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September 27, 2020

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Remembering Dr. DeBow Freed

ONU/Ada is a better place because the Freeds left their mark

By Monty Siekerman
Dr. DeBow Freed died on Feb. 8, 2020. For his obituary click here.

How would Dr. DeBow and his late wife Catherine (Kitty) Freed like to be remembered?

They lived by the mantra “Students come first.” While at Ohio Northern, the couple worked tirelessly, always putting students first because educating students is the whole purpose of the institution. The faculty, staff, buildings, equipment, landscaping, and all else were to benefit students. That was the institution’s singular goal during his tenure as president.

Putting students first meant often dining with them in the cafeteria. Cheering them on at hundreds of athletic contests. Recognizing outstanding academic accomplishments. Caring for foreign students adjusting to the American culture. Seeing that right financial decisions were made to move the school forward. Taking a personal interest in the students who met with family adversity. And much more. 

Prior to coming to ONU, Dr. Freed had a stellar military career. He was highly honored by West Point. He earned a Ph.D. In nuclear physics. He was a college president.

After retiring from ONU, he became a college president once again, this time at nearby Findlay for seven more years. He was a brilliant man who succeeded at many things in life.  All of this was accomplished with his wife Kitty at his side, helping, encouraging, supporting his every effort. Their work together was truly a partnership.

After leaving military life, the Freeds devoted their lives to church-related higher education. And, when in town on a Sunday, they’d attend the Ada First United Methodist Church, the church that ONU continues to be related to. For many years, Kitty held a Bible study at their home.

Here are a few glimpses of Dr. Freed’s time at ONU while I served as director of public information, now called communications and marketing.

Dr. Freed would view the photographs of all incoming freshmen so that on Move In Day for freshmen, he could recognize and greet each student by name.

The Freeds entertained all freshmen at their home early in the fall semester. The outdoor reception in their yard was exceptionally well planned for the hundreds of freshmen who came.

If Dr. Freed spoke to alumni in Phoenix on Friday night, he’d catch the next plane back and be at this office by 8 a.m. on Saturday.

If you were an early riser, you’d see him jogging the Grreen Monster about sunrise prior to his early arrival at his desk. Oftentimes, you’d see his office light burning well into the night.

Faculty meetings promptly started on time, maybe even a minute or two early. Everything started on time at ONU.

He was many things, scientist and educator, for example, but loved the liberal arts, as well, supporting art, music, performing arts, radio and TV.

He kept up to date on the latest advances. For example, my office had video capability and computer-generated publication design long before major universities with tons of money got involved.

His kindness overflowed when our daughter died in a plane crash. The chapel was made available for a memorial service. Many friends from coast to coast attended the service, including an entire church choir from Pennsylvania. All were invited to a dinner on campus following the service. 

Even in his 90s, Dr. Freed supported the university with his attendance at sporting events, Veterans Day services, Freed Center performances, and more, often wearing the school colors, orange and black.

The last time I saw Dr. Freed was just before Thanksgiving. He offered cakes or pies for the holiday to 200 people who retired or currently worked at ONU.  The gift recipients would stop by his office, which was a house adjacent to campus, to collect the dessert. He’d greet everyone who arrived to pick up the fare and have a brief chat with them. Last November my conversation with him centered around his office architecture. I learned that the structure was designed by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s protégés. He knew all about Wright. Dr. Freed was truly a Renaissance Man.

Dr. Freed had a long and fruitful life. The influence of DeBow and Kitty will be felt, in a positive way, for many years. ONU/Ada is a better place because the Freeds passed by and left their mark, tirelessly working for the benefit of students.