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    Posted: Dec 31 2014 at 4:11am

Posted: 8:00 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014

Notable Butler County leaders who died in 2014

By Rick McCrabb

Staff Writer

Numerous prominent Butler County residents died during 2014, including a leader at Miami University, a longtime Middletown grocer, a retired judge, and a radio personality.


Rod Corwin, who worked in the jewelry business for 43 years, 29 at Rogers Jewelers, passed away Feb. 14 at LifeCare Hospitals of Dayton. He was 71.

Chelsey Garrett, one of his daughters, said her father, often called “Mr. Middletown,” was loved by so many people.

“He just had a caring way about him,” she said.

Susan Phillips, who worked with Corwin for six years at the downtown Rogers location, called him “a large cupid” who had “a warm and friendly personality.” She said Corwin always remembered peoples’ names, their taste in jewelry and displayed “a tremendous knowledge” of the industry.

“He always delivered,” she said.

Corwin was the store manager when the downtown Rogers location, 1000 Central Ave., closed in February 2009. He called that “a sad day.”

Jackie Nagy, a saleswoman at the Rogers Towne Mall Galleria store, said customers constantly ask about Corwin, even though he hasn’t worked there for years.

“He was the Rod in Rogers,” she said. “He helped everyone. He was always there for the customers.”


Harry T. Wilks, lifelong Hamiltonian and advocate for the arts, schools and community, died March 11, his 89th birthday, at his home.

Creator of Hamilton’s Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park, where he built his home under the eponymous blue pyramid, Wilks was a trustee of his alma mater, Miami University, whose conference center and scholarship program bear his name, and a dedicated sponsor for Hamilton high school students through scholarships and the Harry T. Wilks Foundation.

He served four years in the Pacific during WWII and returned to the area to attend Ohio University and Miami University, earning a law degree.

His interest in civic responsibility was evident early on as he served as democratic State Representative, Hamilton City Councilman, and the leader of campaigns for the YMCA, United Way, Red Cross, and Easter Seals. He, along with his brothers and sister, renovated a building for St. Rapheals Social Services in honor of their parents.

He was voted “Outstanding Young Man” by the Chamber of Commerce in 1960 and in 1992 was named Hamilton’s “Citizen of the Year.”

At age 70, he provided a lasting legacy to the community of Hamilton and the tri-state area by his founding of Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park on 320 acres which he saved from development and donated to the park. The park, one of the largest in the country, features monumental sculptures set in a parklike setting overlooking the Miami River valley, and offers many artistic and cultural opportunities to the community.

His legacy at Miami University (Hamilton and Oxford) supports two causes he was especially passionate about, furthering the arts and providing educational opportunity. The Harry T Wilks Conference Center and Harry T Wilks Lecture Series were dedicated in Hamilton in 1992, bringing speakers of international renown to lecture free of charge at the Miami Hamilton campus.


Roger W. Dillman, a Middletown native, community activist and longtime grocer, died April 4 at Atrium Medical Center. He was 87.

Dillman owned Dillman food, which had been in business for 87 years before its Central Avenue grocery store closed in 2013.

His son, Steve, said the family business founded in 1926 by his grandfather, Dewey, fed countless families and employed many young people over the years.

“He enjoyed it very much,” Steve Dillman said. “Co-workers and customers, he loved them all.”

At the height of the family business, the Dillmans owned three grocery stores in Middletown and one in West Carrollton. They converted two Middletown locations on Roosevelt and University boulevards to Save-A-Lots then sold them in 2011.

He was active in many city organizations over the years, including serving on the Bank One board of directors, chairman of the board of Middletown Hospital, senior citizen ambassador award recipient, Middletown Rotary member of the year 2000, basketball official for 25 years, charter member of Middletown Basketball Association, past commander of American Legion, Miami University Founders Club and an original member of Middletown Community Foundation.

He also served in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II.


John E. Dolibois, a Miami University official and the last survivor of a team that interrogated top-ranking Nazis for the Nuremberg Trials, died May 2 at his home in Cincinnati. He was 95.

Miami University’s vice president emeritus for university relations, Dolibois was born Dec. 4, 1918, in Luxembourg. In 1931 at the age of 12, he immigrated with his father to Ohio on July 4.

In March 1945, Dolibois became a member of the five-member Army Intelligence team that interrogated the highest-ranking Nazi war criminals, leading to the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. This included Hermann Goering, credited as the architect of the Nazi industrial machine and second-in-command under Adolf Hitler.

He organized the university’s first fund-raising campaign, for $14 million, from 1978-1981, which raised funds to build the university’s art museum, Marcum conference center and Yager football stadium, and to increase the number of scholarships. Dolibois also helped establish a study abroad program in Luxembourg in 1968. The Luxembourg center was renamed the Miami University John E. Dolibois European Center in 1987.

His son, Bob Dolibois, said his father’s outstanding quality was his strong sense of loyalty.

“He carried that everywhere he went. He created a strong sense of trust which led to success at Miami,” he said. “He never considered himself a fund-raiser. He saw it as matching people’s wishes to the needs of the university.”


Longtime Butler County judge Anthony Valen died June 17 while at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota from complications with pneumonia. He was 82.

The former Butler County Common Pleas and 12th District Court of Appeals judge was instrumental in the construction of the Veterans Memorial at Woodside Cemetery, and was known for his respect for the police and dedication to the Greek Orthodox community.

Valen, the son of Greek immigrants and a Middletown native, is survived by his wife, Carol, and four children, Irene Zalants, Angela Retzios, Connie Hodson and Gus Valen.

“He was very passionate about the veterans, and from that passion he had the Veterans Memorial built with money just from the area,” said Carol Valen, his wife of 53 years.

She also said her husband “loved his job” and when he made his decisions “he never second-guessed himself. I don’t think he ever had an agenda for himself. Some would say he was humble. I say he was a plain man and honest.”

Gus Valen said his dad was a proud member of the Middletown community. The judge took pride the 12th District Court of Appeals was in downtown; supported the construction of Fenwick High School; co-chaired the Healthy Kids Campaign at Atrium Medical Center and supported the hospital’s Maternal Child Health Center; and his family was the long-time owner of The Liberty Restaurant in downtown Middletown.


Lester “Butch” Hubble Jr., director of the Booker T. Washington Community Center, died Oct. 19. He was 70.

Hubble was best known for guiding the Booker T. Washington Community Center in the heart of the city’s Second Ward, founding an influential community council and twice seeking a seat on the Butler County Commission. Hubble, who had been battling a lengthy illness, died while in the care of Hospice of Hamilton.

Born in Cincinnati, he moved to Hamilton in 1960, graduated from Garfield High School in 1962. He joined the U.S. Navy and retired in 1988 as a commissioned officer.

He was a member of the Pilgrim Baptist church, an avid golfer, philanthropist, and world traveler.

Hubble was honored in 2013 with SELF’s Janet Clemmons Community Service Award.

“He was a real hands-on person with a huge heart, big heart,” Jeff Diver, executive director of Supports to Encourage Low-Income Families, told the Journal-News in October.

The Booker T. Washington Community Center and the Hamilton Rotary Club each held a dedication ceremony for Hubble earlier this month.


Stephen Croake, a longtime Middletown banker, died Nov. 2 at Atrium Medical Center. He was 64.

He graduated from Middletown High School in 1968 and from Miami University and attended the University of Georgia for Advanced Bank Degrees. He was past president and CEO of American Savings Bank where he had worked for 30 years. He was a member of First Presbyterian Church where he had served as a deacon and was on the Board of Directors of Ohio Presbyterian Retirement Services Foundation Board. He was a member of Brown’s Run Country Club, Middletown Elks Lodge No. 257, was a former member of Middletown Rotary and had been guest conductor of the Middletown Symphony.


Warren Johnson, who called thousands of games on WPFB radio for 28 years, died Nov. 9. He was 90.

He was elected to the Butler County Sports Hall of Fame in 1995.

Johnson served his country during World War II U. S. Army Signal Corps. He saw heavy combat in the battle of Okinawa and was awarded a Bronze Star. He then served occupation duty in Korea. While in Korea he participated in the Armed Forces Pacific Olympics. He was the starting end on the undefeated all American G.I. football team, the Korean All-Stars. He additionally won the individual Armed Services Ping-Pong championship.

He was a graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s Conservatory of Music Radio Department and began what would become a lifetime career in radio broadcasting, sales and station management.


Leonard “Len” Kahny, a longtime volunteer in the Middletown community and a player in the Cincinnati Reds minor league system, died Nov. 19 at Otterbein-Middletown. He was 103.

He volunteered for the Butler County American Red Cross for 22 years, and left the organization when he was 98.

“He was such an incredible volunteer who cared about people, who cared about his community and who cared about the Red Cross,” said Christine Birhanzl, director of the Butler County Red Cross. “I never saw that man down. He always had a smile on his face; always had a story to tell.”

In 1934, Kahny signed a contract to play shortstop with the Cincinnati Reds. Two years later, he played with the Durham Bulls in the North Carolina Piedmont League. In November of that year he married Helen Smith Hanner, a student nurse he met while playing with the Mount Airy Reds.

In 1940 he joined Aeronca Manufacturing in Middletown and retired as purchasing agent in 1975.

He began picture framing to accommodate his wife’s collection of antique prints. He taught this craft for many years at the Middletown Arts Center where he also volunteered. In 1983 he and his wife helped form the Art Committee at the Middletown Library where he was Treasurer of the Friends until recently.

PattBelisle, director of the Middletown Arts Center, said whenever Kahny attended an exhibit, typically accompanied by his daughter, Michaele Malkowicz, he always attracted a crowd.

“They couldn’t talk enough to him,” Belisle said. “He will be missed.”

She still can’t believe that he was 103.

“That’s phenomenal,” she said. “He will always have a place here in Middletown in a lot of peoples’ hearts.”


Helen Gerber Ramsdell, who taught voice lessons for more than 90 years, died Dec. 23 at Mount Pleasant Retirement Village. She was 107.

She was a voice instructor for thousands of students since she was 16. Ramsdell taught voice lessons to students at her home on Central Avenue in Middletown for many years and at Miami University Middletown for 10 years after her husband, Robert, died in 1964.

Martha Johnson, 77, said her mother’s “whole life was centered around music.”

Ramsdell, who moved to Middletown to live with her paternal uncle, Dr. David Gerber, graduated from Middletown High School in 1925 and later from Western College for Women in Oxford. She attended the College Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati and traveled to Italy with Dr. Gerber and his family in 1930-31 to study at the renowned La Scala opera in Milan.

She served as music director of the First Baptist Church in Middletown for nearly four decades (1933-1972), taught at Miami University for 10 years, and was the choral director for the Middletown School of Nursing.


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