By George Brown
The title “Godfather” conjures up images of a strong, wise, fatherly individual who guides “the family” with a firm hand and a gentle spirit, who inspires confidence and a mutual commitment to a common purpose. In every positive sense of the word, William H. (Bill) Over was the Godfather of LEAD Clermont. Bill understood Vince Lombardi’s words, “Leadership is based on a spiritual quality – the power to inspire others to follow.”
Over a business lunch in 1988, Bill Over and Ed Parish (then President/CEO of the Clermont Chamber) conceived a plan to identify the big issues facing Clermont County over the ensuing decade. When the Clermont 2001 Report was issued three years later one of the big issues identified was a need to strengthen grassroots and countywide leadership.
Others supported Bill’s efforts, but it was primarily his vision and drive that led to the creation of the LEAD Clermont program in 1992. In doing so Bill had one goal in mind – to develop and cultivate the talents and skills of current and prospective leaders, inspiring them to follow his example of bringing people together to forge shared goals and then to work together to achieve those goals. The outcome Bill had in mind was always the same, to enrich the quality of life for the citizens of Clermont County.
Soon after the LEAD Clermont program began, Bill conceived the idea of bringing the community together to celebrate the good things leaders were doing. He not only wanted to recognize those who serve in countywide rolls but also to recognize those unsung hero-leaders who quietly but powerfully work to improve the quality of life in their local communities. This idea resulted in the Salute to Leaders event, which has been held annually at the Eastgate Holiday Inn since 1994.
Nearly 500 people attended this year’s event on March 12. This was an especially enjoyable evening for me because I’ve had the good fortune of working with many of the individuals and organizations that were recognized. Notably, Clermont Senior Services received the Over and Over Award, honoring the agency’s staff and volunteers for their long history of service to the older citizens of Clermont County. The agency’s founding director, Lois Brown Dale, possessed great vision and determination, and, like Bill Over, she inspired others to follow her example of servant leadership. It was a great honor for me to follow in her footsteps, and I’m confident the agency will continue to provide this high level of service under Cindy Gramke’s leadership.
Interestingly, I now find myself working with one of the other Salute to Leaders recipients. Joel T. Wilson, the Batavia Township honoree, has been an auctioneer for over 57 years and is a member of the Ohio Auctioneers Hall of Fame. It would be difficult to measure the value of Joel and his wife Laverne’s contribution to Clermont County, which has included serving as auctioneer for the Clermont Senior Services annual Art, Antiques & Collectables auction for the past 15 years. It surely is an honor to be working with Joel as an apprentice auctioneer.
This year’s recipients of the Rural Service Award have also become my good friends and mentors. When the Ole Fisherman, George Rooks, and his wife Ruth Ann united their hearts in matrimony 54 years ago they took seriously the words, “The two shall become as one.” Serving others has been their life mission, whether through their church, community organizations, or just taking an elderly friend fishing. Their gift of service is wide ranging, from serving as Santa and Mrs. Claus at Grant’s Farm & Greenhouse, to delivering meals-on-wheels and volunteering at the adult day care center. One of my fondest memories will always be watching Joel T. Wilson auction Ruth Ann’s blackberry jam cake at the Clermont Senior Services’ auction. Over the years Ruth Ann’s cakes raised upward of $30,000 to support meals-on-wheels and other services.
Having served on the board of CASA for Clermont Kids, I was delighted to see this agency receive the Human Services Award. CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) for Clermont Kids is one of Clermont County’s best kept secrets. The agency’s mission is to advocate for the best interests of abused, neglected and dependent children who have been introduced into the Clermont County Juvenile Court system. CASA recruits and trains community involved citizens as Guardians Ad Litem volunteers to independently work with the Juvenile Court, serving as the child’s advocate and court representative. Serving as a Guardian Ad Litem volunteer for two years was a challenging but rewarding experience, which I highly recommend.
I wish space afforded writing about the other individuals and organizations recognized at this year’s Salute to Leaders event. Instead I want to share a brief story about Bill Over. In 1993-1994 I had the good fortune of being a member of the second (and best, of course) LEAD Clermont class. Our class year began with a weekend retreat at Camp Joy. On the second afternoon I and my 17 classmates arrived in front of “The Wall.” Our challenge was to work as a team, to pull, push, drag, and otherwise manhandle (and woman-handle) each other until we had all gone over the wall.
As I recall the wall was about 12 feet tall. We had a few brawny guys in the class, thank heaven, but for the most part the 18 members of our class included such characters as Joe Uecker, Ed Nurre, Stephanie Wyler, Cyndy Wright (my ropes buddy), Gary Presley, Dan Early, Priscilla O’Donnell, and the late (and stout of body) Gary Vogelsang, to name just a few.
As we stood in front of the wall, Bill Over laid out certain ground rules, none of which I clearly remember, then told us to begin, with a time limit, of course. The wall appeared insurmountable, but, with the Godfather of LEAD Clermont cheering us on, we discovered the collective confidence and mutual commitment needed to get every member of the class over the wall, including Gary Vogelsang.
Working together to go over the wall was such a bonding experience that the rest of our year together was simply icing on the cake. When we graduated the next spring we were a team and remain so today, and we were proud to be members of Bill Over’s army of volunteers.
Bill has been gone for too many years, but his legacy of spirit-inspired servant-leadership lives on in the lives of every person who has graduated from LEAD Clermont over the past 20 years. By honoring individuals and organizations at the Salute to Leaders event each year we honor the memory of Bill Over and all that he did to help make Clermont County a great place to live, work, and raise a family. I know all LEAD graduates, and many others, join me is saying, “Thanks for showing us the way, Bill. We salute you!”
George Brown is a freelance writer. He lives in Jackson Township.