.

After the war, the couple moved to the Greenwood neighborhood in Zanesville. One day, James was polishing his gun outside a duplex in Zanesville they were renting when a hobo walked right in front of it which scared the hobo half to death. The hobo saw that he was not a threat and told James and Betty a story for which was paid by giving the homeless man a hot meal. For the next two to three months, more hobos came to their door for a handout which Betty always gave; however, she complained that giving things away was getting expensive. Curious of why so many hobos were coming to their door, but no else’s, James investigated the area around his house and spotted the mark of an X on the curb, which meant to the hobos that the Hoopers  were softies and gave handouts.

James Hooper in his Zanesville home at age 91.

James Hooper in his Zanesville home at age 91.

From 1969-1973 the Hooper family moved to New Lexington in Perry County where James took a manager’s position at AEP to be to be close to Betty’s mother, who was diagnosed with a terminal illness. After 1973, they moved back to Zanesville and moved into their current home. James became active in the Zanesville community, becoming a board member of Good Samaritan Hospital, a catholic hospital. Sister Mary Victor, who ran the hospital, chose James to become the second non-Catholic board member of the hospital. Sister Mary Victor told James, “You are a bright young man coming along in this community, and that what we need.” During his twelve years as a board member, he oversaw the construction of the new Good Samaritan Hospital. He also aided, through his connections with the company, in getting AEP to put a transformer station on the grounds that would provide high voltage power to the hospital, saving the hospital over $10,000. James did not only volunteer at the hospital but also served on the planning committee of the Chamber of Commerce when Interstate 70 was being built. At the time, the Chamber of Commerce was trying to create an industrial park by the Underwood Rd, where Olive Garden, Tumbleweed, and Red Lobster are today, which was unsuccessful due to a lack of industrial interest. James Hooper has not only lived in Zanesville for most of his life, he has been an active participant in shaping Zanesville into what it is today.

A special thank to James Hooper for taking time out of his day to allow me to interview him and also a special thanks to my Grandmother, Janice G. Gable for all her help.

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2 Responses to James R. Hooper: The Story of 20th Century Zanesville Man

  1. Jan Cleek says:

    Your blog is very interesting. I love it.

  2. nwilliam91 says:

    Very interesting and well done. You can really imagine life in Mr. Hoopers shoes while reading this.

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