North Canton Biography Project
By: Sydney Green
No matter if you’re a lifelong citizen or only a brief visitor of North Canton, nearly everyone in this city can easily pinpoint the heavily trafficked crossing of Applegrove and Main Street; however, a few know of these locations true history and the lives of those who called it home. Betty Thurman, age 82, grew up in the converted schoolhouse once located on the corner of this intersection, on the land now occupied by a convenience store. Recalling some of her fondest memories as a child, Thurman gleefully tells stories of pickup softball games and ice skating when a flooded field by her house froze over—or what locals would recognize today as local restaurant Mama Guizzardi’s.
With a house filled to the brim with 7 children and a set of twins on the way, Betty’s widowed mother struggled to make ends meet. When her twin boys were born, her mother’s health rapidly deteriorated and she was confined to the hospital for months, while her children stayed with various relatives and her newborn babies in children’s home. It was at this children’s home that the infant boys contracted German measles and whooping cough, an unfortunate turn that would change their lives forever. After their mother returned from the hospital and the children along with her, the family’s reliance on welfare did not allow them to afford the specialized formula that the sick twins required. She was forced to put them up for adoption and solemnly accepted she would never see them again.
Years later, as a 24-year-old woman, Betty Thurman was living in a large white house on the corner where Italos is situated today. She received a knock on her door by a young man selling newspaper to supplement his college tuition. After striking up a conversation with the 16 year old, Betty couldn’t help but confess to him that she once had twin brothers, and he happened to look just like her brothers Wilbur and Grant put together. Much to her surprise, the stranger exclaimed that he was, in fact, a twin and that his name used to be Rhodes, Betty’s maiden name. It was that unexpected encounter that led to the tearful reunion of siblings that Betty had hoped and prayed for each passing year. The boys would go on to be President and Valedictorian of their class and receive the highest honors ever given at Mckinley High School. To this day, the 9 brothers and sister still reunite annually.
After graduating from Hoover High School, Betty applied for an office job at the Hoover Company, saving her money until she could attend beauty school. Although she was denied a higher-paying job in the factory, Betty worked until she could afford her education. Forced to leave home, Betty had to complete housekeeping duties for a family in Akron in order to afford a place to live. As a beauty student, she worked in a salon practicing her skills and began to accumulate clients who saw her talent.
One day, a frequent customer invited her over to her home to meet her son who had returned from the army. Betty walked two miles in the dead of winter to reach their house for dinner that night. Afterwards, she was driven home and he waited to call her for around three months, although the two did attend church together occasionally. Initially, Betty did not reciprocate his feelings and even prayed that he would no longer have an interest in her; however, one evening Betty received a call from him telling her to go outside and look at the beautiful rainbow forming in the sky. From then on she began to realize that there was more to him than what meets the eye. When he was stationed in Germany, her husband prayed that if he came home he would be lucky enough to find a good Christian girl; Just four months after he returned it seems as though his prayers were truly answered. After a year and a half of dating, the two were happily married.
Today the couple still live in the heart of North Canton, as do their three sons. Betty, along with her boys and now even their wives are all alumni of Hoover High School. Betty has had a natural gift for art her entire life and has created some amazing work in acrylics and chalk, although the hobby has fallen by the wayside as she aged. Some of these pieces can be seen in her own living room, such as scenes of crashing waves in Hawaii and a forest depicted right on the plaster of one wall. Although her story is simply one of the many woven into the history of our city, Betty Thurman’s incredible tale is truly unique.