Q&A with Richard Friedman, President of ABC’s Board of Trustees

Richard Friedman (center) with staff of Activities Beyond the Classroom

This is the first in a series of “get to know us” posts about ABC’s leadership, both on the Board of Trustees and our staff. These stories give an insider’s view of the people behind Activities Beyond the Classroom. 

Richard Friedman has been on Activities Beyond the Classroom’s Board of Trustees since ABC was founded in 2004. As a Cincinnati-native who served as Dean of McMicken College of Arts and Assistant to the President at the University of Cincinnati, many Cincinnatians know about his professional accomplishments and accolades.  But we bet you don’t know about his bowling skills, Golden Doodle, or his grandmother’s words of wisdom related to… manure. Read on for a Q&A with Dick Friedman, President of the ABC Board of Trustees.

Let’s start with the age-old Cincinnati question… Where did you go to school?

I am a product of Cincinnati Public Schools. I first attended South Avondale Elementary. Later, I was transferred to the newly-opened North Avondale Elementary.  From there, I went on to attend and graduate from Walnut Hills High School.

What is your professional background?

I started my career as a Professor at the University of Cincinnati, where I taught Philosophy. After a few years, I became interested in becoming an Administrator. I knew that as an Administrator I could fix some of the issues that the University was facing. As with all Universities, there are many constituents whom you need to satisfy: the faculty, alumni, current students, as well as high school students who would later become students. Each group has their own special interest. I considered it my role to help students feel welcome at UC. I was known as the “Student-Friendly Dean.” When students passed me in the halls they would tell each other “If you need something, that’s the guy right there.” I still keep in touch with many of my past students!

Tell us a little about your family.

In actuality, I have a rather small family which consists of my wife Gail, her brother Stu, and our Golden Doodle Chandler. However, I consider all of the past graduates of the University of Cincinnati to be my children. My kids check in on me from time to time.

In addition, my grandmother played a huge role in my life. My parents got divorced when I was one year old and as a result, I ended up living with my grandmother. She was one of the most giving and welcoming souls you’d ever meet. I think that is where I got it from.

Did you participate in any extracurricular activities while you attended school? If so, which ones, and what skills do you think you gained from them?

I was a member of the Walnut Hills Bowling Team. On Tuesday afternoons we would head over to the bowling alley on Reading Road to practice. In my opinion, the biggest benefit was getting to know fellow students away from Latin, History or Calculus class.

My bowling coach, Carl Varrelman, played a very influential role in my life. I credit him and Richard “Red” Powell, from my North Avondale days, for showing me who I was and what I was. As a young child, I grew up without a father, and these guys taught me everything from how to hit a baseball to helping instill a mentoring spirit in me.

When I was about 15 or 16 years old I joined Congress of Racial Equality (“CORE”). We would meet at the Carmel Presbyterian Church in Avondale, where I was introduced to a most important group of diverse individuals, including Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, his children, and many other community friends to be. Working with CORE was my first entry into working in the community.

Outside of ABC, in what ways do you give (or in what ways have you given) back to the community?

I serve and have served on numerous Boards throughout Cincinnati. A few of the organizations include the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, the Hoxworth Blood Center Advisory Board, the Greater Cincinnati Tennis Hall of Fame, and the Cincinnati Chapters of the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross .

I believe I get my energy from my grandmother, who was very much involved in the community. She introduced me to a quote by M.J. Klyn, the Vice President of Governmental Relations at UC, that stuck with me: “Service is like manure, it’s not good unless it’s spread everywhere!”

Having served on the central Board of the Holocaust & Humanity Center and Jewish Community Center for many years, seeing the new Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust and Humanity Center open at Union Terminal, and witnessing the opening of the new Mayerson JCC brings me a great deal of satisfaction.

Left to right: Richard Friedman (Board President), Brian Leshner (Executive Director), and Dave Dierker (former CPS Athletic Director)

How did you become involved with Activities Beyond the Classroom?

I was one of the founding Board members. Brian Leshner and I served together on the Board for the Greater Cincinnati Tennis Hall of Fame. Brian reached out to create a program to offer extracurricular activities to CPS students. I thought back to my own mother not being very involved, and saw how being a part of ABC fit my own personal story.

In the beginning, it was me, Lisa Thal, Dr. John Bryant, and Kent Cashell, who was an administrator for CPS. We wanted to help latchkey kids, and we saw a need with more and more parents working. So we asked ourselves, “What’s beyond the classroom?”

In our early days, ABC had an operating budget of $400,000.  Today, we are responsible for $4.5M in holdings, and there is still room for us to grow and serve many more children who need our services.

What do you see as the greatest challenge for today’s students, and what do you think ABC’s role is in addressing this challenge?

Shortly after high school, I remember asking Mack Singer, a friend’s dad, “What am I supposed to do?” His answer to me was perplexing. “You will find your niche, you will climb in, and you will do well.”

When I was growing up, I felt that there would always be opportunity.  Today, it’s a much bigger world, and there is a lot more competition in the world.  Kids today need to be shown opportunity, and need to be given some direction as to what they could be.  While I was counseling students at UC, I learned that it is necessary to create opportunities and exposure for young people.

ABC’s role is making sure there are opportunities for every child. Fellow ABC Board Member Charley Frank said, “We don’t do services, we just make services better.” In my opinion, we must create a situation where students feel encouraged and excited about something. Early on our focus was around sports, but I am really excited to see us proving more opportunities in the arts.

What is one of your favorite ABC programs, and why?

Tennis is my favorite ABC program. Tennis is a great way to teach resiliency and working together. We are really lucky to have Kathy Barton working to put a tennis racket in the hands of all CPS students. As of right now, we have tennis programs in 59 schools. Because of Kathy’s hard work, the tennis program is taught both in PE class, and as an afterschool program throughout the district.

ABC is expanding its arts programs and is hosting the inaugural CPS International Jazz Festival on October 5th. What benefits do you think this event will bring to the city of Cincinnati?

The Jazz Festival is going to be great! It is an opportunity to take what we do out of the boardroom and out of the office, and show the rest of the city what we are capable of. We get to show what our kids can do and show our footprint in the community.

What has been the most rewarding outcome you’ve witnessed or experienced at ABC since joining the Board?

The most rewarding for me has been seeing the transformation at the CPS Board level. In the early days, there were questions as to whether or not ABC was making a difference. Nowadays, they can see our impact and are wanting us to do more. We are lucky to be in a position where we do not have to turn down activities. We do have to be strategic about how we expand, so that we can continue to satisfy our most important population, the students at CPS schools.

What are some goals you’d like to see ABC accomplish in the future?

Our goal is to take a look at CPS’s strategic plan and how we can enhance their plan. We’re planning a retreat at the end of August to explore how we can do just that. I am excited to see what great opportunities come of it.

What is the most important thing you would like the public to learn about ABC?

The world needs more forces of positivity. ABC should be looked at as a catalyst for all of the great things going on in our city. Because of the opportunities that ABC provides, our students are empowered to go on to do some amazing things. There is a lot of great stuff going on, and if you look deeply, ABC is always involved. I hope that this write up will give the community a bit more insight about ABC and encourage more people to support the work our dedicated staff and Board of Trustees do every single day.