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The Life and Legacy of James Hamilton Hower


By Jody Miller Konstand

Jim Hower
James Hamilton Hower
May 1, 1940 – July 8, 2022

The youngest of four siblings, James Hamilton Hower (Jim) was always mindful of his family's legacy in the Akron community, especially as the Hower family name is synonymous with Akron's history.

Think of Central Hower High School, the Hower Building and Hower House, the 28-room Victorian mansion built in 1871 by John Henry Hower, Jim's great-grandfather. The family home, deeded to The University of Akron in 1970, is now operated as the Hower House Museum on the UA campus.

Called the "Father of Akron's Industry," Jim's great-grandfather was a founder with the first John F. Seiberling in the Excelsior Mower and Reaper Works in 1861 in Doylestown. Some 25 years later and in partnership with his three sons, Hower purchased the Turner Oatmeal Mill, which eventually merged with other oatmeal manufacturers to become the American Cereal Co., precursor to Quaker Oats Co.

Jim's grandfather, Milton Otis Hower, left Akron for an executive position with the American Cereal Co. in Chicago but returned to Akron at the turn of the century and became president and general manager of the Hower family's remaining business, a metalworking operation that dated back to 1885 and was purchased by the Hower family in 1903. Renamed The Akron Selle Co., it produced metal stampings, along with gears and gauges for cars, trucks and planes, and was operated by succeeding generations of Hower family members – Jim included – until it closed in 2001.

Told in high school that he was "not college material," Jim's strength of character shone through when he graduated from Miami of Ohio in three years while working on a farm near the university that was owned by one of his professors. After college, Jim went to work at The Akron Selle Co., where he spent his 40-year business career, eventually becoming the company vice president and leader of plant operations.

The 40 years Jim spent at the family business was one side of this man's personae – that of a "typical" husband and father in the latter years of the 20th century. But the "real" Jim Hower – especially considering the family into which he was born – was far from typical, with a growing service-before-self mindset that would become the hallmark of his life.  

It wasn't enough that Jim was starting his career at The Akron Selle Co., but he also enlisted in the Army Reserves, where he served for six years, being called up in 1962 and working as a truck mechanic. About the same time and against the wishes of his family, Jim moved out of Akron to "the country" and Bath Township, his home for the next 60 years. Once in Bath, Jim became a volunteer member of the Bath Fire Department, which during those years was a combination of paid and volunteer staff for both fire and rescue calls. The rest, as they say, is history!

Jim Hower
Jim served on the Bath Fire Department for 47 years.

Jim's service with Bath Fire included:

  • joining the department in 1965 as a volunteer firefighter/paramedic;
  • being a founder of Explorer Post 542, a program for students interested in careers in firefighting and/or emergency medical services;
  • graduating in the first class (June 21, 1976) of EMT/Paramedics from Akron General Hospital;
  • receiving recognition as the Summit County Fireman of the Year and the Chick Markley Award for Distinguished Service in 1997; and
  • rising to the rank of part-time assistant chief when he retired from active service from the department 47 years later, seven years longer than he spent in his business career.

Beyond the dates, recognition and accolades, there is the character of the man behind the name and face.

Jim Hower was a man who, on Dec. 5, 1968, disregarded his own personal safety and climbed into the cab of a truck precariously dangling over a bridge on I-77. For more than five hours, he sat with the seriously injured driver of that truck trapped 100 feet above the roadway below before a crane rescue could free him.

His was a life of quiet dignity, selfless dedication, service, integrity and leadership. He was a mentor to his fellow fire personnel; an officer, a gentleman, a working chief; a man whose quiet, professional example was the best training ever for countless rookies and volunteers; a man who "ran every night call for Bath Fire for years and years," according to Bill Snow, a close friend and fellow volunteer firefighter. "If there was an accident, a fire, or a medical emergency in Bath Township, Jim never missed a call," said Snow.

As soon as the emergency tones went out, Snow recalled, you would hear Jim's assistant chief number "1202 enroute" on the radio. "He was always right there backing us up," said Snow. "He was our fire chief after hours, and he led us in and through some very, very difficult situations. Over the years, there were maybe 700-800 night calls he made, everything from stubbed toes to major building fires. He was there, and that was after working his regular day job. Jim Hower made the department what it was!"

News clippings
News clippings about Jim's role in the 1986 dangling truck rescue.

Among the descriptions of Jim in an article in the August 1997 Bath Country Journal that noted his recognition as the Summit County Fireman of the Year, there was this paragraph that so epitomized the man he was:

"His fellow firemen know they can count on Jim Hower's help in any kind of a project, i.e. adding on to a house, building a barn, hooking up emergency lights or plowing a driveway. And he's available when a friend is needed to talk to."  

For many years, the annual Bath Horse Show was the primary fundraiser for the Bath Fire Department. Jim, being Jim, devoted hours each year to the behind-the-scenes work required to make it a success. Whatever jobs needed to be done – from setting up the concession stands and assembling the jump fences to directing the horse trailers for parking – Jim would pitch in and help. When the horse show outgrew the 3 1/2-acre property owned by the nonprofit arm of the Bath Fire Department, the size of Jim's heart and his philanthropic nature came through again. He bought the parcel, which was across the street from Revere High School, for $125,000 from Fire Dept. Inc. then turned around and donated the parcel to the school district from which his wife had retired and for which she was serving as the board of education president. 

"It was Jim's idea," said his widow, Claudia Hower. "He saw this as an opportunity to help the fire department and the schools, especially knowing how I feel about the schools."

Even after retiring from the fire department, Jim continued to give back to the community he loved by serving on the Bath Township Zoning Commission for many years. It was an opportunity to add his wisdom to decisions about the future development of the township he lived in and loved.

As Claudia remembered, not many people were lucky enough to have the number of passions Jim had.

Photo of fire rescue operation
Jim was known for his selfless dedication and service to the Bath Fire Department.

"He was passionate about being a firefighter, but he was the same way about running Akron Selle," she recounted. "He was passionate about biking; he kept a mileage log with multiple years with more than 4,000 miles recorded. He was passionate about woodworking; he helped one of his sons build his home in Bath. He was passionate about playing racquetball; he and his frequent partner always talked of hoping there would be racquetball in heaven!"

Family and the camaraderie of those he considered family (wife, sons, grandchildren, fire family, friends) were the gifts Jim cherished, but perhaps his biggest passion was helping people. 

"My heart bursts with pride for his service and philanthropy," said Claudia.

In 2000, Jim created the private Milton James Foundation. Named after a combination of Milton Otis Hower, Jim's grandfather, and Jim's formal first name, the foundation was established to honor that grandfather. Yearly, Jim would make distributions from that foundation to local, national and international nonprofits for general operating support, medical equipment, or scholarships, often writing in the memo line on the check, "Continue to do good work."

In 2016, Jim and Claudia created the Claudia Mendat Hower Revere Teacher Initiatives Fund at Akron Community Foundation to support scholarships, educational programs and community partnerships in the Revere Local School District.

Two years before his death, Jim proudly created the Hower Family Fire/EMS Workforce Endowment to fund scholarships for Cuyahoga Community College's Fire Training Academy, EMT Program and Paramedic Program. As of August 2023, 41 scholarships had been awarded from that endowment. Before death intervened, Jim was working to create a similar endowment for the college's manufacturing programs. In the fall of 2023, his widow worked with Tri-C to complete Jim's wishes and created the Hower Family Manufacturing Endowed Scholarship Fund.

Without telling his math teacher wife, Jim created the Milton James Math Teacher Scholarship at The University of Akron in her honor, and upon Claudia's passing, there will be endowed funds for various scholarships available to students at UA.

For more than 100 years, the Hower family has been associated with Akron Children's Hospital, both in service and philanthropy. Jim's father, John B. Hower, and his brother, Otis, were longtime members of the hospital's board of trustees, while his mother was a 31-year member of the Women's Board.  Jim's philanthropy to Akron Children's Hospital while living included the establishment of two endowed scholarship funds – the first dedicated to primary care physicians, the other to a workforce development program – and a children's health research fund in his name. After Jim's death, a bequest of $6.6 million was gifted to the hospital in early 2024 to help support those three established funds, as well as to benefit the health care mission of the hospital in the future.  

In late 2023, Akron Community Foundation received $1.1 million from the James H. Hower Trust after Jim's death. That board of directors subsequently created the James H. Hower Memorial Fund of Akron Community Foundation in his honor with the proceeds of that gift. The unrestricted funds of Jim's gift will benefit the Greater Akron community in Jim's name in perpetuity.

Additional gifts to be announced from Jim's estate to other organizations will reflect the legacy of this unassuming, unpretentious philanthropist, a man as comfortable behind the steering wheel of a firetruck as at a board table.

Without casting aspersions, sometimes those born into wealth and privilege spend their lives distant from others, their chance of birth worn as a badge of entitlement, their sense of self inflated by ancestry. Not James Hamilton Hower. This loving husband, father, grandfather, firefighter, and community member relished a life of giving back to others quietly, without fanfare or fuss; in fact, recognition for generosity or accolades for achievement embarrassed and flustered him.

The life of James Hamilton Hower was one of service, integrity, and quiet generosity. It honored his heritage, his community, and those he loved.

The philanthropy of James Hamilton Hower is a legacy of giving – of his time, talents and treasure given modestly and selflessly because that's who he was – because he saw a need and wanted to make a difference.

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