Don M. Wilson, III, a 1966 Ravenna High School alumnus, who, having obtained degrees at Harvard and Dartmouth then enjoyed a highly successful career in international banking, has issued a $10,000 matching grant to help raise funds for the restoration of the historic Ravenna flagpole.
"Too many iconic structures that are part of Ravenna's architectural heritage are disappearing," Wilson said, citing the recent demolition of the community's neo-classical 1923 high school building on Clinton Street. "Not saving our historic flagpole would mean another regrettable loss of Ravenna's unique identity. Our affection and respect for our town should not let this happen."
Having served as one of the top executives at America's largest bank, and one of its strongest, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wilson is now semi-retired and residing in Connecticut, where communities treasure their architectural heritage, a heritage passed along to originating towns, like Ravenna, in our Western Reserve, which itself was a federal land grant to Connecticut after the Revolutionary War.
"Ravenna has been a beautiful town since its founding in 1799. I doubt there is another site in Portage County that has the rich turn-of-the-century architectural heritage and the classic street plan with its wide avenues and courthouse square," he said.
A group of citizen volunteers, Friends of the Flagpole, which is led by businessman Jack Schafer and attorney Peggy DiPaola, is halfway toward its goal of raising $150,000 to refurbish the historic Ravenna flagpole in front of the Portage County Court House.
Those wishing to support the effort and Wilson's matching grant can send their donations to Friends of the Flagpole, P.O. Box 444, Ravenna, Ohio 44266 or donate at either the Portage Community Bank or Hometown Bank, both of which have offices in Ravenna and Kent.
Ravenna Township trustees, which maintain the flagpole, have delayed its demolition, hoping volunteers can raise the money privately to save it.
The Van Dorn Iron Works Company in Cleveland built the 150-foot flagpole in 1893 for $800, the fee paid by the then Village of Ravenna and Ravenna Township. It consists of a 50-foot pole anchored to a 100-foot riveted steel lattice box and bound by diagonal struts at the base.
According to Robert Bruegmann, an architectural historian at the University of Illinois in Chicago, the lattice structure supporting the pole is identical to the method used to build the 1,000-foot Eiffel Tower for the Paris World's Fair in 1889.
"It enabled builders and communities to display the exciting potential for using steel in construction back then," Bruegmann said.
Many bridges, towers and viaducts of similar construction were erected in the United States near the end of the 19th century, but most have since been torn down. Ravenna's flagpole is a rare, surviving example, he said.