Born in Rochester, New York, Thomas W. Adler moved to Shaker Heights with his family in 1952 at age 12. Severe early childhood asthma caused him to miss a lot of school and fall behind academically. “As a result, I suffered from low self-esteem when I was young,” he recalls. But that all began to change when he was introduced to swimming at a summer camp and he excelled at it.
Once in high school he set Shaker pool and District records. That experience gave him confidence and helped get him get accepted into the University of Wisconsin. It was also at Shaker Heights High School that he met his wife of 57 years, Joanie. They married shortly after graduation from college. The two have three children and two grandchildren.
“The rough start as a kid was probably a source of some of the drive I had later,” Mr. Adler says. “I think I had to prove to myself that I could accomplish things of my own.” He also was highly motivated by his parents, particularly his father, a leader in the men’s apparel industry.
By his mid-30s, Mr. Adler was Chairman of the Executive Committee of a large Cleveland commercial real estate firm. At age 38, he co-founded his own company that specialized in selling investment-grade properties to pension funds. When the firm was bought in 1986 by San Francisco-based Grubb & Ellis, he was invited to serve on the management committee and start a new national division. At age 50, he left and founded a consulting firm, Cleveland Real Estate Partners.
Mr. Adler sold his interest in that company to his younger partners and became a full-time volunteer and philanthropist by the age of 60. In 1999, he helped start what is now known as Playhouse Square Real Estate Services. In 2006, he became Board Chair of Playhouse Square Foundation. His work at Playhouse Square, pro bono from the start, led Mr. Adler to get involved with Cleveland State University, which would later move its Theatre and Dance program, as well as its School of Film and Media Arts, to Playhouse Square. As a trustee of CSU, Mr. Adler helped lead the school’s first campaign, which raised over $100 million, and has been instrumental in the successful effort to engage the business community more with CSU.
Mr. Adler also is heavily involved in the American Jewish Committee (Life Trustee), the Jewish Federation of Cleveland (Trustee Emeritus and recipient of its Eisenman Award), the Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio (Life Director and recipient of its Humanitarian Award), United Way of Greater Cleveland (Director and recipient of its Volunteer of the Year Award), University Hospitals (Director), Downtown Cleveland Alliance (Director Emeritus), Shaker Heights and its schools, and more.
In 2015 Mr. Adler was named one of the most connected powerbrokers in Northeast Ohio by Crain’s Cleveland Business.
A native of Watertown, New York, Toby Cosgrove was a self-described average student. He graduated from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts before going onto medical school – the only one of 13 he applied to that accepted him – at the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville.
Residency training was interrupted by the Vietnam War. Dr. Cosgrove worked in a hospital in Da Nang and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his work as chief of the U.S. Air Force Casualty Staging Flight; at age 28, he and his small team evacuated more than 22,000 wounded.
After returning to the States, Dr. Cosgrove completed his clinical training at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital and Brook General Hospital in London.
Diagnosed with dyslexia in his 30s, Dr. Cosgrove says he chose surgery over other professions because it relied less on reading and writing and more on his dexterity. In a cardiac surgery career that spanned nearly 30 years, he earned an international reputation for expertise in valve repair.
Fourteen years after joining the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Cosgrove in 1989 was named chairman of the Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. After being named Cleveland Clinic President and CEO in 2004, succeeding Floyd “Fred” Loop, MD, Dr. Cosgrove stepped away from his surgical practice.
During Dr. Cosgrove’s tenure (2004-2017), the number of physician-scientists nearly doubled, from 1,800 to 3,400; patient visits increased from 2.8 to 7.1 million; the number of caregivers soared to 52,000; research funding grew to $260 million; and new construction was prolific.
“One of the reasons Cleveland Clinic is a success is because it’s in Cleveland,” Dr. Cosgrove says.
“Cleveland is a good filter. People are not coming here to go to the beach or to ski. They’re coming here to work,” he says. “So, when you recruit someone here, they are coming to participate.” And then “they inevitably fall in love with the city.”
One such recruit was Tom Mihaljevic, MD, who joined the hospital system the same year Dr. Cosgrove became CEO. In his first “State of the Clinic” address, Dr. Mihaljevic credited his successor with leading the Cleveland Clinic to astonishing heights, noting that in 2017 alone, Cleveland Clinic ran one of the largest graduate medical education and training programs; opened the $276 million, 377,000-square-foot Taussig Cancer Center; built new rehabilitation centers and urgent care facilities; logged thousands of telemedicine visits; and continued to increase its uncompensated care and community activity.
Author of a book (“The Cleveland Clinic Way”) and nearly 450 journal articles and book chapters, Dr. Cosgrove has filed 30 patents for surgical innovations. In July 2018 he was named executive adviser to Google’s Healthcare & Life Sciences team.
Dr. Cosgrove is married to lawyer Anita Cosgrove and has two daughters.
Art J. Falco grew up in Painesville Ohio and earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Bowling Green State University (where he also met his wife Maryann). He began his career in the accounting department of the former Diamond Shamrock Corp. (a chemical, oil and gas company) in its Fairport Harbor and Chardon offices and also worked at Natural Impressions in Painesville.
In 1985 Mr. Falco joined Playhouse Square as finance director. In 1988 he was promoted to vice president of finance and administration. Three years later, he became president and CEO of Playhouse Square. He succeeded Larry Wilker, whom he cites as a mentor who taught him the theater business.
Mr. Falco held that position until his retirement in June 2019. “I saw an organization where there was a vision beyond the renovation of some theaters … It was more about being a catalyst for the development of the neighborhood,” he says.
It was under Mr. Falco’s leadership that Playhouse Square completed the world’s largest theater restoration project and expanded its business model to include real estate development.
With 11 stages and more than 1 million guests annually, Playhouse Square is the largest performing arts center outside of New York. Its 46,000 season subscribers make up the largest Broadway series season ticket holder base in the nation and its 2,000 volunteers surpasses other arts centers.
Those who know Mr. Falco knows he is quick to spread credit and praise around for the success of Playhouse Square. It’s a combination of the staff, theater-goers, volunteers and much more, he says. “At the end of the day, it’s been knowing what customers want and satisfying their needs.”
Also important to Mr. Falco and Playhouse Square are its many productive, long-lasting partnerships with a wide range of local businesses and educational and arts organizations. “There’s so much talent in this area. That’s what I appreciate,” he says.
Through its Real Estate Services arm, Playhouse Square owns most of its theaters – as well as more than 1 million square feet of real estate. And it manages another 1.5 million square feet of space on top of that. This unique business model allows Playhouse Square to earn more than 90% of its operating budget.
“What I’ve learned is the performing arts – all art – can change lives,” he says. “And it’s not just quality of life; theater increases confidence and self-awareness, exposes the participant and the audience member to myriad subjects they might not otherwise discover, and it just helps create a better, well-rounded person.”
Mr. Falco’s role has now changed to senior advisor for special projects to Playhouse Square through its completion (expected in 2020) of The Lumen, a 34-story, 318-unit apartment tower at Euclid Avenue and East 17th Street. He also continues to serve as an adviser and in board roles for the Cleveland Restoration Society, Destination Cleveland, Downtown Cleveland Alliance and Playhouse Square District Development Corporation.
Bob Gries followed in his father’s footsteps to attend Yale University. But the Cleveland native returned to the city after graduating in 1951 to join the May Company, which his mother’s father had built into the largest department store chain in Ohio.
“I always knew it was my job to stay here and try to make some difference as a fifth-generation Clevelander,” he says.
Mr. Gries is fiercely proud of his lineage. A paternal great-great-grandfather, Simson Thorman, was the first Jewish settler in Cleveland, arriving in the early 1830s from a small town in Bavaria. He established the city’s first synagogue and was elected to City Council.
Paternal grandfather Rabbi Moses Gries was rabbi of Cleveland’s largest Reform temple and was instrumental in the founding of numerous Jewish and community organizations. Maternal grandfather Nathan Dauby was the builder of the May Company and a leading business and philanthropic leader.
Mr. Gries’s father, businessman and philanthropist Robert Hays Gries, was one of the founders of both the Cleveland Rams and the Cleveland Browns football teams.
The younger Gries has continued his family’s rich legacy in business, sports, politics, Jewish causes and philanthropy.
In the early 1960s he started a career in venture capitalism, an industry then in its infancy.
As treasurer of Carl Stokes’s mayoral campaign in 1967, he had a front row seat to history. He continued being politically active with such notable figures as the late George Voinovich and Michael R. White.
Since age 51, Mr. Gries – author of “Aging with Attitude” – has traveled to 45 countries on all seven continents in his pursuit of physical adventures such as long-distance running, mountain climbing, biking and high-altitude hiking.
At age 89 he still serves on the boards of American Jewish Committee, Boy Scouts of America, Cleveland Play House and Vocational Guidance Services – each for 50 years and counting – and a half dozen other organizations.
Mr Gries credits much of his success to his wife Sally Gries, with whom he remains active in the philanthropic landscape of Cleveland.
All but one of the sixth generation of the Gries family live in Cleveland and are finding ways to give back to the city. Six of the seven who make up the seventh generation have grown up in Cleveland. “I hope and expect some of them will settle here and carry on the family legacy,” he says.
For more than 50 years Carole F. Hoover has built a career that has blended civil rights, support of Northeast Ohio’s businesses, civic leadership and philanthropy.
As a student at Tennessee State University, she was at the forefront of the civil rights movement. After graduation, she became a member of the executive leadership team of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She served alongside her father, the Rev. Dr. Odie Hoover, Jr., then the pastor of Cleveland’s Olivet Institutional Baptist Church.
Ms. Hoover joined the Greater Cleveland Growth Association — now Greater Cleveland Partnership — in 1971 to lead its efforts to support minority-owned businesses. When she rose to the position of president and CEO of the organization in 1994, she became the first African-American woman in the country to lead a major chamber of commerce.
She also has been a part of many of the region’s most significant public-private partnerships and other civic efforts. In 1979, she became vice-chair of the city’s Operations Improvement Task Force, led by then-Cleveland Mayor George Voinovich, which elevated the city out of bankruptcy. She was part of the team that made the Gateway Sports and Entertainment Complex project and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum a reality. She helped to co-found the Greater Cleveland Roundtable, which was absorbed into the Greater Cleveland Partnership in 2004. In 2016 she served on the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee, Inc., responsible for attracting the 2016 Republican National Convention.
As a former executive committee member of The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, and part of the Free South Africa campaign that coordinated Nelson Mandela’s first U.S. visit in 1990, Ms. Hoover has been active nationally in civil rights causes. No matter the cause, organization or campaign, she always provides support quietly.
“If you are doing it for the right reasons, you don’t need any credit,” she says. “I think of the dignity of individuals, and it’s all about what you give that can make them feel good, not make them feel like a victim in need of a lifeline.”
Ms. Hoover retired from the Greater Cleveland Growth Association in 2000. Today she manages the real estate and financial investment firm HooverMilstein, a partnership she struck in 1999 with New York financier and philanthropist Howard P. Milstein. She serves on the board of directors of Cleveland Clinic and remains involved in Cleveland’s business, civic and education communities.
The great-grandson of slaves, Robert P. Madison was born in 1923 in Cleveland. His family moved to Alabama, then South Carolina, then Washington, D.C. before returning to Cleveland, where Mr. Madison graduated from East Technical High School.
Initially enrolling in the School of Architecture at Howard University in Washington, D.C., Mr. Madison left college to enlist in the military during World War II. He was a recipient of the Purple Heart and five combat ribbons.
After a brief time studying at the University of Pisa in Italy, Mr. Madison returned to the United States. He enrolled in the Cleveland School of Architecture at what is now Case Western Reserve University. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1948 and worked briefly before enrolling at Harvard University, where he completed a master’s degree in architecture.
While teaching at Howard University in Washington, D.C., Mr. Madison was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship at L’École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He came back to Cleveland and, in 1954, founded RPMI International with two of his brothers. The company would grow to become one of the largest minority-owned architectural and engineering firms in the United States.
Mr. Madison has designed hundreds of spaces around the globe, and he helped shape the Greater Cleveland community with his award-winning designs. Medical spaces, schools and churches, particularly in African American communities, has been especially gratifying for Mr. Madison. “Medical buildings were always very compelling because designing them meant creating spaces where doctors could (save) people’s lives,” he says in his memoir, Designing Victory (Act 3 Publishing, 2019).
The design contributions of Mr. Madison, who in 1974 was inducted into the prestigious College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects (and later served as that organization’s Chairman of the Jury of Fellows), can be seen throughout Cleveland at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the FirstEnergy Stadium, the Gill and Tommy LiPuma Center for Creative Arts at Cuyahoga Community College, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority HealthLine, the Great Lakes Science Center, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the Hilton Cleveland Downtown Hotel and the Cleveland Public Library.
His community service includes board positions with the Cleveland Opera, the Cleveland Orchestra, CWRU, and the Cleveland Museum of Art, among others. He was involved in the NAACP, Urban League, Cleveland State University and Boys & Girls Clubs. And he founded the Robert P. Madison Scholarship for Architecture for African Americans who want to study architecture.
Mr. Madison has two daughters. His wife of 63 years, Leatrice, died in 2012.
Mr. Madison retired in 2016. In 2018, Deeds Not Words, a documentary about Mr. Madison, screened at the DC Black Film Festival and Harlem International Film Festival before being shown in September to a hometown audience at the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival.
“I don’t know where she got the money that she gave to charity. In a home with not enough money to make it, to give money to others is a noble act,” says Mr. Mandel. “I saw that, I grew up with it. It was like breathing.”
Although he enrolled at Adelbert College (part of what became Case Western Reserve University/CWRU) after high school, Mr. Mandel dropped out in 1940 to go into business with his two brothers. He was just 19 years old when the trio purchased their uncle’s small automotive shop for $900.
Those early experiences shaped Mr. Mandel’s eventual business success and civic impact. Today, Mr. Mandel is chairman and CEO of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation and chairman and CEO of Parkwood LLC, a private trust company.
The Mandel brothers grew their storefront business into Premier Industrial Corp., a global distributor of electrical, maintenance and industrial parts. Mr. Mandel retired as the company’s chairman and CEO in 1996 when Premier was acquired by the British firm Farnell Electronics for $2.8 billion.
The accumulated wealth of the Mandel brothers over those years has supported charitable work in nearly every sector of Northeast Ohio. Recipients have included Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress and the Jewish Federation of Cleveland.
For nearly 60 years, Mr. Mandel’s civic volunteerism has helped to shape Cleveland. He served a founding role in several non-profit institutions and was a co-founder of Cleveland Tomorrow (now the Greater Cleveland Partnership), a partnership of 50 of Cleveland’s top CEOs working on economic development initiatives.
In 2013, Mr. Mandel returned to CWRU to complete his coursework. He received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry with a minor in social work.
He and his wife Barbara have been married for 67 years and have three children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Sam Miller worked his way through Adelbert College (Case Western Reserve University) with the help of scholarships, then earned an MBA from Harvard Business School. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1942 to 1946. Shortly after marrying Ruth Ratner, daughter of Leonard Ratner, Mr. Miller joined Forest City Materials, the Ratner family business, in 1947.
Now 96 and co-chairman emeritus of Forest City Realty Trust, Mr. Miller has made generosity a central part of his life and 70-year career as a result of his humble beginnings, the son of poor Eastern Europe immigrants.
Under the leadership of Mr. Miller and Albert Ratner, his brother-in-law, what began as a lumber and supply company has become a publicly-traded multi-billion dollar corporation that owns, develops and manages residential and commercial properties across the country.
Mr. Miller is widely credited with spearheading this move into home construction, and, reflecting on his career in 2007, said that he was most proud of the communities he developed in Brook Park, Parma and Parma Heights in the mid-1950s: “I made them into the fastest-growing cities in the United States for many years.”
As it grew, Forest City continued its expansion into real estate development, and today has 32 retail centers, 36 office buildings and 115 apartment buildings in its national portfolio.
For decades, Mr. Miller has been a man at the center of civic and business leadership in Northeast Ohio. He also has been an avid supporter of the Jewish community. He is a former board member and is an honorary lifetime member of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, and served on the board of the Cleveland Jewish Welfare Fund. He also has extended his civic and philanthropic resources to Catholic organizations and the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
“I’m very passionate about anything I do,” Mr. Miller told Smart Business magazine in 2003. “My involvement with the Catholic church, my involvement with the state of Israel. I just don’t join organizations to get my name on the board. That is worthless, and you do a grave injustice to the organization.”
Mr. Miller has been honored with induction into the Cleveland International Hall of Fame and the Northeast Ohio Business Hall of Fame, and with lifetime achievement awards from the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland and the Greater Cleveland Peace Officers Memorial Society. He earned the Founder’s Award from the Anti-Defamation League.
The Sam H. and Maria Miller Foundation has made gifts to support causes in the areas of education, the arts, health, children, social services and Jewish and Catholic organizations. Among its major gifts include support to Cleveland Clinic, where the Maria and Sam Miller Professional Excellence Awards have been established.
Born in Akron and the eldest of eight children, Steve Minter credits his parents, Lawrence and Dorothy Minter, and his Midwestern upbringing, for much of the good he’s been able to do for and with his neighbors.
“My dad was a very skilled laborer, and ultimately became the first African-American county superintendent appointed by the Ohio Department of Transportation,” Mr. Minter says. “He set a very good example. But I was also highly influenced by my mother.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Baldwin-Wallace College and later would complete a master’s degree in social administration from the Mandel School at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU).
During the 1970s he served as the commissioner of public welfare for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. And in 1980 he assumed the role of the first undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Education during President Jimmy Carter’s administration.
Otherwise, Mr. Minter has resided and worked in and around Cleveland his entire life, beginning his career as a caseworker at the Cuyahoga County Welfare Department (dashing early hopes of becoming a high school coach), and rising to director.
In 1984, after nearly a decade as a program officer and associate director of the Cleveland Foundation, Mr. Minter became the organization’s director. He served there until his retirement in 2003.
“It’s not to say it wasn’t hard and frustrating at times,” he admits, “but to really be engaged, to help turn around the Cleveland public schools, to effectively deal with the desegregation of the schools, to make progress with early childhood education, to see Lexington Village and Beacon Place [part of the Hough neighborhood revitalization] come to fruition . . .
“I had the opportunity to be a participant. I was able to work with governors, mayors (and) county commissioners, as well as private sector officials in trying to advance Cleveland. What a privilege.”
In September 2003, he was appointed executive-in-residence and a fellow at the Center for Nonprofit Policy & Practice in the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University. He also served as interim vice president for university advancement and executive director of the CSU Foundation.
Among his many accomplishments and honors, Mr. Minter takes joy in being the father of three accomplished daughters and, in 1991, the co-recipient of the Humanitarian Award from the Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio with his late wife, Dolores (Dolly) Minter.Close Bio
Though Rev. Moss retired in 2008 as senior pastor of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, he still travels the country speaking and preaching, and he serves as the church’s pastor emeritus.
Rev. Moss earned a bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College and a Master of Divinity degree from Morehouse School of Religion Interdenominational Theological Center. He became a pastor in 1954 and would later earn his Doctor of Ministry degree from the United Theological Seminary in Dayton.
Under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – a close friend – Rev. Moss served as regional director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference while living in Cincinnati.
In 1975 Rev. Moss became lead pastor of Olivet, established in 1931 in Cleveland’s Fairfax neighborhood.
“The role of a church is to minister to the whole person, the whole community, without regard to religious affiliation, color or economic circumstance. The spirit of the church ought to be inclusive,” Rev. Moss says. “The church ought to be the leading institution in the community fighting for justice and liberation through love and direct action.”
Locally, Rev. Moss’ civic involvement has included board positions at the Cleveland Foundation and the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood. He also has held national board positions at his alma mater, Morehouse College, and at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
Among his many honors include the Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth Humanitarian Award at the 2007 Ohio State of the State Conference; being selected by President Barack Obama for the 25-member White House Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in 2009; and induction into the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2012.
Rev. Moss and his wife Edwina were married 50 years ago by Rev. King. Of the couple’s three children, a son – the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, who leads Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago – has followed in his father’s chosen vocation. The Mosses also have five grandchildren (one of whom is deceased) and two great-grandchildren.
Sandra Pianalto was in fifth grade when she knew she wanted to be a public servant.
“I was learning about our American government at an early age and I found it fascinating,” says Ms. Pianalto, who immigrated to the U.S. from Italy with her parents when she was five years old. “I knew that I was passionate about public service and wanted to make a career out of it.”
After graduating from the University of Akron with a bachelor’s degree in economics, she applied for, and was accepted to, a position as a research assistant at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.
In 1993, Ms. Pianalto was named vice president and chief operating officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. She would remain there for the remainder of her 38-year career with the Federal Reserve.
As president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Ms. Pianalto developed a reputation as a leader who believed in partnering with business and civic organizations to benefit the local economy. She was at the helm of the Bank during the economic crisis of 2008, a time when she redoubled her efforts to find ways that the Federal Reserve could assist in economic recovery and growth.
In addition to her professional achievements, Ms. Pianalto is a life director of the United Way and is the first female board chair of University Hospitals.
Ms. Pianalto recalls advice she received from one of her mentors, to step outside of her comfort zone and take on more responsibilities. She gives the same advice to the next generation of young leaders: “Be willing to raise your hand for tough assignments. That’s when you reap the real rewards.”
Dick Pogue first joined the law firm Jones, Day, Cockley & Reavis in 1957. New to Cleveland, he and his wife Pat planned to stay for a few years before moving on to a larger city. They quickly fell in love with the city and its people.
Thus began a nearly 60-year career filled with professional achievement. Mr. Pogue was largely responsible for the law firm’s expansion into international markets, which he made his mission after becoming managing partner in 1984. He currently is a full-time senior adviser at the firm, now called Jones Day.
Mr. Pogue began his extensive involvement in Northeast Ohio in 1961, shortly after becoming a partner in the firm. He played a role in many of the most meaningful civic accomplishments in Cleveland’s history. He was a principal organizer of the Regional Business Council in 1997, which was a precursor to the economic development organization Team NEO. He was chairman of the board for the Cleveland Foundation during a pivotal time in the 1980s when the Foundation took action to successfully save Playhouse Square.
Mr. Pogue’s long list of community engagement also includes roles at or board membership with the University of Akron, University Hospitals, Team NEO, Gordon Square Arts District, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, the Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education (NOCHE), and Business Volunteers Unlimited, the latter of which he is a founder and chairman emeritus.
Mr. Pogue earned a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a law degree from the University of Michigan.
The Pogues, who have been married for 62 years, have three children and eight grandchildren.
“It’s a very fulfilling feeling to get involved in these civic organizations,” Mr. Pogue says. “I think leaders in this community have an obligation to be involved in the civic world. That’s one of the great things about Cleveland — it’s a sizeable city, but it’s one that’s small enough that taking on a leadership role can really make a difference.”
Albert Ratner wasn’t sure college was the right choice for him when he completed his enlistment in the U.S. Army in 1948. Instead, he wanted to head straight into the family business, Forest City Materials, which was founded by his father Leonard Ratner, uncles Charlie and Max and aunt Fannye — four of nine children from a Polish immigrant family — as a lumber and building materials company in the 1920’s. The younger Ratner had spent his childhood helping out around the lumberyard, and felt sure that there wasn’t anything more he could learn in college.
So to encourage his son to pursue a degree, Mr. Ratner’s father identified the forestry program at Michigan State University, where his son could study lumber merchandising. He would later jokingly accuse his father of starting the school, since he had never heard of such a program. His father’s urging was successful; Mr. Ratner earned his degree in forestry, entered the family business upon graduation in 1951, and started his 66-year career at Forest City and is presently co-chairman emeritus.
“Over time I have seen that that it wouldn’t have mattered what profession or occupation I had chosen, my life wouldn’t have been much different,” Mr. Ratner reflects today. “Because it wasn’t the job I was doing, it was the way I was doing the job. Whatever occupation, we are still partners in communal and family life. We live by our principals and do things that follow our beliefs.”
Mr. Ratner’s parents were his early role models who set him on a path to business success. Early on, Leonard Ratner gave his son a great deal of responsibility and included him in meetings and business decisions. “He said, I want you to make your mistakes while I’m still alive and can help,” Mr. Ratner recalls. “That set my lifestyle of working with other people. The most important thing I can do is help others empower themselves as opposed to being directed as to what they should do.”
He spent his career working alongside Sam Miller, his co-chairman emeritus, as Forest City grew from a lumber supply company to a construction company to a home improvement retailer to a real estate development company. Forest City spearheaded the redevelopment of the Halle Building, which it purchased in 1982, and Tower City, which opened in 1990. It became publicly-traded in 1960, a $8.2 billion corporation that develops, owns and manages residential and commercial properties across the country. Its national portfolio now includes 32 retail centers, 36 office buildings and 115 apartment buildings.
In his civic life, Mr. Ratner was a primary architect of Global Cleveland, an initiative launched in 2011 that seeks to attract, welcome and integrate immigrants and refugees into the Cleveland workforce and community. He is a driver of the Center for Population Dynamics. He is also a member of the Group Plan Commission, the entity that envisioned the recent revitalization of downtown public spaces and facilities such as Public Square and the Global Center for Health Innovation. Mr. Ratner has been active in the Cleveland Plan to transform the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, the revitalization of the Gordon Square Arts District, Karamu House and Ohio’s Third Frontier Advisory Board. He has also driven Forest City’s investments into the Slavic Village Restoration Project. Mr. Ratner is involved with the entire Ratner family in many philanthropies and through the Albert B. and Audrey G. Ratner Family Foundation, which has supported causes in the areas of art, education, health care, poverty, the Jewish community and the general community.
Mr. Ratner’s Jewish faith has heavily influenced his approach to leadership. Over the years, he has supported such organizations as the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. One philosophy that guides Mr. Ratner is the concept of tikkun olam, which translates into “repairing the world” in Hebrew. “It is a difficult challenge and it is not possible to do but it does not give us the right to desist from trying,” he says. “We cannot save the world, but we have to try.” Another Jewish tradition says: “If you save one life, it’s as if you save the world. None of us by ourselves can save a life but we can by working with the community.”
Reflecting on Cleveland’s heritage, Mr. Ratner says he’s never found another city in country that can match the dedication of its civic, business and philanthropic leaders as he sees in Cleveland. “To me it’s a community,” he says. “My mother taught my sister and me that there’s no limit to what you can get done when you don’t care who gets the credit. It’s the collectivism that makes a difference.”
Relationships are how they built Forest City’s successful business, he says, and it’s also the key to making a civic and philanthropic community impact. “When someone comes to me with a problem, the way that I resolve it is to turn to my Rolodex and call someone to help,” he says. “The truth is, I am my Rolodex.”
But any discussion of life success with Mr. Ratner starts with family. “You lead a family life, a community life and a business life,” he says his mother taught his sister and him. “Family is the single most important thing because when things are bad in your family, it’s very hard to function. If things are good with your family and other people’s families, you can have a great community. If you have a great family in a great community, you have a great business.” Mr. Ratner was married 26 years to his late wife Faye, and 37 to his current wife, Audrey. With their combined families, they have five children, 14 grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
When his children were young, his daughter Deborah once called him at work in tears that her doll had broken Deborah’s fingernail. He set aside what he was doing to take the call, and established a rule that he still follows today — whenever a member of his family calls, he always takes it. It’s a rule Deborah Ratner Salzberg and Brian Ratner still adhere to with their own families.
As he gets ready to celebrate his 90th birthday later this year, Ratner still shows up for work at his office in Terminal Tower every day, although, “I have never looked at what I was doing as work. I’m enjoying it too much,” he says. “I have a lot of good days in which good things happen, but there are no days when the things I hope to accomplish I accomplish. I have the choice of being unhappy with myself or understanding that’s what life is.”
“There’s a Jewish tradition that you stand on the shoulders of giants. It’s what comes before you that allows you to take the next step. Part of life is learning the lessons of the people who came before you and adding what you can.”
Barbara S. Robinson’s parents, both native Clevelanders, were highly engaged citizens, as well as music and art aficionados. Her father, an accountant by profession, was a violinist and violist. “I went along and sat for my father’s rehearsals with the Cleveland Philharmonic,” Ms. Robinson says. “And he used to have many of his friends gather at our house to play chamber music. Music was just part of my life.”
Ms. Robinson began studying at the Cleveland Institute of Music at age 3 ½, eventually learning to play the violin, flute, and piano.
Both her parents were very active volunteers in the community. “My parents taught me at an early age that my ideas could be accepted.” She credits them for her reputation as a conversation leader, consensus builder and activist.
Ms. Robinson decided against pursuing a career as a professional musician. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Wellesley College with degrees in philosophy and psychology. As an undergraduate, she performed as a piano soloist with the orchestras of the Boston Pops and New England Conservatory of Music. She earned her MBA from Radcliffe College, part of a of a small group of women invited to participate in the Harvard Program in Business Administration.
After college, she met and married Larry Robinson and started a family in Chicago. (The two were married for 50 years until Larry’s death in 2003.) Ms. Robinson was a business consultant to new ventures and a piano recitalist. When the young family returned to Cleveland, she left her full-time consulting work behind and began her full-time-plus volunteer career.
She became aware that in Cleveland “there wasn’t much music education available to young children in the public schools.” She knew of groups in Philadelphia and New York forming something called Young Audiences. So, she set out to bring that concept to Cleveland. Not only was she the founder and chair, she would go on to serve as vice president and assistant treasurer of the National Board of Young Audiences, Inc.
Ms. Robinson also helped bring in funding for and organizing the Cleveland Ballet. She served as chair of the Ohio Arts Council. As chair of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, she testified before Congress to prevent the National Endowment for the Arts from being abolished. She also co-chaired the Cuyahoga County Arts & Culture Action Committee to promote passage of Issue 18, aka the “cigarette tax,” in 2016 renewed as Issue 8. Her volunteer service also includes leadership positions with the Musical Arts Association (the Cleveland Orchestra’s governing board), the Cleveland Chamber Music Society, the Cleveland Institute of Music, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Arts Midwest, Leadership Cleveland, University Hospitals, the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, and more.
In 1999 Ms. Robinson was elected to sit on the Harvard Board of Overseers, which would be involved in bringing in a new president of the university.
Ms. Robinson has three children and six grandchildren.
Jerry Sue Thornton, PhD, grew up in a small farm community in Kentucky, the daughter of a union coal miner and domestic worker. Following high school, she went to Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky, where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
“I always loved learning,” she recalled. “Teaching is what I always wanted to do. My heart is in the classroom.”
After teaching for a decade at the sixth-grade, high school and college levels, Dr. Thornton accepted several administrative roles, including dean of arts and sciences at Triton College in Illinois and president of Lakewood Community College (now Century College) in Minnesota.
“I realized I could shape policies and procedures within school districts and institutions and influence the education of many more students in a leadership role,” says Dr. Thornton, who earned her doctorate in educational administration at The University of Texas at Austin.
In 1992, Dr. Thornton moved to Northeast Ohio to accept the position as president of Cuyahoga Community College.
“I didn’t know anything about Cleveland when I was offered the position here,” she admits. “But Cleveland made me realize quickly how much I like urban environments. I like the energy of cities, the grittiness of cities, the people who reside in cities . . . I like resolving issues that matter in cities.”
Under Dr. Thornton’s leadership, Tri-C became an economic force in the region, employing more than 3,000 faculty and staff and adding more than $115 million in additional labor and non-labor income. In addition:
- Enrollment grew 40 percent – from 23,000 students on three campuses to more than 32,000 students on four campuses.
- More than 20,000 people enrolled in workforce training programs at Tri-C’s Corporate College, Unified Technology Center (now Manufacturing Technology Center), and Advanced Technology Training Center.
- Construction and renovation projects totaled $300 million. Voters supported five countywide ballot issues.
- A student scholarship endowment grew from $1.3 million to more than $38 million. Further, the college maintained the second-lowest tuition in the state, and the curriculum grew to more than 1,000 credit courses in more than 140 career and technical programs.
A year after retiring from Tri-C in 2012, Dr. Thornton founded Dream Catchers Educational Consulting Services, a company that coaches new college presidents.
Dr. Thornton has provided leadership to and supported activities of more than a dozen organizations and events in Cleveland, including the United Way of Greater Cleveland, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Playhouse Square, The MetroHealth System, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cuyahoga Community College Foundation. She and her husband Walter Thornton enjoy taking part in Cleveland’s many cultural activities.
“My parents were first generation Americans who struggled hard,” Sen. Voinovich says. “They underscored that as citizens of the United States we had an obligation to give back to our community.”
At Collinwood High School, Sen. Voinovich told classmates he would become mayor of Cleveland. At Ohio University, where he served as student body president before going on to law school at Ohio State University, Sen. Voinovich went one step further, announcing he would one day be governor.
By the time Sen. Voinovich campaigned to become Cleveland’s mayor, he had already served as a member of the Ohio House of Representatives (1967-1971), Cuyahoga County Auditor (1971-1976), Cuyahoga County Board of Commissions member (1977-1978) and lieutenant governor (1978-1979).
Sen. Voinovich was elected mayor in 1979, and served from 1980 to 1989. He became the first big-city mayor to incorporate public/private partnerships into municipal governance. He was an early proponent of Cleveland’s waterfront development, supporting the creation of the North Coast Harbor, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and the Great Lakes Science Center (Voinovich Bicentennial Park is named in his honor).
He also enticed major corporations to open downtown Cleveland offices and helped lay the groundwork for the Gateway Sports District.
“I have always said what I’m really proud about is not so much the physical infrastructure of the city but its civic and human infrastructure,” he says.
As governor of Ohio (1991-1998), and later a member of the U.S. Senate (1999-2011), Sen. Voinovich continued to promote the merits of collaboration between public agencies and the private sector, and he worked to keep a tight rein on government spending. In 1995, he was named public official of the year by the magazine GOVERNING, for his many accomplishments.
After retiring from the senate in 2011, Sen. Voinovich moved back to Collinwood, to the same home where he and his wife Janet raised their four children.
But he has not retreated from causes close to his heart, including raising awareness on the national debt and writing a book on public/private partnerships.
“I tell people that just because I’m retired doesn’t mean I should stop using what God has given me to continue making a contribution in people’s lives,” he says.
Sen. Voinovich passed away on June 12, 2016. He was 79.
After earning a master’s degree in public administration, education and urban governance from The Ohio State University, Michael White got his first job in the administration of Columbus Mayor Tom Moody. At age 22, he was in charge of creating an urban homesteading program that sold homes for $1 to encourage families to move to and invest in the city. During his tenure, the program sold more than 70 Columbus homes.
After returning to his hometown of Cleveland in 1976, Mr. White started executing his strategy to reach City Hall, beginning with a job as an aide to then-City Council President George Forbes. Mr. White won a seat on City Council the following year, at only 27 years of age, becoming the youngest member of the council’s finance committee in the city’s history.
After a term representing the 21st district in the Ohio Senate, Mr. White launched his mayoral campaign with meager funds and a skeleton staff. On November 7, 1989, he won, beating Forbes, his former boss.
“I remember looking out at the crowd of Cleveland residents, black and white, and I remember reflecting on how many children were there,” says Mr. White of his inauguration day. “I remember how they looked at me as a symbol of what could be. It speaks to the powerful responsibility of being the kind of leader people want to follow.”
During his three terms, Mayor White presided over a comeback era for Cleveland, a time of significant downtown development such as the Gateway Sports and Entertainment Complex, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the Great Lakes Science Center. He secured federal funds for Empowerment Zones on Cleveland’s East Side. He created the Mayoral Commission on School Governance to address the crisis in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, which led to the appointment of a CEO to oversee its renewal. He spearheaded the project to expand Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. He helped the city to preserve the Cleveland Browns intellectual property when the team left in 1995, restoring the brand with an expansion team in 1999.
When his final term ended in 2001, Mayor White retired from public service. He and his wife of 20 years, JoAnn, live in Newcomerstown, where they operate Seven Pines Alpaca Farm, Yellow Butterfly Winery and a foundation that rescues horses and rehabilitates them for adoption.
Mayor White still spends time in Cleveland every week as program director for the Neighborhood Leadership Development Program, which is part of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation.