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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.
Donald Klekamp is quick to share the credit for his accomplishments. He points to many people who have inspired his personal and professional life over the years, and is most adamant that his wife of 65 years, Marianne, is the reason he’s even on the list of Great Living Cincinnatians.
“I would not be receiving this award if it weren’t for her support,” he said during a telephone call, his voice full of emotion. (Marianne is suffering from cancer.) “She’s as deserving of this award as I am.”
The couple met on a blind date, set up by his brother.
“I was kind of a nerdy guy,” he said. “You can imagine, a guy majoring in Latin and Greek. So I didn’t date much, so my brother Billy fixed me up with a blind date, and I went to this dance, and Marianne happened to be there. I was very attracted to her. I called her and that was the beginning of it.”
Klekamp grew up with his parents and three siblings in modest means in Carthage. He recalled his mother’s determination for her sons to be educated at St. Xavier High School, but she couldn’t afford the tuition. He and his brothers were able to attend, thanks to a deal his mother made with the high school’s then-president Father Lochbuler. Klekamp and his brothers worked at the school, on the switchboard, cleaning the gym, the physics lab.
“My mother instilled in me a work ethic and a moral ethic that has structured my life,” he said. “Idle was not in her vocabulary.”
He had “pretty good grades” (as he modestly calls it) and received a financial assistance to attend Xavier University, before going on to the University of Cincinnati College of Law, graduating in 1957. He was offered a job in 1959 by Charles Keating and John Muething, filling a position left vacant by Keating’s brother Bill, who left to accept an appointment as a municipal judge. Together, they became a three-person law firm (now known as Keating, Muething and Klekamp), which has now grown to a staff of approximately 240.
Shortly after Klekamp started at the firm, thanks to a contact made through his father-in-law, Dick Farmer of Cintas renown reached out. He was looking for a new lawyer, and called Klekamp.
He said, ‘I’d like to talk to you some time maybe about some law business,’” said Klekamp. So Don Klekamp drove to his office. That afternoon. “Farmer said to me, ‘Klekamp, I called every major law firm in the city and they all said, ‘Come down and see me sometime.’ You’re here. I’m impressed.’ We got the business and Cintas is now one of our largest corporate clients. That has to be the biggest break of my legal career.”
Klekamp was an original shareholder and director of Cintas, and remained a director until age 70. He has served on several boards, including among many others: the University of Cincinnati Foundation, the Dean’s Board of Visitors of the University of Cincinnati Law School, the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families, Life Issues Institute, and his alma mater, Xavier University.
The Klekamps established the Donald P. Klekamp Professorship of Law at UC Law and provided funding for the Donald P. Klekamp Community Law Center, the new location of the Legal Aid Society. They also established scholarship funds at both Xavier University and St. Xavier High School. Among the many awards he has been given, Klekamp is particularly proud of receiving the Insignis Award from the latter in 2010.
“St. Xavier was very important in structuring my life and to receive the Insignis Award, the highest award they give to the alumni, that meant an awful lot to me,” said Klekamp.
The receipt of the Trustee Emeritus Awards from both Xavier University and the Legal Aid Society of Cincinnati were also very significant events in his life.
Faith, it will come as no surprise, is of the utmost importance to Klekamp. Until very recently, he drove himself to Mass every single morning, bringing home the Eucharist for Marianne. He was the first president of the Ohio Right to Life Society, in 1973, and was co-chair with his wife of the Cincinnati Right to Life Society in 1971.
“I grew up a block and a half from the Catholic church,” said Klekamp. “My Catholic faith is very important to me. My mom instilled it in me, and Marianne encouraged it, because she’s a very devout Catholic.”
Father to five children and sixteen grandchildren, Klekamp and Marianne raised their children in Indian Hill, where he served for eight years on city council and spent four years as mayor. Klekamp, who performed marriages as part of his mayoral duties, wed Neil Armstrong to his second wife, Carol Knight, in 1994. In fact, he and Marianne hosted the wedding at his home – “Marianne had shrimp and champagne afterwards,” he said – and his daughter Becky snapped a photo of the newlyweds.
Two weeks later, Armstrong himself stopped by the Klekamps, bearing a bottle of single-malt scotch and a copy of the photo with the inscription: To Marianne and Don, thank you for being part of this wonderful day. Neil Armstrong.
When asked to reflect on what this award means to him, he repeats that he’s blessed.
“It caps off a very blessed career,” he said. “That means so much. It’s big, it’s very big, and it really caps off a very wonderful and blessed career.”
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