Date: Feb. 11, 2002
"UC Poised at Greatness"
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photos by: Lisa Ventre
It's not unusual for H.C. Buck Niehoff, UC's new trustee, to come to campus several times a week. On one recent Thursday, he returned to UC three times for meetings and events.
At 7:30 a.m., he attended his first Board of Trustees meeting to vote on the collective bargaining agreement for faculty. The day's first trip to campus was preceded by a seven-mile run at 5:30 a.m - exercise he undertakes daily, even on weekends and vacations.
At 11 a.m., he attended a meeting on East Campus about bolstering state support for biomedical research. He believes this research could become an important economic generator for southwestern Ohio.
Then at 6:30 p.m., he and his wife Patti came back again to host the Sixth Annual Niehoff "Evening with a Great Teacher." The evening is just one of many activities for which Buck, a 1972 College of Law graduate, volunteers his time on behalf of UC, but it's one of his favorites. About 140 donors, community leaders and civic activists joined him for cocktails, appetizers, dinner and a chance to learn about the pancreas in a lively and humorous talk presented by Jeffrey Matthews, UC's new chair of surgery.
The evening stands as an important symbol to Niehoff, a 54-year-old philanthropist, Cincinnati native, businessman, lawyer and civic activist. The "show and tell" program showcases some of UC's finest teachers, allowing Niehoff the chance to give recognition to the university's teaching excellence.
"The teachers are really the soul of the university," says Buck, whose favorite teachers at UC's law school were John Murphy, now professor emeritus, and Samuel Wilson, now dean emeritus.
"I think teaching is very important at the university, and I think faculty rarely get the attention that others at the university do, like the basketball team or the coach." The Niehoffs also host a similar luncheon for friends of UC in Santa Barbara, Calif.
The Jan.31 "Evening with a Great Teacher" also provided evidence of the slyly humorous side that friends say they see in Niehoff, who often wears a bow tie with his suits and is also described by friends as a gentleman. Niehoff couldn't resist, in his introduction, poking a little fun at President Joseph A. Steger, suggesting that the university's real No. 1 treasure is its "first lady," Carol Steger. "We have a great speaker for you tonight, and it's not President Steger," he joked, claiming the audience might get a little bored during the president's remarks. The new UC trustee can get away with the comedy - and not just because he's the president's boss now. He has toiled many hours for UC's betterment over many years.
As a law alumnus, Niehoff has served as a member of the College of Law's Board of Visitors since 1992. Another of his UC commitments is the UC Foundation, where he has been a member of the board since 1993 and currently chairs the Annual Business Campaign to garner support from the business community. "Buck has been chair for the last six years - which is six times longer than any other volunteer for this program - and we've met our goal every year," says UC Foundation Vice President Bill Henrich. Niehoff received the 1997 UC Foundation Chairman's Award in thanks for his distinguished leadership in local and national outreach programs for UC.
Niehoff's fund-raising talents also assist the College of Nursing, where Niehoff is helping to raise money for the new Center for Living with Dignity. The center specializes in teaching nursing students how best to care for terminally ill patients. "We've raised about $600,000 so far," says Niehoff.
In a professional capacity, his finance expertise helped the university arrange bonds for its new signature architect buildings. That work was especially joyful for Niehoff because it intersected with his love for architecture. Now UC looks like a "whole different place from when I was here," he notes, smiling.
"I know it took some courage and discipline to get the signature architecture program off the ground. But it costs just as much to build an ugly building as a beautiful one," insists Niehoff, whose favorite new UC building is the Michael Graves-designed Engineering Research Center.
The same enthusiasm for buildings also involved him in the effort to save the deteriorating, UC-owned Observatory in Hyde Park. A neighborhood group has taken over the facility's management and has converted it into a an astronomy museum, saving it from further decay. Architecture is also an interest Niehoff shares with his only child, Petersen, nearly 16. The son is considering a career in architecture.
Niehoff's longtime interests range beyond law and architecture to literature, government, civics and human services. He retired as a partner of Peck, Shaffer & Williams in 1998 and now has even more time to focus on these avocations.
He now co-leads the effort to revive Findlay Market, the second-oldest public market in the country. Renovations that preserve the historic character of the market are under way and will be finished by mid-2003, he says. He wants more people to come and shop there because the market can be an important economic factor for the entire downtown area, in addition to Over-the-Rhine.
One of his greatest achievements, he believes, has been helping to rebuild membership in Cincinnati's historic Mercantile Library to the highest levels experienced since before the Civil War. A Niehoff Lecture Series brings in prominent authors each year. "It's a good gift to the city to bring world-class authors to Cincinnati," he says, of the 16-year-old series.
Niehoff's fondness for running led to his service on the board of the Flying Pig Marathon. The last one he ran was in 1999, but this year he hopes to do a half-marathon in the new two-person relay category. Niehoff also co-founded and sponsors the annual Cheetah Run at the Cincinnati Zoo.
For the Cincinnati Museum Center, he co-chaired a fund-raising campaign to establish the $8.5 million Geier Collection and Research Center. The over-sized "attic," under construction near the museum center in Queensgate, will provide storage and research space for more than 2 million historic, natural history and geologic artifacts.
Beyond the activities mentioned here, there are enough demands on Niehoff's time to fill eight pages of a resume. It can be difficult to fathom why he would give such a large portion of his attention to UC with all the competition for his attention.
"I'm very committed to being a part of its on-going success. UC has made tremendous strides in the past 15 years," says Niehoff, whose parents and brother all attended UC as undergraduates. "The university is poised at greatness and it's really a very exciting time to be here."
"As a lifelong resident of Cincinnati," he adds, "I believe any great city needs a great university. We are very fortunate in Cincinnati because UC is so highly regarded. It's a real treasure in our city. I'm really excited to be a part of this great asset we have."
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