Our History

Akron Roundtable is an outstanding community asset. Monthly lunchtime forums have provided occasions for prominent speakers to share ideas and opinions on significant current topics with Akron audiences.

Akron Roundtable has grown from a simple, but hopeful beginning. It has been stimulated by enthusiastic response from the people of Akron and by the faithful patronage and financial support of civic-oriented individuals, organizations and corporations who recognize the tremendous value such a resource provides for the people of Akron.

"Akron Roundtable began in 1976," states an early Roundtable brochure, "when the Kiwanis Club of Akron saw the need for a public forum and was given encouragement to continue its efforts by the late John S. Knight, nationally known editor of the Akron Beacon Journal." From his base at The Beacon Journal, Jack Knight and his brother, James, built the national newspaper and communications company that is today Knight-Ridder.

In 1973, W. Richard Wright, then vice-president of the Kiwanis Club of Akron with responsibility for programs, along with a few other members such as Al Boyer, Bruce Wert and Duane Isham, developed a plan for the establishment of a public forum. Kiwanis was hesitant to alter its traditional format, but Dick Wright prevailed and it was finally agreed that Kiwanis would expand its third Thursday monthly meeting to accommodate a wider community audience. To this day, Roundtable day is also the downtown Kiwanis Club's meeting as well.

A significant partnership was established by Kiwanis with the Akron Beacon Journal, the Akron Regional Development Board, and the Akron City Club; the Akron City Club later dropped out. Wright recalls; "I joined the Kiwanis Club around 1968; my special interest at the time was club programming. For eight years I had helped arrange events for the Fist Congregational Church, the University of Akron, Phi Delta Theta fraternity, Junior Chamber of Commerce, Kent State University, and the State of Ohio. I know a lot of people from my previous position at Goodyear Aerospace and from being national president of the University of Akron Alumni Association. I also had contacts from involvement in various fund drives and participation in the political scene. When I was elected vice-presided of the Downtown Kiwanis Club in 1973, I thought we could enhance our club reputation by calling on my contacts for exceptional programs. I continued to do so when I became president in 1976."

Wright recalls there was much talk in 1973 about the advantages of metropolitan government as a means for improving cooperation among elements of local government. At the very least, people were unhappy with the multiplicity of units of government in Summit County. Wright felt it would be beneficial to seek out a recognized authority who would be willing to speak on the subject to a Summit County audience at a Kiwanis meeting. An experience national authority at the time was the mayor of Indianapolis, Richard Lugar, now twenty years later, a U.S. senator from Indiana and recent candidate for the U.S. Presidential nomination.

"My thought was to invite Lugar to Akron and open the meeting to all citizens; special invitations would be sent to local government officials and interested community leaders," said Wright. Most were skeptical and predicted that Wright would not succeed in attracting Lugar to Akron, but he mentioned the idea to Dr. Dom Guzzetta, who had just left the presidency of Marion College in Indianapolis to become the new president of the University of Akron; Guzzetta felt that it was entirely out of the question.

Nevertheless, Wright persevered and remembers that, "with the assistance of two of Lugar's Denison University classmates - Dave Jones, president of Old Phoenix Bank of Medina, and John McCarter, president of Centran Bank of Akron - a letter of invitation was prepared co-signed by the presidents of the two banks, the president of the University of Akron and the president of Kiwanis. We were very excited when Lugar wrote back, 'I'll be glad to come!'"

Lugar spoke to an audience of 225 people at the May 24, 1973, Kiwanis meeting held at the Akron City Club in the Ohio Building. Wright remembers it as both inspiring and informative. He is also convinced that Lugar's appearances at a dinner meeting that evening a Portage Country Club followed by an open forum in the First Congregational Church later that night with the community and political leaders, stimulated interest and was an early catalyst toward charter government in Summit Country. This has been unique form of county government in Ohio. Summit County remains to this day the only county in the state with a county executive and council form of government. It was approved by voters in 1979.

Dick Wright still remembers vividly when Jack Knight, Beacon Journal Editor Emeritus, was approached and agreed to introduce Lugar at the Kiwanis meeting. Wright later wrote, "I sat next to Knight at the head table. He commented on the fact that not many outstanding speakers appeared in Akron and, referring to Kiwanis, suggested that the void should be filled." Wright took the idea back to the Kiwanis directors describing a scenario whereby one Kiwanis meeting each month could be open to anyone interested in hearing the exceptional speaker of the day.

The Kiwanis board was finally won over and agreed to invest $1,000 annually to support the project. There was the anticipated grumbling, resistance and opposition to such a change, but Wright persisted until the recommendation was approved.

Many members of Kiwanis were very supportive and volunteered to help. Al Boyer, Bruce Wert, and Duane Isham were behind the project from the beginning and used their individual talents and connections to help launch the program. Bruce Wert, director of advertising for Goodyear, secured publishers of Parade, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, and Farmers Almanac as early Roundtable speakers.

From 1973 to 1976, prior to incorporation of the Roundtable, members of the operating committee, in lieu of a formal board, were Al Boyer, Bruce Wert, Duane Isham, George Brittain, Bob Loos, Jr., and chairman, Dick Wright. Within months these six were joined by Dave Towell, Justin Rogers, Mark Ethridge, Jr., Paul Poorman, Norman Carr, C.C. Gibson and Emil Voelz.

Wright remembers how before acquiring the services of a secretary and treasurer, the original support for Roundtable arrangements was provided through his and Al Boyer's offices at the University of Akron where they were members of the university administration.

Duane Isham, then president of the Akron City Club, assured the Club's ongoing help in providing the meeting location for Kiwanis meetings as well as for Roundtable programs. As with the Kiwanis board, a decision was not made easily in 1973. Three members of the City Club board, who were also heads of influential local corporations, attended many of the Roundtable committee meetings. They reported back to the ACC board that the Roundtable program was not a feasible concept, but Isham's commitment and perseverance finally convinced them to be a co-sponsor.

In the mid-1970's, Don Stephens, president of the Akron Regional Development Board and former Summit County commissioner, approached Wright and others regarding ARDB becoming a sponsor of Roundtable. He also suggested that the Akron Beacon Journal would be interested in becoming a sponsor. Both the ARDB and Beacon Journal, along with Kiwanis, continue as valued sponsors to this day.

Wright believed that "more help was needed in keeping the flow of good speakers coming," but the four initial sponsors together provided the contacts necessary to attract excellent speakers in the beginning. Now it was time to think about creating an audience.

Since speakers of renown and substantial reputation were being brought to Akron as Roundtable speakers, there was some concern that audiences could be skimpy and emabarrasing until the Roundtable's reputation could be established. Approximately one hundred Kiwanians would provide a base for the Roundtable forum which doubled as one of their monthly meetings. Happily, attracting an audience was not a problem; in fact, Roundtable planners soon were concerned with accommodating guests who overflowed the available space at the Akron City Club. The Beacon Journal provided excellent newspaper coverage of scheduled Roundtable speakers, as well as reports of their talks following their speeches.

When the Akron City Club moved to new quarters in the Murdock Building in 1981, the space was insufficient to accommodate large luncheon audiences, so Roundtable changed its location to the Tangier Restaurant on West Market Street near Merriman, where it remains today. The Tangier provides plenty of space, convenient free parking, and consistently good food and service. Ed George, Tangier proprietor, and his staff have been wonderful Roundtable partners for fourteen years and regularly welcome between 500 and 800 lunchtime Roundtable guests.

When it was announced that Paul Poorman, a professor of speech at Northwestern University, was to become the next editor of the Beacon Journal, Wright contacted him in Chicago and signed him as a Roundtable speaker. The key directors of Knight-Ridder, the Beacon Journal's parent company, were present at Poorman's speech on September 16, 1976: John S. Knight, Jr., Editor Emeritus of the Beacon Journal; E.J. Thomas, former CEO of Goodyear; and C. Blake McDowell, and Akron attorney. Poorman soon became a member of the Roundtable board and, subsequently, its president.

Shortly after his arrival in Akron in 1977, David Cooper, Associate Editor of the Beacon Journal, joined the Roundtable board. Cooper had more than twenty years experience on the news and editorial staffs of the Detroit Free Press, Winston-Salem Journal, and Raleigh News and Observer. His prominence in journalism has been instrumental in identifying and securing outstanding speakers. In 1981 Cooper served as president of the Roundtable board and in 1991 he was named a life member of the board in appreciation for his exceptional commitment and service. Cooper has been and continues to be a major influence in maintaining the integrity of Roundtable. Both he and Poorman, who died in 1992, have contributed immeasurable to the Roundtable image through their commitment, leadership and dynamic personalities.

Through the years, Roundtable board members have made major contributions toward advancing and administering the Roundtable Program. Much attention is devoted to selection of balanced and diversified speakers who will speak to a wide range of disciplines and issues. Roundtable audiences vary based on the particular speaker and topic of the day; others are regular attendees rarely missing a program.

As audiences and activities associated with administering Roundtable expanded, it became necessary to engage someone to manage and respond to day-to-day issues and inquiries concerning booking speakers, press conferences, ticket sales, requests for reserved seating, arrangements with Tangier, and keeping the business matters of the program focused.

George W. Brittain, then manager of the Akron City Club and formerly head of the Akron Chamber of Commerce, became available. Brittain was immediately retained as the executive secretary-treasurer of the Roundtable. He was proven expert in "getting things done" and could handle the myriad of details impacting the success of Roundtable.

A standardized format for Roundtable program day was implemented when the program moved to Tangier; this approach remains unchanged today. The speaker is expected to arrive shortly before 11:00 am and participate in a press conference; the local Akron and Cleveland media are invited. Media response varies based on the speaker and topic. Following a brief overview of the talk the reporters are invited to ask questions and interact with the guest speaker.

Following the press conference, a reception is hosted by the Roundtable board for the speaker that is attended by board members and community leaders. Lunch is served from noon to 12:30 PM, at which time introductions are made and the speaker delivers his or her address. Luncheon guests are invited to write questions for the speaker on cards located on each table; cards are collected, sorted, edited and submitted to the speaker at the conclusion of the talk. The program ends at 1:15 PM to accommodate work schedules.

When George Brittain retired, he was succeeded by an equally competent executive secretary, James W. Nolte; his assistant to Alberta Hensley. These two Roundtable staff members are regularly assisted on program days by volunteers such as Dick Brittain, Al Boyer, Bob Daily and Dick Wright.

Early in Roundtable history, John E. Perry, executive director of public broadcasting for WKSU-FM at Kent State University, proposed that the speakers' addresses be broadcast live throughout Northeast Ohio for people who could not attend the luncheon meeting. Additional broadcasts are provided on other days, and audio tapes of speeches are made available to interested listeners. The first broadcast was on May 6, 1976. The speaker was the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, C. William O'Neill. Significantly, tapes were offered to 142 other NPR stations for several years. Perry, once president of Roundtable, continues to be a strong influence in its affairs.

On May 18, 1995, Roundtable programs became available on the Internet via WKSU's world wide web page. Everyone in attendance at the luncheon program that day received a special badge proclaiming "Akron Roundtable Goes Worldwide." The program now not only could proclaim that it "brings the world to Akron"; it also delivers Akron to the world!

Careful and consistent management of the Roundtable by the board members and staff have established the program as a credible community operation. Roundtable's foundation was established in 1976 when Articles of Incorporation were prepared and filed by Attorney Duane Isham.

A Board of Directors was appointed from the ranks of the four sponsoring organizations: the Kiwanis Club of Akron, the Akron Beacon Journal, Akron Regional Development Board, and for a short time, the Akron City Club. Current financial support is underwritten by the tree sponsors and is enhanced by funding from individual and corporate patrons, as well as foundations and in-kind gifts necessary for program operation.

Composition of Roundtable audiences varies from month to month depending on the speaker's subject, but Kiwanis members and six sponsored tables for students provide a consistent core audience. The Akron Public Schools are sponsored by National City Bank, Northeast, and David Brennen; Our Lady of the Elms High School is sponsored by Ann Brennan; St. Vincent/St. Mary High School is sponsored by David Brennan; Green High School by Pauline Franks and Archbishop Hoban High School by Hoban Alumni Association. There is also a table for senior citizens sponsored by Chapel Hill mall. Many Akron corporations also sponsor tables and make seating available to their employees, customers, and friends.

Speakers appearing at Roundtable have presented their ideas and views to Akron-area audiences for the edification of the community at large. Some of the speakers by their very presence have created memorable events and experiences for their listeners. Judith Resnik, an astronaut with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, was such a speaker. She appeared at Roundtable on October 18, 1984, drawing a luncheon crowd of more than 800 guests. Resnik, one of Akron's own citizens, shared insights on her remarkable career with films of her experiences in space. Roundtable rejoiced in her achievements and welcomed the opportunity to honor her as an accomplished person. Then, less than three years later, on January 28, 1987, Akron joined with the nation to mourn Resnik's death when her Challenger space shuttle exploded killing the crew.

A special series called Turnaround Cities was presented in 1988 during the Roundtable presidency of Emil A. Voelz, Jr. Dr. Willam Muse, president of the University of Akron, and Howard Flood, president of the First National Bank of Ohio, along with the Urban Studies Department of the University, planned the series. Eky speakers participated from Boston and Lowell, Mass.; Rochester, NY; Dayton, Oh.; New Brunswick, NY; and Wilmington, Del. Each of these cities was undergoing dramatic changes reflecting job losses, flight to the suburbs and economic decline. Speakers were invited to share with Roundtable audiences "what they have done to change their cities and to cope with economic change." Following each address, a seminar was held for mayors and community leaders from the Akron area to interact with the speaker and learn from the experience of dealing with urban challenges of the day.

Although it is not encouraged, from time-to-time the Roundtable is shared to promote a very significant community event. A recent example was the formal dedication of Akron's Inventure Place on July 20, 1995. The audience of 850 gathered at noon for the Roundtable address, "The Paradox of Scientific Progress in This Century," by Marilyn Vos Savant, Parade Magazine columnist. The dedication ceremony was held later in the afternoon.

The Roundtable has never paid honoraria to speakers; the board could not afford to do so, but more importantly, the speakers are expected to appear for reasons other than financial gain. Each speaker is, however, presented a a plate known as "The Contemplative Sun," crafted by Akron artist Don Drumm. The speaker's name also appears on the Tangier marquee. A framed photograph of the marquee has been presented to the speaker for his or her desk a a remembrance of the occasion.

From an idea generated by a few Kiwanians, nurtured and strengthened by a host of Akron civic leaders and supported by the community, the Akron Roundtable has grown to national prominence with similar programs such as the Chicago Roundtable, the Cleveland City Club Forum, the Detroit Economic Club, and the Commonwealth Club of California.

After twenty years of success, the energetic Roundtable Board of Directors continues to meet monthly, actively planning programs, generating ideas for speakers, and addressing the various challenges associated with administering such a program.

Still not content to glide into the future on past achievements, during the presidency of Dr. William Muse, a leadership retreat was planned for board members at the University of Akron's Heisman Lodge on July 12, 1990. Its purpose was to examine the Roundtable and to determine courses of action to improve its future operations and programming. The session was facilitated by Dr. Karl Moore, a member of the Kent State University faculty specializing in management planning. Board members actively reviewed the Roundtable's mission, vision, strengths and weaknesses. They examined opportunities, critical issues, and refined its view of the future for Roundtable.

Again, marking the twentieth anniversary year in the spring of 1996, Roundtable president James R. Williams, convened another Roundtable Board Retreat to reexamine the elements and factors of the Roundtable program. Richard Kemph of Goodyear facilitated the session which was hosted by William Glaeser, president and general manager of Channels 45/49 in Kent. These efforts to refresh the program and insure its integrity will, hopefully, preserve its viability and usefulness to the people of Akron for years to come.

All of the civic-minded people who have contributed to the effectiveness of the Akron Roundtable can take much satisfaction from the remarkable success of this fine project. It has proven to be an effort of lasting benefit to the Greater Akron community. It has provided an opportunity for people to come together monthly, to exchange ideas, to participate in a forum, to retain a sense of community, and - in the purest sense of the word - to become more civilized.

Richard Erickson, current executive director of the Akron Regional Development Board and a Roundtable board member, commented after first coming to Akron and to a Roundtable luncheon program that for him, "roundtable provided a window to the community." Perhaps the benefits of Roundtable reach far beyond the original goals envisioned for the program. Hopefully, others will examine the question twenty years from now when new leadership is steering the course and the community is still enriched by the Akron Roundtable.--The Akron Roundtable Board of Trustees is most grateful to John H. Rebenack, Historian for the Kiwanis Club of Akron, and his efforts in preparing this historical perspective Roundtable.

40th Anniversary Book - The Akron Roundtable: Bringing the World to Akron for Forty Years

For 170 years, Akron has been linked to the wider world—ever since John Brown, the famous abolitionist and Akron’s most consequential resident, traveled on behalf of Colonel Simon Perkins to the European capitals in 1846 to market the wool that became Akron’s first international export. In the late nineteenth century, Akron industrialist Lewis Miller captured international accolades for the farm machinery manufactured at his Buckeye Mower Works, located where E. J. Thomas Hall stands today. In 1912, Goodyear Superintendent Paul Litchfield established a beachhead for the company in Europe, and through the twentieth century, all Akron tire makers delivered rubber products to the rest of the world. Akron was an international city, and its correspondents delivered the city’s message of progress and prosperity to the world.

“Bringing the World to Akron,” a statement of identity embraced by the Akron Roundtable in its twentieth anniversary year, are five words that belie a complex local network—a spider’s web of community leaders—who have presented major speeches to Akron audiences for forty years. Since its inception in 1976, important people with newsworthy messages have used the Roundtable podium to deliver thoughtful presentations on business, science, civic and social movements, arts, and culture to the thought leaders of Greater Akron. Roundtable audiences are composed of business and civic leaders, government officials, academics, heads of nonprofit agencies, students, and citizens.

This is the history of the Akron Roundtable's first forty years (1976-2016)   http://ideaexchange.uakron.edu/uapress_publications/201/

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