The Twinsburg Ledges, possibly the most beautiful and beloved local natural marvel are located in Liberty Park. Widely known for its sublime sandstone ledges, which ascend nearly seventy feet skyward at some points as they pass by small caves, the Ledges are like nothing else in Summit County. In 2011 Ledges Trail opened–offering visitors a scenic 1.1 mile hike, with lovely ferns, lichen and other natural ephemeral in full-view. It is also a popular destination for birding.
Mankind has experienced many strange things for which no parallel could be found. In 1972, author and UFO researcher J. Allen Hynek categorized and defined the many experiences people claimed to have had with aliens and unidentified flying objects. His book The UFO Experience: A Scientific Journey provides the following outline:
Close Encounters of the First Kind: visual sighting of a UFO
Close Encounters of the Second Kind: physical effect of the UFO is felt
Close Encounters of the Third Kind: the eyewitness account of an alien entity
On the evening of March 6, 1969, area residents both saw and experienced the effects of one such object. Eyewitness accounts seem to corroborate the presence of a UFO along a stretch of Liberty Drive.
Mildred Karabec lived off Liberty Road in 1969, along with her husband James Karabec. The strange activity began as they arrived home for the evening. “We had just moved in…I pulled in my driveway and I opened the garage door . . . and the door kept going up and down and up and down.” Their residence was located along a swath of high-voltage power towers that cut across the rural countryside. Former mayor James Karabec, suggested that alien aircraft “would get their power from the power lines,” as they flew parallel to those streams of electricity. What of the aircraft itself? What did it look like? Mildred Karabec recalled, “We saw lights but there was no noise over the power lines . . . there was absolutely no noise . . . bright, they were just bright lights . . . white.”
Reports from residents terrified and confused by what they saw began making their way to the police on duty that night. According to Betty Tomko, two area officers investigated. Her account of their patrol is as follows: “We had two policemen call it in . . . and they were coming up Cannon Road Hill . . . and they actually stopped their cars on the hill and got out because something was hovering over top the police car and it was very bright lights around and they got out and watched this thing for a while and they felt it was watching them so they got back in the car, and when they would try to go forward this thing would follow them and I guess it followed them to the top of Cannon and when they turned on Liberty, it flew away.” Photographer Mark Gutowski remembers, “We were actually friends with one of the patrolmen at the time. Not sure which one it was . . . On that night, I remember him visiting our home and asking if we’d seen anything.”
An interview with police sergeant Donald Prange appeared in the Twinsburg Bulletin on February 24, 2015, adding credence to accounts by the many silent observers of that night several decades ago. Reporter Andrew Schunk wrote:
The evidence may have been in the evening sky over the city Feb. 17, 1969. The curious case of one local UFO sighting began innocuously enough in the city of 7,000 with TV interference at a Glenwood Drive home. It concluded, abruptly, with a bizarre visit to the Twinsburg Police Department from a United States Air Force lieutenant colonel and his mysterious, diminutive sidekick.
According to a recently released report from Project Blue Book, the United States Air Force’s systematic analysis of UFO reports between 1952 and 1969, a woman, 44, and her son, 19, were watching the news when the color contrast went out on their TV—and then the entire signal. The mother walked outside at dusk to check the antennae, and immediately called Twinsburg police to report an “oval-shaped object that had red and white lights around it”—what World War II pilots might have dubbed a “foo fighter,” or UFO, just two decades earlier. “Looking up we seen [sic] the strange object, coming over Glenwood Drive,” said the woman, whose identity is redacted in the March 6, 1969, report. “I never seen anything like this before,” she states. “It seemed to have stopped near the corner of [Glenwood Drive], then proceeded down [East Idlewood Drive] for about a quarter mile . . . then it just went right up out of sight.”
Sgt. Donald Prange, a former Twinsburg officer and Marine Corps veteran who later served as chief of police in Twinsburg in the late 1970s, responded to the woman’s call around 6:40 p.m. More than 20 calls referencing the UFO were ultimately fielded by Twinsburg dispatch that evening. Prange, now 77, recalled the event with detail Jan. 27 from his home in Rancho Cordova, Calif. “We officers talked amongst ourselves after the sighting,” said Prange, who said he witnessed the object over R.B. Chamberlin High School for several minutes with Twinsburg patrolmen Walter Orcutt and Herbert Munn. “I told them I didn’t think we should say anything to anyone . . . they would think we were crazy.”
In keeping with caution, the TPD did not immediately report the event to the USAF. The USAF was made aware of the event thanks to a Feb. 18, 1969, letter from the woman’s 19-year-old son to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton detailing the sighting. In its April 22, 1969, conclusion to the Glenwood Drive woman, the USAF determined that the object was actually an “aerial advertizing [sic] aircraft.”
“A letter was sent to the Twinsburg Police Department requesting information on the sighting, however this office did not receive a reply . . . the description of the UFO is similar to past reports of Aerial Advertizing aircraft,” states Lt. Col. Hector Quintanilla, chief of the now defunct Aerial Phenomena Branch at Wright-Patterson. Prange said he doesn’t buy the USAF’s answer in the Twinsburg incident any more than he believes its conclusion from a Portage County case three years earlier, in 1966, when officers were informed that they had just chased the planet Venus for 85 miles, from Ravenna to just outside of Pittsburgh.
“It was like nothing I’ve ever seen,” Prange said. “We had three cars respond, and watched it for several minutes over R.B. Chamberlin High School, near some power lines there. “It appeared to be stationary, hovering. What bothered me is that it didn’t seem to be making any noise, at least not that ‘egg beater’ sound you get from a helicopter. It was more like a whirring sound. Then it slowly rose up and disappeared.”
For the woman and her son, the story ends with the April 1969 correspondence from Quintanilla. For Prange and his fellow officers, the story of the peculiar foo fighter over Twinsburg has one final, bizarre chapter. About a month after the sighting, Prange says his department was visited by a USAF lieutenant colonel—believed to be Quintanilla—and a “strange little man.”
“They brought out a light colonel . . . another strange little man was with him . . . to question us individually,” Prange said. “The smaller man, perhaps 5 feet tall, was not like us . . . he had strange features, almost like a child who has aged rapidly. He wore a hat, gloves, and he never spoke to us, never shook our hands, just observed. I don’t remember [the colonel] ever even saying thank you. When they left, we never heard from the Air Force again.” Prange added he never experienced anything like the February 1969 call again in his law enforcement career. “You ask me what it was? It was a flying saucer,” he said.
Fast-forward to 2014, and glowing spacecraft were still lighting up the skies over Twinsburg. Mildred Karabec recalled, “We were changing a tire for my younger sister and just happened to look up and we saw two of them interacting . . . and it had flashing lights.” They proceeded to head toward Liberty Park, the site of the close encounter thirty-five years earlier. “I got out of the car and stood by the hood of the car and two cigar-shaped [objects] . . . came toward us and stopped right above us and I turned to jump back in the car at that point and when I did, they went up a little higher and one went left and one went right. And then in a second they both met back in the center and headed straight toward Aurora and disappeared, but they moved at such speed.”
If flying saucers and glowing lights weren’t enough, there were rumors of an abduction. According to Betty Tomko, “There are a set of apartments at the top of Route 91 . . . [where] a child claims to have been abducted.” She said, “He was spending a night with a friend . . . The people who owned that apartment disappeared.” Local police were purported to be going door to door following the incident. When asked if they believed it to be a UFO, Betty Tomko replied, “I can’t attribute it to anything else.”
Prior to the mayoral era, Twinsburg was run by a city manager hired by city council. This style of government worked for a while, but in the 1970’s it came time to move forward. Anthony Perici resigned from the charter commission in April of 1972 with greater political aspirations. He had been attempting to get the commission to enact a mayoral form of government where the mayor is actually in charge, eliminating the city manager. This action would make the council weaker. He resigned from the Commission to work from the outside in order to make this happen. Perici served as the president of city council from 1974 to 1976 and as part-time mayor 1977 to 1978 before becoming the city’s first full-time mayor in 1979.
The most flamboyant of all Twinsburg mayors, and city managers for that matter, Perici ruled the city with an iron fist. Often described as a dictator (in fact his nickname was “The Little Dictator”), he believed he alone could govern Twinsburg. Once when asked why he rarely visited his second home in Florida, Perici’s response was: “Who will watch the city while I am gone.”
Perici’s use (or possibly abuse) of power Perici was showcased in 1983 when he served as judge and the city council served as jury in hearings to remove Darryl Paskoff from the council for alleged neglect of duty, misconduct, and violation of his oath of office. It is unusual for the accusers to also serve as judge and jury. Perici also refused to recognize the police union. They union) took the case all the Supreme Court of Ohio.
Perici had just as many admirers as detractors. He was an old-school, hard-nosed leader and “a student of world history”, according to Adelle Nykaza, long-time city employee who worked with a number of city managers as well as the first three full-time mayors. Katherine Procop described him thusly: “He was the kind of guy you would ask to do something and boom it would be done right now.” His methods were unorthodox, but he got things done.
The second mayor of Twinsburg, and possibly the most important, James Karabec held the office for twelve years (1987-1999). For twenty-five years prior to becoming mayor, Karabec developed land and businesses for Developers Diversified. This experience, along with his time on city council and passion for the community, made him the perfect candidate. Hand-picked by his predecessor, he was far from a puppet. Perici thought he could still govern the city and that Karabec, due to his quiet nature, would oblige, but Karabec had no intention of handing the reigns back to Perici.
“I’m a great believer in giving people services,” says Karabec–a stance that differed greatly from Perici’s. Upon taking office, Karabec was told there would not be money to pay the mortgage on the sewer plant that year, but the city did have the money, and not only paid the mortgage but also improved the plant. “He [Perici] gave the services to the people, but he didn’t want to do anything extra, like build ballparks,” says the former mayor. The Karabec administration was the polar opposite; the fitness center was constructed, a golf course was bought, and property was traded to help build a new high school.
One of his greatest contributions to the city he loved was using tax abatement to bring more business into Twinsburg, helping to diversify the industrial base. If not for his foresight an initiative in recognizing the need to attract a cornucopia of commerce to the city, Twinsburg could have been set up for a huge financial hit when Chrysler departed. At one point Chrysler accounted for 75 percent of income tax revenue in Twinsburg, but by the time of the plant closing it was closer to 12 percent. The loss was devastating but far from catastrophic.
On November 2, 1999 Twinsburg elected its first female mayor, Katherine Procop. She won with relative ease over opponents, Susan D. Ferritto and William E. Hon. She would become the longest tenured mayor of Twinsburg, holding the office for sixteen successful years.
After arriving in Twinsburg with her husband and son in 1977, she almost immediately became heavily involved in the community affairs. Her first true foray into local government came in 1986, when she was appointed to the Parks and Recreation Commission, followed in 1991 by a successful run for city council. While she was on council, Karabec first suggested she become his successor.
Her greatest accomplishment may have been the procurement of Liberty Park, including the beloved Ledges, for the city. Karabec started the push for the purchase, but it was Procop who ultimately secured the land deal.
During Procop’s tenure in office there were a couple of calamities, not of her making: the demise of the Chrysler stamping plant and the tragic death of police officer Josh Miktarian. No previous mayor or city manager had dealt with such dire circumstances.
In 2009 the council and safety forces backed Procop in her quest to raise taxes a quarter percent over a four year period to offset the loss of revenue from Chrysler’s departure. Members of both the fire and police departments went directly to the voters, pushing the benefits of passing the temporary tax increase. Taxes were raised, and the loss of revenue and safety services was averted. Twinsburg residents voted to repeal the tax increase of November 2013.
When Officer Miktarian was murdered, Mayor Procop was in Maine, but merely four hours after receiving word of the tragedy she was back in Twinsburg. His death was devastating to the entire community. Procop has often singled it out as the toughest challenge of her administration and the “worst day of her life.” As tragic as this atrocity was, it brought a close-knit community even closer, aided by the leadership and compassion of its mayor.
There were other controversies that occurred during her administration, including zoning and charter issues. Though she was quite popular, there were many detractors and critics as well.A group of concerned citizens played the part of watchdog. Their criticism came from a love of the city they grew up in and a concern for the rights of the electorate.
Ted Yates was elected the fourth mayor of Twinsburg in 2015. He was born in Alabama, but in 1984 his family moved to Solon, where he finished his last two years of high school. Four years later he moved to Twinsburg.
His first foray into local government was an appointment to the Parks and Recreation Committee, serving as chairman. An avid cyclist and triathlete, he is a long-time spin instructor at the fitness center, so a position with Parks and Rec was a natural fit. In 2009 he was appointed as the Ward 3 councilman. He applied for the vacant position and was appointed by council to serve the last two years of the term. In 2011 he won an election for the same Council position.
When it became apparent to the public Procop would not run for another term, many of her supporters petitioned Yates to make a run. The move made sense since Yates and Procop shared similar visions for the city. Where they differ was Yates analytical approach to leadership honed through years of law and accounting.
Yates is focused on the creation of an “active, walkable downtown”, a critical economic driver that Twinsburg lacks. His vision is similar to what Hudson has developed on First and Main in that quaint and cozy city. Yates also sits on the board of a private, nonprofit community improvement corporation created by Procop that allows the city to acquire properties through a no-bid process. This could prove to be a useful tool in meeting Yates goals for downtown.
Only time will tell if Mayor Yates can live up to the lofty standards set by his predecessors, but all indicators point to a successful tenure.
One of the three communities’ greatest natural assets is Liberty Park. The park contains a moss-capped landscape of slump rocks, vertical crevices and sedimentary layers, rock cliffs, colossal boulders, and a cave that is more spacious than some of the homes townspeople grew up in.
Initially Liberty Park was privately owned. It was the ever progressive-minded Mayor Karabec who realized the potential of procuring the park. During Karabec’s administration he composed a letter of intent (including price) to purchase Liberty Park from its previous owner, but the procurement of the park wasn’t finalized until Mayor Procop was in office. The formal dedication took place on April 22, 2001. Prior to the purchase, Twinsburg only owned three hundred acres of open-spaced parkland; now there are over two thousand acres. The process of negotiating with the owner was arduous, as he vacillated over whether to sell to the city or a land developer, the latter being considerably more profitable.
Ultimately the city purchased the property for $11 million. It was the catalyst for Summit County to continue purchasing land in the area, creating a link between Twinsburg and Tinker Creek State Park. Twinsburg owns the land, but the Metro Parks manage Liberty Park, helping to preserve the Ledges and the wetlands.
Over the years, the park’s three thousand acres had been the site of an amusement park, a hotel, a railroad, and farms. Some of the owners had toppled trees and straightened a brook. In 2011 Summit County Metro Parks added sixty-six acres to the park using funds obtained through the Trust for Public Land amounting to $1.22 million, which went toward completing access to the park from Ravenna Road. One of the newest additions is Liberty Park Nature Center, a $3 million facility constructed by the Summit County Metro Parks. Visitors are greeted by an inanimate and presumably affable life-sized black bear upon arriving at the center.
The Ledges are part of the nine-hundred-acre land deal Mayor Katherine Procop brokered with a local landowner. There may be no more beloved natural phenomena in the three communities than the Ledges. It seems as if almost everyone who grew up in the area has a fond childhood memory connected with the natural marvel. It was a popular hangout for kids, teenagers, and families alike. More than just a source of natural beauty and a recreation destination, the Ledges have played a huge part in the history of Twinsburg, and in the determination of its geographical boundaries. For a time all of Twinsburg’s water (village and Township) was obtained from wells located in the Ledges.
“Significance of ledges around Twinsburg is that Twinsburg sits in a pocket surrounded by ledges. South to where the Cleveland Clinic is located, there are ledges running behind it. When you go west towards Macedonia there are ledges right at the 271-82 intersection. And then east are the Liberty Park Ledges,” according to Twinsburg naturalist Stanley Stine.
Possibly the most important aspect of the park is the unusual plant and wildlife that inhabits the acreage. The unique flora include immensely colorful lichen species that are a cross between fungi and algae, and one of a kind in the state of Ohio. A four-toed salamander found in 2003 was considered extremely rare, the only salamander in the state that has four toes on its hind legs instead of the usual five.
The park is home to endangered reddish brown Indiana bats, which almost assuredly will not bite the necks of unsuspecting visitors. Due to the presence of these bats in Liberty Park’s caves, construction in the nearby vacated Chrysler complex was postponed as it was believed some members of the endangered species might inhabit that area as well. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had to officially determine and declare that none of these bats were in an area before trees could be cleared and the area developed. It was discovered that a number of bats suffered from white-nose syndrome, leading to their untimely demise. (As of 2012, 5.7 million North American bats have relinquished their mortal coil due to this incurable disease.)
Other rare creatures, including a minuscule, shrimp-like crustacean, have been discovered residing in the caves of Liberty Park. There are dozens of endangered species, plus an assortment of other wildlife: beavers, otters, red-backed salamanders, wood frogs, gray rat snakes, and numerous dragonflies and butterflies.
The park also serves as one of the most popular destinations for birders in Northeast Ohio; in fact it was designated as an “Important Bird Area” by the National Audubon Society.
Liberty Park continues to be one of the most popular destinations in the three communities and a local treasure. Former Mayor Procop considers its purchase to be “the legacy project of our community.”
The City of Twinsburg, though relatively young, is a wellspring of history that also offers comfort and familiarity—an area that has blossomed and evolved to include new housing developments, beautiful parks, and hubs of commerce while maintaining picturesque views worthy of a postcard. These views did not spring up overnight via the whims of mayors and city planners, but evolved with the natural passage of time to shape the cityscape we know today. Though it shares nearly 140 years of history with the Township, the city’s own unique history dates back just over sixty years. Unlike other, older villages and towns that were carved from the woods and fields of an untamed wilderness, the City of Twinsburg was created in the twentieth century by an act of political secession. The need to collect taxes from the recently announced Chrysler plant sped things along, prompting the separation of township and city and bringing jobs, other businesses, and a torrent of taxpayers to the area.
Much of the history to come would radiate outward from the square: Twinsburg Institute, Locust Grove Cemetery, family owned businesses, farms, school houses, and church after church sprang up within view. The streets lining the square, always the center of festivities. Richner Hardware, Lawson’s, and Roseberry’s took root one-by-one, providing locals with some of the amenities larger cities had to offer, with the comforts of small town familiarity.
When new housing was needed, Glenwood Acres was created to provide it. Lowcost homes, numbering more than four hundred, began springing up in 1956 following the announcement of the new Chrysler plant. Homes would be needed to accommodate the countless new employees looking to minimize their commute to work and keep their families close. Production at the plant would begin in earnest the following year.
With each development and each alteration another farm, wooded area, and orchard would fall beneath the wheels of progress. The growing village reached the critical five thousand head count by the end of 1969, allowing it to acquire cityhood. City managers begat mayors, volunteer firemen begat paid firefighters, and mainstays of business gave way to corporations.
The 1970s would see two unique milestones come to pass: 1976 would mark the nation’s bicentennial as well as the start of Twins Days, a celebration paying homage to the Wilcox brothers, who laid the foundation for what Twinsburg would come to be. Though it began as a community-centered festival with a parade, food, contests, and a parachuting clown named Thunder Chicken, interest in the event would spread.
The new Twinsburg High School opened in January 1999, providing students with a new learning environment when they returned from their winter break. (The “Old School” still stands, though it’s been closed for years.) The park system also received some attention, with Mayor James Karabec securing a letter of intent for the property that would eventually become the three-thousand-acre Liberty Park. The dawning of a new century brought with it many changes: some wanted, some unavoidable. Longtime mainstays like Richner Hardware shuttered their stores in response to big-box stores like Home Depot and Walmart eating away at their customer base. Chrysler, the financial backbone of Twinsburg and employer of many, closed during the summer of 2010. Economic ripples from its closure were inevitable, though the blow to the city’s tax revenues was mitigated in no small part by the foresight of former mayor Karabec, who had set in motion a plan to diversify the city’s income stream, knowing it relied too heavily on Chrysler. Mayor Katherine Procop would continue the work begun by Karabec, helping to secure new tenants and diversify city revenues. Among the new tenants operating out of the Cornerstone Business Park (site of the old Chrysler plant) are an Amazon fulfillment center and FedEx.
The complete and unedited interview of former Twinsburg Mayor, Katherine Procop. Katherine discusses her background, why she became involved in politics, the creation of Liberty Park, the Chrysler Plant closure, and the death of Officer Joshua Miktarian.
Audio: Katherine Procop on Liberty Park
Former Twinsburg Mayor, Katherine Procop, discusses the formation of Liberty Park, acquisition of the property, and the park’s relationship with Summit Metroparks.