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Building Community

Feb
25
2014

It should come as no surprise that two of Oberlin's most active alumni members in Washington D.C. decided to come here because of the college's strong sense of community. That aspect of campus life, the closeness and the diversity and how they worked together, immediately struck Clyde Owan ’79. For Dixie Sommers ’70, it was the smaller, more intimate bonds when compared to larger state colleges that made Oberlin feel like home away from home.

"I met Donn Ginoza ’74, who was on an recruiting trip as Oberlin’s Asian American Counselor Coordinator, at a bazaar in Washington, D.C.” Owan recalls. “Donn emphasized the strong sense of community among students, faculty, and staff. And the more I read about Oberlin, the more I realized that going here was more than just getting a degree: it was a cause."

For the eventual government major, college was something of a mystery. Thanks to the G.I. Bill, Owan's father was able to attend Ohio State after World War II, but Owan would only be the second generation of his family to attend college.

Growing up in a farm family in west central Ohio, for Sommers “Cleveland could have been the other side of the world.” While she was expected to attend Ohio State like her siblings, her high school teachers suggested Oberlin and a chance meeting with some students sealed her decision.

Sommers arrived with every intention of pursuing an English major, but through the classes and advisorship of Hirschel Kasper, she found her passion for economics and declared her major by sophomore year. That relationship lasted through decades, marked by mutual respect and an interest in each other’s professional growth.

Both Owan and Sommers found the intense environment of learning and labor had a profound effect on their post-Oberlin years. “I had a great time as a student and made such dear friends. Because of my deep affection for Oberlin, I have been a volunteer ever since I graduated,” Owan recalls. He recognizes that Oberlin helped him grow tremendously as a person, opening doors and paths for him and providing him with more opportunities than he would have had elsewhere.

For Sommers, her involvement in the Oberlin alumni community grew and grew. She succeeded to class president when the then-current officer couldn’t finish her term, and from there she moved on to Alumni Council Weekends, the awards committee, and the class gift committee. “One thing led to another,” she remembers fondly. “Now I’m on the Illuminate Campaign Committee, and it’s a different thing. It’s much longer, several years, and we’re doing so many local events.”

As active members of the Washington D.C. Regional Alumni Club, Owan and Sommers have helped organize many activities for their members including the Campaign Kickoff at the Newseum, as well as annual events at the Capital Area Food Bank, picnics, outings to ballgames, lectures, ice cream socials, happy hours, receptions, and more in the name of strengthening the Oberlin community.

"In the end,” says Owan, “I hope these efforts inspire Obies to help each other, promote Oberlin values in their lives and work, and make a generous financial gift to the College each year.” Sommers agrees, “It's important for those of us who got a lot of help from Oberlin to be able to give back so other students have that advantage now. Think about what Oberlin means to you – that's why you should want others to have that experience.”

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