Growing up in the Cuyahoga Valley in the 1950s, Jeffrey J. Knowles didn't think there was anything extraordinary about his childhood or its setting.

Growing up in the Cuyahoga Valley in the 1950s, Jeffrey J. Knowles didn't think there was anything extraordinary about his childhood or its setting.

It was only years later that the longtime Clintonville resident came to realize there was indeed a great deal special about the area and the era of his upbringing.

The result is the 340-page, four-color combination memoir and history titled "Cuyahoga's Child: Growing Up in the Valley of the Crooked River," published by Orange Frazier Press in Wilmington. In it, Knowles said he sought to combine "the uniqueness of where I grew up with the uniqueness of how I grew up."

Knowles, 68, who has lived in Clintonville for more than four decades, said he first began writing about his childhood when he was 38.

"I thought I had a good one and thought that was something we can all use more of," he said last week.

Knowles was born in St. Luke's Hospital in Cleveland in 1948. When he was 5 years old, his family moved to an area that is surrounded on three sides by what is now Cuyahoga Valley National Park and on the other side by Cleveland Metroparks land.

"The growing-up years were in Northfield," Knowles said. "Those 13 years were my most formative."

The foreword to "Cuyahoga's Child" was written by Stephen H. Paschen, an associate professor and archivist at Kent State University Libraries until his retirement in 2013. Knowles said he met Paschen at a meeting of the Summit County Historical Society, of which the professor was then president.

"In this book Jeff Knowles uses his own personal memories along with traditional historical sources to link his life to regional history," Paschen wrote. "His is a public historian's approach to understanding the Baby Boomer generation, of which he is a member, who have lived in the Cuyahoga River valley, part of Ohio's Western Reserve. The interplay between natural and human history related in his own distinctive voice is a very effective way of connecting the reader to the recent and distant past."

Ian Adams, an environmental photographer based in Cuyahoga Falls whose works have been published in calendars, books, posters and magazines, contributed some of his shots to "Cuyahoga's Child" after being approached by Knowles.

"I thoroughly enjoyed his book," Adams said. "He's an outstanding writer. I'm a writer, too, but I envy his literary skills.

"I learned a heck of a lot culturally about the Cuyahoga Valley after I read the book. I had not read another book like it on the area."

Knowles, who retired from a long career in a research unit at what was originally the Office of Criminal Justice Services, wrote in his own introduction to the book that his childhood was "timidly scripted."

"There are no movie rights or TV pilots pulsing within it," he wrote. "Few of the main actors get beaten up or shot up or high on drugs or even divorced. We had a dog that was not killed while defending our lives and a church in which the minister did not carry on with the organist. Thus insulated, it was not until I was middle-aged that I realized my unremarkable existence might, after all, be rather remarkable, or at least worth a comment."

Knowles said that's the central message he hopes people who read "Cuyahoga's Child" come away with: that their own personal history is worth remembering.

"Because most of our lives seem ... to be unexceptional, they're kind of exceptional," he said. "They're what make the world go around."

Knowles and his wife, Lezlee, former superintendent of Tree of Life Christian Schools, raised three children in Clintonville. Mark, the youngest, is 39 and associate pastor of a church in Bloomington, Indiana. Kathi, 44, is a nurse in Bedford, New Hampshire. In the middle is 41-year-old Kimberly, who lives in Westerville and is a senior counselor in the Office of International Affairs at Ohio State University.

Knowles said his wife edited every word of "Cuyahoga's Child" before he sent it to the publisher.

"She knows my heart better than I do," he said. "She was totally supportive of it."

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1