Eric Cameron - Making a Difference
When meeting Eric Cameron today, he has the presence of an accomplished attorney: smartly dressed, steady composure, unyielding expression. But listening to him speak, there is compassion that doesn’t fit the stereotype and suggests that beneath his well-suited exterior is the memory of a young man who wasn’t always so self-assured – or as attentive to the law.
About 25 years ago, Cameron crossed county lines from his hometown of Columbus to Newark. He was only a few years out of high school and seeking rehabilitation for drug and alcohol addiction. Afterward he decided to take up residence in Licking County. “I didn’t have a whole lot going for me at the time. I had nothing in the way of confidence,” he remembered. He did have a desire to reciprocate the help he had received, so he sought education as a way to improve his own position to help people. “Ohio State Newark was accessible to me. The professors were able to reach me and were able to light something in me that had been lost.”
Cameron majored in history and found a mentor in Professor Emeritus Dick Shiels. “Eric Cameron was one of the best students I have taught. For two years he served as a student assistant for the honors program,” recalled Shiels. “He came to Ohio State Newark as a returning adult, and it was clear to me that he would go on to be a successful lawyer. He had an air about him: he was responsible, respectful and well spoken.”
A pivotal moment in his education came when Cameron defended his thesis to three professors, Shiels included. “I remember getting through that experience and thinking, ‘If I can do that, I can do anything.’ I felt like it pushed me, and I handled myself successfully. That process gave me some modicum of confidence going into law school.”
Cameron graduated with honors from Ohio State and then headed to Capital University Law School, where he graduated in 2003. He dedicated himself to his work, ascending to partner at his firm, Agee Clymer Mitchell & Portman, in just six years. The firm specializes in workers’ compensation, personal injury and social security cases. Each year he represents several hundred people, individuals opposing a much larger institution in a setting that is unfamiliar. They are fathers worried about how to feed their children or widows not sure how to manage their new circumstances.
Even now, after practicing law for more than 15 years, Cameron still loves the challenge that each new case brings. “I get to wake up every day and not know how I’m going to be called upon to use my brain to help people solve their problems. I know that if I do my job well it’s going to make a substantive difference in somebody’s life. It’s an honor.”
Diane DeLawder - Removing Barriers to Colege
A 9-year-old boy named Austin and a piggy bank called Señor Gummy Bear made Diane DeLawder realize that her life’s work was benefiting generations of families.
As executive director of the Newark, Ohio, nonprofit A Call to College, DeLawder works with staff to ensure that every new graduate of Newark City Schools has the opportunity to pursue higher education. Not an easy task in a school system where nearly a quarter of families live in poverty and many students are the first in their families to attend college.
For 21 years DeLawder had been so busy helping students that she didn’t fully realize the program’s reach. Until a phone call one day last fall. On the line was Kate Hannum-Rose, mother of fourth-grader Austin Rose. She told
DeLawder that Austin had come home from school excited about a four-slotted piggy bank he was introduced to that day.
“Mom, do you know about A Call to College?” Austin asked his mother. Did she ever. “They’re the ones who taught me how to go to college,” Hannum-Rose responded, amazed. “But how do you know about it?” Someone from A
Call to College was teaching his class about money, he told her. Austin and his classmates had won tokens for doing homework and having good attendance, then deposited them in Señor Gummy Bear’s slots — one each for saving, donating, investing and spending. Fill each slot, do well in school and off to college you go, the children learned.
Hannum-Rose was stunned. Twenty years ago, she had gone to DeLawder in a tizzy. Neither she nor her parents had any idea how to complete financial aid forms. DeLawder helped her, and the nonprofit awarded her a grant to help cover college expenses. When the two connected by phone last fall, Hannun-Rose thanked DeLawder for reaching out so early in her son’s life. The story touched DeLawder. “Leave it to a student to bring home the message,” she says. “When you hear kids talking at home about what happened at school, that’s success.”
When A Call to College was founded in 1991, the organization focused on helping high school seniors with the college financial aid process. “We soon learned that high school is too late to begin working with students,” DeLawder says. With strong support from the A Call to College board of directors, staff partnered with Newark City Schools teachers and administration to develop and launch educational programming that starts in the second grade and goes through 12th, including integrated classroom curriculum and programs, college campus visits, targeted ACT test preparation and assisting students and families with understanding and accomplishing requirements a college-bound student must meet.
A strong core of volunteers and community partners are at the heart of the program’s success. Last year, 276 volunteers from Licking County worked with DeLawder and her staff. Since its founding, the organization has awarded more than $3 million in needs-based grants. “Diane helps students explore all kinds of options for postsecondary education and also promotes her alma mater,” Kim Manno, interim director of development at Ohio State Newark,
wrote in nominating DeLawder for The Ohio State University Alumni Association’s 2017 Dan L. Heinlein Award for University Advocacy. “She is quick to let students know about the great and affordable education available in their own backyard,” Manno says. The message obviously resonates. Of the 131 students who graduated from Newark High School in 2015 and went on to college, 36 percent enrolled at Ohio State.
DeLawder herself found her way there after some changes in direction. Her parents encouraged her to go to college, but they were unable to provide the necessary funding. She won a scholarship to study theatre at a private college, but after one year, she made a decision that a change was needed. Her husband, Dan, provided the encouragement and support for Diane to enroll at Ohio State Newark and consider elementary education. “Once I enrolled at Ohio
State Newark, I found that paying for college was attainable,” she says, “and I received great support with the direction of my major in elementary education.” DeLawder went on to teach middle school and train teachers for a
kindergarten-readiness program. In 1993 she began volunteering with A Call to College, and she accepted the role of director three years later.
“We make high school graduation not an endpoint, but a springboard,” she says.
By Erin MacLellan
Reprinted with permission from The Ohio State University Alumni Association
Ralph Lahmon: A Buckeye Through and Through
Ralph Lahmon had no plans to go to college. Not because he wasn’t a good student; his high school math teacher had encouraged him to take algebra and geometry because she recognized his academic promise, even though he wasn’t enrolled in a college preparatory track. But growing up in the mid-1950s as part of an Ohio farm family with 13 children — well, Lahmon just assumed that college would not be in his future.
After graduating from Homer High School in 1956, he found work remodeling houses and expected that along with some farming, his working life was set. But opportunity often shows up in unexpected ways, and thanks to the opening of Ohio State Newark in 1957, Lahmon’s life and career path changed forever.
“If Ohio State hadn’t started a campus in Newark, I never would have gone to college,” said Lahmon. In the autumn of 1957, he became part of the first group of Ohio State students to enroll at the university’s new regional campus in Newark. A man with a firm work ethic, abundant energy and determination, Lahmon worked during the day and drove back and forth to classes every evening. Looking back, he credits his father and his minister with encouraging him to apply. “When I was in the seventh grade, I had rheumatic fever, which affected my heart,” recalled Lahmon. “I couldn’t play sports in high school and my father thought that college would give me job options other than physical labor.”
He attended Ohio State Newark for three quarters before heading to the Columbus campus in 1958. Once in Columbus, Lahmon’s life took some unexpected turns again. He met the love of his life, Linda, whom he married in 1960. But when she couldn’t work for a time due to a car accident, Lahmon scaled back his classes and worked to support the family. It was hard for the young couple to pay for a college education, but they believed that the opportunity Ohio State afforded was worth their sacrifices. Lahmon graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in the spring of 1965.
Almost immediately he began working for the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, New York. He would spend the next 27 years with the photography giant, at first designing facilities and later moving into energy management and processing. During his very successful career, Lahmon also had the opportunity to travel the world for Kodak, visiting places he had never dreamed of seeing while growing up on the farm in Ohio — places like Australia, Brazil, France and Singapore. He retired from Kodak in 1992 and worked as an energy management consultant for a time, advising companies on building new facilities. During all of those years in Rochester, amidst career success and raising a family, there was something else that held Lahmon’s passion — his alma mater.
“We’re Buckeyes at heart,” said Lahmon. Both daughters, Kacee and Kim, are Ohio State alumnae, and the family recently celebrated their third-generation Ohio State graduation with granddaughter Rachael.
Lahmon, and Linda, proudly profess their devotion to Ohio State, and evidence of that devotion is plentiful. For their loyalty and generosity through cumulative annual giving, the Lahmons have been recognized through membership in Ohio State’s President’s Club. They are also lifetime members of the alumni association and longtime members of the Buckeye Club. Ohio State football season ticket holders since 1982, they’ve attended every football championship game since then.
Now retired, the couple resides in Glenford on 22 acres in Perry County. Lahmon holds true to his farming roots and keeps active maintaining apple and peach orchards, and growing strawberries and raspberries. He’s grateful for the many opportunities he’s had throughout his life, but is quick to point out how it all started: taking that first step to Ohio State Newark — and a world of new opportunities.
Carolyn Knight - Breaking New Ground
One of Carolyn Knight’s fondest college memories is walking up the steps of her old high school. It was something she had done many times before, but this time she did it with a collegiate purpose. Before there was a Newark campus, The Ohio State University offered classes in the evening at Newark High School. For this 17-year-old from Newark, Ohio State courses in her old high school were a perfect match. Attending the Newark campus hadn’t always been her plan, but going to Ohio State was. “Ohio State then [in the 60s] was really the ultimate. My family was absolutely delighted and knew I’d get a good education,” said Knight. Her parents suggested going to the Newark campus to save money. Truthfully, Knight felt relieved at the idea. She wouldn’t turn 18 until after school started, and the prospect of attending a large university was intimidating.
“I didn’t feel like I missed anything” going to the Newark campus for the first two years of college, she said. Instead, she gained a lot of confidence that she credits for her ability to finish her degree at the Columbus campus. “It really was true. I would have struggled at 17,” said Knight. “Judging from my experience – oh my! It was different in Columbus. I had been worried because I was in high school, and I may have done well then, but I wondered ‘will I do well in college?’ By the time I got to Columbus, I was pretty self-assured, and I had won my confidence about being able to master college courses. I think the two-year delay worked well for me. I was much more ready when I went to Columbus.”
Knight graduated from Ohio State in 1965 with a Bachelor of Arts in French. Declaring a major, she said, was her biggest challenge. Knight initially wanted to major in medical technology. After a few chemistry courses, she came to the realization that a science-based degree wasn’t for her after all. She said she felt like the television character Gomer Pyle, popular for his antics as an incompetent soldier, in the lab. When the time came, her advisor told her to pick something she liked, and she could change it later. “So, I put down French because I did like it, and that’s where it stayed,” she recalled.
What does a college graduate do with a French degree? Knight didn’t want to teach. Because she never entertained the idea of teaching, she didn’t have the coursework to pursue that career anyway. A fateful meeting in an employment agency gave her the direction she needed. “The woman – I can still see her red hair and glasses – took off her glasses and said, ‘If I had a nickel for you students that come in here with these majors, and you haven’t
thought it through...,’” Knight remembered. But, noticing Knight’s gregarious nature, the agent placed her with a group that worked with mentally and developmentally disabled people who were transitioning from institutions to group homes in the community.
“I loved working with folks. I loved figuring out their problems and helping them. I wound up staying in the field, and I have never regretted it,” said Knight. “So here I sit. It’s kind of amazing. It’s always a stretch when someone says to me ‘what was your major?’ It worked out so well for me. I’ve never looked back.” Moving people with developmental disabilities out of institutions and into the community was a novel idea at the time. In her first job, Knight received a basic understanding of people with disabilities: how they lived, what their disabilities were and what they could achieve. From that first job, Knight effortlessly climbed the corporate ladder and is currently serving as the executive director of the Ohio Developmental Disabilities (DD) Council.
“I was always breaking new ground,” Knight said of her career. This holds true for two reasons. First, Knight challenged the status quo both locally and then statewide. Early in her career, it was the norm to place people with disabilities in institutions to be cared for. Still today, prejudices and obstacles exist that prevent them from getting jobs and becoming contributing members of society. “I started the work with stereotypes in my head. I was as guilty
as anybody thinking ‘he can’t’ or ‘he shouldn’t.’ You can never really know what someone is capable of doing. I’ve seen it relived day after day. I became such a believer in never say never,” Knight explained. “If I hadn’t seen so
much negativity, I wouldn’t feel as strongly as I do because I know it’s just not justified. It’s well meaning — to protect. It’s always tough to watch somebody do something where they might fail, but you’ve got to learn that failure is ok. That’s a hard lesson.”
Secondly, Knight was at the helm of many new organizations initiated to assist, protect or advocate for people with disabilities. Much of her career was spent at Ohio Legal Rights Service (OLRS). She served as assistant director for 10 years. As a legal organization, the law stated that only an attorney could be executive director. She was the motivating force behind the change in law that allowed her – not a lawyer – to become executive director, serving another 20 years before retiring. “Because of the determination I learned in earning my degree, I knew I was qualified to do whatever. It’s paid off for me,” said Knight. “In my field, you’re always pushed back. When you’ve seen so many things that do work, you don’t give up because you know this can make a difference.”
However, that wasn’t the end of her career. Knight was asked to take on interim executive director duties at the Ohio DD Council. Eight years later, she is still the executive director. The Ohio DD Council seeks to improve independence, productivity and inclusion for people with developmental disabilities and their families in community life in Ohio. The Ohio DD Council currently administers more than 25 grant projects using federally-sourced
funds. “This is fun because we have money. We give away grants. What a way to end your career giving out money to do wonderful, innovative things,” she said.
With one retirement and a career spanning five decades, you would expect there to be an end in sight. Not for Knight. She plans to keep working as long as she is healthy and physically able. If she does retire, she says she would have to volunteer. Looking back on her career, Knight shows appreciation and fondness for the place where it started. “Who knew that it would mean even more today than it did then?” Knight said of being an Ohio State alumna. “Then, to have a college degree was the golden ticket. Little did I know when I started at the Newark campus that that’s how it would end up. I was so focused on getting that degree because I just knew it would be my golden ticket, and it was. It did take me where I needed to go. I love my work.” Or, as they might say in one of Knight’s French classes: It worked out “comme il faut,” meaning “as it should be.”