College Set to Sing a Happy Tune Real Soon: "Happy 175th Birthday!"

The best part of any 175th year birthday bash is the sheer human history involved.  That’s certainly the case for UC’s College of Applied Science (CAS), which was founded in Cincinnati November 20, 1828, as the Ohio Mechanics Institute (OMI).

The many thousands of high school and college students – yes, the OMI was both a high school and a college at one time – have witnessed eight wars, the Depression and other economic blights as well as natural disasters throughout the college’s history and steadfast mission to provide technical and scientific studies to Cincinnati students, workers and employers.

Two long-ago grads – eminent scientist George Rieveschl, inventor of the allergy-relieving medication, Benadryl, and carpenter/teacher Doug Schwabach – are so different in their interests and the paths they chose.  Yet both are living representatives of more-than-faithful dedication to their old school and its continuing mission of service.

Rieveschl, 87, entered the OMI’s high school program in 1929 as a commercial art student.  He credits one of his teachers there, Conrad Ornes, with sparking his interest in chemistry, a spark that led to Rieveschl’s stellar career, including the development of the Benadryl capsules which have provided relief to those suffering from hay fever, colds, allergies, hives and rashes for half a century.  However, when Rieveschl, a native of the Cincinnati suburb of Lockland, first started at the OMI, his goal was to design the bottle the medicine came in, not the medicine itself. 

Rieveschl actually entered the school as a commercial art major.  He recalls, “I went to the OMI for two reasons, because they had such excellent teachers and because my mother wanted me to.  I took English, French, mathematics, geography, physics and more…also, architectural drawing, woodworking…I took everything but watch repair.

“It took me exactly 64 minutes to go by streetcar to the school because Lockland was the end of the line back then.  Since I was first on the streetcar in the morning, I always got a seat.  It cost me eight cents for a one-way ticket, and I did my homework on the streetcar.”  Well, not quite all his homework, not his art and architectural drawings. 

Despite all his streetcar homework, Riesveschl’s dreams for work as a commercial artist were frustrated by the slumping economy when he graduated in 1933.  In hindsight though, it was probably one of the few good things to come out of the Depression.  “If I had found an art job, I would have taken it.  But not a single artist in Cincinnati was working,” he says.  “My mother told me, ‘George, pick out a new profession.’  So, I thought about it, and my [chemistry] teacher had just been excellent, and I really liked him.  I’d gotten a chemistry set for Christmas too.  So, that’s why I picked chemistry,” he added, recalling that his tuition at the University of Cincinnati where he continued his education cost him only $35 a semester.  He survived each school day on 50 cents, just enough for his bus fare, lunch and a nickel ice-cream cone on the way home.

Doug Schwabach

Doug Schwabach

Carpenter Doug Schwabach, 80, of Mack, echoes Rieveschl’s recollections.  Schwabach laughs that he survived the school week on $2.50.  “Lunch was 35 cents, and the tram fare to and from Newport, where I lived, was five cents each way,” he stated.

Schwabach has the same fond memories of OMI’s teachers and classes as does Rieveschl.    Schwabach entered the college’s two-year woodworking program in 1940 and recalls how quickly the woodshop coordinator, Ernest Brodt, became like a father to him.  “Mr. Brodt was my father after my own father died,” he states.  “I was working in my Uncle Herb’s machine shop after graduation from Newport High School.  My uncle paid my tuition for the cabinet making/carpentry program, which came to $94 a year.  We had our instruction alongside area workers sent by their employers.  When the war came, Baldwin Piano’s workers were no longer making pianos.  They were making gliders for the war effort, and came to the OMI to learn how to do it,” recalls Schwabach.

Schwabach graduated in 1942, but he never really left, since he kept returning to the OMI woodshop during his U.S. Marine Corp furloughs during World War II.  After spending 37 months and one day – he knows exactly how long – in the Marines where he saw combat at Iwo Jima, Schwabach returned from the Pacific to Cincinnati and immediately returned to the OMI.  “I was happy to be home.  I recall when our ship came into San Diego on Feb. 15, 1946, we ‘listed’ the ship.  That means all the troops on the ship crammed to one side, the side facing land cause we were so anxious to see home again.  But with all our weight on one side, we tilted the ship.”

Doug Schwabach

Doug Schwabach

Ex-marine-turned-carpenter Schwabach was again taking classes in the woodshop in 1947 when Brodt came up, examined the work and said, “You’re going to be an instructor,” explains Schwabach. 

And that’s just what Schwabach did for the next 41 years, starting in 1948.  He worked all day – downtown refurbishing stores, building homes all around the area and even serving as a carpenter on construction projects on UC’s campus.  After work, he traveled to the OMI, which was renamed the OMI-College of Applied Science in 1969 when it joined UC.  For four nights each week, he taught till 10 p.m. at the OMI.  He also taught woodworking on Saturdays. 

“When the G.I. Bill came, we filled the shop with 100 students per class,” Schwabach recalls.  He also remembers teaching the night tornados hit his Mack neighborhood in 1974 and driving home after class till the debris stopped his progess about a half mile from his house.  He left his car parked there for three days…and simply had to miss a few days at the OMI.

Recalling his years as a teacher and carpenter, Schwabach said, “I loved it.  I looked forward to it every day.  They were good, happy years.”

Doug Schwabach

Doug Schwabach

Not

that those years are over for him.  Schwabach maintains quite the woodshop in his basement and works often on furniture gifts and repairs for family members as well as giving woodworking advice to those who call.  And as he tackles his list of projects, he literally never loses sight of where he started.  That’s because sitting proudly in his living room and still ready for use is the first project he completed 63 years ago as a fledging woodworking student at the OMI – a finely finished and carved desk chair, original seat upholstery and all.

 


Alumni and friends of the old OMI and the new College of Applied Science are going to celebrate the schools 175th year with almost 175 days of partying.  Among the events planned to celebrate the grand old birthday are:

• Mechanics & Citizens Ball, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 15, 2003, at Union Terminal.
Just like the first ball that the OMI sponsored in 1838, this one will include displays (in this case, antique technical instruments and artifacts) and a few guests in period costume.  Ticket cost: $100.

• Exhibit of Arts and Industry, Jan. 23-March 5, 2004, at UC’s downtown galleries, 314 W. Fourth Street.
Photographs, drawings, models and more will highlight the connections between the college and the city.  Free and open to the public.

• History of Technology Symposium, Friday, March 5, and Saturday, March 6, 2004, at UC’s Kingsgate Conference Center. 
National and regional professionals will explore the history, development and effects of technology from 19th-century industrialism to 21st-century “IT.”  Registration fee: $85.

• Tech Expo, Friday, May 21, 2004, and Saturday, May 22, 2004, at the Albert B. Sabin Convention Center, downtown.
Graduating CAS students exhibit creative models and prototypes of consumer products and other projects of tomorrow needed to build a better world today.  Free and open to the public.

More information on events planned for CAS’ 175th anniversary year and the history of the institution, including historical photos dating back to the 1800s, can be found at http://www.omicas175.uc.edu/  Or call 513-556-2328.
   

 

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