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Resident digs up connection to prominent Akron fundholder with hidden roots

George Stevens headstone
George Stevens’s parents were former slaves who reached Ohio on the Underground Railroad. Read more about this philanthropist’s once silent history.
In September 2016, a Copley Township man unearthed a headstone belonging to William Stevens, a prominent businessman who lived in Akron during the early 19th century.

While the fact that the headstone was miles away from Stevens’ resting place was puzzling, the discovery also recasts light on an Akron Community Foundation fundholder and William’s son, George Stevens, a man whose lineage was kept secret and whose hard work is still impacting the community nearly 80 years later.

George grew up in Akron at the turn of the 19th century, becoming Barberton’s first fire chief in 1895. After losing his wife to a drowning accident, he moved to Indiana and rose to prominence in the paper industry. He was driven to work each day by a chauffeur, and he gave generously to charity.

It wasn’t until his death in 1940 that people in the mostly white town of Hartford City, Indiana, learned of George’s lineage: His parents were former slaves who escaped from Virginia to Akron by following the Underground Railroad. The news put many in the Indiana town on their heels, knowing this prominent resident kept the secret for 30 years. It’s safe to assume that during this period, George would not have achieved the same level of success had his family tree been discovered.  

In 1930, George set up a trust fund for his surviving relatives; it was later transferred to Akron Community Foundation in 1991. Now, the fund has grown to $1.2 million and has benefited a number of local charities, including the Boys & Girls Clubs, Mobile Meals and the Girl Scouts.

For more information about starting a charitable fund in your own name or the name of a loved one, visit www.akroncf.org/giving.