Decades of doing good
A shrinking local industrial base and the loss of the community leaders that had run many of those businesses had Warren native William Letson concerned.
“Our business community had really shrunk with the sale of companies, the closing of companies, the loss of local banks and the historic community leadership,” the attorney recalled last week when reached by phone at his retirement home in Denver.
It was that concern in the early 1990s that drove Letson and two other Warren businessmen, John Payiavlas and Charles Bentz, to create a collaboration of area business leaders and professionals to provide community leadership and funding to support Trumbull County efforts.
“The idea was to try to bring together a group that would provide community leadership in a wide range of areas,” Letson said.
Thursday, “One Hundred for the Future of Trumbull County,” more commonly known as “Trumbull 100,” marked its 20th year of service.
For certain, Letson isn’t surprised at the group’s longevity.
“We certainly expected and hoped that it would continue. It was not planned as a short-range program,” said Letson, who served as the group’s first president beginning in 1994.
After 20 years, though, charter member Trumbull County businessman John Taylor remains incredulous at the group’s longterm success.
“Bill Letson will tell you that he expected it to go this long and this far, but even though I am part of it, I am still astounded that it has the lasting that it has,” Taylor said. “It truly is unbelievable.”
Under the group’s bylaws, each member pays $1,500 in annual dues, used to help facilitate projects for the good of the community. The clout of the membership also is key to the group’s success in empowerment and facilitation for the completion of community projects. Those fees are reduced, though, for members under age 40 or over age 75, longtime member attorney Ned Gold pointed out.
“There are few organizations where people put $1,500 in the pot annually and are guaranteed they are not going to get any personal gain out of it,” said Taylor. “It’s all for the power of the group.”
And throughout the decades, the power of the group’s leadership and resources has helped facilitate projects both large and small.
Among the largest, according to many of the group’s members, was leadership and financial support they offered in the development of Warren’s Riverwalk and Warren Community Amphitheatre. These projects, and other downtown beautification efforts were outlined in the 1997 Cranston Report, a development study funded cooperatively by Trumbull 100, Trumbull County and Warren City. Many of the ideas contained in the report had been envisioned by longtime Warren Community Development Department engineer Alex Bobersky.
Trumbull 100 also hired a political lobbyist to help secure state funding for development of the Riverwalk and Amphitheatre project.
Another effort came in the redevelopment of Warren’s Westlawn area, long considered one of the most blighted areas of the city. Taylor and fellow Trumbull 100 member, Clyde “Skip” Cole, who now is deceased, did the leg work to acquire and manage the properties, and personally borrowed and fronted the necessary $238,000 to relocate residents and raze 42 structures in two city blocks, until they were repaid by the city.
“Westlawn, that was a prime example of Trumbull 100 empowering their members to do a particular project for the good of the community,” Taylor said.
Letson recalled another early private-public partnership that paved the way for construction of the downtown Warren parking deck.
“It was about to flounder because people just couldn’t get together, and we were able to bring people together,” Letson said. “Likewise on the amphitheatre project, there was a lack of leadership to really make use of the Perkins Park facility and to build an amphitheatre. We were able to bring parties together.”
Those projects, and the many others, were successful because, as business leaders, Trumbull 100 members “knew how to get things done,” Taylor said, and Letson echoed.
“The best projects are when we control the process from soup to nuts, and we don’t depend on anybody else,” Taylor said. “We realize that business people don’t want to hear about barriers. They want to have ideas and raise resources. Some governmental bodies tend to be slower and tend to throw up more roadblocks.
“What we try to do is find folks that have a bias for action and we work with them because those people know how to get things done,” Taylor said.
Other notable projects included development of the Warren Community Amphitheatre and Warren Women’s Park, construction of the Trumbull County Veterans’ Memorial in downtown Warren, creation of the Community Literacy Foundation and creation of school libraries in 11 Warren City School buildings that existed at that time, installation of 135 safety handrails in the balcony of Packard Music Hall and even providing hanging baskets for downtown areas of Trumbull County. In all, the group lists more than a hundred local community improvement and service projects accomplished in its 20 years.
“That’s the power of the group,” Taylor said. “It focuses on doing good for others, not just for yourself.”
Current president, downtown business owner Diane Sauer, knows well the value of all projects, not just the small ones, saying the group has taken on projects that even others may have viewed as insignificant.
“We have been a leader in the community and a supporter,” Sauer said. “I think things have changed because of Trumbull 100.”
For more information on the organization or membership, visit www.trumbull100.org.