The partnership between the city of Kent and Kent State University has been a major factor in the revitalization of the community, and those who have worked so hard to foster that sense of cooperation between "town and gown" can take pride in the results of their efforts.
Kent and Kent State will share in a well-deserved honor when their partnership is honored by the International Town-Gown Association, which will present them with the first Larry Abernathy Award in recognition of the town-gown relationship that best represents the spirit of the ITGA. The honor, which is named for the former mayor of Clemson, S.C., who helped from the ITGA in 2003, will be presented at the association's annual conference in Buffalo, N.Y., in June.
City Manager Dave Ruller and KSU President Lester Lefton, who began their tenure in Kent at about the same time, spearheaded the collaborative effort that has transformed downtown Kent into an attractive destination place for residents, students and out-of-towners. As leaders of the community and the campus, they realized the benefits of fostering a sense of interdependency between Kent and its largest employer. Together, they consciously engaged "town and gown" in a mutually beneficial initiative that has reshaped the downtown area and, importantly, drawn Kent State closer to the community through the construction of the new hotel and conference center and the Esplanade, the pedestrian walkway linking the campus and the downtown area.
One hundred years ago, the people of Kent were preparing for the opening of Kent State Normal School, the teachers' training college that the community had mounted a spirited effort to "win" a few years earlier. It was a time of enormous pride for Kent, and its residents responded enthusiastically to the challenges of becoming a college town.
Over the course of a century, that sense of pride has remained strong, although undoubtedly tested at times, especially in the aftermath of the events of May 4, 1970, when the community and campus appeared content to go their separate ways. The "front door" of the campus shifted from Main Street to the Summit Street area, and the city did little to actively engage the community's leading employer.
The partnership between Ruller and Lefton, who were new to the community and brought to it a fresh perspective, proved to be transformational. Together, they created a new working relationship between "town and gown" that will endure regardless of the future leadership of the campus and the city.
The ITGA honor is a well-deserved affirmation of the new spirit of cooperation between Kent and Kent State University.