30 years of friendships are tie that binds OU Brothers

By Corinne Colbert

Often the fastest friendships are forged in the heat of struggle. For many Ohio University alumni, the struggle to pass courses or simply grow up is enough to cement the ties. But for one group of alums, the struggle was against racism and indifference -- and it has created among them a bond that has lasted nearly four decades.

Assistant Director of Alumni Relations Dexter Bailey (seated far left in front row) joins OU Brothers at their meeting in Cleveland in August.

They call themselves the OU Brothers -- 22 African-Americ an men, most of whom attended Ohio University during the 1960s. Theirs were among the few black faces on campus at a time when the university's black student population numbered in the low three digits. Most were members of Omega Psi Phi or Alpha Phi Alpha, the two black fraternities, and have ties to the Cleveland area. Most came from working-class backgrounds and were the first in their families to attend college.

Seldom has a group of young men faced such high -- and low -- expectations at onc e.

"At that time, we were the first generation to attend college and the first generation to be received in industry," says Huey Ball, BSED '67, among 14 OU Brothers who earned degrees from Ohio University. "We were in uncharted waters."

Ball and other members of the group say they carried the high hopes of their families and friends, but faced a campus and community that was, at best, indifferent to their presence.

Although overt racial bias was rare, the OU Brothers found subtle re minders of their plight. Finding off-campus housing was difficult because landlords didn't want to rent to blacks. The local barber shops didn't know how to cut the hair of African Americans, or simply didn't want to know. And neither the Uptown Athens bar scene nor university-sponsored events appealed to them.

"We knew we were in the minority, so we had to be careful," says Leon Hogg, AB '68. "We knew some people were OK, but we also knew we were in Southeastern Ohio."

"There was no suppo rt on campus -- zip, zilch, nothing," recalls Elmore "Mo" Banton, Ohio University's longtime track and cross country coach who attended OU with many in the group before being drafted into the Vietnam War in 1966. "There were no organizations, nobody to talk to."

Instead, black students created "a university within the university," Hogg says. They founded their own fraternities and sororities, hung out at the Bunch of Grapes Room in Baker Center, and formed their own informational network.

"The interdependence we thrived on was what built the camaraderie between us," says Richard Jenkins, BSED '70.

Their friendship steered them through college and such difficult times as the deaths of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Hogg and Ball eventually became campus activists who met with university President Vernon Alden to address black students' concerns.

While it's not unusual for college students to form lifelong friendships, this group is special because its members hav e formalized their relationship. They really are the OU Brothers -- more specifically, OU Brothers and Associates, an incorporated investment club for African-American men.

A core group of 22 individuals has invested money in the pool, and a total of 45 "associates" normally attend an annual meeting.

All of the Brothers with OU connections either attended or graduated from the university in the 1960s and early '70s.

The OU Brothers formalized in 1978 when Hogg decided to organize a r eunion of college buddies. "The response was phenomenal -- 50 guys showed up," he says. "We had so much fun, we decided to do it again the next year."

The reunion turned into an annual party, one that's been held each year since at sites across the country, including Alaska, Florida, San Diego, Washington, D.C., and Cleveland. The annual get-together is part social gathering, part business meeting.

The group gathers another six to eight times a year, mostly for business meetings, and a fiv e-person investment committee meets nearly monthly. Many are expected to return to the Athens campus June 5-7 for the university's Black Alumni Reunion (see related story).

In the early 1980s, the group pooled its money -- about $200 apiece at first, says Louis Overstreet, BSCE '67 -- and bought a certificate of deposit. To help ensure success, they joined the National Association of Investment Clubs and learned how to make their money grow. All dividends go back into th e pool. An investment of $1,200 annually now is required to remain active with the group.

Today, the group's principal holdings are mutual funds and stocks in eight organizations, says Wilton Savage, BSME '64. Neither Savage nor other OU Brothers contacted wanted to discuss the group's net worth.

"It's not the kind of thing where we sit there daily and pull out the stock report to see how we're doing," Overstreet says. "But it has enough value that we pay attention to it."

In the lat e 1980s, the group hired Hogg, a Cleveland developer, to build a resort home for the exclusive use of group members in North Carolina. Today, the OU Brothers call a four-bedroom house in a golfing community in New Bern, N.C., their home away from home. The site is about a half-hour drive from the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the Atlantic Ocean.

Any financial success of the OU Brothers shouldn't be surprising. Most are successful in their careers: Hogg is president of the Cleveland developm ent firm Hallmark Management Associates and president of the Black Economic Union of Ohio, a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing affordable, multifamily housing in the Cleveland area. Ball is an account representative for 3M Corp. in Ypsilanti, Mich. Jenkins is director of human resources for East Cleveland City Schools. Overstreet is a civil engineer who has worked on projects as diverse as the Alaskan Pipeline and Chicago's McCormick Place convention center, and he authored a book on the h istory of African Americans in Alaska. Savage is a Harvard MBA and former CEO of Personal Physician Care in Cleveland.

The success of the OU Brothers shows a slice of African-American life that often isn't talked about, says Assistant Director of Alumni Relations Dexter Bailey, who visited with the group last summer.

"What these guys represent is a rarely seen side of black culture -- well-read, well-spoken black males who also may drive a BMW," Bailey says. "So often all you read and hear about is what's wrong with black culture."

Members are aware of their uniqueness. "We're rare, as individuals and as a group," Ball acknowledges. "Of the 22 of us, we have a Harvard MBA, a CPA, an attorney, a dentist, sales reps, middle managers, educators. We love our families, who have been part of the strength that keeps us together. African Americans like us do exist."

The OU Brothers


Huey Ball, BSED '6 7
Alan Bogan, BSED '67
* Kenneth Carey
* Vernon Cornelison
Robert Deiz, BSIT '68
Leon Hogg, AB '68
Dr. James Houston, BS '66
Richard Jenkins, BSED '70
Irwin Jones, BBA '73
Edwin Kelly, BSE '70
Ranaldo Lawson, BSED '65
Robert Mitchell, BBA '72
Louis Overstreet, BSCE '67
Jerry Rhodes, BBA '69
* Rodger Saffold
* Otis Sandich
Wilton Savage, BSME '64
Glenn Stringer, BSIT '67


Account representative, 3M Corp., Ypsilanti, Mich.
Faculty member/assistant football coach, Florida A&M
District manager in pharmaceutical sales, Cleveland
Regional sales manager, 3M Corp., Cincinnati
Automotive engineer, Detroit
President, Hallmark Management Associates, Cleveland
Dentist in Cleveland Heights
Human resources director, East Cleveland City Schools
Deputy sheriff, Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Office
Attorney in Cleveland
Faculty member, North Carolina C entral University
Accountant rep. for 3M Corp., Rochester, N.Y.
Engineering contractor, Las Vegas
Financial consultant, National City Corp., Cleveland
Certified public accountant, Cleveland
Owner of S&B Floor Covering, Ashtabula/Euclid
Former CEO, Personal Physician Care, Cleveland
Manager of world assessment, Praxair Inc., Cleveland

* Indicates individual attended OU but did not graduate. Some graduated from other schools. List includes 18 of 22 OU Brothers members who attended Ohio University.

Corinne Colbert, BSJ '87, MA '93, is a free-lance writer and desktop publisher based in Amesville in Athens County. Ohio University Today Editor Bill Estep also contributed to this story.

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