By Wade Linville
The Brown County Press
The Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission holds its Full Commission Meeting each year, and the location chosen for this year’s annual meeting was the historic John Rankin House. Not only did those in attendance get the opportunity to take in the vast beauty the Rankin House property has to offer as it overlooks historic downtown Ripley and the Ohio River, but they were also given the chance to learn more about the important role the Rankin House played in American history.
The OVRDC Full Commission Meeting took place on Friday, Sept. 21 with a large crowd in attendance. Following the “call to order” by OVRDC Chairman Jack DeWeese, the crowd was given a warm welcome by Brown County commissioners Tony Applegate and Barry Woodruff.
“We’re on top of the hill here in Ripley, and the good Lord only made one view like that and be sure to get the chance to walk to the front of the (Rankin) House and take a look,” said Woodruff.
Also taking the podium to address the crowd was Ripley historian and Rankin House site manager, Betty Campbell.
“Welcome to my hometown of Ripley and to Rankin House…this wonderful historic site,” said Campbell. “For those of you who may not be really familiar with it, Rankin House was the home of an Underground Railroad conductor, Reverend John Rankin, his wife Jean, and their 13 children. For more than 40 years they lived on this farm and this was an Underground Railroad Station. According to John Rankin’s autobiography, over about a 40-year period he and his family aided roughly 2,000 fugitive slaves passing through this farm setting, and as Rankin wrote, ‘I never lost a passenger.’”
In addition to two Brown County Commissioners, the Sept. 21 meeting at the Rankin House was also attended by several other local political leaders including: Ohio State Representative Doug Green (House District 66), Senator Joe Uecker, Ohio State Representative John Becker (House District 65) and others.
“We love the Rankin House and what it stands for,” said Green.
“I’ve never been to this community before, and it is awesome,” Becker said during his recent visit to the Rankin House.
OVRDC Executive Director John Hemmings was pleased to announce that, thanks to recent workforce grant funds from the Development Services Agency, over $1 million has been added to the OVRDC budget that will go towards projects in Ohio counties, more than doubling its total budget. The OVRDC will also be submitting for a second round of grant funds.
“We’re trying to help out the communities in the best ways we can,” said Hemmings.
The OVRDC issued special awards to five outstanding individuals for their efforts. Receiving the Outstanding OVRDC Executive Committee Member Award was Debora Plymail. Earning the Outstanding OVRDC Full Commission Member Award was Ed Humphrey.
Tom Worley was the recipient of the OVRDC Area Leadership Award.
OVRDC Excellence in Public Service awards were issued to Eugene Collins and Jack DeWeese.
The meeting would adjourn for lunch, but following the break it was Historian and Civic Leader Carl B. Westmoreland taking the podium to speak to the crowd.
Westmoreland is a Senior Historian for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, a Cincinnati native raised in Lincoln Heights.
He has provided technical assistance to more than 100 communities across America that have restored historic properties for people of all incomes and races.
Westmoreland has served as the President of the Mt. Auburn Good Housing Foundation and is Trustee Emeritus. He is also the first African American to serve on the National Trust for Historic Preservation and President Emeritus of the Ohio Preservation Alliance.
He is one of the founding staff of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, being involved in researching the history of the Internal Slave Trade and its impart on society today.
“In 1942, when I was five years of age, my dad brought me here,” said Westmoreland while speaking to the crowd in Ripley on Sept. 21. “He brought me here to do something that America has yet to do, to see a kiosk that was built at the turn of the century here, celebrating people who supported the Union and were active in The Underground Railroad. On that kiosk in 1900 when they dedicated it, and on this very moment was the name ‘John Parker’ and in parentheses ‘colored’. There’s never been a demonstration here about people of African descent having participated in their own emancipation. It’s a partnership that existed on most days, not all, between the white and the black community. If you think about why America exists as a unique place in the world culture (political, social and economic culture) it’s because of the involvement of all kinds of ethnicities and racial groups who not necessarily got along all the time, but we built something that was better than most places had, and this is a living laboratory. This town (Ripley) is a living laboratory that still exists pretty much the way it did then.”
“On this hill, John Rankin was helping to plant the seeds that enabled us to stand just a little bit taller,” said Westmoreland.
“(It is) a history that should be honored and not forgotten,” said Westmoreland. “My goal is to celebrate it.”
The next OVRDC Full Commission Meeting will take place in March of 2019 in Lawrence County.