ALONG THE WAY: David Dix

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Robinson Memorial Hospital's board of trustees technically held its last ever board meeting Wednesday, Dec. 18, according to Robinson's president and CEO, Steve Colecchi, and here's why.

The hospital is converting its legal status from a county hospital to a not-for-profit one. Its board in actuality will meet in January, but as a newly constituted board governing a not-for-profit hospital.

The conversion, not easy, is a response to market forces unleashed when, in the 1990s, the state of Ohio surrendered its certificate of need authority to require hospitals to prove a need before building a new branch or addition.

Think about it.

Until then, Robinson had a monopoly if someone needed acute care within Portage County. Since the end of the certificate of need system, the hospitals of Akron and Cleveland have aggressively moved in, taking market share from Robinson. University Hospital maintains a branch in Mantua. The Cleveland Clinic has constructed a huge branch in Twinsburg and hired, among others, doctors that used to admit to Robinson. Akron's Children's Hospital has a Kent outlet.Akron General is coming to the NEOMED campus in Rootstown. Summa might have built a facility in the Kent-Ravenna area had Robinson not partnered with it.

Changing its legal status to not-for-profit gives Robinson more flexibility in confronting its challenges. It can invest its cash reserves more profitability. It can partner with outside hospitals better and lower its operating costs doing so. Although employees at the hospital can remain in the public employee retirement system, new hires after the conversion will have a retirement system that resembles what is available in the private sector.

It's a major change for Portage County's second-largest employer and other changes just as important are coming to two other large Portage County employers in 2014, Kent State University and Hiram College.

New presidents at KSU, Hiram

Kent State and Hiram College are searching for successors to their current presidents, Lester Lefton and Thomas Chema, who will retire in 2014. Both men have been visionaries, builders, and strong advocates of community outreach.

No Kent State president has emphasized the university's outreach and community engagement more than Lester Lefton. Kent State has added new programs under his leadership, the most promising being the College of Public Health. Because of vigorous student recruitment abroad, the Kent State student body is more international with more than 2,000 students from other countries on campus.

Without Lefton's commitment, Kent's downtown rejuvenation would have amounted to far less. Under his directive, much of the Kent campus will be rebuilt, the most exciting project to be the new School of Architecture building on the Esplanade.

At Hiram College, the presidential pattern has been a president with strong management skills followed by a pure academician followed by a managerial president. Search committee take note, please. Two academicians, one a French scholar, the other a Dorothy Parker expert, who led Hiram College during the last 40 years were not up to the challenges, and that's being charitable.

Tom Chema, 11 years on the job, found enrollment at Hiram College plunging to the 700s and pulled off a rescue with his tuition guarantee.He invested the college's resources and his own time in rebuilding enrollment, which is now approaching the 1,300 mark. Like the two strong manager- type presidents before him, Elmer Jagow and Ben Oliver, Chema marshalled resources to rejuvenate and add to the Hiram campus. His tireless networking spread the word about Hiram College. He formed partnerships and created programs that brought Hiram new revenue streams. Hiram is much better off today because of Tom Chema.

Milestone for Gordon Ober

On Dec. 8, the Orrville Community Chorus celebrated 70 years of performing Handel's "Messiah" during the Christmas season. Gordon Ober, vice president for personnel recruiting and development at Davey Tree Expert Co., has sung every year in 50 of them, having started doing so as a teenager.

Gordon grew up in the Orrville-Dalton area and came to Kent State, where he played football for Leo Strang and then for the fabled Don James. He obtained his degree from KSU's College of Business, working part-time for Ted Rowe, the owner of Hamilton Kent, to help pay for his college education.

Among his many talents, Gordon is an accomplished organist, good enough to fill in for the organist at his church in Aurora when need be. He and his wife, Elaine, a former co-owner of The Learned Owl in Hudson, are planning to build a new home in Hiram Township.

'Ravenna Record' selling well

If you haven't picked up Editor Roger Di Paolo's latest book, "The Ravenna Record," there's still time, but sales are brisk. A compilation of his popular Portage Pathway columns, the book tells the stories of the people who built Ravenna into the community it became. It parallels "Rooted in Kent," published four years ago by the Kent Historical Society, which focused on the people who built Kent into a community.

Roger, a wonderful writer, never took a dime for his Kent book. Still sold at numerous Kent locations, it continues to benefit the Kent Historical Society. Likewise for "The Ravenna Record," beautifully designed and edited by Justin Barber. All proceeds go to the Friends of the Flagpole campaign to repair and restore the historic flagpole in front of the Portage County Courthouse.

Priced at $25, "The Ravenna Record" is on sale at Portage Community Bank's Ravenna and Kent branches, at Hometown Bank in Kent, Ravenna and Brimfield, at House of Holiday Ornaments, Triangle Pharmacy, Copper Kettle Antiques and Susie K's in Ravenna, at Walgreen's in Kent and Ravenna, at McKay Bricker Gallery in Kent, the Kent Historical Society and the Record-Courier.

Roger is signing books this afternoon from 2 to 4 at McKay Bricker Gallery.

Winery an asset for Aurora

Janet and I attended the recent Aurora Chamber of Commerce's awards gathering at Thorn Creek Winery off S.R. 306 north of the S.R. 43 and 82 juncture. There we encountered the capable Ann Womer Benjamin, who won election as Aurora mayor in November. An attorney, former Ohio state representative and former director of the Ohio Department of Insurance, Ann brings a strong background to her new job.

Janet and I were impressed by the gathering and its location, Thorn Creek Winery, surely one of the nicest wineries in Northeast Ohio. Besides his expertise at making wines, the owner, David Thorn, has created absolutely gorgeous gardens on his eight acres, said to be the perfect spot to enjoy an evening's glass of wine in warmer weather.

Remembering Frank Polichene

Frank Polichene, former Ravenna City Council clerk and council president, who recently passed away at the age of 92, would've made an excellent city manager if Ravenna had had that form of government when he was active or a knowledgeable economic development director.

As a Goodyear executive, he helped his company locate new factories and facilities and traveled widely doing that. He served on Ravenna council during challenging times and was insightful about city government.

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