In Memory: Toney Green
December 21, 1947- May 15, 2019
Near West Side neighbors remember a special friend to the community
by Sarah Stoner
(Plain Press, July 2019) It’s been a wonder, over the last 10 years or so, to see the surge in affection for our dear Ohio City from the outside world. But what makes it so special?
Undeniably the dense, concentrated blocks of restaurants, bookstores, breweries and galleries present a treasure trove of experiences for day visitors to our city. That’s only part of it though. The people are what makes our neighborhood so extraordinary. The people who own the shops and yoga studios, live in the neighborhood, work in the restaurants, restore the century homes and take care of the roofs, sidewalks and tree lawns.
We lost one of our good ones late this spring. Our dear friend, Toney Green, passed away on May 15, 2019 in his home in Riverview Towers. He was a pillar in this community, as iconic as the bridges that connect Ohio City to the east.
Friends and neighbors gathered with Toney’s son and daughter-in-law, Tony Green Jr. and Sylvia Mildred Green, at Franklin Circle Church a few weeks ago to remember him. Every day for the past 20 years, as neighbors and visitors would walk along the sidewalks, Toney Green would greet us with a shout, a wave, a smile, and a bit of neighborhood news … or a bit of nonsense to make us laugh. You could never predict where you might see him; he worked on many blocks, at all times of day.
Truly the eyes and ears of the neighborhood, he took his job very seriously to keep Ohio City tight and tidy. He ensured our sidewalks were shoveled, our leaves raked and our environment free from those who meant to do harm.
Friends and neighbors gathered with Toney’s son and daughter-in-law, Tony Green Jr. and Sylvia Mildred Green, at Franklin Circle Church a few weeks ago to remember him.
Carol Hedderson, one of the pioneers of the vibrant resurgence of Ohio City back in the 1970’s, shared, “Toney would always say ‘I got your back. You hear me?’ And that always made me feel secure. I knew he would be out in the alley making sure we were all okay. He did so much for our neighborhood in so many ways. There is no one who is like him and he will be missed terribly.”
Her sentiment is echoed in everyone’s memories of him.
The Honorable Mary Rose Oakar, longtime resident, former member of the United States House of Representatives, and former member of Cleveland City Council, opened the service with a perfect sentiment. Standing in her yellow jacket with her lovely smile she said, “I just miss him.”
His son, Tony Jr. shared with us stories of his father that helped to paint a picture with broader context. Like the fact that he had significant talent as a portrait artist. Looking warmly at all of us in the sanctuary, his eyes so like his dad’s, he said, “He could draw you. He could replicate a scene from memory, and also put you in a different outfit if you wanted.”
In conclusion, Tony shared stories of his father as a hard worker who put his own dreams on hold when, at 17 years old, he became a father to Tony.
Others gathered that afternoon, shared stories of Toney, too. Stories of how he moved according to his own timetable…making it happen, but not necessarily letting you know when that would be. Toney would find treasures that he thought you might like and drop them off in your yard.
How he used our tool sheds as his personal tool library, checking out a tool from one person’s yard to get everyone’s jobs done– a ladder here, a wheelbarrow there, a rake, s broom…and store them in whatever yard he happened to be working in. Taking care of all of us.
One of our youngest community members, who had known Toney since he was a toddler and is just now in the double-digits, stood up to share how he remembered that Toney, “He just helped people,” he said.
But it wasn’t just that he helped everyone with their yard work, or that he was such a hard worker out in the elements from early morning until late afternoon in the blazing heat of August or the coldest days of February. It was that he truly cared about his friends in the neighborhood.
He made every encounter a warm bright spot in the day. You could count on Toney to greet you with his pet name for you…Princess, Darling, Hollywood, Mama or Money–it cracked us up. He and I used to scat rhymes back and forth…though he was much better at it than I. In the last years, we did that less often (maybe because I couldn’t keep up!) but still would take a few moments to chat every time our paths crossed.
Alan Fodor, a longtime resident read from the bible Luke 10:25 – 37, The Parable of the Good Samaritan, followed by beautiful thoughts shared by fellow resident Reverend Lisa Hess; an excerpt from her reading follows:
“We gather today to remember a man who will live in our hearts forever. Toney Green gave of himself as did the Samaritan…As Jesus said in the book of Matthew, chapter 7, verse 12: ‘Sow whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.’ Let the memories of Toney Green linger in our minds to remind us that we should all give to others as generously as Toney Green did.”
The gathering of Toney’s loved ones, and sharing our thoughts and memories was the beginning of healing for a lot of us, but also a reinforcement of what truly is important not just in our smaller community, but our larger human community.
Small kindnesses matter. Wealth is not defined by money alone. The true value in a life well lived can be illustrated by how we make others feel…protected, loved, taken care of, inspired. The fabric of our communities is strong when we accept each other for who we are and look out for one another.
Rest in peace, Toney. We miss you and remember you forever.
Sarah Stoner lives in a cottage in Ohio City with her husband Jeff, their two cats and dog. She is a writer.