When it comes to authenticity, enthusiasm and commitment, this Cincinnati couple is an inspiration
The Set Up
In the age of online dating, it can be hard to believe in “real life” love that happens the good old-fashioned way.
At a bar, of course.
In the age when leaving Cincinnati for greener pastures seemed deeply appealing, it might have been hard to believe in folks who decided to stay. And make it not just work, but make it better.
Meet Kevin and Michelle Jones.
They met at a bar. Made staying in Cincinnati work.
At the center of it all?
Jesuit values. A commitment to philanthropy.
And a deep joie de vivre.
Michelle grew up in the Cincinnati area, specifically the northern suburb of Greenhills. The youngest of eight children, she “had to talk fast and make it fun for anyone to listen” to her.
But childhood wasn’t just fast-talking and on-the-fly entertainment. Growing up, Michelle’s sister worked at St. Rita’s School for the Deaf. Beginning in fifth grade, Michelle tagged along every summer to help plan the school’s festival and manage event logistics.
Michelle would eventually become an event planner extraordinaire, in no small part because of her formative time as a student at St. Bartholomew’s helping organize St. Rita’s festival.
Michelle didn’t follow a traditional path to college after graduating from Greenhills High School. After spending her early 20s as a self-described “retail girl” at Banana Republic, she paid for her own college by working at Cincinnati Financial.
She wasn’t a traditional student. And she didn’t grow up to practice the speech therapy she studied. But she graduated when she was 26, having put herself through school.
“UC was the best five years of my life. I wanted to be able to say I tried something that wasn’t handed to me. It was a great experience,” she said.
Kevin was born in Indiana, raised in Cincinnati, and spent a bit of time in upstate New York.
But it is Cincinnati that is in his blood.
Kevin wasn’t raised in a raucous family. With one brother and one sister, his home life was a little quieter. His mother stayed at home; his father put himself through college with the help of his mother.
“I was taught by my father early on that the responsibility to give back is something you need to embrace and welcome,” Kevin said.
The lesson stuck.
Kevin came by contemporary philanthropy through his friends who participated in Greek life at his alma mater, Miami University. “At a young age, you should be involved in doing something for someone other than yourself,” Kevin said.
His career started in a regional brokerage firm, then moved to Fifth Third Bank, where he spent 21 years. Philanthropy wasn’t limited to community engagement and communications. It was a core value of the management team.
“It was very community-focused and related directly to doing things to help address needs and raise money and awareness” around the critical issues of the region, he said.
That career eventually landed him as president of Huntington Bank’s Southern Ohio-Kentucky Region.
Boy Meets Girl
They met at the former Neon’s, in Over-the-Rhine.
“He worked at Fifth Third. So did my sister, Suzy (Dorward),” said Michelle.
“They knew each other through similar social circles. I had met him at another bachelorette party, but I didn’t remember that.”
But Kevin did, and only had one question for Suzy:
“Is your sister going to be there?”
The next day, he told his father he had met the girl he was going to marry.
That was 25 years ago.
It’s all about giving back.
This might sound like a trope. Or vaguely saccharine.
But for the Jones family, it’s entirely genuine.
Their combined board service and volunteer work is an impressive list of the organizations changing the cultural and physical landscape of Cincinnati:
The Opera. REDI Cincinnati. 3CDC. Boys Hope Girls Hope. Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber. The Karen Wellington Foundation.
And this month, they will be honored by Assistance League of Greater Cincinnati for their increasing body of work across the region.
On any given night during gala season, they might be juggling multiple commitments.
But it’s done with a sense of commitment, grace and humility.
“I volunteer because we love this region and city, but we want people to be able to participate in the positive things that are going on,” said Kevin.
Remaining in Cincinnati, though, was a choice. Greener pastures are easy enough to find for talented individuals in the financial sector.
“It’s easy to say we live in a great city with so many assets because it is a great city with great assets. But there were days when it wasn’t so great to be here,” said Kevin, reflecting on challenges the city has faced during his life here.
“I contemplated leaving many times, but I (kept) finding the spirit of this city alive and well.”
He takes a holistic approach to philanthropy. It’s far from just writing checks. It’s about engaging with the serious challenges facing the region. Poverty, health care and workforce development are items he ticks off a carefully considered list.
“We have to have meaningful movement on the state of poverty in our region. And it has to be measurable.”
Everybody’s Event Planner
“Hey Michelle, where should we have drinks?”
“Where should I take my family when they come to visit?”
“I’m having a birthday party for 17 7-year-old girls. What should I do?”
Michelle laughed as she recounted the start of “Hey Michelle,” her lifestyle blog that encompasses style, things to do and reviews of her favorite brick-and-mortar establishments.
People constantly asked her to be their social secretary and presented her with their entertainment challenges.
Kevin said, “You should do something with this.”
“I love supporting local businesses and hearing people’s stories,” said Michelle. “This community isn’t as competitive as other cities probably are.”
That spirit of collaboration and celebration is evident in every word of her blog (heymichelle-help.com).
And it’s evident in her excitement and passion for the city’s cultural institutions.
“The arts are so easy to write about. The Ballet has a live symphony orchestra. The Art Museum? It has less than 5 percent of its collection on display. I want to shout these things from the rooftop.”
She has no uncertain language when she describes the Queen City.
“We are amazing.”
These Cincinnatians are staying true to their roots while striving to build a future that is more vibrant for all.
It starts with building the moral compass for the next generation, specifically, their children.
Kevin went to St. Xavier. So did (and do) his three sons. “Part of what drives me is that you have to be a person for others,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if that’s in your family or for strangers. But being people for others can help us all.”
“We’re not purposeful for us in this process,” said Kevin.
“It’s about being purposeful for others.”
No doubt. And clearly, it is also grounded in love for one another.
And in love for a city.
And its citizens.
And in an age where real love can seem tenuous, and boosterism can feel out of touch?
The Jones family is building a future based on authenticity, enthusiasm and commitment to Cincinnati, all the while nodding to the region’s accomplishments past and present.
Kevin and Michelle Jones to receive Aspire Cincinnati Award
Friday, May 17, noon, Hilton Netherland Plaza
The Aspire Award was created by Assistance League to honor a local community leader and philanthropist with a “Passion to Inspire and Aspire,” and a commitment to giving back to the local community. This year’s recipients are Kevin and Michelle Jones.
Keynote speaker is child abuse pediatrician Dr. Mary Greiner, medical director for Comprehensive Health Evaluations for Cincinnati’s Kids (CHECK), a foster care center at Cincinnati Children’s.
Assistance League of Greater Cincinnati’s cornerstone philanthropic project, Operation School Bell, has grown to provide new clothing for 3,356 students during this current school year. In addition, ALGC provides college starter kits to those in need, as well as clothing, hygiene and household items to victims of domestic abuse.
Tickets are $75. Tables are $800. Registration: 11:30 a.m.
513-241-4447, email@example.com or assistanceleaguecincinnati.org/aspire