A City Can Be No Greater Than Her Men

The following article appeared in NCR News’ July-August 1927 issue


A City Can Be No Greater Than Her Men

Robert R. Nevin Makes Inspiring Address at Dedication of Van Cleve Park Memorial

May 24, 1927

     Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen:

     "Lives of great men all remind us
     We can make our lives sublime
     And departing leave behind us,
     Footprints on the sands of time."

     So sings the poet regarding the lives of "Great" men. Who then are "Great" men? What are their characteristics? What is meant by "Greatness" in a man? It does not necessarily mean fame—though fame may follow in its wake; it does not necessarily mean wealth, though great men may and sometimes do acquire it; it does not of necessity mean even education, though men possessing the inherent qualities of greatness, always seek enlightenment and are always aided, in the successful accomplishments of their lives, by devoting as much of their time as possible to the pursuit of knowledge.
     Great men may differ in some of their characteristics, just as they differ in their personal desires. But there are some attributes which all great men have in common—some things which are fundamental, which all great men alike possess and without which in the final analysis, no man can be great. Among these are vision, integrity native ability, high ideals and unfaltering courage.
     We are met here this evening because a great man, a man possessing all of these virtues and more, recognized these characteristics in others in this community of whom he had knowledge or with whom he came in contact. Mr. John H. Patterson, himself one of the greatest men the world has ever known saw about him others who possessed the very qualities that had made him great. The reputation of these other men however, although they possessed the inherent qualities of greatness, was largely confined to their own community and their fame to their own generation—men of the finest public spirit, they were indeed the builders of the very foundation upon which Dayton rests so securely today, as one of the wonder cities of America. Realizing this, Mr. Patterson determined to memorialize their names in a fitting and lasting monument of stone, so that their deeds and works might be recalled and remembered by the men and women of today and serve continuously as an inspiration to the citizens of the future who seek to advance the progress and welfare of our beloved city.

     Tonight, then, we honor—

Daniel C. Cooper

     The founder of Dayton. Adopting more than 100 years ago, the best principles of City Planning, as promulgated today, he was a man far in advance of his time. Here he dedicated parks, built a seminary for higher education and laid out our beautiful wide streets, today the pride and with our present traffic, the joy of Dayton.

John W. Van Cleve

     The first male child born in Dayton. Noted for his literary, scientific and artistic attainments, he planned and labored incessantly for Dayton's development along all lines, physical, educational and social. He founded the Public Library, surveyed and laid out Woodland Cemetery and organized Dayton's first Musical Society.

E. E. Barney

     Founder of the firm of Barney & Smith, known for many years throughout the length and breadth of this land, as builders of railroad cars. Dayton has long been known as the home of skilled labor. In manufacturing circles it is frequently alluded to as the "City of Precision". This reputation that accuracy as well as enterprise is demanded here, dates back to the days of Mr. Barney. He was never satisfied that a car was "good enough"—it had to be "exactly right" in all respects and in every detail.

George Lehman

     A sturdy pioneer Daytonian, who served this city well, particularly as a member of City Council from 1864 to 1871. During this time the important question of installing an adequate water system for the city came up for consideration and determination. Mr. Lehman was Chairman of the important committees of council having this matter in charge and as a result of his investigations and recommendations, the Council on September 3, 1869, approved of and adopted the Holly System, and shortly thereafter authorized the installation of that system and the erection of a waterworks plant. Thus began the splendid waterworks system of this city—still one of our proud accomplishments—and hence the term "Holly Water" by which name our city water is and always has been familiarly known.

Honorable D. A. Haynes

     First an educator, teaching for several years in the Academy here, then a lawyer-prosecuting attorney; then the first Judge of the Superior Court of Montgomery County—and later a law partner of Clement L. Vallandigham— returning still later for another term on the bench, which he relinquished in 1886. Judge Haynes was widely known and is still remembered for his eminent fairness, great learning and pleasing personality. Early in history he set the high standard for our judiciary which our judges since have ever sought to maintain. Mr. Patterson himself once spoke of him as a "Model Judge," as indeed he was.

William Huffman

     In his day and generation one of Dayton's most public spirited citizens - absolutely honest, fearless of criticism, determined to ascertain the city's needs and having done so, to see that they were supplied, he became, as a great personal financial sacrifice, a member of the Board of City Commissioners. He served for two years, from 1889 to 1891, but during this time Dayton took a tremendous step forward. Under his leadership a comprehensive program of street paving and the installation of a sewer system was carried out. His program met much opposition - some from taxpayers, some from politicians, some from the public generally; even court proceedings were resorted to.
     But Mr. Huffman with that prophetic vision with which Great Men were endowed, went straight ahead, put through the necessary legislation and thus laid the foundation for the first street paving and adequate sewer system, making a decided advance in the progress of our city.

Honorable Alvin W. Kumler

     Judge Kumler is better known to more of us of the present generation than the other men who have been named. He died in 1906. It was my great privilege and pleasure to know him intimately because of his long association with my father in the practice of the law. Truly it might be said of him that "none knew him but to love him nor named him but to praise." He was not only an eminent member of the bar, but after he went on the bench he became known, throughout the whole valley, as a most courageous, fearless and impartial judge. He knew no fear in his decisions. His mastery of every legal question was complete. He commanded and deserved the confidence and respect of lawyers and litigants at all times, whether deciding in their favor or compelled to rule against them. Mr. Patterson spoke of him as "One of the greatest judges we ever had".
     What a splendid galaxy of names we have here presented. What fine, up-standing men and citizens they were. No wonder Mr. Patterson looked upon them and said these men are "GREAT MEN" indeed. No wonder Dayton has grown and prospered in the past, for after all—

     "What constitutes a State?
     Not high raised battlement or labored mound,
     Thick wall or moated gate…
     No:—men, high minded men who know their rights and, knowing, dare maintain—these constitute a State."

     So, men, high-minded, far-seeing, courageous men, founded and have built our city. As Mr. Patterson, the leader of them all, would have us do, we honor some of them tonight. May future generations emulate their example to the end that Dayton may continue to command the love and loyalty of its own citizens and the respect and admiration of the other cities of the world.
     Note: All research work pertaining to the lives of these seven men, was done by Dr. D. F. Garland, our Welfare Director. The late John H. Patterson selected Dr. Garland for this task.