Nov 12, 2012
By Kelee Riesbeck
This story is one in a series about Ohio University's Ohio Fellows Program (OFP), initiated by Dr. Vernon Alden, OHIO's 15th president. The 1960s-era program exposed select students to unique seminars, visiting dignitaries, internship opportunities and travel that enriched their OHIO experience. Several OFP alumni recently made a gift of $365,000 for the program's revitalization as part of OHIO's The Promise Lives Campaign. Here you'll meet one of those donors, Bill Saviers, who graduated in 1968.
"Service: It's what it has been about all along."
So says Bill Saviers, an Ohio Fellow whose journey in realizing this epiphany reads like an odyssey.
Saviers, a government major who graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences with high honors, began his odyssey into service at OHIO as a student senate candidate on a unique platform: Beer prices were too high and, if elected, he said, the prices would go down.
In the end, Saviers did get elected. And beer prices did go down, he adds with a twinkle.
"We talked to bar owners, and they agreed to initiate a happy hour with reduced beer prices," Saviers said.
The lesson, according to Saviers, is simple: "You can get elected by promising results on an issue that grabs people's attention, but you have to follow through and deliver."
Saviers majored in government and wanted to become a senator. Richard Bald, professor emeritus of political science, said Savier's was "intellectually curious," which made him a perfect candidate for the OFP.
For Saviers, the program taught him about servant-leadership, a philosophy founded by Robert Greenleaf, whereby individuals give priority attention to the needs of their colleagues and those they serve. This philosophy helped him understand what it means to truly serve others.
Fellows were influenced by visiting dignitaries, like Joseph Fletcher, author of the famed book, Situation Ethics: The New Morality, Saviers says. Fellows also interacted closely with the program's leaders, and Saviers had a strong connection with co-director John Chandler.
"John and I had many serious conversations. And meeting Dr. Fletcher made a big impression on me," Saviers said.
Saviers' next step in his odyssey took him to the University of Berlin in Germany during his junior year. It was 1967, and the anti-Vietnam War sentiment was alive on campuses everywhere, he said, noting that the Berlin Wall had already become a fixture.
The year abroad both inspired Saviers and heightened his opposition to the war.
"I joined a group called 'Americans Against the Bombing of Cambodia' and we carried a sign with 'Stop the Bombing' in a protest march. The CIA created a file on me for that," he said.
The creation of that file would ultimately influence the direction of Saviers' life.
After graduating in June of 1968, Saviers planned to attend the University of Virginia's law school in the fall. But service in the war in Vietnam loomed for recently-graduated college men in 1968.
Saviers said the University of Virginia gave incoming students two options. If students served before the start of classes, re-entry into the university would go smoothly. If students received a draft letter while enrolled, the university would not give students credit for classes completed nor refund their money. And those students would have to re-apply, he explained.
Saviers decided to serve first.
"I was conflicted about whether to go to Canada or stay and serve. I'm not a pacifist, I just thought the war in Vietnam was a stupid war. But if you stayed (in the U.S.), you did what you had to do. And I knew that I didn't want to renounce my citizenship," he said.
While waiting for his letter, Saviers tried often to enlist as an officer at the former Fort Hayes base in Columbus, Ohio. But the CIA file prevented him from getting into officer training. In hindsight, Saviers said, being ineligible to enlist as an officer was a fortunate turn of fate.
"If I had enlisted as an officer, I would have been dead," he said.
Saviers' odyssey reached a turning point when he was finally drafted in December of 1968. Being a draftee offered him the choice between serving as an infantry man for two years or serving for three years doing a trained job of choice. He chose the latter and served as a supply processing clerk. Through another twist of fate, he was able to shorten his time in service, and the date of his release couldn't have been more fortuitous.
"I landed in San Francisco, Calif., on Saturday, Sept. 11, 1971," he said. "I was in class at law school at the University of Virginia on Monday, Sept. 13."
Graduation from law school sends Saviers' mid-journey into his odyssey as a servant-leader. He realized that being true to yourself is more important than holding on to a false dream.
"With my background as an Ohio Fellow and what I saw in law school, I realized how politics were played. I understood how one must look and act in order to become a senator at that time—married with kids—which wouldn't have worked, because I wouldn't have been true to myself," said Saviers, who is gay.
"So the Ohio Fellows Program taught me to plan for success, but also to be true to myself and to not live a lie," he added.
Saviers honed his professional skills as an attorney in the energy sector, living in Massachusetts and Texas before settling on a farm in Salem, W.Va. He retired from Dominion Resources in Clarksburg in 2004 after 17 years. He fully retired from part-time work a few years later.
Today, Saviers puts everything he has learned from his experiences and his journey into serving others.
In addition to his financial support for reigniting the new Ohio Fellows Program at Ohio University, Saviers provides pro bono work for Legal Aide of West Virginia. This non-profit's mission is to provide legal counsel for people who are without resources to pay for it. Saviers helps people resolve credit card company suits, wrongful death charges, and estate settlement issues. He also serves on the non-profit's board.
"We do this so they can re-enter society as self-supporting adults. Through my work here, I'm living as one of Robert Greenleaf's servant-leaders," Saviers reflects. "It's a piece of the puzzle that makes the most sense but is the greatest challenge."