PORTAGE PATHWAYS: December blizzard brought Portage to a halt in 1962

By Roger J. Di Paolo | Record-Courier Editor Published:

The story in the Record-Courier opened on a lyrical note: "Portage Countians awoke this morning to a Christmas card scene of wet, heavy snow blanketing trees, houses and streets, transforming the area into a winter wonderland."

The snowfall that began on the afternoon of Wednesday, Dec. 5, 1962, had brought an abrupt end to balmy, Indian summer weather, ushering in weather more appropriate for Northeastern Ohio with Christmas just three weeks away.

But the "Christmas card scene" turned out to be short-lived.

It snowed. And snowed. And snowed.

More than 20 inches eventually accumulated, paralyzing the county, turning roads into a nightmare for motorists, tow trucks and ambulances alike. The storm closed schools in some communities for nearly a week and was blamed for at least one death.

Fifty years later, the 1962 blizzard remains an unforgettable memory for Vernon Weingart of Streetsboro, who was serving as president of the Streetsboro Board of Education, which met on the evening of Dec. 6 at what was then the new Streetsboro High School, off S.R. 303.

The meeting lasted until after midnight. Weingart and the other board members didn't make it home until 4 a.m.

The storm had dumped a major accumulation of snow on the high school, the board members learned as they left the meeting.

"Shoveling got them nowhere," the Record-Courier reported, so they plowed themselves out of the parking lot, using a tractor with a snowplow. Two of the board members left their cars at the school, and the four set out for home as the storm swirled around them.

Weingart was riding with board member Glenn Cowan, who lived on S.R. 14. Cowan dropped him off as close to his home on Diagonal Road as he could get in the storm, and Weingart walked the rest of the way.

"I remember walking and walking in my suit and dress shoes," he recalled. "Diagonal Road was really dark, it was windy and it snowed all night. I wonder how I made it."

Ten to 15 inches of snow were on the ground the following morning, with another five inches expected. The storm was the worst since the blizzard that virtually shut down Portage County during Thanksgiving 1950, the R-C reported.

A Wood Funeral Home ambulance responding to a call on Stroup Road in Atwater, where a heart patient was in distress, got stuck in the snow. A wrecker driven by Art Singleton of Ravenna pulled the ambulance out of the drift and towed it four miles along the highway. A sheriff's cruiser escorting it got lost in a snowdrift, and deputies Milford Hagen and William Duncan spent the night at an Atwater residence. It took from 11:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. to get the stricken man to the hospital.

The storm had even more tragic consequences for a 57-year-old Ravenna Township man, whose car became stuck in a drift on Infirmary Road. He died of an apparent heart attack after complaining of chest pains.

Another motorist marooned on Infirmary Road shortly after midnight at the height of the storm remained in his car for 15 hours until a tow truck arrived to dislodge him. He declined offers of assistance, telling would-be Samaritans that he had a full tank of gasoline and would simply keep the motor running and wait out the storm.

Snow continued to fall, frustrating efforts to clear the highways. In Ravenna, side streets were littered with cars that were abandoned by motorists. City crews worked to clear the downtown area, creating 25-foot tall mountains of snow on Main Street.

Five schools were still closed on Monday, Dec. 10. More snow that night brought an early Christmas vacation for students in nine districts.

The storm even changed how the water tasted in Ravenna. After a power line serving the pumps at Muzzy Lake snapped, the city was forced to draw water directly from Crystal Lake, which was spring-fed. "Water from Crystal tastes different even when treated," Service Director Roy Long said.

The snow remained front-page news on Dec. 11, as the storm and its aftermath continued, but it no longer dominated the headlines.

"For the most part, things are back to normal," the R-C reported. "People have acclimated to the snow and cold weather."

It was, after all, December in Portage County.

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