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Dayton Docket

Steeling Time

Jerry Madden knew the story he wanted to tell.

It had been with him ever since he realized how quickly it was fading away.

“When I grew up in the Ohio Valley in Steubenville the steel mill was at its apex,” Madden says. “It supported the way of life in the area.”

No one can return to the time of their youth, but in the case of Madden and those around him, no one else could experience it anymore either. As he came of age, the steel mills began to shutter along with the tuition-free Catholic schools that thrived only because of the inexpensive labor of Catholic nuns.

“I was aware at the time that the life I knew growing up was disappearing as I turned 21 in 1969,” Madden says. “There were 200,000 Catholic nuns in the U.S. in 1965. From that year on, there was a mad dash for the exits and the free tuition, parish schools were no longer financially viable. At the same time, the steel industry was facing extinction for any number of reasons. I knew it would make a great backstory for a novel. There was only one problem, I didn’t have the storyline.”

He was in his car out buying Christmas presents in 2020, when he got an unexpected gift of his own. The storyline simply popped into his head.

“I was thinking about it and the storyline suddenly fell in my lap,” Madden says. “I went home and wrote the basic outline for the book. I don’t know how to explain it.”

Madden, a 1978 graduate of the University of Dayton School of Law, then spent the next year writing. “Steel Valley” was published in January 2023.

The book follows the journey of two second-generation Americans, one Irish and one Italian, growing up in the 1960s in the Ohio Valley. 

“As they spent years searching for their separate futures, they were also stumbling toward love,” Madden says. “But unexpected events provide seemingly insurmountable headwinds that they neither could have anticipated nor desired. Even though the life that supported their youth is falling away, the values instilled in them prepared them to participate fully in the American mainstream, either together or separately.”

Madden says that his experiences growing up in the Upper Ohio Valley made becoming a federal trial and appellate lawyer a natural fit.

“I come from a large family in the Ohio Valley and you cannot underestimate the importance of sports there at that time,” Madden says. “Plus, the first three of us were boys and sports competition was a daily part of our lives. I think I was drawn to litigation because it’s like a sport in some ways in the sense that there are winners and losers with the results made public.”

But Madden didn’t go straight into law. It took a nudge from his fraternity brother and college classmate, the late A.J. Wagner ’77.  

“I owe my career to A.J.,” Madden says.

Madden decided to drop out of college in his senior year and deal with his low draft number. At the time the U.S. had 500,000 troops in Vietnam on one-year rotations with no end in sight. He left for Parris Island in April 1970.

“That was a life-changing experience,” Madden says. “When I got out, I believed I could do anything I set my mind to.”

After finishing his degree, Madden first tried social work and taking graduate classes in public administration. But when Wagner started telling him about his experiences in the first class at the reopened University of Dayton School of Law, he decided to take a leap of faith. He joined the second class at UDSL in 1975. 

“I took to law school like a fish to water,” Madden says. “Within a week, I knew I had made the right decision.”

Madden would go on to finish at the top of his class and serve as the editor-in-chief of the University of Dayton Law Review. While in law school, he clerked for Chief Judge Carl Kessler at the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court and after graduating was the sole law clerk for Chief Justice C. William O’Neill of the Supreme Court of Ohio. After that he became a litigation associate in the Washington, D.C. office of a Wall Street law firm.

He planned to spend a few years in D.C. and return to Dayton where he had a standing offer at one of the city’s premier law firms. Instead, he spent his career doing bank litigation in connection with the Savings and Loan Crisis of the late 1970s and 1980s and later the Great Recession that began in September 2008. That included two tours at the Department of Justice and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, with a stop along the way at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. He retired in 2016 and started a law firm, The Madden Law Group PLLC.

“Washington D.C. is like Disneyland for lawyers,” Madden says. “There are so many great opportunities.  Despite Ohio being my home state and my best intentions, I never made it back.” 

Instead, he settled in Northern Virginia in the D.C. area. He has been married to Cyndi S. Madden for over thirty years. They have two children, Kelsey and Jack. They have one grandchild, Jamie Maclennan.

“Kelsey and Jack followed in Cyndi’s footsteps,” Madden says. “Both hold M.Ed. degrees and are educators in the area.”

As a litigator, Madden was no stranger to putting his thoughts on paper, having written countless carefully worded legal briefs over the years that persuaded judges and won cases. But coming up with the clever back and forth between a Catholic nun and students in an eighth-grade classroom, for example, was another matter.

“When I sat down to write the book, I quickly discovered that writing dialogue is an entirely different skill,” Madden says. “I would spend hours trying to write a few paragraphs.”

But Madden soon got the hang of it and started writing whenever he could find time while practicing law.

“I found that if I put it down for too many days, I would have a hard time picking-up the thread, so I tried to write at least a little every day,” Madden says. “It was amazing how the novel took on a life of its own. By the end, the main characters seemed real.”

Madden says the early parts of the book closely track his childhood. 

“I spent a lot of time reacquainting myself with life in the Ohio Valley in the 1960s,” Madden says. “Unlike almost all historical fiction, much of that effort is documented in footnotes. I was a bit concerned readers might find that distracting but the feedback I’ve gotten is that it served to establish the credibility of the story.”

Madden says the book has been well-received, especially by those who grew up in the Ohio Valley at that time. They say the novel successfully transported them back to that period.

He’s heard from people he knew in high school and college who enjoyed the novel, some of whom he hadn’t talked to in decades. Even the Mayor of Steubenville, Jerry Barilla, wrote him a letter explaining how much he enjoyed the book and inviting him to a book signing this fall.

For Madden, it’s nice to have finally turned the story he thought about for many years into a reality.

“The key to writing the book was perseverance, just as it is the key to success in most everything else in life,” Madden says. “You can get discouraged very easily. Some of my first drafts were just awful, but I sought out feedback from an editor of best sellers, Stephen S. Power, who is the executive editor at Kevin Anderson & Associates in New York City. He showed me the way forward. My advice to writers of novels is to be patient with yourself, don’t be shy about seeking feedback from family, friends, and eventually experts in the field. Just keep at it and eventually you’ll break through.”

Madden has similar thoughts for those starting law school.

“The first year of law school is intimidating to say the absolute least,” Madden says. “Don’t let that feeling of ‘what did I get myself into’ overwhelm you. Just keep going. That makes all the difference.”

Jerry Madden, Steel Valley: Coming of Age in the Ohio Valley in the 1960s—a Love Story (Potomac Pub. Co., Jan. 2023) (ISBN 978 1 0880 8180 8 [hardcover], ISBN 978 1 0880 8807 4 [paperback].) The book is available in paperback, hardcover, Kindle, and soon as an audiobook at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and thirty-eight other book outlets.

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