Polly Campbell: On the ‘good-deed doers’ of Cincinnati

My husband and I took a long road trip this summer across the West. We stopped for walks and hikes nearly every day in deserts, mountains, prairies and cities and always discovered something to think about. 

One day, under a low gray sky, we hiked to the top of a tallgrass-covered hill with subtly beautiful prairie views, and came across what looked like a tombstone of pink limestone amid sunflowers and penstemon. On it, “Dodge” was carved in big letters, and under it the smaller words “Doer of good deeds” followed by his name and death date. We speculated whether “Dodge” had loved the hill as a child, whether his nickname was an anagram of “good deeds.” All we could tell was that he didn’t do a long lifetime of them; he died as a young man in service in the Second World War.

This was in Kansas, and not far from Wamego, home of many “Wizard of Oz” tourist attractions, so naturally I thought about that great humbug wizard. “Back where I come from, we have men who do nothing but good deeds all day,” he told the Tin Woodsman. “They are called phila-, phila-, er, good-deed doers,” and presented him with a testimonial and the heart he so wanted.

Polly Campbell
Polly Campbell

Well, that made me think of a proposal I’d gotten before we left that I’d been thinking about off and on: to write a first-person column for this magazine. Movers & Makers explains, above the title, that it is about “Arts & Culture. Community. Philanthropy.” I’d been wondering if it was right for me to write for a publication about philanthropy, if that means rich people’s family foundations and fancy fundraisers I can’t afford to go to. I appreciate them, but it’s not a world I have connections in.

But that’s not all philanthropy is, is it? If we use the Wizard’s definition, we are all potential philanthropists, probably already are, because who doesn’t do a good deed from time to time? Not that we should give ourselves a testimonial anytime we shovel a neighbor’s walk or donate cupcakes to the school bake sale. But anyone who regularly takes money or time they could have used for themselves to help someone in need, or to support an organization that helps even more people, or makes a community stronger and more beautiful, well, that person deserves the name. And that’s what fills the pages of this publication.

I think the second part, Community, is the bigger one. Philanthropy is a subset of that – because community, though it might have many definitions, is about interwoven, supportive connections. Communities are there when people live together, but the strong ones have to be built, and that means people helping each other with creativity and hard work. 

And I do know about that. My writing life in Cincinnati until now has been writing about food and restaurants, so this may seem like a swerve. But the people I covered, the restaurant owners and chefs, the farmers and food producers, are movers. They are also makers. They followed vision and passion into the difficult business of selling people something to eat. I cannot tell you how much I admire so many of those people and how interested I am in what makes them work. They may do it for their egos or with dreams of getting rich (though, surely, someone bursts that bubble for them before they embark), but there’s no getting around it: By feeding people they are in the business of connection and community.

So are the artists who create moments for us that transcend dailiness. As are all the volunteers of our city. As are the people who work hard to bring money and awareness to a cause or charity they care about. And the people who have done very well in life and donate some of their resources for the greater good. What a rich source of interest, of thoughts and opinions, all those people are to me. 

It’s funny how life can give you little signs if you’re open to them. That Kansas hill and its memorial to Dodge’s good deeds set off a train of thought that led me to decide I did want to write this column, to be part of covering and commenting on the community-building Dodges of Greater Cincinnati. This is my first.

Polly Campbell covered restaurants and food for The Cincinnati Enquirer from 1996 until 2020. She lives in Pleasant Ridge with her husband, and since retiring does a lot of reading, cooking and gardening, if that’s what you call pulling up weeds. During the pandemic, she has missed the theater, live music, and most especially, going to parties.

Leave a Reply