Former Oberlin leader memorializes three community giants

By Rob DiSpirito - Special to the News-Tribune

In the span of just months, Oberlin has lost three giants who stood tall in its modern history.

Former long-time city council members Dick Lothrop and Cal Waite as well as former Oberlin College president Nancy Dye all left huge legacies in Oberlin. They accomplished this by virtue of many years of tireless and creative work to serve the residents and students of this community.

It was my privilege to work with Dick and Cal as part of the council that originally brought me to Oberlin as city manager in 1996. By the time I departed in 2007, I was proud to count them as close friends.

Dick Lothrop had a ready wit, spouted colorful limericks and tales, had an encyclopedic memory and engaging intellect. He could just as easily recite from memory a passage of classic literature as he could recall the proceedings of a long-ago council meeting, all with an impish smile and twinkle in his eye.

He was a strong booster of the fire department, libraries, proper record keeping, historic societies, and good government. He lived his life in the house he grew up in on Elm Street. He loved his dogs (one “Rusty” after another), as well as his fellow Oberlinians.

I was always in awe of Cal Waite, for his having been a pioneer in IBM management as its first African-American executive, his service in Europe in World War II, and for his commanding voice and intelligence. Besides his passion for Oberlin, Cal was also passionate about his lovely wife Jan, his kids and granddaughter, his church, and fast cars (as evidenced by an annual trek to the Daytona 500).

Always dapper, he stood tall physically and made his presence known. Cal did not suffer fools gladly. He was eloquent, yet got to the point quickly. Like Lothrop, Cal had a great sense of humor. They liked to kid one another that even though they were both born in the same year (1924), one of them was distinctly older.

Dye’s tenure at Oberlin closely tracked with mine. We became good friends as we managed our respective organizations that were separate, yet inseparable.

Nancy and I spoke or met often to coordinate activities and discuss matters of joint interest as diverse as recreation, policing, marketing, town-gown relations, student protests, environmental sustainability, parking, and saving the hospital.

Nancy was gracious, curious, and creative, always with a ready smile and soft voice. She was a wonderful, tireless ambassador for Oberlin College and her town. The last time I met with Nancy, grizzled veterans that we were by then, we joked that we could write a book together. Now, I wish that we had really found the time for that.

Nancy and her husband, Griff, were true friends to the staff and students whom she led, and to the community she so embraced.

The likes of these three we will not meet again.

Rob DiSpirito served as Oberlin city manager for nine years. He now serves in that capacity in Dunedin, Fla.

By Rob DiSpirito

Special to the News-Tribune