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Celebrating the leadership, vision, tenacity, and love of community shared by the recipients of the Great Living Cincinnatian Award, presented annually by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber since 1967.
1915 – 2010
Donald Spencer may have made his living in real estate – as the first African American broker with the Cincinnati Board of Realtors – but teaching never left his blood.
At 89, he was still teaching in one form or another, from speaking up at neighborhood gatherings to taking youngsters and fledgling community projects under his wing. Spencer – a lifelong resident of Cincinnati – helped pave the way for African Americans in education as well as real estate during his career.
Donald A. Spencer was born March 5, 1915. The grandson of a slave, he grew up in Cincinnati with his mother, Josephine, his father, Charles, his brother, Joseph, and his sister, Valerie. Donald Spencer graduated from Walnut Hills High School in 1932. Having earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Cincinnati by 1940, Spencer embarked on an 18-year teaching career at Douglass, Stowe and Bloom junior high schools.
“In those days teaching was the best job black people could get upon graduating from college,” he said. However, in those days a teacher’s post earned $4,000 to $7,000, not enough to support a growing family, he recalled.
In 1944 – when Donald and Marian Spencer bought their first home in East Walnut Hills for $8,000 – he saw the light of opportunity. Learning of the broker’s 5% commission – $400 – was an enlightening and career-altering experience. “That has to be my secondary employment,” Spencer thought to himself.
He opened his real estate office concurrently with the last six years of teaching. Five years later he was well established as Donald A. Spencer and Associates. The firm eventually grew to 23 on its staff, and prospered for 30 years, first with an office in Walnut Hills and later in Avondale.
In 1986, he was named the first African American broker of the Cincinnati Board of Realtors – a post he accepted after clearly stating his non-allegiance to any covert housing restrictions the board might endorse. He also served as a member of their statewide legislative committee.
He was named president of the Cincinnati Association of Real Estate Brokers and was active with PAC, the national policy-making commission of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers.
A staunch supporter of Cincinnati Public Schools, Spencer chaired the 2001 campaign, successfully passing the November tax levy. In 2003 he served with CASE, Cincinnatians Active in the Support of Education, which led to the passing of the $435-million levy to build 35 new schools and renovate the remaining 31 buildings.
A life member of the NAACP, Spencer was active through his entire adult life in civic, religious and civil rights organizations.
A member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, he established the undergraduate chapter on the University of Cincinnati campus in 1939. He has served on the boards of Ohio University (two years as president), Ohio Valley Goodwill, the Fenwick Club, Family Housing Developers, a founding board member of the Friends of Cincinnati Parks and an executive board member of the Walnut Hills High School Foundation, which developed a $12-million addition to the public high school with private funds, a first in the United States.
He also has been active in the Boys Club, the Cincinnatus Association, the City of Cincinnati Board of Housing Appeals, the Task Force on Racial Isolation in Cincinnati Public Schools and Cincinnati’s Historic Conservation Board. He was a 30-year trustee at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, now the New Vision United Methodist Church.
Among his many honors, in 1997 he received the Charles P. Taft Civic Gumption Award from the Cincinnati Charter Committee. In 2001 the Cincinnati Park Board developed the Donald A. Spencer Overlook in Eden Park to recognize his many years of service to the park system. This past March Spencer received the Founders’ Citation from the Ohio University Board of Trustees, one of only 14 to receive the honor in the university’s 200-year history.
In addition, Spencer joined a very elite club among Great Living Cincinnatian honorees. He was the first recipient of the honor to be married to a previous recipient, his wife of 64 years and former vice mayor of the City of Cincinnati, Marian Spencer. They had two sons and two grandsons.
“I am especially pleased that I am able to join my wife with her honor,” the Avondale resident said. “My philosophy in life has been when you leave this world it should be better because you have lived.”
Donald Spencer died May 4, 2010. He was 95.
Recipients are selected from candidates by the Cincinnati Chamber’s senior council based on the following criteria: – Community service – Business and civic attainment on a local, state and national or international level – Leadership – Awareness of the needs of others – Distinctive accomplishments that have brought favorable attention to their community, institution or organization