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Friday, October 12, 2018

Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?

Generations: Third Russell Merten Starts School in Wyoming 

By Cynthia Smith
When Russell Clifford Merten III started kindergarten at Hilltop Elementary this fall, he was the third Russell Merten to do so: his dad entered Hilltop in 1992; his grandfather in 1963.
Russell Sr.’s parents, H. Russell and Violet (Cronenwett) Merten, bought land from the Poages and built the first home on Compton across from what is now Poage Farm Road. Russell Jr., his wife Amanda, and their children Avree, age seven; Russell III, age five; and Finleigh, age three, now live there, with Russell Jr.’s sister Carolyn.

Hilltop, Pendery, the Middle School, then back to Pendery for High School
Russell Sr. and siblings Ralph, Forrest and Sharon went to grades kindergarten - fourth at Hilltop, then fifth - sixth at Pendery School, where the high school is now. “It was shaped like a big tube,” Russell remembers. They continued in the building that now houses the Middle School, which held grades seventh - twelfth, until Russell hit eighth grade, when Pendery School was expanded to include high school. 

H. Russell and Violet were charter members of the Wyoming Swim Club, and all four children swam on both the club’s and the school’s swim teams. “There was no MuniciPool,” Russell Sr. recalls. “We practiced in St. Bernard.” He also ran track (setting three records in relay), and cross-country, and played basketball; Forrest set three school running records, came in third at State in the 880-meter his junior year, and first his senior year.  

The Mertens were musical, too. Russell played cello; Forrest and Sharon played violin; Ralph played viola.

A Stint in Michigan, Then Settling in Wyoming 
Russell married Greta Anderson of Sabina, Ohio, in 1983, and they lived in Green Hills for a year, until Russell’s job transferred them to the Detroit area. After six years, they returned to Wyoming and bought their current house on Flemridge Court. They used the nest egg Russell had saved cutting grass for the down payment. “I cut the Swim Club’s grass and 20 other yards through high school and college,” he says. 

“Greta wanted to come back to Ohio, and I was game as long as it was Wyoming. This was a great place to grow up, and I wanted that for our children.” (Carolyn was four at the time; Russell Jr. was two; Cameron came along in 1991; Violet in 1994). 

The original Wyoming Mertens: back from left: Sharon, Russell (Sr.), Ralph, Forrest; front: Russell H. and Violet.
Kids Almost Didn’t Go to Wyoming
The chain of Mertens attending Wyoming schools almost stopped with Russell Sr. As Carolyn approached school age, the couple realized their subdivision, while in Wyoming, was not in the Wyoming School District. 

They rallied neighbors to help them petition Ohio to transfer the 72 kids of Flemington, Flemridge and Flembrook to Wyoming. “It went through at the last minute,” Russell recalls.

Russell Sr.’s family from left: Russell Sr., Russell Jr., Greta, Carolyn, Violet, and Cameron.
Coach of the Year
As the family grew, Russell Sr. got active in the children’s activities. He coached rec basketball, baseball, soccer, and softball for 16 years, and was named Coach of the Year in 2006. For his own exercise, he organized and played on an Over-30 Wyoming Basketball League team for 12 years. When he hurt his back a few years ago, he stopped playing and became a referee. 

At the Swim Club, where Carolyn, Russell Jr., Cameron and Violet all swam and dove, he helped judged diving. 

Since 2002, when Russell Jr. started playing high school football, Russell Sr. has run the football chain gang at WHS, which includes middle school teacher Teddy Bolton, former classmate Richard Uhly, and another Wyomingite, John Feldmeier. 

This year, he was also the assistant coach for Russell III’s soccer team (with Russell Jr. as coach). 
In addition, Russell Sr. served on the Board of Education’s School Committee, made up of appointed representatives from each neighborhood, for three years. 

Friendship Church 
The original Mertens went to Hartwell Methodist Church when Russell Sr. was young, switching to Friendship UMC when he was ten. His mother Violet taught second and third grade Sunday School, and Russell played piano for those classes. Friendship became Russell and Greta’s church as well, when they began worshipping at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Greta came from that faith tradition) in about 1998. All four children participated in Friendship’s live nativities.

The three Wyoming Russell Clifford Mertens from left: Sr., III, Jr.
“Right away, it was home.”
When they moved back to Wyoming, Greta felt at home immediately. As a homemaker, she held down the fort so Russell could work as an IT professional and meet community obligations. She also babysat neighborhood children. 

“There were lots of kids the same ages as ours,” she remembers. “One of our graduation parties had seven graduates just from Flemridge Court.” 

H. Russell and all three Russell Cliffords have lived in the house on Compton.
A Second Generation of Sport- and Music-Lovers
Carolyn was born with a heart problem, but that didn’t stop her. “I joined Dance Team, which was not considered a ‘sport’ and did not require a physical,” she says. She also played rec basketball and softball--with strict limitations on running. Russell Jr. got 13 letters while at WHS, and was All-City for football. Violet was a cheerleader. Cameron played football, and he held the school record for diving until last year. 

The second generation is as musical as the first. Carolyn played violin; Russell Jr., bass; Cameron, cello; and Violet, violin. Violet was also in choir and drama, and she is currently studying opera in Utah.

Carolyn remembers how fun it was to be part of a second generation of Wyoming kids. “Everyone knew my dad and aunt; I had some of their teachers. Now Russell III has some teachers who are the children of the ones who taught me!” 

She went to the University of Cincinnati (UC) - the third generation to do so - both H. Russell and Russell Sr. got UC accounting degrees, and got her degree from the teacher’s college, just like her grandmother.

When asked how long they will stay in Wyoming, Russell and Greta agree it will be a while. “One of our children will probably buy the house,” predicts Russell. “If they can afford it!” adds Greta.

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