Friday, December 19, 1997
Great Living Cincinnatians
Racial harmony is common theme in their efforts

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Marjorie Hiatt, left, Eugene Ruehlmann and Marian Spencer will be named Great Living Cincinnatians in February. The honor is awarded based on community service, as well as business and civic attainments.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
Thirty years ago, Eugene Ruehlmann was raising a new stadium that would later be called Cinergy Field; Marjorie Hiatt was raising funds - and tents - for the national Girl Scouts organization, and Marian Spencer was raising the consciousness of a racially divided Cincinnati.

Each of them, in strikingly different ways, spent decades encouraging the community to strive for harmony, growth and the betterment of the next generation.

For that reason, the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce will honor Mrs. Hiatt, Mrs. Spencer and Mr. Ruehlmann as Great Living Cincinnatians.

The annual award, one of the community's top honors, has been given since 1967.

''(They) clearly are MVPs in building a better Cincinnati during a very formative time for our community,'' said Raymond L. Buse III, the chamber's public relations manager.

Mrs. Hiatt, Mrs. Spencer and Mr. Ruehlmann will join 78 prior recipients of the award during a ceremony at the Hyatt Regency Feb. 13.

Racial harmony was a common theme in the accomplishments of the three honorees. Mr. Ruehlmann led the city's recovery from the Avondale riots during a four-year stint as mayor. Mrs. Spencer was on the front line in integrating schools and organizations such as the YWCA. Mrs. Hiatt pushed for the Girl Scouts to improve its diversity worldwide, particularly in reaching out to Spanish-speaking girls.

All three said Thursday they believe the city has come a long way in resolving racial conflict. But they agreed it slips backward a bit every time progress is made.

''I'm old now and it may not happen in my time . . . but I think it can happen,'' Mrs. Spencer said.

Here are some of the accomplishments of this year's winners:

Marian Spencer

Three times a week, whenever she goes swimming at the Melrose YMCA with her husband, Donald, Mrs. Spencer is reminded of one difference she helped make: A pool in which blacks and whites swim together. Before she led the move to integrate the local YWCA in the 1950s, the organization segregated blacks and whites.

The former Marian Alexander moved to Cincinnati from Gallipolis to get an education and stayed to become one of its most prominent voices in human relations.

She attended the University of Cincinnati on a scholarship and met her future husband there. Her activism started early, campaigning at UC to open the college prom to all.

One of her highest-profile fights came when, as a young mother of two boys, she pushed for litigation to open up Coney Island to African-Americans in the summer of 1952.

Subsequently, she became involved in ending segregation in classrooms.

She became the first African-American woman elected to Cincinnati City Council in 1983.

After failing to get re-elected two years later, she put her energies instead into the community.

She's currently co-chair of a capital campaign for the YWCA. Mrs. Spencer said she can't imagine slowing down.

''When I'm called to my final resting place, I'll say, 'Wait a minute, Lord. There are a few things I want to do yet.' ''

Eugene Ruehlmann

Throughout his political career, Eugene Ruehlmann was called upon whenever things needed fixing, be it the county's Republican Party, the central business district, or a city torn apart by the racial riots of the 1960s.

He was mayor during the Golden Age of Cincinnati Republicans - the last time, in fact, that a Republican held the mayoral seat. ''Downtown began the transformation to what we have today: Convention Center, the stadium, Fountain Square . . . all were started in the 1960s,'' he said.

A native Cincinnatian, Mr. Ruehlmann graduated from Western Hills High and the University of Cincinnati with honors. He graduated from the Harvard Law School in 1950 and served in the Marine Corps.

When he was 17 and still at West High in 1942, he was named Boy Mayor of Cincinnati. Twenty-five years later, he held the actual title.

Perhaps the most visible monument to Cincinnati's growth during Mr. Ruehlmann's watch is Cinergy Field, home to the Cincinnati Reds and Bengals. Mr. Ruehlmann led the charge to build the stadium and was keenly involved in bringing an NFL franchise to the city.

Like the current plans to build new homes for the Bengals and possibly the Reds, Riverfront Stadium faced an uphill battle.

His advice to current government leaders: patience and cooperation.

''It'll come; it'll come,'' he said.

Marjorie Hiatt

Attending Miss Doherty's college preparatory school on Madison Road (now Seven Hills), Marjorie Hiatt learned a lesson she kept with her for more than half a century.

''They taught that you had to be a responsible citizen,'' Mrs. Hiatt recalled. ''My parents, my school and everybody then believed when you have some things given to you, you try to give them back.''

Since the 1940s, Marjorie McCullough Hiatt has been giving back to the community locally and globally.

Her two most high-profile roles - heading the Girl Scouts of the USA and the Junior Leagues of America - have a theme: to provide girls and women with the skills and support they need to solve today's problems.

In 1944, she became a member of the Junior League, an organization that trains women to be volunteers.

From her first post working in a surgical clinic at General Hospital, she moved into theater work. She co-founded and acted as the first president of the Children's Theater, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Asked to list her organizations, she paused midway through a list, concerned she might sound boastful. ''Isn't that enough?'' she asked.