Andrew Jackson, President/CEO of Elsons International | 100 Year Club Keynote Speaker

Andrew Jackson is President/CEO of Elsons International, a full service manufacturer and distributor of corrugated packaging. Jackson also is Owner/CFO of MAC Installations & Consulting LLC, a Low Voltage Telecommunications company; Owner/Operator of AJ Automotive Group; Do-All Landscaping/Snow Plowing; and Forest Glen Properties. 

Prior to his entrepreneurial engagements, Jackson spent over 30 years in Corporate America as a Partner with the global consulting firm, Accenture.  

He also served for seven years as the Senior Vice President for the Greater Cleveland Partnership (The Chamber of Commerce for Northeast Ohio). 

A product of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Jackson graduated from John Adams High School.  He earned a degree in accounting from Cleveland State University.  By training, he is a Certified Public Accountant having passed the CPA exam in 1983.  

In addition to his business interests, Andrew serves on several Boards in Cleveland, including The Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging (WRAAA), The Cleveland State University Business School – Visiting Committee, among others.   As a community leader, he has been recognized by a number of organizations and featured locally and nationally in various publications.

William “Bill” Koehler, CEO, Team NEO | 100 Year Club Keynote Speaker

As Chief Executive Officer of Team NEO, Bill Koehler is focused on seeing northeast Ohio grow and thrive. With more than 20 years of banking experience behind him, Bill puts his knowledge and expertise to work as he collaborates with partners and others to attract new businesses and accelerate the impact of innovation in the region.

Bill’s voice in the economic development community helps align the services of Team NEO with the needs of the region. Under his leadership, Team NEO is working to improve the performance of northeast Ohio’s economic development system, with the support of its many partners.

Prior to joining Team NEO, Bill served as President of Key Community Bank, where he led 9,000 employees across 14 states. During his banking career, Bill worked with private and public middle market companies. Bill earned a Master of Business Administration in Accounting and Finance from Columbia University’s Business School and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Harvard University.

Bill serves on a number of education-related, non-profit boards and committees including College Now of Greater Cleveland, Friends of Breakthrough Charter Schools, Urban Community School; and is the former Board Chair of St. Ignatius High School.

National Council of Jewish Women Cleveland | 2020 100 Year Club Inductee

Begun in Fall, 1894, by Rabbi Moses Cleveland to help resettle Jewish immigrants, National Council of Jewish Women/Cleveland (NCJW/CLE) has become a 2,000-member, volunteer force of strong women (and men) with powerful voices who meet the needs, then improve and change the lives of women, children and families locally, regionally, nationally and in Israel.  Originally located on E. 105th St., NCJW/CLE’s offices moved to Shaker Heights, then to its current location in Warrensville Heights.

Throughout its 126-year-old history, the organization has recognized community crises and established and co-founded institutions that remain resilient today.  They include:

  • Jewish Community Federation in 1903
  • Camp Wise in 1907 
  • Big Sisters in 1919
  • Thrift Shop, one of the first resale stores in Cleveland (now called Thriftique Showroom) in 1936
  • Council Gardens, the first independent living facility for low-income senior adults, in 1962
  • NCJW/Montefiore Hospice in 1991 now the Vinney Hospice and Palliative Care
  •, a website and magazine with resources for the special needs community, in 2012 
  • School libraries for underserved schools in Cleveland (2015-2020)

Through strong advocacy, dedicated community service and educational (and entertaining) programming, we create impactful solutions to social justice challenges.   The power of NCJW/CLE’s collective voice currently

  • increases literacy among underserved students through book clubs, book donations and theater groups.
  • provides awareness and help for human trafficking survivors.
  • supplies toiletries, new clothing and a measure of dignity for women and children of sexual assault.
  • offers school supplies and clothing for students in need.
  • advocates with elected officials to legislate protection of women’s rights, voters’ rights and other social justice issues.   

Standing on the shoulders of outstanding leaders, such as Barbara Mandel, Roz Wolf, and Lois Zaas, we remain dedicated to addressing critical, societal challenges and creating coalitions for progressive and impactful change.

More info can be found at:

ERC | 2020 100 Year Club Inductee

Founded in 1920 as the American Plan Association of Cleveland, ERC was formed in response to the labor movement by 15 business owners at the Union Club of Cleveland. 

Together, this group of CEOs united to create better workplace practices for both employers and employees. One hundred years and several name changes later, ERC has maintained its founding purpose and has grown into a leading human resource organization that has served thousands of members and clients across the region, nation, and globe.

ERC has withstood the test of time by being nimble and diversifying its portfolio of offerings. The 100-year-old company has adapted to the market by continuously tailoring its products and services in response to the current issues employers face, and by delivering modern, flexible solutions to client challenges and opportunities. 

Through certified HR advisors, ERC offers consultative services, compensation benchmarking and data, workplace polls and surveys, networking, and cost savings opportunities. ERC also offers virtual and classroom instructor-led training, on-demand learning, individual and team assessments, one-on-one coaching, and employee engagement services. 

ERC is especially committed to our region’s economic vitality and to making our community a long-term destination of choice for companies and top-performing individuals. In 1999, ERC established NorthCoast 99, an annual recognition program and event that honors 99 great Northeast Ohio workplaces for top talent. This program helps employers make a difference in the lives of the people working and living in our region.

ERC also started ERChealth over 20 years ago to help Ohio employers significantly reduce their health insurance costs. ERChealth is an affordable, quality health insurance program that delivers uncommonly low rates, and comprehensive coverage and plan options.

Proud of its legacy and rooted in its mission, ERC is dedicated to serving the needs of its members, clients, and community for decades to come.

The Millcraft Paper Company | 2020 100 Year Club Inductee

The Millcraft Paper Company was founded in December 1920 by Pauline and Harold Keil as a small stationery and invitation merchant serving the Cleveland area.  Over Millcraft’s 100 years, the company’s ownership and leadership has spanned four generations of the Keil family, including Jane (Keil) and Stuart McKinney; Katherine (McKinney) and Charles Mlakar; and current President and CEO Travis Mlakar. With sole proprietorship passing to Pauline Keil in 1956 – and subsequently on to her daughter, Jane, and granddaughter, Katherine – Millcraft thrived as a woman-owned business for three generations and more than 60 years.

Cleveland has always been home to Millcraft with two early downtown addresses at 750 Superior Avenue and 1927 East 19th Street.  Since 1971, Millcraft’s corporate headquarters and Cleveland sales and distribution division have been co-located at 6800 Grant Avenue in Cuyahoga Heights. 

Millcraft’s first 60 years established its standing as a premier fine paper merchant serving the Midwest commercial printing industry with early expansions into Ohio, Indiana and western New York.  Since the 1980’s, the company has used strategic acquisitions and an adaptive product and service platform to gain market share across Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New York and West Virginia.  Among its key acquisitions: Daka Paper (Erie, 1983); Cleveland Paper (1986); Hull Paper (Dayton 1989); Merchants Paper (Cincinnati, 1991); Niagara Paper (Buffalo, 1995); American Paper (Detroit, 2000); Clark Envelope (Cleveland, 2003); Paper Plus Stores (Detroit, 2004); Standard Paper (Detroit, 2005); Ariva (assets, Covington, KY, 2013); Brown Paper (Greenwich, CT, 2015); Ideal Mobile Canning (Indianapolis, 2020). Today, Millcraft proudly serves a national customer base with a diversified product offering of printing and office papers; industrial, retail and luxury packaging; sign and banner materials; food and beverage packaging supplies and services; mailing and shipping supplies; and more.

Millcraft’s consistent success derives from an unwavering commitment to the guiding principles of its founders to “positively and meaningfully impact the people we work with every day – our co-workers, customers, supply partners, families, communities and friends.” 

Millcraft has been honored with numerous business awards over the years, including:  The Ohio 200;  Women’s Business Enterprise Star Award; NAWBO Top 10 Women Business Owners; Crain’s Fast 50; Smart Business Smart 50; Printing Industries of America Best Workplaces in America; and Best and Brightest Companies to Work For.

Western Reserve Group | 2020 100 Year Club Inductee

On February 6, 1906 in Seville, Ohio, Lightning Rod Mutual Fire Protective Association was formed by a group of farmers who recognized that buildings with lightning rods were significantly less likely to suffer fire damage than buildings without lightning rods.  The newly formed mutual assessment company consisted of 177 members and its first policy was written on July 19, 1906 for $3.37.  Lightning Rod initially provided only fire coverage, exclusively written for members with lightning rods on their buildings.  Operating as a mutual assessment company meant losses and expenses were tallied and shared equally among the members at the end of the year.

As the decades progressed, Lightning Rod grew in membership and policy count, resulting in multiple moves to larger buildings within Seville.  Around 1935, the company once again needed to relocate to a larger building.  When this news spread throughout Seville and Medina County, many sellers seized the opportunity to make a quick profit and increased property prices substantially.  As a result, Lightning Rod broadened the search for its new property beyond Medina County.  The company purchased a building in Wayne County at 324 N. Market Street, Wooster, Ohio. 

In order to expand its offerings Lightning Rod Mutual Protective Association partnered with, and eventually acquired, Union Insurance Company, which wrote property coverage for structures without lightning rods.  Additionally, Lightning Rod members made the decision to expand coverage for losses resulting from causes other than fire.  In 1937, ten investors contributed $1,000 each to form Western Reserve Mutual Casualty Company, to write casualty insurance and operate as an advance premium insurance company, where premium is paid up front and there is no assessment at the end of the year.

Insurance laws changed in 1955, permitting insurance companies to write policies for multiple lines of business.  Lightning Rod Fire Protective Association became a multiline carrier in 1962, expanding coverage offerings beyond property, and also converted from an assessment association to an advance premium company.  In making these changes, Lightning Rod Mutual Protective Association reorganized itself as Lightning Rod Mutual Insurance Company.

During the next quarter century, Lightning Rod and Western Reserve expanded their influence, writing policies throughout the state of Ohio.  Boone Farm Mutual Insurance Company was acquired in 1987, extending the company’s territory and making its insurance products available in Indiana.  With this latest acquisition, Western Reserve Group was formed to bring all of the company’s individual companies under one trade name and create a consistent brand for all of its products.  In 1997, Sonnenberg Mutual Insurance Company was acquired and became part of Western Reserve Group.

In 2006, Western Reserve Group celebrated its centennial, having grown exponentially since its humble beginnings as a mutual fire protection association.  Western Reserve Group maintains an unsurpassed record of financial stability and fiscal responsibility, writing business today as a premier, multiline property and casualty insurer in Ohio and Indiana.

League Of Women Voters (LWV) Of Cleveland | 2020 100 Year Club Inductee

The League Of Women Voters (LWV) Of Cleveland was formed in April 1920 by a group of suffragists, after the disbanding of the Woman’s Suffrage Party of Greater Cleveland. Founders followed the example of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association, which had organized the National League of Women Voters in February 1920. The local league worked to complete ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment and to educate new voters, with the motto, “Every Woman an Intelligent Voter.” Nonpartisan, the league also proposed to support legislation protective of women and encourage women’s involvement in politics. The Cleveland LWV was the first local chapter to send questionnaires to candidates and to hold public forums between opposing candidates. It hosted the second national convention in 1921, where activist Carrie Chapman Catt made a plea for world peace. This speech ignited a women’s peace movement that culminated locally in the Women’s Council for the Prevention of War and the Promotion of Peace and the 1924 Women’s Council Peace Parade. Belle Sherwin, the Cleveland league’s first president, served as national president from 1924-1934.

The league has endorsed legislation concerning women workers, child welfare, and education, as well as particular local issues. In 1921, the local LWV supported the City Manager Plan; in the 1950s it began to call for protecting Lake Erie as a water source; and in 1981 it successfully advocated a smaller Cleveland City Council. In the 1960s, the LWV actively supported legislation to establish accessible institutions of higher education such as Cuyahoga Community College. The league, however, refused to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) for close to half a century, until 1970, because of its threat to special legislation for working women. The league has also assisted election boards and conducted voter registration and public demonstrations of registration and voting techniques.

In 1972, the LWV established the League of Women Voters of Cleveland Educational Fund, Inc., as its nonprofit educational division. The Fund sponsored a yearly series of Town Hall and Public Forums addressing issues of importance for the Cleveland area, established (1975) the Cleveland Area Voter Information Center (as of 1984, the Voter Information Center) to encourage citizens to participate in government, held a “Government Day” and a “Journalism Day” for students in the Cleveland Public Schools, and established a newsletter and video to teach new voters the voting process.

During recent years, the LWV conducted studies on the effect of tax abatement on the finances of the Cleveland Public Schools (1997), presented a 1999 forum on campaign finance reform, and organized the State of Ohio’s youthvote2000 initiative. In 2007, LWV offices were at 850 Euclid Avenue. That same year, the League president was Penny Jeffrey, while Sharon McGraw served as executive director of the Education Fund.

The Three Arts Club of Lakewood | 2020 100 Year Club Inductee

The Three Arts Club of Lakewood was formed on June 17, 1919 by nine ladies dedicated to furthering interest in and enjoyment of the arts.  Mrs. E. H. Fishman was the first president with Mrs. George H. Brown as vice president.  Active Members gave recitals and Associate Members opened their homes and provided tea.  Dues were $3 per year.  In 1922 recitals moved to the Clifton Club.  In 1942 a destructive fire there destroyed our two 2 grand pianos.   Meetings were held at The Lake Shore Hotel and Higbee’s until the Clifton Club reopened in 1951 with our new Steinway Grand piano, still in use today, making its debut in January. 

A scholarship loan fund helped students from 1933 through 1980. In 1981 scholarship grants funded by member donations, bequests, and interest from invested funds replaced loans.  Auditions are held each June, with high school graduates and undergraduate college students competing for scholarships.  Each spring several winners perform for Club members.  To date,  we are pleased to have helped 260 talented students.

The Club is well known in Northeastern Ohio. Many of our scholarship winners have risen to importance in Cleveland and nationally.  Sean Gabriel, a 1981 winner, is now the principal flautist with the Cleveland Chamber Symphony and Blue Water Chamber Orchestra and returns to judge our competitions. Some winners compose music for stage and screen; sing in opera companies; play in orchestras; and perform in theater and television. Others further the arts by teaching in universities, public and private schools.  

Tea recitals continue at the Clifton Club from October through May with  Active members and guests performing.  The Covid 19 caused a disruption in 2020.  Current President Mrs. Viv Bowditch, Vice President, Mrs. Nancy Calcott, and Members, look forward to resuming activities that continue our dedication to the Arts.

Hahn Loeser & Parks LLP | 2020 100 Year Club Inductee

In 1920, Hahn Loeser’s Catholic and Jewish founding partners, marginalized in their ability to practice law due to their religious affiliations, joined together to serve the legal needs of their community. Being one of the first firms in Cleveland to combine lawyers from both faiths, our founding partners recognized from the very start that our differences often, when combined, become great strengths.  Since then, Hahn Loeser has grown to be one of the top full-service law firms in the nation, with over 130 attorneys across six offices, serving clients across the country and around the world.

One of the hallmarks of our Firm is our strong ties to our community.  Our attorneys and staff are involved in numerous philanthropic and community organizations across our national footprint and devote thousands of hours each year to giving back to those in need.  To celebrate our 100th anniversary, we launched our 100 Acts of Kindness initiative in January, giving back to the causes and non-profit organizations our attorneys and personnel are involved in and care about deeply.

Hahn Loeser has thrived for a century because of our pursuit of excellence.  As our country faces an uncertain global health and economic crisis, we are focused on supporting our clients as they navigate the challenges and intricate issues that arise.  Our longevity gives us perspective, and our team-based approach provides our clients with a multi-dimensional perspective that are essential during challenging times.

While our services have expanded, our core values have never changed. Hahn Loeser believes in providing exceptional legal counsel, serving our communities, and fostering inclusion. Above all, we value our people who take great pride every day in serving the needs of our clients. Our attorneys and staff have developed a culture of excellence and an unwaveringly focus on achieving results that exceed client expectations.

Fincun-Mancini, Inc. | 2020 100 Year Club Inductee

In 1906, James A. Newkirk, known as the dean of Cleveland court reporters, founded the firm known today as Fincun-Mancini.  Mr. Newkirk was an associate and personal friend of President Warren Harding and transcribed his speeches during his campaign.

Since its founding in Cleveland in 1906, Fincun-Mancini has been an industry leader in court reporting.   Newkirk, together with Martin Fincun, established a firm with a legendary reputation for excellence.  Becoming a staple in Cleveland’s litigation community, word spread of Mr. Fincun’s expertise.  His expert reporting skill, as well as his profound organizational skills garnered Mr. Fincun’s firm in high demand.   Under his leadership, Fincun provided a team to produce an exceptional product and provided services locally as well as nationally. 

In 1944, Mr. Newkirk retired and in 1947, newcomer Sue Mancini joined Mr. Fincun’s exemplary team of reporters and transcribers.   Under his leadership, she quickly mastered the excellence Mr. Fincun had become renowned for, and together they worked on many high-profile assignments both domestically and abroad, taking their skills all over the United States, Italy and even Japan.  Awards and recognition from the Associated Stenotypists of America and National Court Reporters Association have been given to Mr. Fincun and Ms. Mancini during the span of their careers and gained them notoriety in the world of court reporting.   Upon his death in 1974, Mancini became owner of the firm and subsequently a Fellow of NCRA in 1980.  

With the direction of Ms. Mancini, Fincun-Mancini continued to flourish as a new century was being ushered in.  Throughout the late 1970’s, the firm developed a known expertise for legal videotape recording and was the first in northern Ohio to offer this service.  The firm expanded in 2001 with the acquisition of Flowers, Versagi and Campbell and again in 2012, acquiring Kate Foxx Reporting of Mentor, Ohio.   

Technology and trends continually shape the makeup of a successful court reporting firm, and the 21st century has provided many avenues to continue to provide nothing short of perfection.  With digital court reporting and remote depositions being almost a necessity today, Fincun-Mancini is the firm to look to for all litigation services.  Still today, as it was over 100 years ago, Fincun-Mancini remains The Court Reporters of Cleveland, Ohio and beyond.

Cleveland Institute of Music | 2020 100 Year Club Inductee

The Cleveland Institute of Music, founded in 1920 with composer Ernest Bloch as the founding director, is one of just seven independent conservatories of music in the United States, one of three devoted exclusively to classical music performance and the only one nestled in America’s heartland. 

CIM empowers the world’s most talented classical music students to fulfill their dreams and potential. Its graduates command the most celebrated and revered stages in the world as soloists, chamber musicians and ensemble members; compose meaningful, award-winning new repertoire; and are highly sought-after teaching artists, administrators and thought leaders. More than half of the members of The Cleveland Orchestra are connected to CIM as members of the faculty, alumni or both. 

All CIM students benefit from access to world-renowned visiting artists and conductors, intensive study with CIM’s stellar faculty and the rich curriculum offered by CIM’s partner Case Western Reserve University. In fall 2020, the diversity of CIM’s student body increased by a remarkable 338% since 2016 and represents 12% of the Institute’s approximately 325 students.

CIM’s Preparatory & Continuing Education Division was also founded in the early 1920s, recognizing the need for high-quality instruction preparing school-aged musicians and offering life-long learning to talented amateurs. The Preparatory Division is home to CIM’s Musical Pathway Fellowship, which prepares Black and Latinx student musicians for success in a college music school or conservatory. 

CIM is an integral part of Cleveland’s arts community, presenting nearly 600 free performances and master classes on campus each year, and hundreds more at locations throughout the region, including Severance Hall. Students and faculty engage with partners including The Cleveland Orchestra, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Institute of Art and other cultural, educational and community organizations to create classical music that is as vibrant and varied as the city of Cleveland. 

Explore to learn more.


The Butler Institute Of American Art | 2020 100 Year Club Inductee

In 1919, philanthropist Joseph G. Butler, Jr., selected the architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White to create the first building in the United States specifically constructed as a museum of American art. Listed on the Register of National Historic Places, the museum is dedicated exclusively to the collection, preservation, and exhibition of American art and holds over 22,000 works of art.  

In 1981, Louis Zona became Director and focused on restoration of the physical plant and programming.  A series of strategic plans adopted by the Board, focused on expansion of the building and enhancing the endowment. In 1987, a West Wing addition doubled the size of the building creating galleries, classrooms, a research library, archive, and storage vaults. The original galleries were refurbished, making possible the presentation of the collection in historical sequence focusing on key works, artists, and movements. In 1989, a print gallery to preserve and exhibit of works on paper was dedicated.  To commemorate the museum’s 75th anniversary, the first scholarly catalogue of the collection, Master Paintings from The Butler Institute of American Art was published and in 2010, Masterworks from The Butler Institute of American Art, expanded on the first to include sculpture and new acquisitions. The Beecher Center addition devoted to new media was dedicated in 2000.

The Institute received professional accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums in 1989 (re-accreditation in 2009). In 2003, a pavilion including a café and gift shop opened.  In 2005, the church next to the museum was purchased and renamed Butler North Education Center housing classrooms, and meeting and performance spaces. In 2013, additional galleries, bridge, and accessible elevator were completed. A series of capital projects from 2015 to 2019, included an elevator replacement, stained glass preservation, and masonry restoration of the entire main building façade.


Then & Now | Holiday Shopping Memories

John J. Grabowski, Ph.D.
Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publications, Western Reserve Historical Society

The recent report of the conversion of the May Company building on Public Square into apartments is good news for the city.   Yet, some Greater Clevelanders will regret the change, much as they regretted the change of the Higbee Building into a casino, and the conversion of the Halle Brothers building.   Others will lament the loss of the Bing store at Prospect and E. 4th, or even remember Taylors Department store.  And then, of course, there are the memories of the large Christmas tree at Sterling- Lindner.  These memories truly rise to the surface at the holiday season.   Like many memories, they tend to be warm and wonderful, but then we also need to remember that the downtown department store was just one of the ways we shopped.  The way we shopped has changed – not once, but many times over the years.

One wonders how those who once shopped at individually owned stores devoted to specific products – everything from clothing to cook wear –reacted to the rise of the department store.   During the early years of Cleveland and other cities one usually purchased goods at single-owner store, a place where you came to know the owner and, also,  a place where you could often haggle for a bargain.   One could strike up a personal relationship – either good or bad – with the owner, and chances were the owner knew you by name.

That situation began to change with the growth of cities.  Population density and technological change led to the creation of department stores — places where it seemed the entire world of consumer goods was spread about before the customer and each with a set price – bargaining with the owner became passé.

Alexander T. Stewart, a Protestant Irish Immigrant is often credited with founding the first “department” store in New York City in 1848.   He became a multimillionaire and other merchants followed his example.  Rowland. H. Macy founded Macy’s ten years later.  Others, such as John Wanamaker and Harry Gordon Selfridge would follow.  The continued growth of cities, the mass production of consumer goods, and growing transportation networks would change the way people shopped.  Some of these stores grew into veritable palaces of consumption with specific departments focused on various goods, ranging from clothing to books, to furniture, to toys, and even to tools.  And so, for well over a century, American consumption – particularly during the holiday season — focused on a trip downtown to a store laden with a wide variety of goods and usually decorated to match the season.

Small specialty stores survived, but the main money went to the mass market of the department store.  And, of course, each store catered to a particular level of that mass market and some specialized in particular goods.  Cleveland had a variety of stores.  Bing specialized in household goods, Halle Brothers and Sterling Lindner appealed to what was once known as the carriage trade, as did Higbees to an extent.  The May Company which was founded in Denver and opened a store in Cleveland in 1899 had perhaps the widest clientele and its bargain basement was the place to save money and to get Eagle Stamps as well.  Taylor’s Department Store which was for many years overseen by Sophie Strong Taylor also had a particular cachet.

When Americans began to flock to the suburbs wise store owners followed by opening branches.   Halle’s did so in 1948 and by the late 1950s May Company expanded to the suburbs, including a branch at the new Southgate Shopping Center.   And so for many younger people (those born in the last forty to fifty years) the memory of holiday shopping is not downtown but at a store in a mall – and, indeed, malls are/were the ultimate centers of consumption.  So the memories they evoke are not about taking public transportation downtown, walks down crowded holiday streets, or escalator rides up to the seventh floor of the May Company to see the toy department, but rather a drive with the family to a mall (and each mall had/has a certain image and cachet) and visits to multiple stores almost all decorated for the season and, likely, the requisite Santa Claus ensconced in his chair in the middle of the mall.

The question is what will their children’s memories be?  Long before COVID confined us to our homes, we were again changing the way we shop.  Amazon has been with us for a mere 26 years, yet it and other on-line services have drastically changed the marketplace.  So will their memories be of cruising the web to find those things they dream of having, or watching for the delivery of packages to the front door? Perhaps though the memories of the holiday season will be the same as they always have been – of being safely together at a time when the world moves from ever shorter, darker days, to longer brighter ones.

(photo: Cleveland Memory Project – Bailey’s window shopping 1910.)

Then & Now | PFC Victor Bruno Contini

PFC Victor Bruno Contini, 105th Infantry, Artist and Soldier, 1916-1945

In 2012, WRHS received an amazing collection of letters written and artworks created by PFC Victor Bruno Contini. Victor served in the 105th Infantry during WII, losing his life during the Battle of Saipan in 1945.  The collection was donated by Victor’s niece, Mary Contini Gordon, who along with her mother Rosaria had preserved and cared for them for nearly 70 years.

PFC Contini’s letters along with the watercolors, sketches, and pencil drawings not only document his life as a soldier during WWII, but show the dreams and aspirations of a soldier who, like many soldiers have to do, put them on hold for the war.  They reveal Victor’s wonder at the beauty of his new land, his enthusiasm for art, and his dedication to the world effort to preserve freedom

Born in Castelluccio Valmaggiore, Apulia, Italy, in 1916, Victor immigrated to Cleveland’s Little Italy in 1928 with his mother and siblings to join his father, Eduardo, who had immigrated in 1921. His love of art showed early in childhood and he created sketches and drawings of his surroundings in Cleveland.  Victor’s talent helped him obtain a scholarship to the Cleveland School of Art, but his time at the school was cut short. In 1941, he was drafted into the army.

The change of circumstances could not damper Victor’s love of and need to create art.  He sketched and drew his surrounding scenery and fellow soldiers with whatever art supplies he could get a hold of.  Victor’s captain noted his talent and arranged for donations from the US so he could have materials.   He carried the art and supplies in his backpack through training, eventually sending many of the pieces home to his brother and sister-in-law, Mario and Rosaria, in Cleveland’s Little Italy.

(Victor Bruno Contini watercolor painting. 1940s. WRHS Collection.)

The bulk of Victor’s art from his time as a soldier show the Army Barracks at Fort Wolters, Texas, where many of those who fought in the Pacific were trained and where he was stationed in 1941.  After Texas, PFC Contini was stationed in Hilo, Hawaii.  Here he sketched land and seascapes in living watercolor, picturesque structures, and his fellow soldiers at work.

Sadly, Victor never made it back home and never realized his dream of becoming an artist.  But his family helped his dream become a reality.  They loaned Victor’s art for exhibit at the General Patton Museum in California and at the museum at Fort Wolters, Texas.

Most important for Victor’s legacy and most meaningful for the family was the donation of Victor’s art and letters to the Western Reserve Historical Society.  To them, the permanent transfer of Victor’s art and correspondence to this respected institution in Cleveland symbolized Victor finally going home.  And, by archiving his work so that future generations will know his story, his talent, and his heart, Victor’s dream of being an artist has come true.

Zephrine Burks Shares Her Story | Faith, Family, and Fashion Series

Part II in the Faith, Family, and Fashion Series for
The WRHS “Share Your Story” COVID-19 Digital Collecting Initiative
Tonya Byous, M.Ed., Interviewer and First Lady of the Philippi Missionary Baptist Church
Regennia N. Williams, PhD, Scholar-Consultant

“Even though times have changed, I still believe in giving God your best with your dress.”  –Zephrine Burks

Rev. Samuel Burks and Mrs. Zephrine Burks are pictured here with their children, c. 1961.

Mrs. Zephrine Burks can point with pride to her many accomplishments as a musician, educator, wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and former First Lady of her church. At the age of 90, Burks is especially proud of the fact that faith, family, and fashion consciousness continue to play important roles in her daily life, even in the era of COVID-19 and social distancing.  

Born in Cleveland in 1930 to Sadie Mae and William Buchannan, Zephrine was named after her mother’s music teacher in Tuskegee, Alabama, her parents’ birthplace.  Like her mother and namesake, she also loved music.  In describing her introduction to the formal study of music, she stated: 

Rev. Thomas Lee, the Pastor of Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, announced that any parent who wanted their children to take piano lessons could bring them down to the church, where a professional music teacher would offer lessons, and the church would pay for the lessons.  Fifteen students started, and two students completed the course of study. I was one of the students who finished the program.

Her piano lessons began in 1937, when she was seven years old.  At the age of nine, she began to play for the Sunday School at Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, and she still has fond memories of growing up in the church:

I was the only child, and my mother saw to it that I was always well dressed.  When we were getting ready for church, my mother would say, “Always give God your best,” and she would dress me accordingly.  I continued in that same manner with my children and grandchildren.  

Zephrine attended Cleveland Public Schools, graduating in 1949, the same year in which she married Samuel Burks.  After her marriage, she followed her husband to and played piano for her father-in-law’s church, St. Joseph Missionary Baptist Church, and Rev. William D. Burks was Pastor. When her husband became pastor of St. Joseph Missionary Baptist Church, which was later renamed Olive Grove Missionary Baptist Church; Zephrine became the First Lady of that congregation.  

According to Zephrine, she never wanted a preacher for a husband.  As she put it, 

When Rev. William Burks announced that his son Samuel Burks had accepted the call to ministry, the church clapped, and I cried. I went home and told my mother, and she said, “Listen to me, if the Lord called him, you pray and ask the Lord to make you the minister’s wife that He would have you to be.  Encourage him [your husband], and the Lord will bless both of you.” It was my mother who encouraged me, and I followed her advice.

After becoming a member of the local Minsters’ Wives Club, the women who inspired her most were Clara Banks and Anna Chatman, First Lady of the Original Harvest Baptist Church, who was fond of saying, “Zephrine you can do it!”  At the Olive Grove Missionary Baptist Church, First Lady Zephrine Burks also became the Minister of Music and a Sunday School teacher. Pastor and First Lady Burks would raise six children while working as servant-leaders in the church, and all of the children studied music.

First Lady Zephrine Burks and Rev. Samuel Burks (center) and their six children.

As a 19-year-old, Zephrine Burks had joined the Cleveland Baptist Pastors’ Wives Club, and she served as the secretary for that organization when Sadie Allen was the president.  Under the presidency of Anna Chatman, the name of the group was changed to Cleveland Baptist Ministers and Pastors’ Wives. Today, Burks serves as the chapter vice president.  Burks also served as president of the Calvary Hill Baptist District Association Women’s Auxiliary for over 20 years. In describing her various leadership roles, she said,

Whatever I did in the church, at the District level and with Ministers’ Wives, I did it all because of my love for Christ. It was important to me that my children and grandchildren serve the Lord with the same enthusiasm and adoration! I tried my best to be an example for all of them –and the members of the church that my husband and I led.

Even though times have changed, I still believe in giving God your best with your dress. I often tell young Christian women going to church [and wearing short dresses and skirts] to, “Tell your shoes to give a party and invite your dress down!”

Mrs. Zephrine Burks is shown her with her granddaughter (and interviewer) Tonya Byous, First Lady of Cleveland’s Philippi Missionary Baptist Church.

Find out more about the Western Reserve Historical Society’s “Share Your Story” COVID-19 Digital Collecting Initiative HERE.



Then & Now | Italian Cultural Garden

The Italian Cultural Garden was officially dedicated on October 12, 1930 with over 3,000 in attendance.  It was created to share Italy’s great cultural arts with the general public and serve as a symbol of the contribution of Italian culture to American democracy.

Phillip Garbo, an immigrant from Cefalu, Sicily, spearheaded the two-level Italian Cultural Garden in the Renaissance style.  Garbo was a master of the decorative arts and owner of the Italian Fresco and Decorating Company.  He created the interiors of a number of churches, residences, and theatres, including that of the Ohio Theatre in Playhouse Square.

A large Renaissance fountain, modeled after the one in Villa Medici in Rome, is the centerpiece of the upper level of the Italian Cultural Garden.  A statue of Dante Alighieri and a bust of the Roman poet Virgil are found to the left and right of the main entrance.  Two large winding staircases lead to the lower level amphitheater which contains another Renaissance fountain showcasing images of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vince, Giuseppe Verdi, Marconi, Petrarch and Giotto.

In 1990, Cleveland Cultural Gardens Federation President Alfonso D’Emilia in conjunction with Gino Colage, president of the Italian Cultural Garden Association, began regular maintenance of the garden. They successfully solicited the City of Cleveland to repair the retaining wall, balustrade, and sections of the pavement.

Since 2007, the Italian Cultural Garden has been undergoing a $1.5 million restoration, spearheaded by executive director Joyce Mariani.  Besides foundation and repair work, Joyce has been working to enhance the garden as well as complete its original unfinished plans from 1930.  The addition of the statue of Dante Aligheri in 2012 was one unfinished component of the original plans.  Most recently, black granite medallions were installed around the upper level fountain highlighting various Italian cultural figures.  The final completion of the original plans will be a Pantheon structure on the upper level honoring 150 Italian cultural greats.

An annual event in the Italian Cultural Garden that has become popular over the years is “Opera in the Italian Garden.”  After the garden was built in 1930, opera was a regular feature there in the summer months.  Over time, the performances stopped but were revived in 2010.  Opera in the Garden attracts over 3,000 people each July highlighting the Cleveland Opera and the Cleveland ballet.

Then & Now | Hebrew Cultural Garden

That two of the three founders of the Cultural Gardens movement in Cleveland were Jewish perhaps explains why the first cultural garden to be dedicated, in 1926, was the Hebrew Cultural Garden. The driving force behind the gardens was Leo Weidenthal, editor of the Jewish Independent. In 1916 Weidenthal established a Shakespeare Garden for the tercentenary of the playwright’s death. A decade later, Weidenthal began discussions about expanding the concept into a chain of gardens the length of Rockefeller Park. His compatriots included Charles Wolfram, a leader of the German community, and Jennie K. Zwick, a longtime Jewish leader and activist. Zwick founded a women’s group, Gan Ivri (Hebrew for Hebrew Garden), to lead a fundraising effort through concerts, meetings with visiting authors, and lectures.

Weidenthal, Wolfram, and Zwick attracted the attention of local and international figures and achieved significant recognition. Visiting Cleveland in May, 1926, Chaim Nachman Bialik, the foremost Hebrew poet of the day, planted three cedars of Lebanon and gave a speech in Hebrew. In 1927 the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann came to plant trees; Weizmann later served as the first President of Israel. The presence of such prominent figures suggests the importance city leaders accorded the endeavor of the Cultural Gardens.

For Weidenthal, the Hebrew Cultural Garden was meant to reflect “a bit of Palestinian loveliness” and all kinds of cultural activities. Designed with a fountain of pink marble at its center, the Garden eventually included a Philosophers’ Corner and a Musicians’ Corner. A separate section also recognized the many achievements of Jewish women. Inscribed on the fountain was a selection from Proverbs 9, “Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars.” The paths around the fountain formed the shape of a six-pointed star, while outlying areas were set aside for additional memorials. A model for other ethnic groups, the Hebrew garden provided both open space for public movement and more private corners in which to congregate.

In supporting this dynamic initiative to celebrate America’s absorption of immigrants, Cleveland’s ethnic leaders rejected the notion of the melting pot. For example, Rabbi Barnett Brickner of Anshe Chesed (today, Fairmount Temple), said he preferred the metaphor of a hope chest, suggesting that immigrants come here to realize hopes and dreams that cannot be fulfilled elsewhere. In a presentation to a local lodge, reported on in The Jewish Independent in March 1927, Brickner proclaimed, “Because my grandfather missed the Mayflower and came over on the next boat he could get does not mean that those who came over on the Mayflower are in any way either racially, mentally, or spiritually superior to those who did not.” The Cultural Gardens became a way for the city’s ethnic groups to declare their specific identities and also to assert their equal stature with other groups.

Then & Now | African American Cultural Garden

It was in 1969 that Booker Tall, a Cuyahoga Community College professor and one of the founders of the African American Archives at WRHS, began what turned out to be an eight-year long labor of love to claim a spot for the African American Cultural Garden.

Tall wanted the garden to live within the Cleveland Cultural Gardens grounds. The grounds, which are located within the 276 acres of  Rockefeller Park, is a collection of public gardens situated along East Boulevard & Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Each of the gardens celebrate a different ethnic group who has contributed to the heritage of Cleveland and of our country.

So, the Association of African American Cultural Gardens, which included Mr. Tall, along with Clarence Fitch, Carol Bugg, Bob Render, Glen Brackens, and the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life & History set out to bring an African American Cultural garden to the Cleveland Cultural Garden grounds. They planned to accomplish this by way of a media campaign throughout the city of Cleveland.

As a result, on October 23, 1977, the African American Cultural Garden (or the Afro-American Cultural Garden as it was called then) was dedicated to a four-acre site by then-Mayor George Voinovich. The site, located on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive at the St. Clair exit, is where Tall stood before a crowd of five-hundred and declared the four-acre area the future site of the African American Cultural Garden.

At the time of the dedication, the Association of African American Cultural Gardens (AAACG) had planned to honor six notable African Americans: Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; Garrett Morgan Sr., inventor and founder of the Cleveland Call & Post newspaper; Jesse Owens, the 1936 Olympic gold medalist; John P. Green, an elected official who introduced the bill that made Labor Day a holiday in Ohio; Jane Edna Hunter, who established the Phillis Wheatley Association to assist unmarried black women; and Langston Hughes, a poet and a playwright who was a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance.

But unfortunately, this version of the garden never came to pass; soon after the dedication, Booker Tall passed away. Then, not long after that, the AAACG became inactive, interest waned, and the construction of the African American Cultural Garden lay mostly untouched.

Then around 2003, there was renewed interest in completing the garden. It was spearheaded by the late Cordell Edge, who was a longtime Glenville resident. He was appointed to engage a committee to cultivate and develop the African American Cultural Garden.

Due to Mr. Edge’s work, interest in the garden gained momentum, and in 2012, the AAACG secured its non-profit status and elected Carl S. Ewing as its new president. Mr. Ewing worked with Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, who organized a task force to develop and implement a plan for the garden.

Architect W. Daniel Bickerstaff II, of Ubiquitous Design, LTD., was commissioned to design the African American Cultural Garden, and raise funds to complete the first phase of the three-phase design. According to the AAACG website, The African American Garden will be designed as the Past, Present, and Future Pavilions.

In 2016 ground was broken on the first major installation of the garden, the “Past Pavillion”. The concept of the Past Pavilion is to translate the experience of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. It represents the corridors and dungeons in the slave castles along the western coast of Africa.

The Pavilion also includes an Infinity Fountain that depicts the illusion of the tranquility of the Atlantic Ocean as seen through the Pavilion’s “Doorway of No Return”. The “Doorway” is a sandstone structure that portrays the notion of unknown transition. The Middle Passage of the Past Pavilion alludes to the sense of going down into the bowels of the slave ships.

With the first phase now completed, Booker Tall’s journey that started over 40 years ago is ongoing. Currently, AAACG is continuing its fundraising efforts to secure the $2.6 million dollars needed to complete Phases Two and Three of the garden.

If you’d like to learn more about the African American Cultural Garden, please CLICK HERE. You can also visit To learn more about the garden’s design, this video of architect Daniel Bickerstaff explains more about his concept at the 2016 Juneteenth celebration and ribbon-ceremony in the African American Cultural Garden:

Association of African American Cultural Gardens Launches Sankofa Education Webcast Series

Guest Writer, Kenneth D. Hale,
Vice President of the African American Archives Auxiliary and the Association of African American Cultural Gardens

Reflecting upon my childhood, growing up in Cleveland, Ohio’s Glenville and Lee-Harvard communities and being a proud graduate of the Cleveland Public Schools, I am particularly grateful, now, as an adult, to be serving as a board member of two important cultural entities within the city of Cleveland, Ohio, the African American Archives Auxiliary (AAAA, or Quad A) of the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) and the Association of African American Cultural Gardens (AAACG).

The mission of Quad A is to support WRHS’s African American Archives’ purpose, which is to collect, preserve, and make accessible historic documents, photographs, memorabilia, art, and artifacts pertaining to African American life, history, and culture in Northeast Ohio.

The mission of the Association of African American Cultural Gardens is to promote and encourage education and interest in African American history and culture, to develop and preserve the African American Cultural Garden, and to perpetuate a spirit of friendship, unity, and peace among people of all diverse cultures.

Both organizations, Quad A and AAACG, were established in large part, by a visionary educator, scholar and leader, Dr. Booker T. Tall (1928-1994).

AAACG, in response to the public gathering restrictions, in light of the COVID-19 global pandemic, recently launched a six-week, pilot virtual series called the Sankofa Education Webcast Program. Sankofa is a word in the Twi language of Ghana that translates to “Go back and get it”, and also refers to the Bono Adinkra symbol represented either with a stylized heart share or by a bird with its head turned backwards while its feet face forward carrying a precious egg in its mouth. AAACG’s interpretation of the Sankofa bird, which is also AAACG’s logo, is to “move forward, while being rooted and guided by our history”, which essentially describes the content and essence of AAACG’s Sankofa webcast series.

An innovative education and outreach program, AAACG’s Sankofa webcast program features videotaped, on-demand programming consisting of insightful interviews with leaders within the education, religious, scientific, philanthropic, political and media professions. The Sankofa program also features interviews of change agents and community leaders, and artistic presentations by local and national artists, as well.

AAACG’s Sankofa webcast program’s unique interview focus enables guests to share their personal stories and reflections of their childhood, family, and education and professional paths. Each guest also offers their perspectives on the importance of African American history and shares why cultural institutions, like the African American Cultural Garden are important and should be supported.

By watching AAACG’s Sankofa webcast programs, a viewer can hear “first-hand” from a former NBA player (Mr. M. Campy Russell of the Cleveland Cavaliers); how he grew up as a child in a big family, and about the values and people that shaped him. Viewers of the Sankofa series can learn about the early days of a nationally acclaimed physician, Dr. Charles Modlin, of the Cleveland Clinic, and learn about who and what influenced him to become a doctor. Episodes of the Sankofa also presents artistic presentations, profiles of notable African Americans, information about the African American Cultural Garden and more.

The format and content of the Sankofa program is very family-friendly and viewers are invited to view and enjoy the programming alone, and/or with multiple generations within a family to enjoy as a family unit. Anyone interested in viewing upcoming or past Sankofa webcast programs, or interested in viewing the entire line-up of featured guests, is invited to access the webcast series through the Association of African American Cultural Gardens website at

Celebrating Diversity – Cleveland’s Cultural Gardens

Controlling immigration was near the top of the United States agenda during the early 1920s, a period then touted as a “return to normalcy.” Two major pieces of federal legislation, the Quota Acts of 1921 and 1924 severely limited the number of immigrants admitted to the US from the eastern hemisphere, designed with quotas that discriminated against those from southern, central, and eastern Europe. Those laws, on top of a nearly total restriction of immigrants from the “Asian barred Zone” would remain largely in force until 1965.

At that same time, Cleveland took a step in a different direction, it decided, through the creation of a series of landscaped gardens, to celebrate the diverse cultures that made up the city.  Indeed, in 1920, two thirds of the city’s population was of foreign birth or foreign parentage, and another 35,000 were part of a growing African-American population.

The concept was promoted by Leo Weidenthal, a journalist, book collector with a deep interest in theater, and a civic activist. In 1916 Weidenthal had led the effort to establish a Shakespeare Garden to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Bard’s death. The dedication ceremony featured readings by actress Julia Marlow and music from Mendelssohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”  Its decorative scheme would include plantings from England, including a cutting from a mulberry that, itself had been planted by Shakespeare.

In some ways the Shakespeare Garden can be seen as a reaffirmation of the United States’ link to Great Britain, particularly at the time of World War I. However, Weidenthal’s vision was wider and it would come to fruition in the 1920s – perhaps in response to the growing anti-immigrant sentiment at that time. His vision was for a series of similar gardens, each reflecting the culture of a particular ethnic group in the city. He was joined in this effort by Jennie Zwick and Charles Wolfram.  Zwick, like Weidenthal was Jewish and Wolfram was a major figure in the city’s German community. In 1925 the three would establish the City Progress League which would become the Cultural Garden League.

The enterprise had the enthusiastic backing of William R. Hopkins, Cleveland’s City Manager.   Land for the gardens would be made available along then Liberty Boulevard (now Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd) and East Boulevard. The entire enterprise would be defined by the Doan Brook Valley. So, as the nation began to limit immigration, Cleveland began to celebrate the cultures that immigrants brought to the city. The first garden to be established was the Hebrew Garden in 1926.  Three years later (and only eleven after the end of World War I) a German Garden was dedicated. By 1940 another thirteen had been established many with fiscal support of the Depression-era WPA.  During the ensuing Second World War the gardens became successful symbols of the need for national unity.

The remainder of the century would see progress slow, with only five additional gardens created as the Doan Brook valley suffered as the city’s fortunes declined and as racial tensions expanded. Ironically, when immigration to Cleveland slowed after restriction, migration from the American South and Appalachia increased to fill the need for workers in the 1920s and during and after World War II. Yet, no garden was planned or established for the African-American Community until 1977.

At the same time, the new immigration law of 1965, did away with the old biased restrictions and ultimately opened the United States and Cleveland to new groups of immigrants from areas well beyond Europe. Those communities ultimately would revivify the Cultural Gardens. In 2005 the Asian Indian community established its garden and, fittingly, erected a stunning statue of Mahatma Gandhi alongside the then renamed Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. That event, along with new sources of funding and the creation of a bicycle path from University Circle to the lake, has catalyzed a renaissance of the system.

As of 2019 there were 33 gardens, with others proposed and, or in the planning process. What Leo Weidenthal envisioned has, today, become a landmark in the city – indeed, there is no peer for the Cultural Gardens. And, today, there is more reason than ever to look at them and consider what they represent as we once again debate immigration. It is, indeed, a site of beauty, but more so one of contemplation of the diversity of our city, our nation, and wider world. And, it is a site where groups that may once have contended with one another, now celebrate their history and heritage in concert.