This past year saw many changing faces as Oberlin went through a number of transitions.
Our annual tradition is to look back through the pages of the News-Tribune and assess the year, to get a feel for what shifts were fleeting and which will have a lasting impact on the community. We were struck this time by the comings and goings of those who wield enormous power over local policy.
Marvin Krislov announced last fall that he planned to step down as president of Oberlin College effective June 2017. In February, he said he would become president at Pace University in New York City.
“I have been honored to serve Oberlin, and I have tremendous affection for this great college, Conservatory, and community,” he said. “Working with our outstanding faculty, staff, students, parents, and alumni to further Oberlin’s mission and to honor Oberlin’s values has been the most educational and fulfilling experience of my life.”
So ended the decade-long tenure of Oberlin College’s 14th president, and in May he bid an emotional farewell to the community during commencement exercises on Tappan Square.
Shortly after, Carmen Ambar was introduced as the college’s 15th president — and the first African-American to lead the educational institution.
She was hired after a nine-month search process. Ambar boasts degrees from Columbia Law School, Princeton University, and Georgetown University. She worked in the New York City law department as an assistant corporation counsel, then was hired as assistant dean of graduate education at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
After serving as vice president and dean of students at Douglass College at Rutgers University, she was named president of Cedar Crest College in 2008.
The Oberlin City Schools also saw some change.
Jim Eibel, who had led Prospect Elementary, was promoted to director of pupil services for the district, which caused a chain reaction. Langston Middle School principal Chris Frank moved into the seat vacated by Eibel, and Michael Scott was hired as principal at Langston.
Scott transitioned from the Lorain City Schools after a 16-year career there, which included a period as principal at General Johnnie Wilson Middle School.
Throughout the summer, a great deal of behind-the-scenes work was being done to procure a new Oberlin police chief to fill the shoes of Juan Torres; he had stepped down Dec. 30, 2016, due to a family member’s illness. City manager Rob Hillard had aimed to fill the position before the end of summer, but when fall officially arrived Sept. 22 there was still no hire.
In the meantime, Oberlin’s city council race was heating up. Eight candidates competed for seven open seats, which meant one would be left in the cold on Election Day. Come the midnight hour on Nov. 7, the outlier was William Jindra.
Voters elected incumbents Bryan Burgess, Sharon Pearson, Ronnie Rimbert, Kelley Singleton, and Linda Slocum along with challengers Heather Adelman and Kristin Peterson.
In a six-way vote for the public board of education, Albert Borroni and Anne Schaum retained their seats another term while Jason Williams was chosen to serve alongside them.
Later in the month — after lengthy background checks, an internal dispute over his qualifications, and negotiations about vacation time — Ryan Warfield was at long last sworn in as the city’s new police chief.
Warfield served in uniform for 23 years as a member of the Elyria police department and was formerly a police academy instructor specializing in defense tactics such as krav maga.
As a detective, he led investigations for four years on several high-profile criminal cases including homicides, assaults, sex crimes, and close work with the Lorain County Drug Task Force.
In late December, two public servants said goodbye. Scott Broadwell and Sharon Soucy stepped down after each serving 10 consecutive years on city council.
They were ineligible to seek another term, but do have the option of sitting out two years and going on the ballot again.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
CHANGING FACES: Pictured are (top row) Marvin Krislov, Carmen Ambar, Jim Eibel, Michael Scott, (second row) Chris Frank, Ryan Warfield, Heather Adelman, Kristen Peterson, (third row) Anne Schaum, Albert Borroni, Jason Williams, Scott Broadwell, (fourth row) and Sharon Soucy.
POLITICS: It’s been a strong year for political stands, particularly when it comes to protecting the rights of minority groups. In January, Oberlineans headed to the nation’s capital for the Women’s March on Washington, taking aim at newly-inaugurated President Donald Trump and his policies on reproductive rights, fair pay, health care reform, LGBTQ rights, race, immigration, and freedom of religion. “The point is to give a message that women aren’t going backward,” said two-time U.S. House candidate Janet Garrett, who led a group of more than 50 activists to the march. “As a woman, I feel attacked by the rhetoric that’s come out of the Trump administration. A lot of women are feeling the same way and that’s why marches are being organized.” In February, Oberlin city council drew applause with the passage of updates to its sanctuary city ordinance. The move came as Trump pushed for a travel ban on visitors from seven mostly-Muslim nations. “The city of Oberlin reaffirms its commitment to welcome persons and families of all backgrounds and nationalities, including those who have entered the United States as refugees fleeing war and terror in other countries,” said new language unanimously added to a 2009 resolution on noncitizen rights. The resolution says no city service can be denied on the basis of citizenship. City workers — including police — do not ask crime victims, witnesses, or others who need assistance about their citizenship status. In June, council condemned Trump’s “wilful ignorance” of global warming with a resolution denouncing the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. City officials admonished the president “for rejecting accepted peer-reviewed science, jeopardizing the health of our citizens and environment, harming our country’s economic competitiveness, endangering our national security, and abdicating our country’s leadership role in the world.” Another resolution in September attacked Trump’s repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative. DACA protected young immigrants called “Dreamers” who came to the United States as children. “These children are basically being threatened with having the rugs yanked out from underneath them through no fault of their own,” councilman Scott Broadwell said. “The whole nonsense that seems to be coming out of the White House every time we turn around — it’s absolutely mind boggling to me.” In early October, while many other cities observed Columbus Day, Oberlin celebrated its first Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The holiday was changed here after months of discussion by council and residents, as well as protests from the Knights of Columbus. Oberlin is the first city in Ohio to push Columbus Day to the side in a show of solidarity with native people. Christopher Columbus was an incredibly violent man, according to activist Cindi Byron-Dixon. “No man, woman, or child was exempt from experiencing treachery at the hands of Columbus and his men,” she argued. “He actively participated in the sexual slavery of girls as young as nine years old. Upon Columbus’ arrival in Hispaniola, experts agree that there were approximately three million inhabitants. Twenty years after Columbus’ initial arrival, the population had decreased to only 60,000 inhabitants. After 50 years, the population was decimated. The remaining population was lost due to illness, slave trade, and massacre.” Also in October, council adopted stronger laws ensuring LGBTQ rights. The new language protects people based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression in Oberlin’s Equal Opportunity Employment Program and housing ordinances. “We’ve taken it upon ourselves to take action in the face of inaction,” councilwoman Sharon Soucy said, critiquing a lack of movement by state and national legislators to enact similar protections. “We at the local level have taken it upon our shoulders to step into the world of justice where it’s been neglected.”
HISTORY: The Allen Memorial Art Museum was the first of several notable Oberlin institutions and heroes to celebrate milestones in 2017. It opened the day before commencement in 1917, and throughout this past year celebrated its centennial with a series of special exhibits, talks, meetings, and an October symposium about the museum’s role in the community. Today the museum’s collection includes more than 14,000 pieces. The Italian Renaissance-style building on North Main Street is home to some of the most recognizable and revered works in the world, including Monet’s “Garden of the Princess, Louvre,” Greek pottery dating back some 2,500 years, and prints by pop art genius Andy Warhol. A bronze plaque set in stone was dedicated in June at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, bearing testament to the nine Tuskegee Airmen hailing from our area. The names of James Cannon, Gilbert Cargill, William Johnston Jr., Norman Proctor, Wayman Scott, Ferrier White, William Williams Jr., William Young, and Perry Young Jr. are memorialized now in Oberlin. “The men we honor today were men of peace, not withstanding their lethality from the air,” said speaker Delbert Spurlock, praising the struggle of black men to join World War II as pilots. Together, about 1,000 African-American airmen and 2,500 support personnel formed the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group — the Red Tails. In October, the First Church in Oberlin celebrated the 175th anniversary of the placing of its cornerstone. Churches citywide gathered to worship together in the Meeting House, forming a unified congregation. The history of First Church is essentially the history of Oberlin, said Laurel Price Jones, history chair of the church. Architect Richard Bond and pastor Charles Finney ushered the church from dream to reality in 1843; the congregation provided the labor. Until 1855, the Meeting House was the only place of worship in Oberlin, and the pews held a multiracial congregation of 2,500. By 1860, it was the largest in the United States, as all Oberlin College students were required to go to church. Later in October, Oberlin’s NAACP chapter celebrated its 100th anniversary. A prominent litigator during the civil rights movement and founding dean of the District of Columbia School of Law, William Robinson spoke before a packed banquet hall inside the Hotel at Oberlin. His talk focused on the process of building the NAACP, victories and setbacks in the fight against racial injustice, and American historical events often glossed over in teachings such as Jim Crow-era race riots that saw entire African-American neighborhoods burned to the ground and their residents murdered. He also warned of modern-day political threats to people of color. “Republicans are in control of both houses of Congress and most state governments,” Robinson said. “Our association is needed right now at the local, state, and national level as much as ever.”