What began as a discussion on how poor Hollywood movies have become, ended in the publication of a book that will help an injured friend with his expenses. Thomas D. Banna, born in Youngstown and raised in Canfield, has recently completed a seven-year endeavor and recently released the book, "Ford Avenue Legends."
Banna's book relives the years 1959 to 1976 and features the lives and stories of his family and family friends who lived the great American Dream and touched the lives of so many along the way.
"The book is action packed, adventurous, and showcases three love stories against the backdrop of Youngstown's most glorious years," Banna said.
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Thomas Banna’s first book documents his family and friends’ stories of growing up in Youngstown.
What makes Banna's first book so interesting is how it all came together.
"While driving home with my cousin Ricky Banna, we were thoroughly disappointed in a movie we had just seen at the movie theatre," Banna said. "We discussed how Hollywood no longer produces movies with good story lines, well-developed characters or exciting stories.
His cousin suggested that a movie should be made of the Banna family growing up in Youngstown. Banna said for years, he and his brothers and cousins had heard stories from family members and even strangers about his aunts and uncles. Even when he would pass on some of the tales to people not from the area, they would often look at him in disbelief.
"At that point I decided that there were too many great stories -- about our town and my family -- to potentially lose them to the ages," he said. "I decided that a book was in order."
He began researching and gathering information to put his book together. As with many worthy endeavors, life has a way of getting in one's way. Banna had enlisted in the U.S. Navy six years ago and was stationed on a ship. Even though it was a full-time job, he still had down time and used every minute of it to put notes together.
"I began writing the book on notepads while deployed on a Turkish frigate in the Aegean Sea, then continued writing through two other deployments to the Persian Gulf on the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower," Banna said.
In total, he spent eight months and one week burning the midnight oil on board the ship. He wrote the story by hand on notecards. He said most of the writing took place in the mess hall from 11 p.m. to sometimes 3 a.m.
After his deployment, he continued to do research. When he made it back home, he would visit the library and look through historic Youngstown State University Jambar articles and other microfilm of publications in the area. He also had more than 20 personal interviews arranged from the real-life characters he was including in his book.
"I fact checked the best that I could and continually updated the book and made changes until it went to print," he said.
The book took him seven years total, which included his time on the ship, and the five years of research when he returned home. The final year involved taking his handwritten pages and typing them into a finished manuscript.
His completed book highlights a Lebanese family's interactions with the city of Youngstown and other notable national celebrities and local legends to include Ron Jaworski, Dwight "Dike" Beede, Roger Staubach, Bob Davie, Sean Connery, Jimmy Cumming (Winnie the Pooh), Ed O'Neill, Bob Dove, Joe Namath, Alex Thomas Hayek aka the World's Strongest Man and the Banna brothers. The book also explores the Idora Park, the mob, barroom brawls, car bombings, YSU's first trip to the playoffs in 1974, along with many exciting untold stories that are brought to life.
Banna completed his quest and then formed Tony Banna LLC to self-publish it. He was all set to sell the book himself, but instead of reaping all the profits, he chose to help a friend in need who was blinded while serving overseas.
"When speaking with a friend of mine from the Naval Academy, I discovered that one of our mutual friends, Lt. Brad Snyder, was wounded Afghanistan," Banna said. "We visited Brad at the hospital. I later heard that after my wounded friend was released that his family held a fundraiser for him that I had missed. So I called Brad and told him that I was going to donate 50 percent of the proceeds from the book to serve as an additional fundraiser."
On April 19, the first hardback editions of the book were delivered and Banna has been able to get a long list of local businesses throughout Youngstown, Boardman and Canfield to help him sell his book. The 632-page book is also available on amazon.com.
Banna said it is a must read for anyone who remembers the '50s, '60s and '70s in Youngstown. Although it is classified as fiction, he said it will bring back a lot of memories.
"At the book's core are values like devotion and sacrifice, the ultimate form of true love," Banna said. "In our modern day there are those who are blind to this truth, have forgotten, or never knew that love is not an emotion, love is a verb, love is in action. Hopefully this story will serve as a quiet reminder so that eyes will open, and all will remember."