Kennedy-Truman Dinner History
DEMOCRATIC PARTY’S KENNEDY-TRUMAN DINNER
IS LIVING HISTORY IN CLERMONT COUNTY
By Charlie Green
Batavia, April 16, 2005: In the winter of 1967, the Clermont County Democratic Party held its first formal Annual Dinner at the Royal Oak Country Club in Pierce Township. What became the Golden Donkey Dinner, and later the Kennedy- Truman Dinner, was born of a regular practice of the Party – the fundraising dinner – but with much more flair. This year, the Kennedy-Truman Dinner will return to the Royal Oak Country Club on Saturday May 7th, and will feature the great food and camaraderie that always make it enjoyable, as well as a fund- raising auction and awards ceremony.
This year’s Dinner will be especially interesting because of the unique circumstance in which our county now finds itself. Six Democrat candidates who will vie for the US House of Representatives seat vacated by Rob Portman have been invited to the Kennedy-Truman Dinner to participate in a short forum and address specific issues posed by Clermont County Democratic Executive Chairman Dave Lane. The candidates are David Altman, Todd Book, Paul Hackett, Dr. Victoria Wells Wulsin, Charles Sanders, and Tyrone Yates. They will share the honor of guest speaker.
Ed Osborne, Clermont County Democratic Party Executive Chairman from 1964 to 1980, remembers the original impetus to make this dinner a special event. “We would have a lot of fund-raisers in those days at places like the old DX Ranch (in Amelia). They were easily affordable, casual events that we continued to do as well. But the Annual Dinner was intended to be bigger and better in terms of the food, the atmosphere, and the fund-raising”. Osborne talks fondly about the early Annual Dinners. “There would be a guest speaker, a Senator or Governor or other high-profile Democrat, usually a candidate. Everyone dressed up formally and we would have a band and dancing. We charged $25 a ticket, which was a lot in those days. A couple could go to a movie or a show for $5 back then”. The list of guest speakers through the years reads like a who’s who of Ohio Democrats. US Senators Stephen Young and Howard Metzenbaum, Governors Mike DiSalle, John Gilligan and Dick Celeste, Lt. Governor Merl Shoemaker and later his son State Senator Mike Shoemaker, Ohio Secretary of State Anthony Celebreeze, Jr. and State Auditor Tom Ferguson are among those who gave the keynote address at the Annual Dinner.
Senator Metzenbaum was invited three times and was able to come twice. On the third occasion he was flying to Cincinnati and the pilot informed the passengers that they could not land here due to an ice storm. Metzenbaum tried to call a Cincinnati Councilman to ask him to fill in at the Clermont Democrat’s Dinner, but the young Jerry Springer’s phone number was unlisted. “So Senator Metzenbaum called the President of the phone company,” Ed Osborne explains, “and he could not give out the phone number, but arranged to get a message to Springer. Jerry showed up, gave an impromptu speech, and was invited back to speak some years later when he was making a run for Governor”. The fundraising aspect of the Dinner was furthered through the Dinner Program book. It was developed by Alberta Cook, former Director of the Clermont County Board of Elections, to commemorate the event and provide space for local businesses to advertise. Democratic Executive Committee member Judy Miller of the Charles J. Miller Insurance Agency in Batavia and a veteran of most Dinner efforts, remembers the early Programs. “Harlan Washburn (a Committeeman and Union leader) and I would drive around the County, visiting our friends and businessmen we knew, and collect a lot of ads that way. Then the Democratic Women’s Club put them together, and Alberta, who was also a member of the Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Board, employed MRDD people to do the printing”. “Most people in the County probably don’t realize these days,” adds Osborne, “but back then Democrats held all the County offices except two. Our party had a lot of clout, and local businesses and community leaders were inclined to get on board and show their support”.
One of the perks of the first few Dinners was a necklace given out to the women in attendance that featured a small golden donkey on it. This led in part to the establishment of the first Annual Award that the Party would give at the Annual Dinner to its most outstanding members. That idea, initiated by Committee member Lois Hancock, became the Golden Donkey Award. The other reason for beginning the Award tradition was more personal. The Clermont Democrats wanted to acknowledge their gratitude to Ohio House Representative Harry Malott. “All the other Counties in his District had given him special recognition,” says Judy Miller, “and in 1977 we decided to make him the first recipient of our Award. The next year it went to Charles Jackson, who had also been our State House Representative and was a Probate and Juvenile Court Judge for a long time. Honoring these guys, and others through the years, was in many cases long overdue”.
Miller was also instrumental in beginning the second traditional award, the Grass Roots Award. This one acknowledges hard work over the course of the previous year by volunteers, and several would be awarded at each Dinner, beginning in 1982. The design was inspired by a commemorative item she had received from a friend. “I got a Watergate Plaque from Lois Hancock when she visited Washington D.C. It had a piece of the Watergate Hotel carpet on it, so I came up with the Grass Roots Award, a plaque with a piece of astro-turf attached to it to signify the importance of individual grass-roots efforts by our best volunteers”. Over the course of 38 years, the Clermont Democrats’ Annual Dinner has been held at several different venues throughout the County. The Hearth Supper Club, the Oasis, the Eastgate Holiday Inn, the Fairgrounds, Elks Run Golf Club, and the Hill Top Hall have all been host to this event and are places where local Democrats have made special memories.
Tickets for this year’s Kennedy-Truman Dinner are $50. For more information about the dinner and the Clermont County Democratic Party, call 732-2378 or visit the Clermont Democrats’ office at 10 North Second Street in Batavia.