A History of ONU Presidents
In March 1866 a slight, 28-year old man detrained at the Ada depot. A casual observer could easily have overlooked Henry Solomon Lehr, a recently discharged Union veteran. He had come to northwestern Ohio in search of a site for his projected university. That same observer might well have smiled if he knew of Lehr’s ambition since neither he nor the rough village of Ada showed obvious promise. Lehr, the first president of Ohio Northern University, was born in Ohltown (now Mahoning County) on March 8, 1838. His life and career in higher education are covered in depth in the following works.
President Leroy A. Belt was born in Delaware County, Ohio in 1837. Although nearly the same age (Belt was one year older than his predecessor), Drs. Lehr and Belt came from different backgrounds. Lehr was, by his own account, from a poor family and completed his education as funds permitted. Belt came from a comfortable if not wealthy background. He enrolled at Ohio Wesleyan University around 1855 and graduated in 1861 after having studied for the ministry. He served at several Methodist churches, first in Van Wert, Ohio, and later at Wapakoneta, Ottawa, Bellefontaine, Marion and Toledo. In 1871, Dr. Belt became a trustee of his alma mater and also served as financial agent for Monnett Hall, an independent women's academy, which merged with Ohio Wesleyan in 1877. In addition, he gained administrative experience through holding several positions in his church conference.
Albert Edwin Smith, the son of Edwin Hugo and Mary Ann Lindsey Smith, was born at New Richmond in Clermont County, Ohio, Dec. 16, 1860. He attended the public schools of New Richmond, both grade and high school. He then entered the Clermont Academy, graduating in 1882. He entered Ohio Wesleyan University and graduated from that institution in 1887 with a B.A. degree. He later received an M.A. degree from Wesleyan and in 1897, was also awarded a Ph.D. In October 1887, he married one of his classmates, Harriet Vergon.
That same year, he joined the Central Ohio conference of the Methodist church, and the next eighteen years saw Smith serving in pastorates at York, Celina, Toledo, Defiance and Marion. Smith had been one of the trustees selected by the Methodist church in 1900 after its transfer from Pres. Lehr and his colleagues. On June 27, 1905 he was elected president of Ohio Northern by the Board of Trustees. He was inaugurated on July 20, 1905.
A man of opinions strongly held, Smith sought to modernize the university and to elevate its moral tone. This latter effort brought him into frequent conflict with the student body over the years. The guiding principles of his efforts may be found in Souls in Armour, a collection of his baccalaureate speeches. His administration was marked by major changes in the university's curricula and by the expansion of the campus. At his retirement, eight of the 10 buildings then in existence had been constructed or put into use during his tenure.
In 1929, Dr. Smith turned over the active administration of the university to his successor, President Robert Williams, however, he officially held the position of president until 1930. Following his retirement, Dr. Smith lived in Findlay, Winter Haven, Florida and Lakeside. It was at Lakeside, Ohio where, in July 1941, he became ill. Returning to Findlay, he died on Aug. 26, 1941.
Robert Williams was born March 4, 1884 in Skipton, Yorkshire, England. He received his A.B. degree from Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut in 1911. He received a Master of Arts in Philosophy from Boston University. He served as a pastor in the New York East Conference for eleven years. Between 1918-21, he was dean and professor of English and Greek at Williamsport Dickinson seminary at Williamsport, Pa. In 1921, Williams became dean and professor in Philosophy at Albion College.
The university Board of Trustees selected Robert Owen Williams as Northern's fourth president on December 26, 1928. This was with the understanding that he would serve as acting president until Dr. Smith's formal retirement in June 1930. President Williams began his duties on September 1, 1929.
President William's administration was characterized by efforts to cope, first with the Great Depression and then with the Second World War. Despite falling enrollments and budgetary austerity, Williams was able to keep the university afloat up through his retirement in June 1943. In poor health at the time of his retirement, Williams died the following June in Van Wert, Ohio.
Robert O. McClure was born in Henderson County, Kentucky on Aug. 5, 1887. He graduated from Asbury College and also completed post-graduate work at Northwestern University and Garrett Biblical Institute.
During the First World War, McClure served overseas as an army chaplain. After leaving the army, he became president of Belle City College in Lake Charles, La. where he served for five years. McClure was appointed to the Athens district superintendency in 1930 and subsequently served as Chillicothe district superintendent. His duties as pastor took him to the Epworth Church in Toledo and the First Church in Newark. In 1941, McClure was selected as the Lima district superintendent.
Following President William's resignation, he was subsequently made permanent president though he continued as superintendent of the Lima district. Given the university's dire financial situation, Dr. McClure chose to serve his first year as president without pay. Under Dr. McClure's administration, Northern began to shake off the effects of two decades of crises. Enrollments increased, fundraising efforts were expanded, and work began on garnering accreditation for the institution's academic programs. In 1948, however, illness forced President McClure to request that the Board of Trustees give him a leave of absence. A three month break brought some temporary improvement, but the following year he resigned, effective April 9, 1949. He died at Winter Park, Fla., on June 1, 1952.
Ohio Northern University's sixth president, Frank Bringle McIntosh, was born May 26, 1895, on a farm near New Albany, Ind. He received a B.A. from DePauw University and in 1923, an STB degree from Boston University. As an ordained Methodist minister, his early exposure to higher education came through pastorates at Muskingum College, Denison University and Otterbein College. When he assumed the presidency of Ohio Northern, Dr. McIntosh was serving as superintendent of the Toledo district of the Methodist Church, a post which he had held since 1944. He was also a member of the board of education of the Methodist Church, a member of the executive and advisory committee of that board, as well as secretary of the church's division of colleges and universities. In addition, he was also a trustee of Ohio Wesleyan University. Although he assumed the duties of office on June 30, 1949, President McIntosh was not installed until Oct. 9.
Ohio Northern University's seventh president, Dr. Samuel Lewis Meyer, was born on Nov. 9, 1906, in Steinmetz, Mo. He received a bachelor's degree from Central College in Fayette, Mo., in 1930, and was awarded a master of science degree from Vanderbilt in 1932. Dr. Meyer received his Ph.D. from the University of Virginia in 1940.
He taught as an assistant professor of botany at the University of Tennessee between 1940-45 and served as professor and department head from 1946-51. His next teaching assignment was at Florida State University, where he was head of the botany department from 1951-55. Dr. Meyer returned to his undergraduate alma mater in 1955 as dean of the college and remained there for the next three years. In 1958, he moved to Stockton, Calif., where he served as academic vice-president at the University of the Pacific, the position from which he was recruited as Northern's head.
Unlike other post-Lehr presidents, President Meyer did not come to office through the Methodist Church. Indeed, he was the first president since Dr. Belt who was not an ordained Methodist minister. President Meyer was inaugurated on Oct. 15, 1965.
Dr. Ray B. Loeschner was born in McCordsville, Ind., and grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich. He attended Grand Rapids Junior College where he earned an associate of arts degree in 1951. In 1953, he graduated from Albion College with a B.A. He completed his education by earning an M.A. and a Ph.D. in psychology-guidance and administration at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
Before beginning his graduate studies, Loeschner served as an instructor and coach at Lake Forest College. While at Northwestern, he served as an instructor in education and psychology, a residence hall counselor and an assistant coach.
Dr. Loeschner began his post-graduate career by teaching as an assistant professor of education at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, from 1959-64. Between 1964 and 1966, he served as dean of student affairs and a professor of psychology and education at Washburn University in Topeka, Kan. At Washburn, he also was a member of the president's cabinet. In that post, he was responsible for Washburn's law and graduate schools.
In 1966, Loeschner returned to Michigan, this time as assistant to the president at Eastern Michigan University. The following year, he was also appointed vice president for administrative affairs at Eastern Michigan. This post included supervisory responsibilities for academic affairs, student affairs, public affairs and off-campus education. In 1970, Loeschner was appointed president of Olivet College (Olivet, Mich.), a post he held until 1977. Dr. Loeschner assumed the presidency of Ohio Northern University on Aug. 1, 1977 and served until July 31, 1979.
Dr. Harold A. Bolz, served as interim president in 1979 from Aug. 1 to Dec. 10. He previously had served as dean of the College of Engineering and director of the Engineering Experiment Station at The Ohio State University from 1958-76. Dr. Bolz served as interim president for 4-5 months, during a critical transition period for Ohio Northern, and was exceptionally effective, and admired by faculty and staff members. He had a calming effect on the campus with his optimism and careful approach to campus issues.
Dr. DeBow Freed, Hon. D. '99, was born Aug. 26, 1925, in Hendersonville, Tenn. A West Point graduate and nuclear scientist, Freed came to Ohio Northern after a distinguished career in public service and a successful deanship and college presidency elsewhere. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1946 and served in the U.S. Army until 1969. During his last two years of service, he taught physics at West Point. Later he earned master's and doctoral degrees in nuclear science and nuclear engineering from the universities of Kansas and New Mexico, respectively. In 1949, while on active duty, he married Catherine Carol Moore, Hon. D. '99.
Freed served as dean of Mount Union College from 1969-74, until he was selected as president of Monmouth College in Monmouth, III. At Monmouth, the Freeds were active in campus and community activities. Under Freed, enrollment stabilized, and an increased sense of community was evident. At a special meeting on Sept. 15, 1979, the Ohio Northern Board of Trustees selected Freed as Ohio Northern University's ninth president, and he served in that position until Aug. 31, 1999.
During Freed's 20-year administration at ONU, academic and student programs were strengthened, enrollment increased, and the budget was balanced each year. Two capital campaigns in the 1990s raised $72 million, and the endowment and other support funds increased from $12 million to $145 million. Several renovation and construction projects were completed, including construction of the Sports Center and the Freed Center for the Performing Arts. The campus was made progressively more attractive. Freed was samed president emeritus effective Sept. 1, 1999.
Catherine Freed, a former college faculty member and church leader, brought exceptional abilities and grace to many areas of University life. She held a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Texas and a master's degree from the University of Kansas. Their son, DeBow II, holds a doctoral degree from Rice University and resides in Texas.
Kendall L. Baker, Ph.D., was named the 10th president of Ohio Northern University, beginning Sept. 1, 1999. Baker served as president of the University of North Dakota from 1992-99. He received his bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Maryland in 1963. He received his master's and doctoral degrees from Georgetown University in 1966 and 1969, respectively.
From 1967-82, Baker served as instructor and then professor of political science at the University of Wyoming, and in 1979 he became head of the department of political science. In 1982, Baker joined Bowling Green State University as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, serving until 1987. From 1987-92, he served as vice president and provost of Northern Illinois University.
Baker has been widely published in his field of expertise: comparative politics with an emphasis on Germany. His books include Germany Transformed: Political Culture and the New Politics (Harvard University Press, 1981, co-author); Post-War Developments in German Political, Social and Security Politics (Bloomington: Institute of German Studies, 1979, editor); and The Wyoming Legislature: Lawmakers, the Public and the Press (Laramie: Government Research Bureau, 1973, co-author). He also wrote "Liberal Education in Post-Industrial Societies," an article for Urban Resources in summer 1986, and "Television Debates and Press Coverage in the 1980 and 1983 West German Elections," a chapter in Germany at the Polls, edited by Karl Cerny.
Throughout his professional career, Baker has served on numerous boards and councils, including North Dakota's Technology Transfer Corporation; TMI Systems Design Corporation in Dickinson, N.D.; the Grand Forks (North Dakota) Chamber of Commerce; and the Executive Committee of the Conference Group on German Politics. He served as president of the Ohio Athletic Conference, past chair of the board of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Ohio and co-chair of the marketing committee of the Ohio Foundation for Independent Colleges. He also is a member of the Division III President’s Advisory Council of the NCAA and has served as a debate moderator for state and national political candidates for NBC Lima.
Baker is married to Toby Baker, BFA '06, who received her Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Wyoming, Master of Arts in creative writing from the University of North Dakota and Bachelor of Fine Arts in studio art from Ohio Northern University in 2006. She is a writer and hosted a popular radio talk show in Grand Forks, N.D., from 1997-99. Currently, she is working as an artist focusing on sculpture and painting. The Bakers have five grown children, Kraig, Kris, John, Shannon and Brian, and five grandchildren.
Daniel A. DiBiasio is the 11th president of Ohio Northern University. Since joining ONU in 2011, DiBiasio has launched a new strategic direction and operational agenda intended to propel the University toward greater success so that it arrives at its sesquicentennial year poised for a milestone 150-year celebration. This new direction, ONU 2021, defines the year ahead – identifying specific actions in a pragmatic and practical approach to make good execution more likely and to provide a monitoring mechanism for measuring progress.
To create Northern’s next comprehensive facilities Master Plan, Ohio Northern has partnered with The Collaborative Inc., an architecture and planning firm in Toledo, Ohio. Master planning starts from the premise that, to be most effective, a master plan must engage the broadest cross-section of the college community as realistically possible. The University also is devoting time, talent and resources to develop a compelling brand strategy ready to roll out in 2014. Another important University task is ONU’s 10-year accreditation review by the Higher Learning Commission. The self-study process has begun, and teams are in place and will be marshaling the evidence to demonstrate how the University meets and exceeds the accreditation standards.
DiBiasio was president of Wilmington College from 1995 to 2011, overseeing excellent growth in the college’s academic and advancement affairs. In his 16 years, the college added four undergraduate academic programs and the college’s first graduate program. The college also built and renovated two student apartment complexes, built an equine science center, and renovated and expanded the Boyd Cultural Arts Center, which includes the newly constructed Meriam R. Hare Quaker Heritage Center, and the David and June Harcum Art Gallery.
DiBiasio brings more than 30 years experience to his position at Ohio Northern. He began his career in 1974 at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Mont., where he served as an admissions counselor and dean of students. After earning his Ph.D. at Ohio State University, he was appointed assistant dean of the graduate school. He was an executive officer on the council of presidents for the New England Land Grant Universities from 1984-87. At the University of New Hampshire, DiBiasio served as executive assistant to the president from 1987-91 and as interim vice president of student affairs from 1991-95.
He has held leadership roles in higher education and has served many boards on the national, state and local levels. DiBiasio serves on the boards of the Educational and Institutional Insurance Administrators (EIIA) and the Liberty National Bank in Ada. He also chairs Board of Directors for Ohio Campus Compact, a statewide non-profit coalition of college and university presidents and their campuses working to promote and develop the civic purposes of higher education.
After earning a Bachelor of Arts in English from Ohio Wesleyan University, DiBiasio received his master’s degree and Ph.D. from Ohio State University. Throughout his career in higher education, he has taught at the undergraduate and graduate levels, published, and given scholarly presentations at national and regional conferences.
DiBiasio is married to Chris Burns-DiBiasio and they have two sons, Matthew, and his wife, Devon, and Michael.