Ty Weir is continuing an incredible family legacy. The senior construction management major represents the fifth generation of his family to attend Ohio Northern University.
ONU, he says, “felt like home” the first moment he stepped foot on campus. After Ty received his ONU acceptance letter, his grandfather, David Weir, BSCE ’59, Hon.D. ’96, shared with him just how many of his ancestors also called ONU “home.”
This knowledge gave Ty a newfound appreciation for his own place in his family’s story.
“It feels really special to be part of a family tradition that dates back more than 120 years,” he says, adding “but I am deeply grateful that I did not have to come to school in a covered wagon like my great-great-grandfather did in 1902!”
David and his wife, Judy (Reed) Weir, BSEd ’60, BSBA ’06, are the guardians of their family’s ONU history. They recently donated a treasure trove of family materials, dating from the late 1800s to present day, to the ONU archives.
More than 24 extended family members have attended, graduated or taught at ONU. The family names include Wright, Weir, Jackson, and Gray, and forebears include a professor of psychology/sociology. While most family members hailed from different parts of Ohio, including Ashtabula County and Ada, Ty’s hometown is Wilmington, Delaware.
David says his parents, Kenneth Weir, BA ’30 and Zada (Gray) Weir, BA ’30, were educators who sparked his interest in the past. By the time he graduated from high school, he recalls, his parents had taken him to visit museums in 47 U.S. states.
When David and Judy attended ONU in the late 1950s, they were active in Greek Life, which is how they met. They married in 1960.
Judy taught school for six years, took time off to raise their two boys, and then became an office manager and finished her career as a corporate trainer for Guardian Life Insurance. David was a county engineer, assistant director and then director of the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) for former Governor Jim Rhodes, and a civil engineer in private practice.
Throughout their lives, the Weirs made a concerted effort to stay involved with ONU, serving on alumni boards and attending campus events. When it was time for them to downsize their home, says David, donating their collection of Northern materials to the University’s archives “seemed like the right thing to do.” Many of the items had been passed down to David from his father and grandfather.
Matt Francis, ONU’s archivist, was thrilled to receive such a significant family-curated collection.
“What struck me (about this collection) is that it is not just five generations, but in each generation, there are multiple family members who attended ONU. That is what makes this unique in my estimation,” he says. “Having this collection shows how we value families that are part of our community, and that we are trying to document their stories.”
The collection includes special items, including a diploma signed by ONU’s founder, Henry Solomon Lehr, a ledger of a student’s yearly expenses in the late 1800s, and a letter of recommendation from T.J. Smull, the namesake of the College of Engineering.
Student booklets and black and white photos circa the 1880s and 1890s, including several of infantry drills, provide insight into what student life was like in those days. Student notebooks from several generations “show a nice evolution of coursework over 70-80 years,” says Francis.
And importantly, the Weirs donated items that fill gaps in ONU’s current collection, including a women’s handbook from the 1950s. “All of our women’s handbooks are from the 1960s and 1970s, so this is a hugely important addition,” says Francis.
The Weir’s ONU story isn’t confined to the University archives, however. A large Norway Spruce behind Presser Hall is a living and growing embodiment of their family’s connection to the University.
David explains that the parking lot behind Presser Hall was once the site of the home of his grandfather, Walter Gray, a professor of psychology and sociology at ONU from 1916-18 and 1921-42.
David’s father, Kenneth, planted the Norway spruce in Professor Gray’s yard when he was wooing Gray’s daughter, Zada. In the 1980s, the tree stood in the way of a planned expansion of the Presser Hall parking lot. While on campus for an Alumni Board meeting, David told former ONU president Dr. DeBow Freed about the significance of the tree to his family. Dr. Freed made sure the tree was saved, and former engineering dean Dr. Bruce Burton, Hon. D. ’08, had a special plaque made for the tree.
Perhaps the reason so many Weir family members have flocked to ONU over the years is because it’s the kind of caring community that takes the pains to save a family spruce and preserve the accumulated memories of a family tree.
Ty certainly thinks so.
“ONU is a home away from home,” he says. “I think family members knew that the education they received would take them far and allow them to do great things. There is also a strong connection that goes beyond just attending; it’s being part of a family that cares.”